Friday, December 14, 2018

Which Royal Enfield brought the mail in Malta in the '50s?

Brochure illustration of a motorcycle.
1956 Royal Enfield brochure illustration of a Model G Deluxe.
Last week's blog item noted that Royal Enfield motorcycles were used in the 1950s to deliver the mail on the island of Malta. In 2007, Malta put a 1954 350cc Royal Enfield on a commemorative stamp.

I made a mistake. The motorcycle on the stamp isn't a Royal Enfield Bullet, as I at first claimed in that item. It's apparently a Royal Enfield Model G Deluxe.

The differences between the two models are significant enough that reader Mark Mumford noticed one of them.

"Actually, looking at that picture, it's not a Bullet but a Model G Deluxe? Note separate gearbox," he wrote me.

Postage stamp showing motorcycle.
Royal Enfield on Malta's stamp must be a Model G Deluxe, not a Bullet.
The gearbox of the Model G was held to the motor by mounting plates (they look like fillers), visible on the stamp, whereas the Bullet gearbox bolted directly to the motor.

The motorcycle on the stamp also clearly has the Model G motor, with its oil filler opening at the front of the crankcase. The Bullet motor had its oil filler behind the crankcase.

The Royal Enfield on the stamp has a rear suspension. I usually associate the Royal Enfield Model G with a rigid frame (no rear suspension), but eventually there was a Model G Deluxe with a sprung frame, courtesy of a rear swing arm, as visible on the stamp.

Mark pointed out that Hitchcocks Motorcycles shows a 1955 "350cc Clipper (Model G Deluxe)" in its online parts books. It has the rear swing-arm suspension. This is clearly the motorcycle on the stamp, although the year given is 1955 instead of 1954.

(Hitchcocks parts books also show a rigid-frame 1954 Model G.)

Was the motorcycle on the stamp really a 1955 instead of a 1954 as it is labelled? Maybe. Model years are slippery things.

A 1956 sales brochure page for the Model G Deluxe shows the Model G Deluxe of that year to be very much like the Royal Enfield motorcycle on the stamp.

One other possibility exists. A 1954 Royal Enfield Clipper — a 250cc motorcycle — would closely match the machine on the stamp except that I think its scaled-down motor would leave more space under the gas tank than is seen on the stamp. Also, a Clipper should have a headlight nacelle without the side pilot lights seen on the stamp.

The main thing is that the Royal Enfield on the stamp is a Royal Enfield, but it is not a Bullet. Which probably makes sense, as the Bullet would have been a more expensive motorcycle less attractive to a price conscious post office.

I only wish I could reach the owner of the Malta post office motorcycle to ask for more information.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Royal Enfields brought the mail in Malta in the '50s

A 1954 Royal Enfield appeared on a Malta postage stamp in 2007.
The Royal Enfield motorcycle on this Malta postage stamp was among four vintage British motorcycles featured on a set of stamps issued by Maltapost in 2007.

The stamps were the subject of a comprehensive article in The Malta Independent at the time. It wrote:

"The models featured on these stamps are a 1903 Minerva, a Matchless model much in use by Services dispatch riders, a Triumph model popular with police forces, and a Royal Enfield motorcycle much favored by the GPO."

It seems natural that British motorcycles served various roles in Malta, an island country in the Mediterranean. Malta became a British colony in 1815, withstood heavy attacks by the Axis in World War II, and only became independent in 1964. It remains a member of the Commonwealth. It became a republic in 1974 and is a member of the European Union.

The newspaper also had specific information about the Royal Enfield pictured on one of the stamps:

"The Royal Enfield motorcycle featured on the... stamp is a single-seater 1954 model which had been used by the General Post Office in Malta. This machine was renowned for its beautifully balanced and very fine 350cc engine, known as the Bullet engine. It was first used by the Call Office, as it was then known, in Melita Street, formerly Britannia Street, Valletta. The same model was also used for different duties in Branch Post Offices around Malta and Gozo."

I became curious about this post office Royal Enfield when I noticed the stamp pictured on the Facebook page of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Historic Motorcycle Club (Malta) also has a Facebook page. Member Albert Pisani helpfully put me on to the article in The Independent after I inquired about the stamp.

Member Stephen Zerafa added this perspective:

"Hello David, I don't recall ever seeing Royal Enfields being used for such work in Malta. It was usually BSAs and Triumphs. I myself own an ex-Malta GPO 1970 Triumph TR25W."

Stephen suggested I ask member Joe Anastasi about Royal Enfields at the GPO. Joe provided the juiciest tidbit of all:

"I remember that the Post Office had bought, I think it was six Royal Enfield Bullets, by tender in the late '50s. Previously we — my grandfather's, and later my father's company The John Bull Ironmongery Stores, regularly sold BSA Bantams to the post office and my father was quite surprised when they went for:

A. A 350, when they previously only ran small capacity two strokes, and

B. An Enfield, as the local Enfield distributors never sold any bikes in any quantity here, and did not give an after sales service. Somebody must have greased the hand of the purchasing manager at GPO. Nothing changes in Malta. :)"

So perhaps Royal Enfields weren't as common in Malta as being on a stamp might suggest.

Malta has its own Postal Musuem and even displays a motorcycle in Post Office Red on the floor of the museum building in Valleta. It's not a Royal Enfield, though. It's a James Captain motorcycle, of 200cc.

When I inquired about the stamp, Lara Bugeja, curator at the Malta Postal Museum, wrote me this:

"The Royal Enfield motorcycle that was featured on a stamp is sadly not in the collection of the Malta Postal Museum and I have no knowledge of any Royal Enfields being used in connection with Malta’s postal services (which is not to say they weren’t)."

The Historic Motorcycle Club (Malta) member Frans Deguara had specific recollections.

"I remember very well the 350cc Royal Enfield at the GPO in Blata I-Bayda... My apprenticeship was from 1958 to 1964. During this period I was doing servicing, repairs and full overhaul of these motorcycles... I remember this bike Royal Enfield 350cc. It was fun to drive with precise steering and a comfortable rear suspension too. One day I overhauled its engine and to my surprise the connecting rod was made of aluminum with a steel lower big-end cap. Interesting to note that the engine crankcase formed part of the the bike frame. This can be easily seen in the photo above."

I wrote to the designer of the set of stamps, Joe P. Smith, who both created the image of the Royal Enfield and designed the stamp itself. He photographed the motorcycles on location in the owners' garages, so the job involved hours of "post processing" to clean up the backgrounds.

"When Maltapost commissioned me to design the stamps I was directed to a couple of owners and one particular collector of motorcycles who provided the GPO Enfield," the artist replied.

Unfortunately, he did not immediately recall the name of the motorcycle's owner.

Jason Teuma, yet another member of the Historica Motorcycle Club (Malta) may have provided the answer:

"Yes, that bike belongs to Joe Zammit, ex-traffic policeman that lives at Haz-Zabbar; he is a motorcycle collector."

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