"read my thoughts"

taken from Bob's original website
Robert Freeman;

 
   Born, 29 Nov 1947; in Middlesbrough, an industrial town in North Yorkshire, England, the son of a Cavalry Trooper and a Childrens' Nanny. Trained as a motor mechanic, washed rental cars for seven years. Spent much spare time building `cafe racers' mainly based on BSA's Gold Star, and falling off them.

    In 1967 Robert Reed Freeman's doctors succeeded where Rommel had failed, Ma was reluctant to lose R junior, and persuaded him to buy a car.
     A 1955 Ford Anglia was duly acquired. It was a clean, low mileage example, but soon, fragments of it, and traces of its paint were to be found on local land marks, Freeman had discovered Cars & Car Conversions Magazine, and for the time being the bikes languished.
     The plan had been to fit a tuned 105e engine and 3 - speed box, in place of the old 3 - speed sidevalve kit, then modify the suspension, fit wide wheels and disc brakes.
        It should fit like a glove! ............ some bastard had said.
     The tuned engine did indeed fit like a glove, once the mountings had been worked out, the propshaft shortened, the exhaust system remade from scratch, a large section of the floorpan sawn out, the clutch withdrawal system re-invented and a month of encyclopaedic profanity endured by the friend's parents, in whose garage the offences were committed.
        The engine swap brought respectable grunt, but the suspension and brake mods did not materialise. Thus more and more of MVN932's paint was distributed around the landscape until one day the fumes, and stench of burnt oil coming through the butchered floorpan became intolerable, the boot could hold no more junk, and the Anglia was replaced by a 1963 Capri that turned out to have an articulated chassis.
    Freeman looks back on this period with a measure of gratitude to whatever spirit watches over the young and daft.
    It was around this time that Freeman got the job with Hertz, which presented an opportunity to drive large mileages in new vehicles, something of a novelty.

    In 1972 Freeman bought a beaten up 1956 TR3 from a work colleague. The car had no roof to speak of, the windscreen wipers didn't work, also the windscreen had cracked because it was loose, and was soon discarded in favour of a pair of Brooklands type aeroscreens that gave the car a whole new persona. Some tuning took place, including a TR4 head with about sixty thou skimmed from the face, and a straight through exhaust system.
     There was a particular corner near Freeman's home which, on the way out of town could be taken with the right boot doing the steering, but on the return was inclined to make the body feel as if it was divorced from the chassis.
    When the car was in for its annual safety check, Freeman remembers a terse telephone call featuring the words,
         Come and have a look at this!
        A great deal of welding, and brazing in of gussets was prescribed to stiffen up the rear end and this no doubt saved Freeman's life.
        Despite eventually losing its reverse, and a broken layshaft tooth that caused a horrible sensation in bottom gear, that car was serious fun. Once a TR man...... But eventually it had to go, along with the MGA that Freeman had bought with a view to rebuilding. This car had a mature tree growing through the floor when it was unearthed on a local farm. Student money doesn't cover sports cars.
     TR, reg NWS655 was sold to somebody in County Durham. Does anybody remember who got it? If it was you, then I'm sorry for what we did to the chassis.

     Between1976 and1978 Freeman attended Teesside College of Art then moved to London to study Technical illustration at Middlesex Polytechnic, where he graduated in 1982, and began his career as Motor Illustrator with a drawing of a Ducati engine for Which Bike.
     In 1983 he became regular contributor to the prestigious and now highly collectable Magazine, Supercar Classics, and remained so until it ceased publication in 1991.

     Middlesbrough, as it happens, was also the home of the great Freddie Dixon, and one of Freeman's mentors during his apprenticeship, had himself worked under the pre-war brooklands ace, from whom allegedly, he had inherited an ability to swear for a full three and a half minutes without repetition. It was said that Dixon's tongue could maim large animals.
     Freeman remembers being moved by more than horsepower when in 1989 he had the opportunity to drive the original Dixon Riley- now cherished by the Gillies clan, around the banked circuit at Chobham, and was astonished to find that it fitted his five foot three inch frame better than his own motorcycle leathers.
    That car just stank of the courage, ingenuity and ungovernable insolence of the man that built it, Freeman wrote in his sketchbook, and is mentioned here simply because it's the most exciting and satisfying car he's ever driven.

     Freeman lives in London, and the sheer anguish of driving in that congested mess persuaded him, five years ago, to part with the souped up TR6(qv) that he'd driven every day for twelve years, and ride some more motorbikes. Today his transport policy consists of the latest of his Norton Gold Star specials, a Honda CB1, the small fleet of vintage bikes that have accumulated over the years, trains, boats, planes and the occasional hire car which, thankfully he no longer has to wash.

     The internal combustion engine is one of my life's enduring passions.
     People who see these things purely as a means of generating motive power could enhance their prospects of recovery by looking closely at this little jewel, created almost a century ago by the pioneering American aviator and racing motorcyclist, Glenn H. Curtiss.

     Somewhat neglected in the London Science Museum, this example is technically and aesthetically exquisite.
    Although I have often made drawings of it, every time I work on it I see something that I've missed and I need to draw it again. I could happily fill a whole gallery with material exploring this one truly captivating object.


