Few have done more for the British classic motorcycle scene than Ivan Rhodes. A former president of the Vintage Motorcycle Club (VMCC), serial restorer of supremely rare road and race bikes, longstanding and current honorary president of the Velocette Owners Club, acclaimed author of a history of the great Birmingham manufacturer…. the list goes on.
He’s renowned and respected as his receiving of the Award for Outstanding Service to the Classic Motorcycle Movement in 2010 duly recognised. But less well known is his role in revolutionising classic motorcycle insurance and sowing the seeds of what would become the UK’s favourite motorcycle insurance specialist – Carole Nash.
“I was president of the VMCC between 1980 and 1982,” recalls Ivan, “and was using a big port AJ, which I’ve now had for over 50 years. That particular bike was covered on a trade insurance policy as I had been for many years in the motorcycle trade. Having moved out of the trade I decided to get some separate cover and found that my premium was the same as for someone’s Kawasaki Z1000. I thought that’s a bit too much because after all these old bikes are kept under cover, they don’t do large mileage and they haven’t got the same risk factor as a modern bike.”
Rather than shrug and accept the injustice, Ivan took up the cudgels. “We thought the vintage club should consider having its own policy so met with the secretary, Ken Hallworth who did some research and came up with useful figures. We, the club, decided to set up a scheme underwritten by Sentry insurance.” This was handled from the company’s Manchester office.
Enter stage left a working mum from Timperley. “Carole was the office girl,” remembers Ivan, “and Sentry decided to close the office.” History has shown just how shrewd an office girl Carole was. On being made redundant she took the VMCC scheme with her and started in business from her suburban home. Today over 300,000 classic, vintage, modern, custom and off road motorcycles are insured through the market-leading business.
Ivan was Carole’s first customer, his 1927 AJS 350 the first bike to benefit from a groundbreaking policy which championed unlimited mileage, agreed value and, of course, risk-based and therefore affordable premiums.
“The VMCC Management Committee felt we were doing a good thing for the club and motorcycles generally and so I asked for policy number one,” says Ivan. In fact he assisted the scheme personally handling valuations for ten years, free of charge and that dedication did pay off for the club financially as the VMCC received a commission from every policy sold to support its activities. The VMCC thus became the first of many motorcycle clubs to benefit from financial and practical support as Carole Nash pledged to reinvest in grassroots motorcycling.
Today, over 25 years since Carole founded the business, Ivan remains a loyal policyholder with all six of his family’s road-going bikes protected through the company. It’s a priceless collection with that 1927 AJS joined by a 1928 model and four Velocettes, including the very oldest remaining – a 1913 two-stroke Model A – which competes annually in the Sunbeam Club’s Epsom to Brighton Pioneer Run. It also includes a 1928 KSS 350 and, from 1939, the Model 0 and a 500 Cammy.
So after so many years and having been courted by other insurance providers, why has he stayed loyal to Carole Nash? “Mainly because I don’t want to change it and they look after me. I don’t ride very often at all these days but these bikes are used occasionally so I need cover. I don’t like the idea of just walking away, it’s part of my life.”
With that Ivan signs off, saying he still has “serious work to do.” His Derbyshire workshop currently houses parts of the first twin cam engine ever produced in Birmingham – by Velocette of course – and he’s working on restoring another of the Brum manufacturer’s race machines, the last of its type remaining. Then there are machines to sort for the TT Mountain Circuit centenary celebrations, not to mention the occasional shows and events to which he takes bikes from the family collection, including the one-off supercharged twin Roarer, a very valuable and historic racing machine.
* Ivan Rhodes is author of Velocette: Technical Excellence Exemplified, president of the Velocette Owners Club and custodian of possibly the finest gathering of rare Velocettes in the world.