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Homepage. This page: Don's recollections of a 1930s Panther motorbike, and Pride and Clarke’s dealership of Brixton, London.

Don's Red Panther.

Various tales about four-wheeled motoring in days gone by can be found in the motoring memories section at oldclassiccar, but few of these real stories include references to motorcycling. Therefore thanks to Don for evening things up somewhat, with his memories of a '37 Red Panther, his first foray into the world of motorcycling, in 1950s Britain.

Purchasing a 250cc Red Panther motorcycle.

As a sixteen-year-old apprentice in Brixton in 1954 it wasn’t long before I strayed into the “Red Valley”, that being the popular description of where Pride and Clarke’s red painted buildings took up both sides of Stockwell Road, for about two hundred yards.

It was an Aladdin’s cave of ex WD motorcycles: BSA M20s, Matchless', Royal Enfields, and others too numerous to mention. At between twenty and twenty-five pounds they were beyond my £2. 14s weekly wage, and my parents would not allow me to plunder my savings account.

An advert in the local paper came to my rescue: 1937 250cc Red Panther. £10. I rushed to a Brixton address with ten “wuncers” gripped in my sweaty little palm. (coincidentally the Red Panther was a machine produced exclusively for Pride & Clarke)

The bike had seen better days, but the seller explained: it was only two-years-old when the war broke out, it had probably been stored for the duration and post-war petrol shortages meant it had very little use. He kicked it over and it started instantly; I was hooked. I had brought a mate with me and he raised a point about getting it home: I lived in Streatham, about two miles away and we would have to push it up Brixton Hill … ‘No problem!’ the seller said, ‘if you start the engine, put it into gear and release the clutch carefully, you can run alongside it as you go up Brixton Hill.’

Brilliant! I thought; I wouldn’t be actually riding it so it didn’t matter about having no driving licence, tax or insurance.

This cunning plan served us well, having sprinted up Brixton Hill, holding the handlebars of the bucking, snarling beast I only had to sit in the saddle and coast downhill for the next mile, and as the engine wasn’t running, that must be legal as well — just like a bicycle. Mercifully the local constabulary must have been having lunch or something.

The Red Panther served me well for about eighteen months, with only two mishaps, one of which I’m totally ashamed: Shortly after buying it, while waiting at a junction in Streatham Vale I glanced down at the engine, as one does, and noticed the knurled nut unscrewing from the top of the sparking plug. I had been having problems engaging first gear… so not wanting to go into neutral or stop the engine I reached across with my left hand, to keep the clutch lever held in, while using my right hand to reach down and tighten the plug nut.

I thought that “Chicken Likken’s” prediction had come true… the sky seemed to fall on me as several thousand volts pulsed through my body. The bike went in one direction…me in another… and I was supposed to be an electrical engineering apprentice for Chris sakes.

The time came to move onwards and upwards. A dismantled AJS 16M had been bought, and finance was needed for the project. Generously admitting that the Panther had given me at least two pounds worth entertainment, I advertised it for £8:00s. A small bespectacled lad, of studious aspect, showed interest in it and gave me a tantalising glimpse of £7:10s - the cost of a new “Monobloc” carburettor - so a deal was struck. ‘How will I get it to the top of Valley Road, were I live’ he asked me plaintively. ‘No problem’ I said: ‘if you start the engine, put it into gear…

Panther motorcycle

Thanks for sending that over Don! Later in the 1950s, Don moved to AJS and then Velocette motorcycles - his account of owning both these bikes can be found on the AJS / Velocette page. More old motoring experiences can be found in the motoring memories section of this site.

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