It isn’t often that the entire Motoring team, plus a few curious bystanders, congregates at the same time in the bike park
downstairs. You would think that it would take a pretty special event for that to happen, and you’d be dead right. You see, the cause for all the excitement was the arrival of Motoring’s long term Enfield Thunderbird, albeit in a completely new avatar. The gleaming, muscular beauty sitting alongside our other long-termers had been lovingly modified into a Clubman racer!
Variously known as the A350 Clubman, the MRV-1 (Motoring Reference Vehicle, never ‘Project Bike’) and the Thunderclap, the bike looked about as much like a Thunderbird as a Maruti 800 does a Carrera GT, and it was bee-YOO-ti-ful! Everyone from the parking attendant to the watchmen gaped at it, and Bijoy was absolutely over the moon. The idea had been bouncing around in his head for six years, and to finally see it brought to fruition obviously chuffed him no end. Best of all, I had blasted it up and down a stretch of the Bandra-Worli sealink that morning, and you would have had to stick my head in a vice to get rid of the loony grin plastered across my face!
Let’s digress a little and take a short history lesson. Although cafe racers (so called because the owners of these bikes usually met at cafes, where you could buy a cup of cheap espresso and stay as long as you wanted) became a symbol of the Swinging Sixties in Britain, they were by no means the first motorcycles of their kind. In the early 1930s, the world was just recovering from the Great Depression, and most youngsters had work and therefore money in their pockets.
Motorcycles were affordable, so every budding biker either went out and bought one (perhaps an OHC Velocette single) or put together a DIY special. To squeeze out more speed, equipment like lights, mudguards and stands (how did they park the damned things?) were usually dispensed with.The 60’s, as mentioned earlier, was the period when cafe racers really came into their own. Several ingredients went into the pot that was this phenomenon. Legendary motorcycles such as the Velocette Venom, Triumph Bonneville, Norton Dominator and BSA Gold Star created hordes of new enthusiasts, and the influence of rock’n’roll and the emerging youth culture completed the mix. British short circuit racing inspired adrenaline junkies to recreate street versions of track-going rockets. Some manufacturers even built Clubman racers, many of which eventually wound up on the street, thereby scaring lots of little old ladies half to death.
There aren’t too many little old ladies on the sealink at 9.30 in the morning, but there are a fair number of coochie-cooing
couples, all of whom jumped out of their coy skins when I blatted past them on the Thunderclap. Fitted with a straight-through exhaust that makes a mockery of the term ‘silencer’, she is gloriously, ear-splittingly, yee-haaingly L-O-U-D, and that’s just on an open road. Tear down a tunnel and the decibel level goes up several notches. I did so time and again, just to listen to the fantastic reverberations coming off the tunnel walls. Okay, maybe I wanted to annoy the coochie-cooers too, but get on this machine and you’re overwhelmed by the urge to rev and rev and rev. The explosive (the only possible term for it, they sound like reports from a minor field-gun) burbles on trailing throttle sound even better, if that’s at all possible. Unfortunately, that terrific din is also patently illegal and will instantly have the law on your tail if you happen to rip past them, the killjoys. Of course, when it’s completely ready it will conform to noise regulations, but will consequently bring a quiet tear to my eye.
The exhaust note is by no means the only thing going for MRV-1. Look at it from any angle and it instantly says, in a clipped British accent, ‘This is what I should have looked liked from the day Enfield began to make motorcycles in India’. It’s just so British, so aggressive-yet-refined, so... right. The fuel tank, handcrafted from refrigerator metal for extra durability, is the piece de resistance. The new seat is a vast improvement on the stock butt-cushion and the Ace handlebars make for a sporty riding position, although the front pegs could be shifted back a bit. This is definitely the best-handling Enfield we’ve swung a leg over, though it’s unmistakeably a British bike, heavy to lean into and out of corners.
Now for the best part. All this fantastic work has cost just Rs 10,000 and has been splendidly carried out by Fahim Syed, who runs A To Z Bike Crafter out of Tardeo, Mumbai. That, in any language, is VFM! Just to put things in perspective, an Enfield cafe-racer kit in the US market will cost you the equivalent of Rs 100,000! MRV-1 has gone down so well, Fahim says he’s already got orders for four similar modifications. Enfield, are you listening? For the time being, all you Bullet owners out there, make a beeline to Fahim’s workshop, put down 10 big ones and transform your thumpers into guaranteed head-turners.
Bijoy’s mantra for motorcycles (I couldn’t agree more) goes like this: “They have to be naked, they have to have lots of chrome and they have to be loud”. This bike is all that and so much more. I can’t wait to see it when it’s finally done and I WANT ONE! ‘Nuff said.
If you want Fahim to work his magic on your venerable steed (he will do any bike, not just Bullets), call him at 022-24947961 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His workshop is located at 83/A.L.B.M Compound, opposite
AC Market, Tardeo, Mumbai - 400034.
And on the seventh day: ‘Bikecrafter’ Fahim built the MRV-1 Thunderclap. And the people rejoiced, and there was celebration. Enfield CEO Sid Lal hopped over to check it out, and hopefully, be inspired...
Beauty is the beast: Behold the perfection of the short bars, racing seat, burly tank, and fall to your knees... well, no knee-downs yet on the world’s first A350-engined Clubman, but we’ll keep trying...