A yellowing motorcycle supplies catalogue dated 1936 is one among the several old curiosities, which U. Surjith, a city-based collector and restorer of classic British motorcycles, considers precious.
It occupies a special place among the scores of classic motorcycle maintenance manuals, British inch measurement tools, lamps, horns, original spare parts, badges, emblems and other related treasured odds and ends the 42-year-old management degree holder and entrepreneur has collected over the past 20 years.
The manual was a gift from his teacher, the late Fernandez Methodius, a mechanic who specialized in repairing classic British and American made motorcycles.
Fernandez’s clientele included foreign missionaries, royals and business magnets, who were among the first to import the celebrated Nortons, Truimphs, BSAs, Ariels and Royal Enfield motorcycles into Kerala in the 1940 and 50s.
Surjith inherits his love for motorcycles from his grandfather V. Nanoo who bought an US made Red Indian motorbike for Rs 800 from a dealer in Kolkotta in 1942. His late father N. Udayakumar subsequently added a 1954-model twin cylinder BSA 650 Flash motorcycle to the family collection.
Surjith contribution so far has been two 500 cc twin cylinder Norton Dominators (1954 and 1960 models), a 1957-model Truimph Tiger 500 and a 1950- model BSA 250 four stroke single.
His latest acquisition is a rare 1957-model Royal Enfield 500 twin “meteor minor”. The motorcycle was produced in minimal numbers at the Royal Enfield factory in Redditch, England between 1948 and 1958.
Fr. Gopennel of St. Peter’s seminary, Bangalore, imported the bike to India in 1957. The German missionary changed the bike’s registration when he shifted to Our Lady of Angels Church, Pondicherry. He gifted the motorbike to Fr. Solomon of St. Antony’s Church, Kollam, in 1981.
Most of the classic machines in Surjith’s possession were once owned by foreign missionaries. Surjith found most of them in a state of disrepair in cob-webbed corners of churches, seminaries, colonial age homes and estate bungalows.
The priests were notable for their service to the poor. Surjith says that by keeping the old machines roadworthy, he feels that he helps preserve a miniscule slice of history.