Jim Howe has had a lot to celebrate about lately: whilst most of the business world has been worrying about the declining motorcycle market and the crash of the stock-market Jim has looked ahead and built a new shop in North Perth. The new shop has been built on the site of the old shop, which has been in Angove Street since 1929.
Pal and Panther was established in 1929 by Cyril Collins and in that time has become a familiar landmark to several generations of motorcyclists. Cyril chose a bad time to set up a business having to cope with the Depression soon after. an event which Cyril never forgot. Cyril's mainstay at that time was the building of push-cycles to order, using proprietary parts. His standard model was called the Pal cycle and his deluxe model was the Panther cycle. This model featured Sturmey-Archer half width drum brakes, front and rear, with a Miller generator and headlight. A genuine Panther pushbike, assembled and painted by Cyril in 1933, has pride of place in the new shop.
Cyril was one of the lucky few to survive in business through the Depression. It was because of the hardships suffered by Cyril at this time that he developed the habit of a lifetime of not throwing anything away regardless of condition. Motorcycle parts and pushbike bits were stored in old lean-to sheds and in every conceivable corner and shelf in the shop. It was this very collection of cast-offs that proved to be such a boon to Perth's Classic motorcycle buffs.
Cyril knew that survival through the Depression meant that radical business methods (for the time) were needed and so Cyril developed a core of customers loyal to his shop through the use of credit and pleasant service. Cyril would sell cycles to struggling customers on minimal deposit and small weekly payments. This ensured for Cyril a good reliable turnover of customers and regular work servicing and repairing machines. In addition Cyril was an adept gunsmith and supplemented his income with work on boat motors and lawn-mowers.
Cyril soon developed a sound reputation for his ability to set-up sidecars, re-align bent frames and to rebuild wheels. His skills in these areas were well attended by the Perth population of the time. In addition Cyril had a speciality which he refined to a fine art. hand pin-striping. Cyril was an enthusiast for two motorcycles in particular. Harley-Davidson and Matchless. He found the Harley to be particularly suitable for the sandy and rough roads that were everywhere in Western Australia at the time. Cyril's Harley still exists though only in bits at present, the result of a bingle with a tram. The Harley suffered a bent frame and a badly bent front fork. When the old shop was cleaned up a new frame and a front end was discovered and restoration is now underway for the 10-12. Jim's son Craig has collected enough bits to see Cyril's bike back on the road again some 40 years after the prang.
Cyril was an avid motorcyclist of the time and he would ride his Harley and sidecar into the South West bush regardless of the primitive state of the roads of the time. The sand was the worst obstacle especially as the side-cars needed to be loaded up with fuel and food. Cyril described one trip through the Karri forests and the Stirling Range where the side-car chassis would dig into the sand track making progress slow and arduous. Creek crossings were another hazard due to tne limited traction offered by the tyres of the time and limited power available for climbing up the steep banks.
Cyril's 1952 Matchless is still complete, running and fully licenced for the road. A 350cc 3GL model, the Matchless was Cyril's regular transport and was used daily. I remember clearly scenes of Cyril tearing off down Scarborough Beach Road with his pudding basin helmet on and his shoulder-bag flapping in the wind, on his way to the Bank. Sadly Cyril died early in 1997. But he was strong to the end and had his wits about him and a good memory. He remembered Sig Sohlamm, a Speedway star of the 1930s coming to see him one night before heading to the WACA ground for a speedway meeting on the grass. Sig rode a Douglas speedway bike end was unbeatable on the cinder track.
The meeting this night however was on grass and Sig told Cyril. "Someone's going to get killed to-nightl" That night was a tragedy for Australian speedway when Sig's Douglas flew up on a bump, hit him in the face and killed him instantly Speedway at the WACA was doomed after that event and Perth has never forgotten it's hero.
Jim Howe is the current proprietor of Pal and panther having become apprenticed to Cyril in 1952, at the age of fourteen, after getting sick of school and wanting a job. Jim has a love of motorcycles himself and whilst never a regular rider he has a wealth of knowledge on old British motorcycles and can recognise most parts. Jim is currently restoring a 600cc Panther. a rigid rear end modal with Dowty/ Oleomatic front forks.
Jim eventuallybought the shop from Cyril and soon expanded the business with the help of his wife, Pat and their sons.The old shop has been in Angove St North Perth since 1929 but has had a couple of moves back and forth across the road. In this time Pal and Panther has out-lasted even other business in the street, including butcher shops, barbers and even a brothel. The old shop was a butchers shop originally and bike parts were stored in the stables for the horses used to deliver meat. The old shop also proudly displayed the Panther Motorcycles emblem on the shopfront. Possibly one of the last shops in the world to do so. Clearing out the old shop to ake way for the new building is like opening Alladin's cave old motorcycles were wheeledout into the sunlight.
Numerous BSA Cll's and me odd A10 and 500 were hauled out from the junk pile along with scores of generators, mudguards. frames and wheels. An old Moto-Reve V- twin motor was recovered along with many BSA M20 side-valve motors and a Panther Model 86 motor AMC gear-box. There were too many parts to mention but needless to say the clearance of possibly the last storehouse of old British bike parts in Perth was the cause of some hectic buying.
Jim has now opened his new shop but he intends to maintain contact with the old bikes end is able to supply tyres and service and some pelts. Pal end Panther has lost it's old style charm and chaos but as a pioneer motorcycle shop in Perth. I am sure it still has a secure future.
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