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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming:
"WOW, what a ride !!!"

Chinese Takout

P.J. Read-circa 1962

With the benefit of hindsight I must now admit that my first foray into Asian business back in the early days of 1969 was an ill advised disaster. My then financial advisor and motocross team manager for the very defunct Team Ariel, Trent Farlowe had managed to persuade me to investigate the possibility of setting up our own motocross bike production company in the Queens colony of Taiwan. Farlowe had been having sordid affair with Lily, the sultry daughter of Shin San Tong founder Ah Fong Tip and being a man who has made a living using sexual dalliances to his advantage, couldn’t let the opportunity slip by.

Trent Farlowe and his gorgeous Lily outside Farlowe’s business office. Some of his staff can be seen in the background.

Farlowe and I had earlier roughed out some blueprints and artist impressions on the proposed new machine, tentatively called the Saipan GTX-R ‘Read Replica’. To simplify initial production the design was based on the firms Panther 175 rolling stock but using my own Read Multi Port 250 engine design. We boarded our Qantas ‘plane in my beloved Sydney with a briefcase full of startlingly innovative designs and two heads full of potent analgesics and snappy ideas. By the time we landed at Taoyuan International Airport after a gin and tonic soaked 8 hour flight we had not only revamped the design yet again, but had roughed out a 500 class bike using a proposed 360cc version of the Read Multi Port. We were convinced that the Shin San Tong crowd would have no option but to go with our plan.

The Panther 175 that would become the basis of the Saipan GTX-R Read Replica.

The first sight of our welcoming party after clearing customs wasn’t quite what I had expected. Instead of the usual bevy blue suited Chinese businessmen was a skinny little chap of perhaps 90 pounds holding aloft a hand written cardboard sign reading “Mr RED , Mr FARLOT”. As the only caucasians in the terminal we rightly assumed the little bloke to be our chauffeur and with bows all round we shuffled through the door and out onto street. It was monsoon season and pissing down with rain as Jimmy Ping told us to “wait here while I get company limo” and ran off into the bustle that was Fushing Road in a mid day monsoon. Within minutes an ancient Citroen Light 15 that had obviously been a left over from colonial days screeched to a stop with Jimmy frantically beckoning us to throw our luggage onto the roof rack and to hop in. The journey to the Shin San Tong factory, located in the Jing Tao sector was one of downright fear. The analgesics, Qantas gin and tonics and the stifling humidity combined with the smell of new piss, old leather and Jimmy’s Chinese Stirling Moss imitation made for an interesting experience, evoking distant memories of Holli and I in the Armstrong-Siddeley towing the Ariel’s across the Stolkfeusen Pass en route to the ’61 500cc Grand Prix del Grado. However, I digress.

Hollingsworth was always popular with the kiddies. Here a local peasant child helps Nigel prepare the factory Ariel prior to his win in the ’61 GP del Grado. He later gave the poor lad his Fabiani shirt and Rolex Oyster as a sign of his appreciation.

I’ve crawled the gutters of many of the world’s cesspits in my time on this Earth. I’ve seen and done it all, from wrestling Hungarian midgets in pools of swine urine in the seedy backblocks of Budapest to eating roasted monkey balls with Holingsworth in the Bali hinterland. Nothing should surprise me any more. The first sighting of the Shin San Tong factory didn’t alter that philosophy . The Jing Tao sector is home to a myriad of brothels, joss houses and back street titty bars so the factory building, still displaying the last drippings of its former life as an elegant tourist hotel during the British occupation prior to WW2 didn’t look out of place. The faded Mayfair Hotel legend could just be made out under the Shin San Tong Motorcycles sign above us as we entered the old hotel through its crumbling marble entry arch.

