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When I was nobbut a wee lad one big cat dominated my life. Twas the mighty Panther motorcycle. My father’s pride and joy and also the bane of his life as he spent many a weekend, and not a few hours by the side of the road, catering to its mechanical needs. Fortunately he was a great mechanical engineer and an ingenious “make do and mender”. The 600 cc single cylinder motorcycle built by Phelon and Moore in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire was popular with the family man for its ability to chug along, proverbially, but inaccurately, firing once every lamppost, whilst hauling capacious sidecars the size of a small caravan in which he could cram wife, children, dog, luggage and bell tent for wet weekends in the New Forest. Well that is my fond memory anyway.
To me, although the word is now much overused and abused, the Panther 600 was truly “iconic”. Before cars became smaller and cheaper it was frequently the affordable, family transport of choice and, cared for by a good home mechanic, was capable of reliably clocking up high mileages – provided you kept it regularly supplied with motor oil which it happily oozed, leaked and bled as it processed along the highways and byways of our nation. For me it was and remains a machine of character and beauty. But now it has a modern rival, designed and made in Britain the CCM “Bobber”.
With apologies to its creators CCM, in my mind it is not the “Bobber”, an American name and concept, but another resident of the United States, a member of the lynx family, the bobcat (so the “Bobcat” I shall name it). The “Bobcat” is the latest variation of the Spitfire series of motorcycles designed by the in house Skunkwerx team. The name is a reference to the specialist design team at Lockheed, who were known as The Skunk Works, designers, amongst other things, of the Spitfire fighter plane. There is something about the stripped back nature of this Spitfire series of bikes with their hand welded, trellis frames and, in the main, solo seats, which harks back to a purer, more purposeful approach to motorcycling. At the heart each Spifire models boasts a 600cc single cylinder engine, regrettably not British, but built by Husqvarna (now part of the KTM group) a company with a long, successful and respected history in the fields of Enduro and Motocross, the sports in which CCM, Clewes Competition Motorcycles, made and maintains its own proud reputation. The company is only building 150 of each model and so far their success has made the sale of hot cakes slow in comparison. So I am by no means the only one to be struck forcibly by their appeal.
I realise that not everyone will be in tune with my perception of beauty but I find this new beast a vision of loveliness imbued with its own spare, feline grace. How do l link it to the venerable Panther? Well maybe my links are tenuous but they are valid from my perspective. It is designed and built in England, though CCM are based over the border in Lancashire rather than in Phelon and Moore’s Yorkshire, so they both have northern origins. Both companies started from small family beginnings. They embody inspiration, ingenuity, innovation and individuality. There is something about the sloping 600cc engine “hanging” from the frame that calls the earlier bike to mind.
I am not sure that CCM would like my comparison. Their Bobber is up to date, lighter, faster, far more agile, with a proven engine reliable and leak free and is certainly not designed to lug a heavy sidecar around – although I feel the Skunkwerx team could come up with a minimalist, detachable “chair” to accommodate a lightweight tent and a few camping essentials (l can dream). Perhaps the biggest difference is that the Panther was built over many years and there are still many around today lovingly maintained by lovers of the marque. At a maximum number of 150 the new machine being built sightings of my new cat will be exceedingly rare. Who knows maybe one day I will see a Bobcat purring through the Shropshire Hills and maybe, just maybe (in my dreams), health and wealth permitting, could I be astride it?