I grew up in northern Canada during the 1970’s, when the highlight of the month was to run down to the village shop and pour over the latest issue of Dirt Bike magazine, reading about the exploits of Bob ‘Hurricane’ Hannah, ‘Bad’ Brad Lackey, Broc Glover, Roger Decosta and the many others. Super Hunky (remember him?) did his best at turning simple racing stories and bike articles into wild teenage boy fantasies. And then occasionally would be an article about Can-Ams. It was only thing that ever appeared in the magazines that was Canadian. I spent hours staring at the ads and articles dreaming of those bikes.
Roll on nearly 30 years, I find myself living in England and reading about those same bikes in Classic Dirt Bike and VMX magazines. But now I have the money to indulge in the bikes that were once a fantasy.
In a sleepy village in Berkshire, England, lives my collection of bikes. I concentrate mainly on the enduro models, the TnT and Qualifiers, and can be found at most vinduro events or stalking EBay for the next item in the collection.
Enjoy your visit.
My Favourite – 175 Can-Am Qualifier Special
Big thanks to Ady Kent of Motax Restorations for taking on the project and despite my endless nagging and changing of mind, he persevered and delivered a superb rebuild. Other supporters of the project included Tony Murphy for the engine parts, Tony at DC Plastics for plastics, Trimmania for the seat, Martin at MotoSWM for headlight and Mark at Kamar for the YSS shocks.
The original bike was the first officially imported Can-Am into the UK and spent its early years at the hands of various dealers and trade shows trying to drum up sales and dealerships. Liberated from a shed from the the original importer, 30 years of damp meant a full rebuild, including a replacement NOS frame.
The midlife crisis demanded something different, so the custom seat, black wheels, MX plastics on a Qualifier, SWM headlight and the other modifications gave me a unique bike. Soon to be seen being thrown down the track at the next vintage enduro event!
My Bikes (well not all of them, but my favourites)
1973 125cc Track and Trail
1973 125cc TnT aka Old Number #10. Bearing the serial number 384100010, this makes her one of the earliest Can-Ams. Sourced off Ebay, the bike was imported from the USA a number of years ago and is complete, including the original early style fibreglass air box and seat. The bike has only 800 miles on from new and was in very good original condition. The bike has now been fully restored, with the only real parts being replaced were the wheel rims, shocks and tyres. The rest was restored and repainted, with replacement plastics. It is probably the earliest Can-Am in Europe.
1979 175cc Qualifier II
The full history of this bike is told under the Can-Ams in the UK section of the website. Rebuilt for me by Ady Kent, the original bike was the first Can-Am imported into the UK and the only 175 every officially imported. Unfortunately having been stood for nearly 20 years a full rebuild was required, including a NOS frame to replace the twisted and cracked original. A true money-is-no-object rebuild which has given me the ultimate Vinduro bike (for my abilities!).
1974 125cc MX-2
1974 125cc MX2 nearly 40 years old, but still looking gorgeous. She was found via a market stall at the Stafford show. Arriving in boxes and incomplete, but with all the key components including a matching frame and motor, she is in the final stages of a restoration. The story that came with the bike was that it had been originally imported when new by a leading racer in the Manchester area where he achieved local success in motocross. The bike was recently sold to another collector in France were he intends on racing it in vintage motocross.
1980 125cc MX-6
1980 125cc MX-6 that has now had a sex change operation and has become a Qualifier: A short but brutal race career has left her with battle scars and a damaged frame which has now been substituted with a NOS Qualifier frame. Therapy has given her new plastics and a general tidy up, making her a very good Vinduro bike.
1977 250cc MX-3 Black Widow
MX-3 250 Black Widow – a bike with real pedigree. Having been owned by Swedish collector Ruben Mild and then owned by Fluff Brown of AJS Stormer fame (ask your Dad!). This bike is one of the three original Can-Am’s imported into Sweden to start a dealership. Unfortunately up against the infamous Husqvarna and being very expensive they remained unsold for several years with Ruben Mild purchasing all three bikes in the early 80′s. How the MX-3 ended up with Fluff is a mystery. The bike was in storage for nearly 25 years until it was liberated by me. I have no plans to restore it, but leave it with its beautiful patina.
The bike was raced by Rod Spry in 2012 and featured in Classic Dirt Bike http://www.classicdirtbike.co.uk/news/the-black-widow. The bike has now been sold and is currently being raced in Italy.
