Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Roger Boss and the Royal Enfield GT

Screen shot from Royal Enfield video.
Roger Boss was there at the birth of the Royal Enfield Continental GT.

 Author and Royal Enfield historian Gordon May reported that Roger Boss, a test rider who rose to be an executive at Royal Enfield in the UK, passed away on Jan. 14, 2023. 

Gordon credits Roger as the creator of the first Royal Enfield Continental GT, a 250cc cafe racer that brought young people to the brand in 1964. 

As National Sales Manager Roger launched the little road burner with a dramatic 1,000-mile "reliability test" from the northern tip of Britain to its southernmost point. Royal Enfield of India re-created that iconic run in 2014 when it introduced a new, 535cc Continental GT

The original Royal Enfield Continental GT was an outgrowth of Royal Enfield's line of Crusaders -- unit-engined, 250cc single-cylinder motorcycles, with small wheels. They were economical, ideal for smaller riders, and there was a Sports model with an alloy head that had the goods but didn't look much different from the Royal Enfields that had come before. 

Then, in 1964 came the Continental GT. Away went the traditional Royal Enfield casquette, replaced with twin clocks, clip-ons, rear sets, a fly screen and swept back exhaust. And it was RED.

Original 250cc Royal Enfield Continental GT.
Original Royal Enfield Continental GT 250 poses at Brooklands.
(David Blasco Photo.)

Author Roy Bacon called the Continental GT "the last word in a cafe racer from a factory."

The factory hotrod had many fathers, of course, not just Roger Boss. Bacon credits executive Leo Davenport with showing the prototype to the Royal Enfield factory apprentices to get their ideas.

Roger tells the story himself in the Royal Enfield video created for the launch of the Continental GT 535. But he gives it rather short shrift. There was more to it than that.

I was lucky enough to get a bit more of the story from Roger himself.

Purely by chance, I sat next to him and legendary Royal Enfield trials rider Johnny Brittain at the press conference launching the new Continental GT 535 in September, 2014, at Brooklands.

Gordon May, a Royal Enfield legend himself, MC'd the event, telling the audience how Boss had brought the company an exciting new motorcycle.

Roger was obviously thrilled to see a new Continental GT join the Royal Enfield brand.

And it was RED!

"Wonderful!" he exclaimed as applause ended the press conference.

As the press conference broke up he delighted in telling me the story of how the original Royal Enfield Continental GT came to be.

Roger Boss and Royal Enfield GT 535.
Roger Boss, left, with U.S. distributor Kevin Mahoney and the GT 535.
(David Blasco Photo.)

As I got the story, Roger had attended a very sober meeting of the dealers' association at which it was agreed that there would be no forward-leaning seating position offered on factory motorcycles, as encouraging speeding was "bad for the image of motorcycling."

"I immediately went back to Royal Enfield and told them 'we've got to put clip-ons on these motorcycles!'" Roger said.

Naturally, Roger couldn't help but be proud of that little bit of dishonesty.

The original Continental GT was dropped in 1967 as Royal Enfield's fortunes declined in the UK. It was the last model of the 250cc Royal Enfield Crusader line.

"The most outrageous, noisy and uncomfortable of them all but equally the most enjoyable," Bacon wrote.

"It was bad for the motorcycling image but enormous fun and just what young riders were looking for."

Gordon May wrote this of Roger's passing:

"A passionate Royal Enfield supporter to the end, he always had fascinating and often amusing stories to tell from his days at the Redditch factory. Roger always treated me with great warmth, kindness and generosity, memories I will treasure. He will be greatly missed."

Roger appears in this Perpetual Motion video. It's well worth watching to get an idea of this soft-spoken gentleman who earned his spurs test riding and went on to bring a legendary motorcycle to Royal Enfield.

The 535cc Royal Enfield Continental GT would last through 2017 and would be replaced by today's Continental GT 650 twin. That bike is writing an all-new history for Royal Enfield with the same kind of rock'n'roll image Roger Boss wanted for the first 250cc Continental GT of 1964.

Siddhartha Lal and Gordon May with 250cc GT.
The lineage is clear: an original Royal Enfield Continental GT 250 with Royal Enfield boss Siddhartha Lal, left, and historian Gordon May at the 2018 introduction of the latest Continental GT, the 650 twin. Owner Chris Overton (in yellow shirt) provided his 1966 GT for the occasion.
(David Blasco Photo.)

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