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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Marty Scott sold India's Enfield to the U.S.

Martin Scott is the man who brought made-in-India Royal Enfields to the United States. In two previous posts I've tried to capture the spirit of that undertaking, as related to me in October, 2009 by Marty and Debbie Scott.

But when I first reached Scott on the phone in April, 2009 he diagrammed the history for me. This is that story.

Scott isn't connected with Royal Enfield anymore, and the end wasn't gentle. If you're expecting recriminations, however, forget it. Scott didn't say a harsh word to me about anyone. On the contrary, he gave credit at every turn to others who worked to make Enfields known in the U.S.

His comments here about the quality of Enfield motorcycles in those days will not surprise anyone who has heard the stories. The point is that things improved quickly — if not fast enough to save Scott's business.

Imagine, if you will, that his quotes are said with a bit of an accent; he's from New Zealand. Whether it's the accent or his attitude, he always sounds cheerful, even about the rough times.

"It was a real challenge," was the first thing Scott told me. "Quality was terrible."

He started working to import Enfields in 1990. The first motorcycles arrived in the U.S. in 1995. Scott himself had came to the U.S. in 1976. He was in construction and had projects in China. He heard of the Enfield plant in what was then Madras and had his ticket routed through there.

"I called from Hong Kong and said I was interested in importing it (the bike)." He worked with Enfield. Set up a list of what had to be done. Enfield got a bike into the U.S. for 180 days, for testing.

There was no way that was time enough. Imagine even a major corporation getting an unknown motor vehicle sorted to government standards in that time.

"I remember I got a phone call or a letter from the EPA and they said my time was running out, you destroy the bike or get it into compliance," Scott said.

"I had to quit my job and we went full speed ahead. I went to Harley in Milwaukee (for compliance testing) for a month or six weeks; they were very supportive. Then we had to put 7,500 miles on the bike — they were looking for deterioration. I got a waiver to do the miles on the road, there was no way we could afford to do them on a dyno.

"I tooled around the Upper Great Lakes and Midwest. We eventually got it. Even the factory was surprised. 'We're approved.' 'We are?' Then they had to build it to specifications, and that took another year."

"Marty was THE person who brought Royal Enfield back to the United States," said Royal Enfield dealer Eric Engler, of Velocity Motorcycles in Richmond, Vir.

"And he did it with his own hands and his own money. He was the whole thing. He put everything into it. Marty did two to three years of work before he got them in. Then he was the importer, the distributor, the parts manager, the salesman, he was the whole thing. Then others came along, with fresh money, and they have done wonderful things with it."

Scott remembered that "there were dealers at the beginning who dropped the product because of atrocious quality. Even Harley dealers took it on but dropped it quickly because of atrocious quality. Have you ever seen a left-side shift? Oh, you have one? Well, when we got them they wouldn't shift at all. We had to tear into them before they went to the dealers or they'd have freaked out."

Chris Janes of Farmington Hills, Mich. was an early customer, buying a used 1995 Military.

"At first it was a real pain to keep that thing on the road," he recalled. "All the rubber that the fuel came in contact with turned to goop. The valves and guides needed replacing in less than 1,000 miles. Bearings going south. Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong. It didn’t matter because I enjoyed riding it so much I just fixed it so I could go out riding again."

Like Janes, many customers understood that they were buying a hobby, not a Honda, and kept their sense of humor.

Robert Bauer of Richmond, Vir., bought what he believes is the first Enfield Scott sold "retail" in the U.S. Bauer saw an ad, he believes in Classic Bike magazine, in which India Enfield listed its distributors worldwide. And there was Marty Scott in White Plains, Md.

Bauer's bike is a 1995 500 Classic. He bought and fit the deluxe chrome tank and solo seat and the deeper 350 front fender. "Retro-ed it up." He still has the bike. "I like it," he said. The latest thing he has done to it is fit a Velocette muffler a friend had. "So now it's a Bullecette."

Scott told me "You really need to be a tinkerer. That's the fun of motorcycling." This belief was an extension of his own youth: people had old motorcycles, they needed tinkering to make them run, and he became a tinkerer.

Scott said he worked stations in the factory in Chennai when he visited. "I have an engineering background.

"There was a change of ownership in India; that made a big difference. I worked with the family that started the company. The father had seven sons and I worked with the youngest son before Eicher came along." He applauded how the Eicher corporation "transformed" a factory that was "dark, dirty and dangerous."

Before Eicher, he recalled, some workers were barefoot, there were no masks for people doing painting, and primered bikes were left out in the rain.