What was once a grand reception area had now morphed into a Taiwanese interpretation of a western motorcycle showroom. Where potted palm trees once shadowed comfortable old Chesterfield couches stood the entire range of Shin San Tongs range of mini kit bikes, 50cc commuter scooters and small trail bikes. I tried to look interested as Jimmy Ping excitedly gushed the specifications of the new Panther 175 trail bike in an unfathomable combination of Mandarin and TV English while Farlowe started taking shots of the 175 with his new duty free Minolta. Suddenly the mood changed as Jimmy stopped mid sentence and bowed towards a previously unnoticed doorway. There stood the most stunning woman I’d seen since my fleeting affair with Princess Grace of Monaco a few years earlier. In a perfect South London accent she introduced herself as Lotus Fong Tip, daughter of company founder Ah Fong Tip and sister of Farlowe’s Sydney based lover, Lily. Lotus was dressed in body clinging crisp grey overalls resplendent in the company logo. “Welcome to our factory, Mr Read and Mr Farlowe”. “My sister has told me of your many talents Mr Farlowe, let’s hope that these talents don’t distract us from the business at hand” purred Lotus as she guided us towards a silk shrouded object mounted on a plinth by the Panther 175.

As Lotus glided across the room towards the mystery plinth I couldn’t help thinking that the old chaps back at the Ariel factory didn’t fill their overalls as beautifully as this Asian beauty. She explained that her husband had taken the liberty to build a mock up of his idea of what the company motocross machine should look like and with a nod towards Jimmy Ping he pulled the silk cover away to reveal a machine that we thought had only lived in our minds. Despite the British Racing Green colour change and a tank graphics that told me that this bike was called the Gemini NH360, this machine was a complete replica of our so called secret design. Farlowe was starting to look fidgety and I was lost for words as Lotus explained “my husband is an old colleague of yours and he has used ideas that you have taught him, Mr Read, this bike is a homage’ to his dear friend”. With that I sensed another presense in the room and turned to see a figure sitting by the window in a dark corner of the room. The face looked a hell of a lot fitter than when I last saw him being dragged off into the night by the Thai police a couple of years earlier. “I’m certain you’ve met before Mr Read, but allow me to introduce my husband and the chief of our motocross program Nigel Hollingsworth” purred Lotus as Holli, Farlowe and I whooped, hollered and embraced as only old long separated old chums can.

Shin San Tong workers drop tools for a moment as company principal Lotus Ah Fong Tip enters the race shop to make some important changes to the works Saipan Read Replica. The lads soon had their tools back in their hands and were hard at it.

For the rest of the afternoon, over a truckload of Tsing Tao pilsener Holi described his escape from the Thai prison and his midnight escape into Cambodia and then, with the help of our old Ariel team manager “Stumpy” Leonards brother Sir Humphrey Leonard at the Foreign office, managing to get him on to a Royal Airforce Viscount and into Taiwan. He had met the gorgeous Lotus in the legendary Cosmopolitan Bar in the Hsi Men Ting sector one drunken evening after she had used her considerable charms to get him out of yet another of his infamous pub fights. They became lovers that night and were married within a month. Lotus’s father, old Ah Fong Tip had been a mechanic for the brilliant yet misunderstood Taiwanese GP rider of the late fifties, Gordon Bang Li Foon and the sadly laughable Pik Nee factory 500 GP effort and he immediately recognized Nigel from those days. The pair became firm friends and together they vowed to bring respect back to the Taiwanese motocross industry. Holli had kept the sketches and drawings we had made during our spare nights on the GP circus when had dreams of developing our own bike using our Multi Port design.

Gordon Bang Li Foon on the sadly underdeveloped Pik Nee500 alongside PJ and Holli on the factory Ariels, Papua GP 1960.

Hollingsworths addiction woes and my own flamboyant lifestyle however prevented that from becoming a serious option. Now, here in a foreign port our dream is about to become a reality.

Next month: Sex once again gets in the way. The GP team is reformed. Farlowe finds a new way to blow the budget. Holli and PJ call in the ‘old mates network’ to save the team. Lotus and Lily appear naked for charity!


More from Nigel Hollingsworth and PJ Read


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