My father rode a James built Francis Barnett for many years when I was a kid . At 16 we often argued about bikes. I of course went for the Japanese whereas for my father “British was best”. When he died it seemed a fitting tribute to buy a British bike and only a James would do. What followed was a six-month search to find a suitable machine. After 4 auctions and numerous phone calls we finally got a lead on one in Bristol that was being restored but the owner died. On a Saturday afternoon myself and my best mate went to see the “Comet”. My initial thought was what a pretty bike and yet easy to work on. Despite needing some work, it was an excellent choice that my father would approve of. The trip back from Bristol with a comet in he back of Cavalier was not without its problems.
Joy turned to disaster when only 3 months after taking ownership, the bike was subject to an arson attack, Petrol was poured over the shed door and a rag used to ignite it. The fire crew first on the scene pulled the Comet out of the fire but the Puch Maxi was destroyed. Fortunately, there was no fuel in the tank but what greeted us when we finally picked up the bike from storage was hardly recognisable has the bike I left to go on holiday. What was returned had extensive damage. The front screen was melted, and the paint bubbled over the bike. Both tyres were welded to the wheels and the engine was black with all the seals melted. Greater loss was all the tools we had to keep the bike road worthy were now a mass of plastic in a melted toolbox. But at times like that after the initial shock it only makes you more determined not to let these mindless people win. After a total strip we started finding the bits. Starting with the engine we stripped all the parts, replaced gaskets and rebuilt. The paint was stripped by hand and parts smoke damaged were polished. 8 months later the engine started and apart from the tyres everything was working. For about 6 years it was a regular at shows and rallies.
Little is known of its original history but it was bought new in 1949 in the Bristol area by an employee of the Bristol aircraft company and used until 1970 when it was sold as a basket case and partially rebuilt before we bought it. Having ridden the bike often, it always felt a little odd and the back wheel often felt like there was bit of movement or wear there. We replaced bearings and spindle but never found a cause, it was just a little foible the bike had.
During one show we were approached by a lady who did her courting on a James Comet and even though it was single seat she said that a lot of girls used to ride side saddle on the small back rack. Perhaps that might explain the wear.
The Comet was mainstay of the James range and despite going through many changes’s and a change of engine during the AMC period , The Comet was still in production when the company went into liquidation. The Comet was also chosen by the RAF for a general airfield bike but the Comet was not chosen for the post Office contract losing out to the Bantam.
In 2005 our comet was stolen along with a number of James machines including an RAF version. After 6 months and no signs of them being found by the Police, we had given up hope of seeing the comet again but then the Police found a Comet hidden under some covers in a garden less than 15 miles away. In its time it had been stripped and used as a track bike. Once again we started the rebuilding process.
Today the rebuilt Comet is at RAF Welford with the James ML as part of the display. The James runs well and though we are still doing some work back to its former glory.