Friday, March 29, 2024

1948 Royal Enfield tells a powerful story

1948 Royal Enfield Model G in ad.
No science fiction time machine brought this Royal Enfield from the past.

 Surprisingly complete and original looking, a 1948 Royal Enfield Model G motorcycle advertised in Georgia has something special to offer: a back story. 

Vintage motorcycles often come with patina, but few come with the human history behind how they earned that patina. In this case, we know who owned this Royal Enfield, how they used it, and how much it mattered to them. 

This rare (at least in the United States) old Royal Enfield has something else very unusual to offer: incredibly low mileage for its age. Unsurprisingly, the seller figures it will run, with some tinkering. There is no reason it shouldn't. 

The Model G was Royal Enfield's first post-war 350cc motorcycle that hadn't worn khaki in World War II. Instead of camouflage, its tank and headlight rim glittered in chrome.

Hydraulically damped front forks replaced the wartime girders. That most modern convenience, the neutral finder lever, offered easier shifting. 

Front fender  doesn't need fender stays.
Model G was a thoroughly modern motorcycle for postwar era.

The unusually generous front fender was attached to the frame, not the wheel, leaving the front end free of fender stays, for a distinctive look. There were no less than three metal tool boxes, and the rear fender was easily removed for tire changes.

It was an era when Britain desperately needed to export goods to earn money to repay its war debts. This Royal Enfield Model G was exported in March, 1948, in care of Whitehall Distributors of New York City. Whitehall's decal still proudly adorns the rear fender of this Royal Enfield.

Whitehall Distributors decal on rear fender.
Whitehall Distributors brought Royal Enfields to Americans.

It's in the U.S. that this motorcycle's story, alternately joyful and sad, begins. The seller, Kirt, was good enough to share it with me. He virtually grew up with this motorcycle. The "Little Jo" registration plate on the front fender is a reference to his mother, Joyce.

Here is his story. He pulled no punches in telling it:

"Yes, the bike is original, untouched, still has the original tires.

"It comes with an interesting story.

"I inherited it from my mother; she received it from her father, my grandfather, when she was 16ish. He was a Indian rider and wanted someone to ride with .

"There are a few newspaper clippings around here of her and my grandfather after they rode up Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire. I guess it was quite an undertaking back then, somewhere around 1949 or '50?

"In late 1949 or early 1950 she enlisted in the Air Force and shipped out to the West Coast; the bike was put up in my grandfather’s barber shop back room for storage.

"I learned about the bike when I was maybe 10ish? And I always thought it was very cool. I’m now 68.

"Flash forward to 1985.

"After my father’s death my mother moved back to the town she grew up in, Tamworth, N.H. and got together with her high school boyfriend. In 1985 I went to visit them and was anxious to see the bike I’d been remembering since my childhood.

"I picked it up from the storage room in the back of my grandfather’s barber shop and dusted it off, looked it over, changed the oil and put some fuel in it, then figured I needed to ride it. So I tried to bump start it and after only two times it started up!

"I remember I was so surprised it ran so well after having been sitting for over 35 years.

"I added a bit more fuel and took off down the road. Just so you know, Tamworth, N.H. is a real small town, small country roads, my grandmother was the postmaster there for 40-plus years so everyone knew her.

"So, as luck would have it, as I was motoring around (without any eye protection or a helmet) I get pulled over, right in front of the town COP’s house. Come to find out she was going home for lunch and I was in front of her! Can you believe the luck? 

"I told her the story behind the bike but that didn’t faze her and she still wrote me a ticket. No warning, A FULL-ON TICKET!

"It was still worth it! The attached picture is me in 1985 just after getting the Tamworth ticket.

Kirk and motorcycle in 1985.
Imagine finding and riding a treasured memory.

"I needed to head back after my visit, so I put the Royal Enfield under cover in her garage and thought all was good. (My mother had zero intention of giving me the bike even though she knew I would want it in a heartbeat.)

"Flash forward to 2009. My mother had decided to move from New Hampshire to Arizona. She had the bike moved along with her and her high school boyfriends’ belongings.

"I ended up purchasing a vacation home in Arizona the year after she moved there. When I finally got to see the bike again, I was completely disappointed, because the last time I saw it and rode it it was in just about museum gallery condition!

"I asked what happened to the Royal Enfield, why is it in such different condition than when I saw it in 1985? I was told her boyfriend didn’t want it stored in the garage and rolled it outside up next to the pump house and covered it with a piece of plywood! So, unbeknownst to me, it sat outside from 1985 until 2009.

"Flash forward to 2016. I was able to move from Seattle, Wash. to Arizona to finish my career out there and I purchased a home that was about 45 minutes from my mother’s home. I retired in 2018.

"My mother passed away in 2019. That is when I finally was able to wheel the bike home to my place.

"I asked my son if he would like it. Considering he only knew it in the condition it is in today he was very much excited to have it, so I shipped it to him in Georgia. At that time, he was a factory regional sales rep for Ducati and loved riding! He displayed the bike in his house, in the family room. It was great to see it being appreciated and how much he enjoyed looking at it and knowing its history.

"Flash forward to 2023.

"We received news our son had brain cancer and had only about a year to live. We sold the Arizona home and relocated to Georgia to spend what time we had left with him. He passed away this year in February.

"Every time I put eyes on it I get a pang of disbelief as to why it was put outside..."

I am sure that this is not the ending readers were expecting, or hoping for.

The physical objects that accompany us through life change in status. From a boy's wonder, to a young man's appreciation, to an adult's frank appraisal, perhaps.

There had to be an explanation for how this Royal Enfield survives, so complete and original, but with the patina of age. I say we are richer for knowing the answer.

Royal Enfield Model G seen from above.
Where will it go from here?


  1. Anonymous3/30/2024

    Very Nice Story. I enjoyed it. My RE had bee outside for a few years.before it came to me.

    I cannot imagine the sadness of finding the neglect of the so treasured family’s Royal Enfield for so many years.

    I hope it finds a good home

  2. Anonymous3/31/2024

    A very touching story indeed! Many thanks. Makes the bike so much more interesting for the next owner. Must be a hard one to sell, though.


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