"The Customer is always right!" - Harry Selfridge, "But only sometimes" - Phil Pilgrim

I remember this statement being made by my first employer Fred Cottrell at Cottrell's Garage in Fairfield, that was over 40 years ago and he was right, well kinda right as you will see. Customers have sometimes become my friends, but it's not good to have some friends as customers, Karel Morlang the famous MX and desert racer and proprietor of Small Bore Engineering gave me advice which was on these lines "just because they (the customers) ride motorbikes doesn't mean their on the same level as you" then again both my ex boss Fred and later Karel had both in there time pointed 12 gauge shotguns at customers that were right! 


So how did this influence me toward customers after running a shop now for over 35 years pretty good I hav'nt resorted to a shotgun....yet perhaps a few examples of a few customers will help as a apprentice mechanic old ladies were a problem wanting a full driveway service on the forecourt each week, $2.00 petrol, check tyres (including spare) radiator, windscreen washer water, battery level, wash windscreen, and brake fluid all with a smile, this became monotonous and I started playing games on the old dears like telling one who asked me to write her tyre pressure down for her which I did telling her to watch one tyre as the pressure was rising 2lb a week and I had to let air out which befuddled the old dear no end. Another chap decided his Holden was having fuel siphoned from his car and disconnected the filler inside his boot with a internal filler pipe, great except rushing in and telling me to "fill er up" while heading to the lavatory I managed about 10 gallons of fuel through the standard fuel filler and I then heard a expletive "F**k" from the toilet,by the time he got to the car dragging his pants up I had his boot awash in petrol and it was running out the rust holes. Another lovely old gentleman Mr Green bought a Morris Mini Van he loved to work on it and as the mini's engine mounts sagged the fan touched the fan cowl a tinkling noise emitted Mr Green decided to adjust it but unfortunately it got worse, he worked on it for a number of hours till I got a phone call to pick it up. I enquired why he couldn't drive it in and was told he lost his temper and worked it over with a iron bar, the rocker cover, distributor cap, radiator and cowl were written off!


Fast forward a couple of years and I'm in the bike industry working with Brian Cripps at Vic Wreckers the staff there were on a level with customers but more about that in a future article, a couple of odd customers set me on a different level on the study of mankind, one came in weekly buying gears from any motorcycle, any brand or era or condition it didn't matter, curiosity seized me and I foolishly asked him after 3 months what he wanted them for, I was told "it is for the invention" which then led to me asking what was the invention? He was coy and didn't tell me for some weeks after and he produced piles of blueprints with seemingly endless gear trains but he wouldn't tell me what it did, to this day I still wonder. At the same place I met a bloke with a A10 BSA which he was restoring on a weekly wage he rode a Honda step through 50 cc and each week flogged and this poor bike to death it never broke, one day he came in on the Beeza I asked about the long suffering Honda he had gutted the engine from the frame with a axe and towed it behind the big British twin from Elwood! Brian tolerated customers on his terms if they really annoyed him he would walk them out the front roller door and tell them never to pass that line again. This caused some to yell from the door pleading forgiveness so they could buy parts to which he ignored them!

 Another group bought some cheap paddock bikes for the weekend, they rang if we rented motorcycles to which I answered "No but if you buy some and return them the the following week we would purchase them back, they agreed and I dug out a couple of old AJS paddock bikes and a Ariel and price was negotiated and they picked the trio up Friday night on a old tandem trailer. On The following Monday one chap rang up and said he would return them in the morning, he arrived about 11am and I asked to see the machines first before repurchasing them I looked up and down Thompson st in vain for the trailer to no avail he pointed to a VW beetle further down the road and in amazement the three poor machines were in the car! To my amusement they had hacksawed the frame off the headstem and removed the passenger seat them forced then in, needless to say the buyback price was minimal. 

Another chap slightly disabled mentally came in almost daily he wanted a motorcycle desperately, we realised it would not be responsible to sell him one but he pestered his poor mother who eventually relented and came into work and asked if we could sell him a motorcycle that never ran as he legally could never get a licence, between us we decided on a old Norton ES2 would fit the bill without a engine what harm could this do? Geography they lived in a leafy hilly area called Surrey Hills the enthusiastic owner got on the crest of a hill and rolled down the problem was a intersection of a busy road below he crashed into a Police car midriff and bounced across the roof, policeman stopped and seized the stunned rider gleefully and thinking he was shocked proceeded to read him his rights telling him he would be booked for unroadworthy, unregistered motorcycle etc and wanted his licence his fellow officer noticed no engine then the penny dropped. Heartbroken the poor chaps Norton was returned the following day


By the time I moved to, Frank Mussett and Co in Sydney rd Brunswick the Victorian distributor for Triumph,Velocette,Jawa-CZ I was well aware of customers, new bike customers were anal and the first 800klm service brought that home, one chap brought his large breasted, blond girlfriend in to view the new 1975 T140 Bonneville, he sat her on the the back of the dualseat and walked around the Triumph holding his thumb up and using it as a sight to view Miss Big Tits while asking pointed questions such as "does it have that Triumph roar" needless to say he purchased it. Another from Geelong bought one of the last T120Vs sold and over the weekend decided the beautiful Vermillion paint job wasn't good enough so a flat black paint job with a rattle can would fix it, great except he painted it in situ, the poor Bonnie had overspray on everything cylinder head included! Another customer used to wear a putrid pigs trotter around his neck on a chain he complained that his new Triumph didn't leak oil like all his mates and they cast disparaging remarks on his manhood he insisted I remove the chaincase gasket so it would leak like a normal bike, and of course he was charged for this job. Another individual decided clear plastic hose looked better than rubber brake hose and it was attached with twitching wire problem with this is under pressure the hose expanded. More were to come like the guy who wanted to change his oil out the back of the workshop but not in a drain tray as expected but on his denim jacket, he leaked more oil than his Triumph. Curiously one customer used to collect spark plugs, any plugs even common worn out ones I assumed he was making a bomb at home! These miracles of mankind kept coming daily and each day was a day to look forward to. Some customers were famous, Ted Simon on his around the world trip on a 1972 T100, I helped him twice including his second trip on BMW some 30 years later. 

 In 1981 I started UnionJack Motorcycles and some good customers followed, but over the last 40 years I've had a few that are worth a mention more to follow in a future blog.


Phil Pilgrim 2021