1950s boat becomes bike trailer

Published: 31 March 2009

We at GSS Motorcycle Carriers and Recovery are quite particular when it comes to our Motorcycle Transport, we run a Independent Motorcycle Carrier Service, so when I first saw the “boat” my heart sank and I dismissed the project as a total none starter. WALK AWAY was my initial and only thought.

The trailer or the “boat” as it is now called had not been used for over 30 years and was kept in a dusty, wet old barn in the South of England. It is unique in its design and aesthetics, (You will understand why it’s called the boat once you’ve viewed the pictures) The overall condition was frankly, well, unbelievably bad, at least it had some metal!

A badger had made its home under the wooden floor; rats had chewed all the electric wiring and solid wood floor. It didn’t look good at all! Rust had eaten away sections of the frame, the wheels and tyres weren’t too bad. The tread on both the tyres were passable but the crazing and cracking was not. The offside tyre was flat; we pumped the tyre up to 34 psi and waited to see if the tyre held pressure. After ten minutes we gingerly backed our van into the barn. The business end (the 50MM hitch) was in fair condition and was usable.

We got to about 12 inches from the boat, I got out the van, I looked at the trailer and my friend and I took a gulp. We picked the trailer up by the hitch, would it move, would the bracket/hitch snap, I didn’t know what was going to happen. The moment of truth was about to happen The boat creaked and seemed to be shouting “I’ve been here for 30 bloody years, will leave me alone, I’m happy doing nothing”, the nesting animals and spiders scurried away to all four corners of the barn. We gently pulled the boat towards our van.

I was mindful of the care that we took and the language I was using as the sellers wife had just entered the barn to see what was going on. “Oh it’s moving” she said. The boat very slowly edged backwards, the thing was actually moving “I was a slip of a girl the last time I saw the boat in all its glory” said the owner’s wife.

We stopped pulling and I asked her if she knew anything about the history of the trailer, she only knew it was a race motorcyclist who used to live in the area. She had heard stories of him in his Racing Days. She had seen him regularly towing the trailer with bikes on board. I heard her say to the man who I presumed to be her husband “Are they going to take the Boat”. I looked at my partner and we both nodded in unison. I responded “I will if I can wake her up enough to get her onto the tow bar”, I could not make up my mind whether the lady was pleased it was going or maybe she wanted to keep it.

I soon realised she was happy it was going when I saw her reach for the trailer hitch and started to heave towards the van, three inches to go, one inch nearly there, lift it onto the ball sloooowly now, up a bit higher, nearrrrly there, drop it down and clunk perfectly in place and secure. Not too bad at all.

The electrics were plugged in and if by magic the lights worked! Things were looking up; they must have made the wiring and bulbs well in those days. The rats/mice had not broken through the wiring! , made a complete mess of everything else though.

I had to make a decision, do I take a chance, or say “thanks but no thanks” do I let myself in for many hours of work and put the boat back on the road where she belongs, or do I let her die from the deadly tin worm, we could put her into Intensive care now but can we eventually save her? Well you’ve guessed it, we negotiated a price and I handed a sum of money over.

The owner told us that the trailer had been designed and engineered by very well known Motorcycle Rider and engineer in the early 1950s. The idea was the architect of the “boat trailer” was going to use the thing to transport two/three bikes around the race circuits in the UK. All the Fabrication had been handmade and the suspension apparently was from a 1945 Vauxhall Motor Car. Unfortunately the owner can’t remember the riders name but if it was a well known rider in the early 1950s someone must have seen him in or around the UK going to and from race meetings or shows?

Once seen, the boat in its full glory would have been a sight to behold. The boat is 11 feet in length and just over 4 feet wide. It carries two bikes with ease one each side or a single large Cruiser in the middle with plenty of room to spare.

My mind was racing, how the hell we are going to get the “boat” home. It had defective tyres, not been out in road for 30 years, what could go wrong? Would the wheels come off? Would the patient die on the road, would we die trying to save her? I had visions of the boat sliding down the Motorway causing havoc!

We started the engine of our van and slowly eased away from the barn towards a dirt track, I lubricated the wheels with WD40, it was like a surgeon operating on his sick patient, the wheels turned , “she moves” cried the wife, I was happy the boat could see the sun at last! I swear the boat blinked a few times! I know we did. We said our goodbyes and made our way onto the leafy lane; we decided to have a gentle 5 miles per hour meander on the lane just to see how she performed. We had to be as sure as we can that it was feasible to get her home.

After the initial groaning and moaning by the boat we picked up speed to about 20mph, I constantly had my head turned round making sure she had not fallen off or was trying to escape! We had about 70 miles to travel back home, could we make it......... The looks we got from passing motorist, well you can imagine...... We had no dramas on route back to base we stopped every 15-20 minutes to check everything was Ok with the boat We arrived back to our premises in Kent after a 3 hour drive at an average 40mph. The boat had finally made it.

She was probable tired and sore but hell she got there. We unhitched her and set about making a plan of attack, the patient was in the operating room, the surgeons were ready.... The “boat” was given every chance; we totally stripped her, cleaned her, preened her, painted her, welded her and made her look as good as she was in the early 1950s. Unfortunately we have no photos of her in the 1950s; I would love to have seen her in original condition and colour.

We have tried to make her as original as possible, if anyone remembers her or has any pictures of the boat from the 50s I would love to see them. We are very pleased in the way she has come from a near death experience to the real stunner she is today. (I’m getting all emotional now) I will leave you to decide if it was worth it.

GSS are proud to have the boat on board as a member of the transport team and look forward to her being utilised for what she made for and not dying in a barn, see you in the future forthcoming MC events.

If you see the boat please stop and have a chat. Please see our web site for further information at www.gss-motorbikes-carriers.co.uk.

Please see attached photos of the restoration, which took 4 weeks!