Throwback Thursday – My 1st Bike

malaguti

I’d managed to save up £150 – enough to buy a 50cc bike in time for my 16th birthday – and had started looking at a few for sale locally.  This was the mid 1980s, so I was really looking for a pre-1977 machine – anything registered after August 1977 was restricted to 30mph – so I wanted an unrestricted bike that I could coax up to a dizzy 45, perhaps even 50 mph.

One Friday evening I was thumbing through some old brochures when I came across what seemed to be an absolute dream machine to a 16 year old: the Malaguti Monte.  An Italian ‘enduro-ped’ punching out 6.5bhp, it could top 55mph and looked fantastic – like a real motorbike with a proper frame rather than a glorified moped.  I simply HAD to have a Malaguti.

What I didn’t realise was that my chances of finding one of these things – in any condition – was almost zero.  They were imported in small numbers, never sold well, and worse, they weren’t particularly well made.  Most had either fallen apart or rotted away.  In fact, I couldn’t remember ever having actually seen one other than the one pictured in the brochure.

But I was determined to find a Malaguti, so the following morning I phoned the UK importer’s number listed on the back of the 10-year old brochure.  The address was in Ripley, Surrey and although the phone rang and rang, no one answered.  I tried for ages but got no response.  In the end I persuaded Dad to give me a lift to Ripley so we could check out the address.  Although I knew Malagutis hadn’t been imported for years, I felt there might be some clues there – perhaps they still dealt in bikes, perhaps someone there might be able to point me in the right direction?

After an hour’s drive, we arrived in Ripley to find the address on the brochure was now a Suzuki Jeep dealership… We went inside and looked around.  At the back of the showroom was the parts department where I spotted a pair of motorcycle forks hanging up behind the counter – this looked more promising.  It turned out that although they no longer imported the bikes, they still had a massive stock of spare parts for them.  What’s more, they were incredibly cheap – about a 3rd of the price of Japanese bike spares.  So if I DID manage to track down a bike, at least I knew where I could get parts for it.  We chatted to the chap in the parts department for a while and although he didn’t rate our chances of finding a Malaguti, he was impressed that we’d bothered to make the journey.  Keen to help, he wrote out a long list of bike dealers who had sold these machines back in the 70s.

Back at home, I started ringing round the dealers on the list.  For some reason, I started at the bottom of the list and worked my way to the top.  Every one told me the same story: “A Malaguti? Nah, you’ve got no chance mate.  You’ll never find one of those…etc”. I got to the last name on the list – Jack Lilley’s (in Shepperton back then). Again, I got the same story ” A Malaguti?  No, haven’t seen one of those in years…” when suddenly the tone changed: “Oh, hold on a sec – you’ll never believe this – there’s a customer in the shop who’s overheard our conversation and his son’s got a Malaguti for sale. Shall I put him on the phone?”.

So after a quick chat, Dad and I were on our way to Staines to check over this Malaguti.  It was a little tired and needed a few new parts but of course I knew where to get these cheaply.  A deal was struck and the bike was delivered on the back of a trailer on Monday evening.  The following Saturday found us back in Ripley to pick up the parts needed to get the bike back on the road. Total cost of bike and parts was exactly £150.00!

The bike turned out to be pretty crap by the way, but that’s another story… – Hugh McClelland

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