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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?