Few mothers like the idea of their independence-hungry teenage sons taking to the road on a motorcycle.
That’s why, after Adrian Hanwell bought a Dayton Albatross scooter out of his own pocket back in 1968, his mum decided to reimburse him the money he’d spent as an 18th birthday present.
She didn’t like the idea of him having a scooter but thought if it was a present from her, he would take better care of it and, hopefully, better care of himself.
And it proved that mums know best because, half a century later Adrian still has that scooter, which takes pride of place among his adored and considerable collection of auto relics in the garage of his home in Scarborough on the north Yorkshire coast.
No wonder the Albatross caught Adrian’s eye. The model was a design classic built by the Dayton Cycle Company between 1956 and 1960, and billed as a “super scooter” to tempt the scooterist and motorcycle rider alike.
At its time of manufacture it was pitched against the leading German models from Heinkel and Maico and offered as an antidote to the more stylish and lightweight Italian imports such as the Lambretta and Vespa. It was English rosbif as opposed to Italian carpaccio or German sausage.
The Albatross would have set you back around £230 brand new – mind you, a gallon of petrol was less than 1s/6d (seven pence in today’s money) back then.
Adrian’s second-hand machine went for a song however at just £7/10s. It was manufactured a decade earlier but it was pretty much in pristine condition when he bought it. Powered by a 250cc Villiers motor, it had a distinctive engine cooling tunnel running between the driver’s legs.
It was a stylish black, the colour it remains today, and it still has the eye-catching number plate “SPY 84”, which was a great conversation opener whenever he rode into town.
A top-quality, British-built machine
Explaining his affection for the Albatross, on which Adrian passed his motorcycle test, he says: “It was a top-quality, British-built machine, only 10 years old, low mileage and it was very cheap because the owner, Andrew J. Kelso – one of my schoolteachers – had already emigrated and had to sell it.
“Dayton Albatross scooters were considered the Rolls-Royce of scooters at the time.”
Today the Albatross is pretty much as it was in its year of manufacture, though Adrian has added a luggage box, which is actually a World War II ammunition box rescued from the shooting range at his old school, and he has fitted a Lucas horn in place of the Miller, and modern diodes in the rectifier in place of the selenium plates.
The retired engineer has always done his own maintenance and says the Albatross was and still is a good machine to work on.
As for parts, that has never been a problem. “I bought an unfinished customisation project with no body panels so I have a complete bike’s worth of second-hand spares.
“There was also a dealer called Jack Demmar who bought all the stock from Dayton when they ceased trading and I bought parts from him.”
And, if there is something he really can’t get hold of, being an engineer he fabricates it himself.
If there is just one thing he could improve about the Albatross it would be the engine cooling system, perhaps by adding a fan to improve the airflow.
Adrian is fastidious in retaining paperwork concerning the Albatross and the oldest MOT certificate he has is dated July 25, 1969, showing a mileage of 6,613.
It has only clocked 10,635 miles in total as usage dropped off dramatically in 1971 when he bought a 1949 Lanchester car, another British design masterpiece, and one of five Lanchesters he now owns.
Built for comfort rather than speed
With its size in mind the Albatross was clearly built for comfort rather than speed – the most Adrian squeezed out of it was around 60mph, though he admits he never really pushed it.
The long-stroke Villiers engine did possess good low-speed acceleration compared to the more common 125cc and 200cc bikes, however, something that inadvertently helped a young Adrian pass his bike test.
“The test itself was amusing, because I was given a set course to ride and the examiner had to walk/run through back alleys to observe me at various junctions,” he says. “So I kept seeing the examiner arrive at junctions behind me, after I had completed my manoeuvres. If I made any mistakes, he would not have seen them, so I passed!”
The big scooter did have its drawbacks though.
“If it was cold and raining the upright riding position caused water to pool around the crotch. That made it very chilly in winter,” he confessed.
It was very comfortable for passengers though. “Several of my lady friends would not go pillion on my friends’ motorcycles, but were more than happy to ride pillion with me on the Albatross.”
The scooter was initially in daily use with a regular run from home in Hull to Coventry, 140 miles in around three hours, when he was studying on his B.Sc degree course.
It is an unfortunate reality that biking on a daily basis is rarely without hazard but Adrian managed to come through pretty much unscathed. There were one or two mishaps though which he recalls with a shudder.
“Once in Hull I was following a liquid-carrying lorry around a square roundabout on the ring road. As the lorry turned 90 degrees at the first corner liquid spilled out in front of me and made the road slippery. I couldn’t turn through the 90 degrees, so I ran off the road.”
Fortunately there was no damage done, except to his pride.
On another occasion Adrian had to pull up sharply and swerve when the driver of a Triumph Herald wasn’t paying attention and started to pull out in front of him. This led to a dramatic tumble, of which any film stunt man would have been proud.
Adrian recalled: “I used both my brakes, but was too close. He heard the tyres squeal and stopped, so I released the brakes and tried to swerve around him, but I was too close.
“Before the bike hit the car, I jumped into the air, came down with both feet on the car’s bonnet, jumped again, landed on the road and ran to keep upright.
“Unfortunately, having swerved, my direction was now at an angle across the road and I couldn’t lift my feet fast enough to get over the far kerb, so I fell over and slid along the grass verge, then onto the pavement. Strangely, my first thought was ‘I hope no-one saw me trip over the kerb’.”
On another occasion he was stopped by police when riding home in the early hours of the morning.
After asking a number of questions, inspecting his licence, recognising he was sober and realising, with a degree of embarrassment, that Adrian was related to Yorkshire’s Chief Constable, the policeman said he had only been stopped because there were reports a scooter with the same number plate as his had been stolen.
Suspecting this was a random drink drive stop, Adrian doubted the policeman’s story. He said: “Why haven’t you arrested me then?” and the policeman corrected his story to “a scooter with a similar number plate had been stolen”. Adrian had never seen another SPY prefixed number prior to that time and hasn’t seen once since.
As well as the Albatross and the spares bike Adrian’s garage contains a 1909 Daimler, which he bought in 1995, the first hand-built prototype 1939 Lanchester L.D.10., his first Lanchester L.D.10, bought in 1971, a Reliant Rebel estate and his everyday car, a very modest Ford Escort estate. He also owns three more production model Lanchester L.D.10.s (1946-1951), which are garaged elsewhere.
If he were to add to the collection the 68-year-old confesses he quite fancies the Norton Dominator motorcycle.
So proud is Adrian of the Albatross that in 1977 he loaned it for display at a motorcycle museum but reclaimed it when the museum was recently converted into a cake and coffee shop. The bike currently needs a little attention but he hopes to put it on the road once again this summer to show it off himself at a variety of scooter rallies around Yorkshire.
This is one albatross that has been anything but a burden around its owner’s neck…
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