"The (Bullet Owner's) Club was flourishing during this time. We'd go on rides, there were meetings. I travelled a lot. Mid-Ohio. People were beginning to run flat track, trials. AHRM. It was a lot of work. It had to be done on a face-to-face basis.

"But the quality KO'ed us. We were losing money in 1995. In 1996 they (the factory) went on strike. They were only out four months but we lost a year. We never got any '96 bikes.

"We were slipping backward.

"I'm just not a good businessman. It wasn't a money maker for us. It was becoming clear that I was going to run out of money. That's when I took on Kevin Mahoney as distributor. He took the ball and ran with it, and he had capital, and he took it in a different direction and has accomplished marvelous things with it."

It wasn't just the factory that was falling short. Janes had had trouble finding a dealer, then trouble getting a response from a dealer he did find. He would have bought new, but had to settle for a used Enfield. When he needed parts it turned out to be easier to get them from the Canadian importer. Then something unusual happened.

"I got an e-mail from a guy claiming to be the factory rep for Enfield India here in the US. He wanted to talk to me about Enfields in the US. I sent him my phone number and a few nights later I got a call from him," Janes said.

"We discussed the lack of communication between the importer and the dealers. The hard time the dealers had getting bikes and parts. The hard time the end users had getting parts. What I thought about the bikes, etc.

"Still don’t know why he wanted to talk to me but I got all my peeves off my chest," Janes said.

India was changing horses.

"I got dumped — 'lack of performance' they called it," Scott said. It was inevitable. I was a bit disgusted with Royal Enfield. After holding their hands in America for 10 years! 'Your contract is expired.'"

Chris Janes finally got the new Enfield of his dreams.

Customer Janes saw a change right away.

"Early spring of 1999, I saw an Enfield ad somewhere. It had a phone number I hadn’t seen before. Classic Motorworks, never heard of them before. I’ll give them a try.

"One phone call and I had the Black Deluxe of my dreams... The rest is history. Kevin Mahoney definitely took the Enfield to the next level here in the US.

"I have to thank Marty Scott for getting the ball rolling and putting the bug in my ear but it took Kevin to really get things going for us here," Janes said.

Scott continued to put energy into the Bullet Owner's Club. Bob Murphy for six years was president of the Bullet Owners Club. He also was one of the first customers to buy an Enfield.

"Marty devoted himself to bringing the Royal Enfield to the U.S., getting the Indians to do what had to be done to bring it in," he said.

"Marty became editor of the Bullet Owners Club newsletter and wrote something in it that upset Kevin Mahoney. There was a lawsuit and I was drawn into it, although my part was dismissed. There was a $250,000 judgment. We had to disband the Bullet Owners Club."

Scott said he was unconcerned by the lawsuit and didn't think the club should close (it was dropped from the suit — the judgment, for $500,000, is against him). But Scott regrets that it did close and takes responsibility: "In the end I think I let them down," he said.

The article questioned dealer policies Mahoney had put into effect and Mahoney saw that as interference in his business. And that wasn't all. Fragments of Scott's web site, The Neutral Finder, can still be found on the Internet. The tone of things he wrote about Kevin Mahoney was more Fleet Street tabloid than Wall Street Journal.

In a 2008 email to me, Mahoney described the falling out as "a terrible thing especially since we had been such good friends. That part of it was painful to me, but things happen."
Marty Scott and Kevin Mahoney in 1999, at the Taj Mahal. (Photo Courtesy of Kevin Mahoney).

Mahoney also wrote fondly of the time they had spent together on the road, and the adventures they shared. Scott, too, has fond memories.

"I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish Kevin well. I had 10 years or so. I love the product, I love the Indian people."

He has considered reviving the Neutral Finder, especially to complete an account of the fictional British motorcycle brand "Briggins" that he had started to serialize in it.

And Scott said he still has an Enfield, the 1990 500 test bike, the one brought over for compliance testing.

"It's kind of a 'rat bike'" he said.

"That's the way I like them."

2 comments:

  1. I think David really got it "right" in this series about Marty. If it weren't for him I am convinced that Royal Enfield would not be in the US yet. He is still a legend in the hallways at DOT as that crazy guy that actually jumped through all of our hoops alone by himself. Building Classic Motorworks was a new career direction for me and it was Marty's contagious enthusiasm that get me started.
    Kevin Mahoney
    CMW

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for recording this bit of history!

    Regards
    Jorge

    ReplyDelete