Rod Spry aboard the Black Widow at the Nostalgia Scramble.
1980 250cc “Fluff Brown Can-Am”
One of only 5 Fluff Brown Can-Am’s made, the bike was purchased about a year ago. But looks are deceptive. After purchase I discovered a number of very odd ideas about how a bike should be bolted together, including a motly collection of imperial and metric bolts! The previous rebuilder seemed to follow the adage of don’t repair, just spray some paint over it! Currently being rebuilt and will be ready this spring.
1977 250cc Qualifier
An original Qualifier 250 with matching enduro build engine. A poorly described bike on EBay turned out to be a 1976 Qualifier with matching correct enduro build motor. The bike has been rebuilt over the past year and will be raced in a couple of Vinduro events this summer, including the Auroux in France.
1980 250cc Military
1980 Military now sporting Qualifier plastics and more colourful paint, making it a “wanna-be”. I had looked for a long time for an original Qualifer, before I found one, so in the meantime I converted a military bike. The bike is now back in the haystore as I plan on converting into another special. I just happen to have a cunning plan for a side draft 125 motor I have…………….
1984 240cc Trials
Slow and steady, an original 1984 240 trials bike. Thanks to John at www.armstrong-trials.co.uk I am now the owner of an original trials bike. The bike has been disassembled for some time and needs a full rebuild, but soon I hope to be pottering around with feet up some time soon.
1983 310cc Hiro Armstrong Trials
1973 125cc TnT
An original 1973 TnT125, complete with matching motor, Ella was found at a bike shop here in the UK where it had stood for nearly 20 years. Sat sad and lonely in an attic of a storage barn, Ella will need to a lot of work before she hits the street again. Unbelievably after all time the motor simply unbolted and even turns over.
The Herd: So many bikes, so little time. In various stages of completeness, I have another 10 bikes ranging from Qualifiers to Military models. All will be rebuilt, but not all restored. Hopefully in the coming years I will find the time to covert some to dirt trackers and other flights of fancy.
Do you pass the enthusiasts test ?
Deep in rural Berkshire, in my garage, now reside 11 Can-Am’s. All are sat patiently waiting to be restored, using my library of old brochures, magazine articles, posters, handbooks, spare parts and my network of contacts, all amassed using thse 10 rules
My passion is Can-Am’s. No not the drab green military bikes that you often see, but the original off road race bikes made by Bombardier of Canada. Yes, Canada’s did have an OEM bike maker (see things you learn?). I grew up in northern Canada and as a teenage in the early 70’s when these bike were around, they won a series of championships and ISDT events.
The images remained with me, and a few years ago, after telling endless people about them, I set out on a search to find and restore one – a tough challenge in England. I knew they were rare (production runs were only ever in their hundreds), I just didn’t realise what an adventure I would have pursuing a simple idea. Having restored a number of vintage Japanese dirt bikes, I quickly discovered what a different challenge it is when there is no modern dealer network or organisation to support you, like the VJMC does.
Finding restoring and running rare bikes requires not only passion, but ingenuity. Set out is my top ten suggestions learnt by dealing with rare bikes and I hope of some assistance to your own projects:
Ask the question: the next time you’re at a bike show, don’t just walk around looking at the vendors wares, ask them questions about what they’ve got back at the shop. I was once in the outback of Australia and went to a very small local bike meet. An old guy was selling brochures and I asked him about Can-Ams. He smiles, and announced he use to be a dealer. Sat underneath his bed was a complete stack of all the brochures Bombardier had had ever published on the bikes (he didn’t bring them ‘cause no-one ever wanted them!). I also bought a swing arm off E-Bay once and as it wasn’t too far away I offered to collect it. During the subsequent conversation with Rory, the seller, I asked about any other bits he might have. A look around his garage produced two fuel tanks, another swing arm, two sets of levers and basket full of engine parts (go on admit it your garage is probably the same!).