    Warning ! Racing engines are poetry.
What makes this object so magnificent, as with all reputable design, lies beyond the visual. It isn't like this because it looks well, it has to be exactly like this or it wouldn't do its job.
    The ABC...
Nobody who's into philosophising about Art's defining component, should snub the Accidentally Beautiful Consequence.
     In my opinion, art can be created by somebody who simply sets out to produce something useful.
    I could get a drawing badly wrong and it might still end up hanging on somebody's wall, but if this thing hadn't been up to Curtiss's intended purpose it would have been recycled.
     I'm no scientist, and although I've had the odd bit of technical training, when I'm doing a drawing I find I have to switch all of that off, get down to ground level and try to observe with a fresh and uninhibited eye. Unless I can do that, what I see will be unduly influenced by what I already know. The technical analysis is indispensable, but I have to avoid it happening first, or I could miss that abc, the accidentally beautiful consequence.
    It's like reading poetry, we can enjoy certain words and groups of words for their own immediate elegance, but not appreciate the methodical order, or absence of it in a poem's structure, until the piece has been read, perhaps aloud several times.
    When I've worked out the essential structure, I start looking for detail subtleties that augment, deface or reflect that structure and influence interpretation, but which only some swot with a mind like a computer would spot at a glance.
    I enjoy poetry almost as much as drawing. To me, the one is a reflection of the other.


    I've been drawing a Vanwall racing engine, ie, converting my response to something real, into something essentially latent.
     When somebody is spouting Dylan Thomas, he's inverting the process. Having analysed the marks on a sheet of paper, recitation is the instrument with which one seeks to convert a dormant, two dimensional provision into a live event.
     A drawing is the recitation of its subject.
    I once read that Thomas would spend a whole day building one single line, and I can't help being moved by the fact that somebody feels compelled to invest so much love and pain in achieving a moment of subtlety that few people will ever think to look for.
    This to me is what art means.
    As for my own work, I see the art in terms of love and pain invested in wrought metal.
    I reckon that if we deny the artistic merit in, say, the battleship, the poppet valve, or the points carrier in a BTH magneto, and invest our emotional response in the sediment to which certain sections of the art establishment currently flock to roll their beads, we invite a prostitute corruption to rot the roots of our moral validity.
    Which is one whole heap of words.
    I shall quote EJ Potter, (the Michigan Madman).....
    It was my favourite pastimes to sit and stare at one of these things (a 24 cylinder Allison aero- engine), and just soak up the functional beauty of this marvel that should be listed with the pyramids and the Sphynx and stuff like that...
    Ecce the rough-cut literary style of a man too passionate about his subject to give a fig about the bloodshot immediacy of his storytelling.
    My friend Tim Flower of Pittsburgh sent me a copy of Potter's book, and from the moment I started to read it I just felt pinned down. I read it from cover to cover in one go. But back to the poetry,

    There was a young man from Calcutta,
    Who tried to write FU.. on a shutter.
    He'd got to FU
    When a pious Hindu
    Knocked him arse over tip in the Gutter.

     Is this the poetic equivalent of a single cylinder sidevalve?

Insert pic vanw ú(caption) Impression of an axiperpendicular recitation of Goodwood by Mr Surtees.

Speaking of whom, it seems to me that world championship status on both two wheels and four, justifies recognition, however belated. Forty years on, we can see with detachment what a cracking achievement this was.
I can think of a number of titled personages who have done great service for the sport. It should work the other way. Sir John Surtees sounds about right.
    On the same track,when considering degrees of ennoblement, wouldn't it be rather civilised if those charged with such divine adjustments were to bear in mind the music of the thing and be less po faced. Sir Stirling sounds clumsy, and anyway,in addition to poetry, and petrol, the people of this country desperately need something called Lord Stirling Moss!!!!!
    The trouble is that we have delegated decisions affecting the music and common elegance of life, to politicians. Unwise!     Presented with the historic opportunity to name Europe's currency, this herd of dullards could agree on nothing more stylish than.....(deleted).
    I'm not using the word. I'm not surprised it's doing so badly, who wants to buy into the most ineptly named brand imaginable. Our whole continent needs a Ministry of Style!
    And why does a bridge have to be rigid? These bloody rules are frigid! * Let's all wobble our way to the Tate Mod..
    I went to the Tate Mod, and delighted as I was to find Duchamp's Large Glass, surely an icon to what I've been on about, I was pretty bemused by most of the other stuff, and insulted by some of it.
    I feel that this cathedral space needs some `great sound' to compliment it. I'm convinced that with his affection for spools, cogs and Draft Pistons, Duchamp would have embraced the idea of bringing in a couple of V16 BRMs, and justifying this accoustic Zanadu by firing them up inside.

I bought PE6199 in 1990.
    It was one of those things that had to be done.
There was this little bike that somebody had obviously put together from collected bits and enthusiasm, and although as it stood it wasn't exactly what I wanted, I could see the basic structure of a bike that
I wanted to create.
    The front forks and frame have that same simple, greyhound elegance that had attracted me to the Featherbed Norton,
and the more I looked at it the more I realised that this particular model has almost all the points that constitute my ideal flat tanker.

