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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Marty and Debbie Scott and Royal Enfield

Bringing the made-in-India Enfield motorcycles to the United States was no one-man-job. The earliest name you come up with when you ask about the history is "Marty Scott." The second thing you almost invariably hear is "...and his wife Debbie."

Many of the people I asked about Martin Scott and the "early days" (1995!) of Enfield in the U.S. gave credit to Marty's then wife Debbie. They are divorced and she is remarried, but they remain neighbors and friends in Maryland. Debbie graciously talked to me about Enfield at Marty's Gourd House party Oct. 3.

Debbie says she is the one who got Marty back into motorcycling. When she learned it had been a passion of his, she suggested he take it up again.

"He said, 'Really!?'"

The story she remembers him telling is that, as a boy, he had begged for a motorcycle. Finally, against the wishes of Marty's mother, his dad bought him a pile of parts that had once been an old British motorcycle, a Thunderbird 650. This was expected to keep him out of trouble. But seven days later, he had a running motorcycle.

"That's Marty!" she says.

Debbie is from Ohio, but speaks German, Luxembourgish and French and had been living in Europe for nine years when the couple was introduced by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. They were married in one of the mass blessing ceremonies of the Unification Church 18 months later. "Marty's a Kiwi, but (for me) he was the boy from back home."

Martin Scott with daughter Vanessa.

They have three children: Ian, 23, serving with the Army in Iraq; Monica, 21, attending university in New Zealand; and Vanessa, 19, attending college in Maryland. Vanessa was at the party, busily taking pictures. When Enfield came up she said she remembers the kids "test driving" them (by going for rides with Marty, often in a sidecar!).

For better or worse, importing Enfields became a family business.

Marty and Monica ride, about 1995.

As Marty tells it, he came to the U.S. from New Zealand in 1976. In 1988 he was in construction and had projects in China. He heard of the Enfield plant in what was then called Madras. (It's called Chennai now, and the Indian company added "Royal" to the name Enfield in 2000.)

Marty was intrigued, and had his ticket routed through India.

"I called from Hong Kong and said I was interested in importing them."

On his first visit to the factory, Martin inquired about importing the Enfields into New Zealand, only to find out that the factory already an importer for New Zealand.

"But we're looking for an importer for the United States," he was informed. Martin rented a typewriter and sat in his hotel room for three days typing out a proposal for importing the motorcycles into the US. After negotiations Martin's company was given the title U.S. Enfield Importer on the condition that he got EPA approval.

That was the real challenge. Enfield sent a prototype, a 1990 500cc Bullet that Martin used for all the EPA tests.

Marty, Monica and Ian Scott with Enfield managing director Mr. Lakshman and his wife, 1990.

Then, Marty says, "at some point, it became apparent it was all or nothing. It went from 'wouldn't this be great' to 'how can we do this.' I had three young kids at the time. I quit and took a part time job. My wife was very supportive." Debbie ran a licensed home day care to bring in money.

Martin worked with the factory, setting up a list of what had to be altered on the made-for-US Enfield model. Debbie remembers Marty keeping a phone-book-thick manual of CFR (Code of Federal Regulation: government certification requirements) on each side of the bed. She called them his Bibles.

"The font was about the size of what it is in the King James version. But he got so he could cite the code chapter and verse."

The first container of Enfields arrived in Baltimore Harbor in 1995. Dealers were eagerly waiting for each container when they arrived. As the Enfield starting appearing on U.S. roads people were curious to know more about the bike. It has always been a head-turner. At red lights people would roll down their windows and want to know all about the bike.

Debbie baked a motorcycle shaped cake to celebrate the first container of Enfields; Richard Jones, left, was a vital early investor.

They weren't everyone's cup of tea, however. Debbie handled marketing and public relations, no easy task. Quality was poor, the left-shift conversions didn't work without fiddling and Americans just weren't used to a motorcycle that wouldn't run at 75 mph all day on the expressway.

"The Enfield has a real 10 horsepower," Marty says of those motorcycles. "If you pay $1,000 you can get it up to 11 horsepower.

"The only reason they survived was that in India they were never asked to go faster than 40 miles per hour. They were designed (in Britain, in the 1940s) as commuter bikes so men could go to work on country lanes; and they didn't go over 40 miles per hour on those."

"In America they were asked to go faster. The head temperatures built up and you couldn't do it," Marty says.

"People would buy a bike and then call the very next day to complain — the very next day!" Debbie says. What did they think they were buying?

Marty remembers Debbie answering the phone and talking to someone broken down by the side of the road, and her saying, "well, that's not all that unusual."

But her eyes still glowed as she talked with real joy about the early days, driving a trailer full of motorcycles across the U.S., and taking the kids out of school to visit national parks.

Marty, too, remembers great times, with early customers becoming good friends and a Bullet owners club taking shape to sponsor rides and events.

"I had a wonderful time, met some awesome people, people who got involved, who loved old motorcycles, especially British motorcycles."

"I told everyone this is a great motorcycle. It goes slow and leaks oil and that is why you should buy it."

Marty takes Ian for a test ride, circa 1995.

3 comments:

  1. It's cool to hear the American (or New Zealand) side of the Enfield story.

    ReplyDelete

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