A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER, JOHN PANTER GRIFFITH
My father, John Panter Griffith, was born 1 January 1930 with motorcycling in the blood - his mother having owned and ridden a Douglas during the twenties. The eldest of four brothers, John was born into a farming family but soon found that the mechanical world of motorcycles was far more interesting than feeding cattle. Peter, the youngest brother (who despite his age still rides motocross machines), recalls how as a teenager John bought a New Imperial and restored it in his bedroom, only to discover he could not get the finished bike out of the room without removal of certain parts! Roy, the second brother (who did the 1966 Montecarlo rally in a Mini Cooper S and raced rally cross for 20 years) remembers John as a gifted writer, who left Towcester Grammer School with a nickname of Screibus. Back then it was clear that writing was to be his asset.
John escaped national service due to his very poor eyesight, and after various jobs in the early 1950's he found himself working for Motorcycling - the magazine forerunner to the Motor Cycle News. He was a road test journalist, with a big interest in racing machines of the past, and he quickly found himself writing articles on such machines. John was also a keen member of the newly formed Vintage Motorcycle Club, and he would enter events such as the London to Brighton Pioneer run, the Royston Hill Climb event on the dirt and various vintage road-racing events. He also competed in the Clubman's TT at the Isle of Man on a Triumph in 1955.
By 1956 I came along, and we were living in Rayners Lane, Middlesex. I can remember various things from an early age all related to motorcycles (see photos). By 1962 John had written three books detailing some of the finest motorcycles: Built for Speed, Historic Racing Motorcycles and Famous Racing Motorcycles - all of which are collectors items in their own right. As his collection of old motorcycles grew, the small semi in outer London became too small to house them all. With a job location change, the family moved to run down farmhouse in Bitteswell, South Leicestershire. 1967 saw a change in career plans. John started up as an antique dealer, selling from the farmhouse. The business grew rapidly, along with the collection of bikes.
John's spare time was spent restoring the machines in one of the sheds and using them at vintage meetings, like the Banbury Run, Mallory Park, Cadwell Park, Silverstone etc. I cut my teeth as a Rudge pusher, although despite trying hard, at the age of 11 it was difficult to make much of an impression coaxing an ex-Graham Walker Rudge to start on methanol with 12- 1 compression. My father was brought up with a Victorian regime, which he followed on. I used to prey that he didn't stall it as I had to keep tickling the twin float bowls to keep it running, getting the odd eyeful of fuel! The benefit to life back then was we had a field and various motorcycles to go round and round on, starting with a Corgi sidecar, Honda C110 50cc, Triumph Tiger Cub, Ariel 600cc Side Valve.
By now his collection had grown and he decided to try to find other storage, and with a very close friend, Titch Allen, approched Lord and Lady Braye at Stanford Hall. They opened a Motorcycle Museum, proving to be an ideal storage room where people could also enjoy the bikes.
Every year he would dissapear for two weeks for the Isle of Man TT. I can remember going in 1967 - what a year to have gone: the Diamond Jubilee and Mike Hailwood on the Honda six. But aged 11 I only wanted free stickers and to go in the sea! Stanford Hall grew and the Vintage Motorcycle Club held its founders day rally there - they even had a couple of people trying to sell old bike bits. Back then nobody wanted them, a bike would cost a tenner, require a further fifty pounds to restore only to be worth ©25. I remember him buying a Manx Norton shortstroke for ©200 - many people then were glad to get rid of the bikes.
The biggest challenge was when the Vellocette factory was sold off. I can't remember the year but remember the occasion because he went to the auction and then had to russle up the money to pay for it all. He had bought the Vellocette model O 600cc and the Vellocette Roarer, the Thruxton prototype, the Thruxton Production TT winner, the 24-hour record- breaker, the LE 250cc prototype, a Valiant prototype plus others. How frantic it seemed at home back then - this was the way it was - he was an 80-hour working week man, pushing to the limit and working hard to achieve his goals.
John became president of the Vintage Motorcycle Club of which he was a keen member through most types of activity. The collection of motorcycles was coming into its own by 1974 - 50 machines at the age of just 44. It was November that year when he was killed on the M1 motorway - an oncoming lorry driver fell asleep at the wheel and came through the armco. Later, as I passed that same age, I realised just how much he had achieved in that short lifetime. This is why I have decided to make this tribute to let his collection live on even though it was sold off in the 1980s. I will add some scanned photos I have but if you own the bike or know where it is I would like to add more digital photos to this site.Right: Historic Racing Motorcycles by John Griffith Right: Famous Racing Motorcycles by John Griffith Right: Built for Speed by John Griffith Right: Matchbox 'Models of Yesteryear' Sunbeam & Mills-Fulford sidecar 1914 based on one of the Griffith Collection. Right: Booklet from Stanford Hall Museum. Right: Brochure from Stanford Hall Museum. Note these original items are available to purchase at just £2.00 including postage and packaging - contact us if you would like a copy.