     A single cylinder OHV engine with the magneto in front.
     An exhaust port which exits the head
     at a minimal angle from the horizontal.
     A simple open diamond frame.
     Lightweight druid forks
     Hand gear change.
     Manual oil pump.


    Ideally I would have preferred the mag drive to be perfectly horizontal, like the Norton. But I can live with that.
    The flat, squat petrol and oil tank, taken as a thing in itself, is a beautiful object. You can take it in your hands and there's nothing you'd want to change. The black paint had crazed a little since it had been applied, some of the the gold lining had peeled, it certainly wasn't pristine, but after sixty years it shouldn't be. I'm not sure I believe in the currently popular fad for artificially aged new paint, it seems to me that in time the paint will acquire this look anyway and one can end up with the real patina compromised by what has been forced on it ten years ago.
     Due to work pressure, I rode the bike very little that first year, then when I took it for its test the examiner failed it on every-thing he could see without a microscope. I thought, if I'm going to have to spend money then I'm going to have it how I want it.
     The bike was in road trim, and had little hint of the model's original purpose, the handlebars were wide and rather too high, the mudguards were too fat and the sprung saddle was an embarrassment. I set about researching what a 1925 TT replica AJS racer should look like, then I made count-less sketches and doodles in my sketchbook to resolve the adapted designs with my own ideas about the late twenties to early thirties period.
    In the sixties somebody had written an article for Motorcycle Sport Magazine, then the monthly bible, in which he had dec-lared that a handsome bike is one that you can't spit through! How true!
    A problem with most flat tank Ajays is the big gap between the saddle tube and the mudguard, resolved in this case with the aid of an old leather toolbox that could have been made to measure, found at an Autojumble years ago and bought for no specific reason.
     There's a well known photo of the AJS race shop at the 1925 TT, and I used it as a guide to the overall shape, but I didn't want to get bogged down in detail, the idea was to have the bike as it might have appeared after several seasons club racing with a whiff of on-the-way-to-Brooklands delinquency. Apart from the tyres and the date on the tax disc I wanted nothing on it that could not have existed in the twenties.
     There was a problem straight away with the tyres, PE6199 had the beaded edge type, but since both they and the rims were among the items condemned by the tester, and were not used on the factory racers anyway I had no compunction about slinging them. Vague recollections of seeing the marque specialist Ivan Rhodes, scuffing his leathers at, I think, Mallory Park when a beaded edge tyre did its party trick, coming off the rim half way round a corner, influenced my decision to go modern. I had a stroke of luck when I rang around for rims, in the form of an original pair of `Continentals' as used on the AJS TT factory bikes in 1925. These look a bit like the more modern alloy rims but they're steel, and the rear is slightly wider than the front. Mr Rhodes supplied the correct butted spokes and finding tyres was easy.
    It's important with such a dainty bike that nothing looks too big. The Mudguards had to go, along with the ironmongery that held them in place, also the rear carrier, toolbox, license plate, the correct but clumsy saddle and the rear stand.
    The hardest part was the handlebars.
I wanted the clip ons and rearsets look and you can't get that with the original kit, so I had to design a set that gave the right shape, while accommodating the steering damper, and I also had to create a steering lockstop so fingers would not be trapped.
     I've never liked the idea of the footrests being attached to the gearbox casing. I believe that's how the factory bikes were, but it's an awful lot of weight for the two thin studs on which the gearbox is suspended, so I fitted mine as one piece of bar across the chainstays just ahead of the tyre. It's not strictly in period but it suits me.
    All these mods drew the bike's shape together and made it less gangly.
     There's a picture in one of John Griffith's little books of a 350 flat tank sprinter.This inspired the tiny sectioned mudguards obtained from more jumbling, and helped keep the bike thin.
     The carburetor was an Amal 289, made of zinc alloy, and though the thing worked well enough, it just spoiled the bike. A friend supplied a left handed, stub fitting one inch TT9, on which the pilot jet had been blocked off early in its life and so had seen little use. After some deliberation as to how the blockage, a piece of steel rod, might be removed or bypassed without ruining the carb, this was finally done by drilling two intersecting holes around it. I made up a brass bellmouth, and with a floatchamber from aTT Amac and a bit of jiggery pokery you'd need to know exactly what it is to notice that it isn't vintage.
     I've had PE6199 over to the Manx Rally, and although it wasn't really fettled it steamed over the mountain. This year I rode it up to Stanford Hall, (Founder's Day) fell on my backside, (soft wet grass, hurt pride) whilst showing off, then rode it back to London and it didn't miss a beat all day.
    I have a feeling that the gears are not as close as they should be and I tend not to use first at all. If anybody out there knows how many teeth the first gear pair should have, please let me know.

     PE always starts, and is the most sociable, least demanding oldie I've ever had. There's something cheekily satisfying about recreating a machine from before one's own time, and having a seasoned vintagent say, It's obviously very original. What's its history?

 

BOB FREEMAN 1947 - 2004
Bob Freeman
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