Friday, July 27, 2012

Marked 'VAX' this Royal Enfield Interceptor came to U.S.
two years before the 750cc Interceptors arrived

A scrambler in road trim, the VAX Interceptor "S" had classy looking tank badges.
Jeff owns a rare VAX Interceptor "S" imported by Cooper Motors of Los Angeles in 1960. Jeff's  motorcycle spent most of its life sitting in a shed, waiting to be rediscovered and appreciated.

Until recently, Jeff's advertising photography studio was located in downtown Los Angeles, not far from the former site of Cooper Motors. You can't help wondering what Cooper Motors would have been like in 1960.

The best off-road motorcycle racers in Southern California would have stopped by Cooper to check out the powerful new Royal Enfield scrambler, the 692cc Interceptor.

This was fully two years before the better remembered 750cc Interceptor would even reach the market. Fewer than 200 of the 700cc Interceptors — each labeled "VAX" on the motor — were made. Today even many fans of the Royal Enfield brand will tell you there were no Royal Enfield Interceptors before 1962; certainly none with 692cc motors. They're mistaken.

The VAX Interceptor was re-introduced to history by author Mark Cain, who restored one and wrote about it in a 2005 magazine article.

"Don't recognize it?" he asked his readers. "Neither did I."

One Interceptor expert told me the VAX was "a sales flop at the time but became a hot little number when Mark Cain publicized their rarity and created some nostalgia."

Today Jeff owns one of those rare motorcycles, an unmolested example with only 3,700 miles on it. He's restoring it with his son Mason, who is 18, in his first year of college and also busy building a cafe racer out of a 1979 Yamaha SR500.

This rare model is not as well documented as the later 750 Interceptors. There are no workshop manuals for the VAX, no parts list either. Jeff is collecting information in advance of the restoration, speaking with other Interceptor owners, and parts vendors, reading up on Interceptor and Enfield history. He knows this motorcycle was made to race, meaning there may be especially stressed bits inside the motor. What can he do to make it stronger?

Jeff's Interceptor  was left untended but not abused.
Click here for a gallery of photos of Jeff's motorcycle. Here's what he knows about it so far:

"Purchased from family of the original owner, one of my neighbors. They were kind enough to give me and my son a chance to bring her back to her former glory and get her back on the road. Original owner was a Los Angeles resident who owned and rode several bikes. He purchased the bike new here in LA in 1960, rode it for a few years, then stored it in a shed for nearly 50 years.

"She’s dirty and greasy but the condition is quite good and she’ll clean up well. I know bikes and at first sight I knew that it was all there but would require quite a bit of work. She's got great compression and if I gassed her up and kicked her over right now, I’m sure she’d  start up and run.

"VAX" stamped on motor tells you it's special.
"But I’m not in any hurry – I’m first going to clean her up inside and out and take steps to ensure that when I do start her up, there is sufficient oil flow to avoid any damage. I also own a '74 Norton Commando Interstate, a '74 Triumph Trident T150V, and an '07 Triumph Bonneville.

"We’re fortunate to have good weather and great mountain roads surrounding Los Angeles and I ride nearly every day of the year. My ancestry is British (my Grandmother came over on the Queen Mary). I lead the Los Angeles chapter of the Brit Iron Rebels, a global club for British motorcycle culture enthusiasts with hundreds of members around the world. We ride and wrench on Brit bikes; most of us own both vintage and modern Brit bikes.

Ever seen one of these? It held your registration.
"The tube on the license plate was used to hold the registration papers. These were common back in the day.  I found the original registration rolled up in the tube.

"A number of Interceptor experts have contacted me to provide information or to request to visit and see the bike. From what I’ve heard thus far, this bike is one of a handful of complete and original VAX Interceptors known to exist today. Other bikes have been pieced together from various machines. This bike has the original frame, engine and transmission as fitted by the factory and is like a time capsule, parked 50 years ago and now ready to live again.

1960 VAX Interceptor "S", the view from the seat.
"So I’m going to do this right. But to be clear, this will not be a concourse restoration. I will maintain the bike as a faithful example but she will never be a trailer queen. I will be riding her as she was meant to be ridden. I believe that we owe that much to our bikes."

You'll get a taste of what his VAX Interceptor S can expect in this short and very entertaining Brit Iron Rebels video:


  1. I had possession of a frame, crankcase and transmission for a VAX Interceptor for over 30 years without ever knowing what it was until about two years ago.
    I bought them as part of a collection of bits sometime around 1974, hoping that some of the parts would work on my 1966 750 Interceptor.
    I'd never even heard of the VAX Interceptors until about 5 years ago, and even then, I claimed the person reporting about it was wrong!
    It wasn't until last year, when I emailed a collection of frame, engine and transmission numbers in my possession to the REOC/UK that I learned that I owned the numbered parts from a VAX Interceptor. The crankcase is broken beyond repair (thrown left-hand rod!), but the parts included a usable 700 crankcase with no number stamped on it, which was probably used to repair the bike when it originally threw the rod. It would have been acceptible to transfer the original number to this replacement crankcase. I'm still surprised that the original owner had the presence of mind to keep the broken crankcase.
    I thought seriously about building my own VAX Interceptor around the engine and frame, but decided to sell them to someone in the Midwest who really seemed to want them.
    Turns out, he's got an original set of VAX front forks, which would have been the hardest part for me to find if I'd chosen to keep the bike.

  2. Carl, thank you. Your story substantiates the point that few knew the story of the VAX.


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