I’d been looking for an engine for the spare Dunkley Popular frame we’d picked up with the Mercette for ages and knowing how unreliable the Dunkley powerplant tended to be decided that I’d quite like to stick something Villiers into it if possible. Imagine my surprise when a New Hudson described ‘as an incomplete Villiers-for spares’ turned up on eBay. We tend to decide on a maximum price stick it on and forget about it that way you don’t end buying something for twice the price you’d intended so it was with a degree of pleasantness that we found that we had actually won it! Phonecalls were made and we headed up to Birmingham to collect our prize and what a prize it turned out to be. Unfortunately for the Popular it was just too good to break so plans were made to get it going again but as cheaply as possible.
The owner, Alan McLeod-Whittaker, was the nicest person and we were soon drinking tea with him and his missus in his conservatory. He’d had it for years but never got round to doing anything with it. It transpired that when he was a young lad (eons ago according to him) two of his near neighbours had Villiers-powered autocycles (both were ladies) and he really, really wanted one “When I was old enough,” he smiled. We didn’t quite get whether it was the ladies or the bikes but never mind, for the sake of the story, let’s assume it was both with the ladies as a bonus. However his dream never came to fruition as when he was 16 he bought a 1951 Ariel 500 Red Hunter with sidecar instead, mostly, he explained, “Because at £10 it was cheaper and the bloke I got it off accepted my £2 a week payment plan !! I couldn’t take possession for 5 weeks. I still have that bike, sans sidecar, which is the same age as me and caused my almost maniacal lifetime love of anything two wheeled with an engine on.” Thing was that Villiers Spares were only a few miles away so he admitted that he’d had no real excuse for not restoring the Autocycle. We had another cuppa and loaded it up in the back of the Landcruiser and headed home. It was mainly all there and the wheels, normally the most expensive component although a bit rusty appeared sound in spoke and rim. Alan had been such a nice bloke we decided we were going to put it back on the road and the Popular would have to languish a bit longer. This was going to be renovated rather than restored and as cheaply as possible so a few weeks later we had sourced some old mudguards from a similar model, sawn up a Bantam chain guard and robbed another off a Raleigh pushbike. This was going to be great. Dick the Bike naturally wanted to get involved so it went up the workshop and got stripped down. He set about the engine and pronounced the crank bearings were done for. Villiers Spares came up with an exchange crank for the 98cc Villiers 2F engine that was cheap enough and so it was full steam ahead with black Smoothrite on the mudguards and some green lawnmower paint for the frame. No serious restoration here. The tank we left as it was with its unusual hand-painted Villiers badge. On reflection we think Alan may have painted it in a bid to relive his youth and New Hudson was a bit on an anachronism anyway. Does make people look twice though.
A few months on and it was going back together. The rims and spokes were solid enough so they got painted. New bearings went into the hubs and steering head and forks were stripped down, cleaned and lubricated. To be honest there isn’t much to them and if you take a bit of care they are cheap enough to get going again. The tyres we got from Tony Etheridge posed a problem though as the tread fouled the inside of the wrong mudguards. Bash, bang, wallop and hammer, grind, cut and weld and the clearance was improved. All in all it was starting to look the part. We dropped an email to Alan along with some pictures and he was delighted that the old thing was being brought back to life and commented that the style of restoration was ‘just what I would have done myself if I’d kept it’. I’d seen a few pictures of a New Hudson which we were now sure this was in a former life but not knowing its age did present a bit of a problem so it was a note and pictures sent off to Danny at the East Anglian Cyclemotor Club who kindly passed the information to that star of sorting autocycle identities, Andrew Pattle. An unforseen setback then occured. We couldn’t find the frame number but after a lot of headscratching, phone calls and hunting about it turned up on the flat just above the nearside rear wheel adjuster. We were in business. He told us that the frame number 12528 and the engine number 176B37397 were contemporary with a machine built in 1955. It would have had engine guards and the mudguards would have been the simpler open type, which is probably why we had tyre problems but hey, it was never planned to be restored, just got roadworthy. We really thought it looked better without the side panels so didn’t bother to even try and find any. We had no idea what the registration had been so it was more photos and back to Andrew at NACC for a dating and authenticity document. Before we could do anything else we needed to get it going. Do you know what? It started almost straightaway. Now this was a novelty after the Mercette! Bit of paintwork to finish off and we smoked off to Dave Rogers for an MOT. A month later we got an invitation to take it to Reading DVLA for a formal introduction to their engineer who pronounced it fit and in no time (for the DVLA) a lovely new registration, 167 YUK (most appropriate) and a tax disc arrived. A week later a letter from the DVLA arrived threatening us with prosecution as they didn’t think it was insured. We sent a note back asking them that if that was the case why had they issued a tax disc? We heard no more. Thrilled with the creation we dropped a note to the lovely Alan Whittaker telling him all about it. Sadly a few months later we got a mail from his wife. Alan had died suddenly. Although we’d only met briefly he came across as a smashing bloke. In his honour, sorry it is the best we can do, the New Hudson will remain a Villiers called Alan and his name will be painted on the tank.
How does it go? Well its OK, it starts, stops and ticks over. The lever-type throttle takes a little getting used to but it was from a box of bits Dick found in his shed probably from a Suffolk Colt mower. You wouldn’t want to pedal it very far and I suspect it would probably be abandoned if it did break down which, being a simple Villiers two-stroke, is unlikely. The saddle cover, manufactured from a re-cycled Triumph seat cover is comfortable enough and the rear rack useful. Handling is a tad wobbly but the forks do sort of absorb some of the potholes. It has a decompression lever which is good to stop it and a lock on the clutch without which things could get tricky but clutch drag is a problem. It was in its day one of the cheapest autocycles around and in its various guises around 24,000 were built. Despite a make-over in 1956 its days were numbered as mopeds began to dominate the market. Its not surprising that the Italian and German mopeds, streaks away on the style front, cleaned up. The restyled New Hudson looked rather ‘By Appointment’ and became known as ‘The Ladies Model’ on account of the low step through design but to be honest it was 1930s streamliner styling done vertically. Despite the dramatic restyling production ceased in 1958 when production of the Villiers 2F engine ceased. The New Hudson and name vanished back into the BSA fold. I like it partly because, despite being from 1955, it appears so much older but mainly as it came from a very nice bloke. In one mail he sent he wrote, ‘Keep up the good work and please keep us informed as to progress, perhaps if you’re passing Birmingham on it and you need a pint or so of two-stroke mix call in for a cuppa. We can watch your journey on Google Earth by following the smoke trail’. What a truism.
http://www.icenicam.ukfsn.org/articles/art0010.html Mark Daniel’s entertaining article on the New Hudson marque.
Villiers Services www.villiersservices.co.uk
Tony Etheridge tyres 01923 231699