Tell your mates: run the risk of becoming the village eccentric (idiot?), and make sure everyone knows your passion and interest. In management speak it would be called a contact network, but the more people out there helping you look, the more likely you’ll turn up that gem. I have a friend in Australia who has no interest in bikes, but in crystal clocks. Every time she goes on E-Bay Australia looking for clocks, she types in Can-Am and sends me a link if she see’s anything “that looks old”
Know your numbers: serial numbers are not just random, they tell a story. Learn to know what the numbers mean both for the bikes and for the components. A lot of parts are not made by the OEM, but outsourced. Knowing who made what will help you and what parts are available from other sources (Can-Am and Honda bought identical lights from the same Japanese component manufacturer). I once saw a Can-Am for sale on E-Bay that was poorly described. I waited until the auction had only an hour to go and asked the seller for the serial number off the headstock. It ended 000010. The 10th Can-Am ever to come off the assembly line. No-one else bothered to ask the question and I gave no time for the seller to start to explore what the numbers meant. It’s now sat in my garage and is probably the oldest Can-Am still running and the first bike ever sold to the public, all for the pricely sum of £300.
Find you passion: a lot of people have said to me they would like to get into old bikes, but don’t know what to buy. Think well and truly what turns you on about bikes. Old school boy memories, type of bike or just the lingering dreams that you could have been a race contender. I owned a series of bikes, mainly VJ bikes, none of them really “did it”. I went to an old bike museum in Alberta, Canada about 6 years ago and one of the displays was a Can-Am. Youth all came flooding back. I also get a kick out of collecting a bike that no-one else has ever heard of. It sets me apart from the pack. I can turn up to any show on a Can-Am and guarantee an audience.
Learn to hunt on E-Bay: E-Bay can be exciting, frustrating, joyous and corrupt all in the same transaction. Remember not everyone understands what they are selling, can describe things accurately or spell it correctly. Look for misspelled words, in different categories and components under individual headings. Again Can-Ams use Bosch and Motoplat ignitions. You’ll never find them under Can-Am but under their original manufacturers names, often described for Ossa’s or KTM’s. I once saw a Bommbadeer (Bombardier) for sale under automobiles, by a newly divorced woman who got it as part of the settlement. She just wanted shot of the bike and had no idea what it was or how to spell it correctly. The auction attracted a single bid (mine!).
Buy the accessories: old brochures, magazine articles and posters are a wealth of information, as are out-of-date books. These can often be found in charity shops, boot sales and old book shops. All will add to your knowledge of the bikes and will be invaluable for helping you to identify that missing component. I carry a small scrap book around of pictures to show people what Can-Ams are and what I’m looking for. It’s how I found out about the Honda lights being the same as Can-Ams. I showed a Honda expert once and he declared them as being early Stanley lenses and lights. And yes he had the rights ones, originally intended for a CB 100.
Ask the locals: wherever I am in the world and luckily I work in the oil industry so as part of my job I get to travel the world, I ask the locals about my passion. I was in rural America once and was told by the locals of a small bike salvage yard out in the middle of nowhere. On arriving at the yard, complete with wooden porch, dog and screen door, I asked the owner if he had any Can-Ams, expecting the slow shake of the head. “Yeah got a couple in the back corner”, came the reply. On walking out to said corner, I was greeted by 12 partly stripped bikes, 3 complete bikes and a container of engines, forks and plastics. This was after I walked pass the Pentons, Hodakas and early Yamahas. Sorry it’s location remains a secret as I plan on a major salvage mission sometime soon.
Advertise: I often wondered about the wanted ads you see in bike magazine. Last summer I tried one in CMM, asking for any information on Can-Ams. A received an endless stream of calls, mainly from people try to sell me military machines. And a number who insisted on telling there was no such bike. The final call came from a farmer in Worcester who asked me if it was “one of those orange bikes I was after”. He told me he had bought his son one about 30 years ago who rode it a couple of times, crashed it, then stuck it in the barn. A few days later I was stood in the barn and there sat, covered in dust, a mint condition MX6 125cc, with less than 200 miles on it.
Know what you’re looking at: from all of the information that you collect and the contacts you make, remember to concentrate on that particular model, make or series. Learning everything you can and learn to recognise the components. Become an expert. Remember that rare bikes often look odd to others, therefore are rarely ever at the front of the shop or on the table of the market stall. Remember to always walk around the back of the bike shop, search the small ads, poke through all the boxes at the jumble sales and ask the questions. The rare ones are often hard to spot, but the more you know the more you can see through the brush applied paint, the bodged specials and rusted heads, learning to spot the hidden gem
Have fun: I’ve met some great people and had some real adventures simply on the back of sharing a passion for old bikes. I have recently been contact by the Head Chef at the Ritz, searching for parts for his rare SWM. Finding, repairing and riding old bikes are a release from the stresses of work and family. Have fun with it