WHAT'S IN YOUR GARAGE: GARRY LAURENCE
CAFÉ RACERS: EXCLUSIVE AND EXQUISITE
Lots of you have responded to our request for stories about your bikes and builds. Here, in our first What's In Your Garage article, we meet Garry Laurence, café racer enthusiast. If you have a bike(s) in your garage, shed, or wherever, that you'd like us to feature, please get in touch at email@example.com.
Familiar tale one. A teenager wants to get aboard a motorcycle, but the parents have strictly forbidden it...
Garry Laurence's parents were no exception. But at 15 years he could no longer resist and bought a Suzuki 50cc from a mate for £7.50. Which prompted the parental command “You're not riding it”.
He did ride it, but by 16 years had 'graduated' to a Triumph Tiger Cub (£22.50). He set about customising it before acquiring a Triton, before he'd passed his test. He owned the Triton until his early twenties and converted the engine to Weslake eight valve specification.
Garry passed his test on a mate's Honda that had to be bump started as the kick start didn't work. He was given a pass...those were the days!
Familiar tale two. Marriage and children means that motorcycle riding and building gets put to one side. Garry kept his interest in owning vehicles that needed care and restoration. But he transferred his skills to cars, including an award-winning restoration of an XK150 Jaguar. They also doubled as family transport.
A police inspector colleague rekindled Garry's bike interest when telling him about a Triton he owned with a Triumph T120 unit construction engine in a 1958 Featherbed frame. Garry bought it for £500 but described the condition as poor. His colleague was more than disappointed when he told him that, aside from the frame, forks and engine, everything else had been scrapped.
This gives an idea of Garry Laurence's approach to building bikes. Perfection. He told me he is “pedantic about everything I do” and that “if you have to think about the price, don't do it”. He'd honed his engineering skills and knowledge earlier in his life, keeping the London Transport bus fleet on the road. Before opting for a career with the Metropolitan Police.
As for his love of café racers. That comes from the period when some British bikes styled with rear sets and clip-on handlebars were lined up outside well-known cafés. The Ace on London's north circular road. The Sale Box at Biggin Hill. Johnson's in West Kingston near Brands Hatch circuit and atop the notorious Death Hill - now renamed Gorse Hill.
Garry was not happy with the look of many Triton hybrids. He wanted to incorporate his own approach and styling characteristics. Those that would use the flowing lines of the Triumph engine and ensure that there were no trailing wires, cable ties etc and similar 'strapping' that, in his view, spoils a bike's lines.
He's not critical of other approaches to bike building, but his way is to labour attention to every detail. The Triton as a completed build featured in Classic Bike in 2002. Subsequent builds down the years have also appeared in this magazine, 100% Biker, and the US magazine Café Racer. As well as gaining the attention of TV presenter Henry Cole, and the actor Idris Elba who made a series with the BBC 'Kings of Speed'.
So far we had chatted in the warmth of Garry's kitchen on a freezing day, but now it was time to see what was currently in Garry's garage.
The blank canvas for all Garry Laurence's engineering art is the Norton Featherbed frame. He begins from the premise that his builds have “got to look spectacular and different”. Six bikes were brooding in the cold confines of his garage workshop. The 'odd one out' being an original 1000cc Vincent HRD. The other five being completely imaginative derivations built around the Featherbed.
There's the Ducati-engined Norton. The Laverda-engined Norton; the Jota engine of which was originally intended to live in a grass track racing sidecar outfit. The Triumph-Three-engined Norton 'Metamorphosis'. The Benelli-Sei-engined Norton, a 750cc, built from scratch with spares. And perhaps the bike that could be described as the ultimate Norvin, with a 1000cc Vincent engine that was also built from the new crankcases up.
Garry started to point out the different features on the bikes that he has designed and made to his own high specification. It was then that I realised how much thought and how many hours and resources are dedicated to his creations. Rear sets, switchgear, engine plates, exhaust systems, brake units, are all carefully calculated and considered to blend with his overall concept. If It's not right, it doesn't go on.
One example is how he has devised his own 'swan neck' handlebars – clip-ons are too radical. They are designed to incorporate cable runs inside the bars, to preserve the overall neat approach he requires.
He sources parts from across the globe, with his favoured braking systems coming from TZ Yamaha racers via a sales source in the Philippines. Not all are 'exotic' parts. For example, the side stands he fits are £20 items from eBay.
His new project will be a 500cc BSA Gold Star single cylinder engine in his 'blank canvas' Norton Featherbed frame. He showed me the early work on the engine plates and the stupendous eight leading shoe front brake, already laced into the wheel. The bike will be over-braked for its power, Garry admits. Even the rear number plates are carefully crafted. He's modifying an old Tiger Cub number plate for this latest bike...how do you hit on the idea that this component will be the right one?
After this, he's not sure where to go, as he is possibly running out of combinations that, in terms of café racers, he can ride to meets and for pure pleasure.
Garry Laurence lavishes hours of consideration, labour and financial resources on his builds and collection. Not everyone will have the means, skill, and facilities to turn out bikes such as these, handsome and exquisite as they are. Finished projects are in the eye of the beholder. I've met those who turn out 'rat bikes' that are satisfied and gratified with what they have produced. Motorcycling is surely the broadest of all churches.
You can read more about Garry's builds through his website www.norvin-spiritofthe60s.com. The magazine articles reproduced give more in-depth technical assessments and details. And there are YouTube clips allowing you to listen to fire ups of the Ducati, Vincent and Benelli (my favourite).
Our thanks to Garry Laurence for allowing Wemoto News access to his collection.
03/02/17 - Dreams are made of such as this!
03/02/17 - Brings back memories on my own Norton Vincent....called Norvin then!
03/02/17 - I'm a Harley man through and through ... But these are amazing bikes . Well done .
04/02/17 - That's a lovely Norvin
04/02/17 - Nice!
04/02/17 - In my garage I have 1985 kawasaki 900r been standing for a while. Lovely bike.
04/02/17 - Bring it!!!
04/02/17 - Brilliant
04/02/17 - Super looking machine
04/02/17 - I rebuilt my 1957 Norton 600 99' in 1962 with tuning parts from the brilliant south London tuner ,Paul dunstall! He made twin Norton's go qiuck! I fitted 9 to1 comp pistons ,a 99 super sport cylinder head, lightweight push rods, twin amal monobloc carbs,close ratio gearbox, sport exhaust, made all the difference!!
04/02/17 - Yes a good Norvin was always nice to see at Johnsons on the A20, some classy ones turned up there.!
04/02/17 - At last a real bike
04/02/17 - Loving the featherbed theme. Some very exotic builds there!
04/02/17 - As good as it gets!!!.
04/02/17 - Seen Garry's work time and again. Every time I see new details, new solutions. The Man is a certifiable genius!
04/02/17 - Fantastic bike, Norton 99, dunstall, wow .
04/02/17 - Does Ogri know you've got his scoot. Nearly bought one myself on Barry Island in 1976. Couldn't raise the £450 asking price in time.
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