WILLIMANTIC, CT – Mark Turkington is a familiar figure at motorcycle shows around New England. The 72-year-old Bolton resident is a life-long rider and a collector of rare, vintage models, and he enjoys showing off his two-wheeled artifacts.
For Brit Jam in 2015, he brought a British-made 1924 Douglas SW/24. At the British Motorcycle Show in Auburn, Mass. in 2013, it was another British bike, a 1933 BSA B2. At the inaugural Thompson Vintage Motorcycle Classic last year, Turkington displayed a 1914 BSA 557H, and he even rode it on parade laps around the track at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Turkington has 35 old motorcycles in his eclectic collection, including nine BSAs, three Moto Guzzis and two Harley-Davidsons from 1961 – a Sportster XLCH and a Sprint. There are also Ducatis, Triumphs and Hondas as well as a lesser known Jawa Speedway, a Derbi, and a Wards Riverside that was made in Italy by Benelli. All are kept under alarmed protection in a former dance studio here.
When I bumped into him last month at the Springfield Motorcycle Show, he pulled out his smartphone to show me pictures of two relatively recent acquisitions – a Welbike and a Valmobile scooter. Having never heard of either, I knew a trip to Willimantic was needed. After all, part of the fun of writing about motorcycles is discovering new and, notably in this case, long forgotten or short-lived brands.
Turkington grew up in Coventry and began riding at 16. He put himself through college at what was then Central Connecticut State College in the mid-1960s by working as parts manager at Manchester Honda. “I was their first employee,” he said, recalling that he was able to work full-time during the warm months and part-time during the school year.
He graduated wth a teaching degree in industrial arts and was headed for a teaching career, but detoured into manufacturing, launching Connecticut Cycle Accessories with his brother, Philip. The company made bolt-on chrome parts for Japanese motorcycles, such as luggage racks, sissy bars and engine guards, and eventually employed nearly 100 people.
The business later shifted into making furniture and was eventually sold. Turkington kept the 120,000-square-foot facility as a rental property before selling it in 2015, leasing back some of the space, including what was formerly the dance studio. He began collecting motorcycles 15 years ago, and the results of his hunting are parked in equal lines on either side of the room. Each bike could easily be a story.
For instance, there’s the single-cylinder 1989 Honda GB500. Yes, GB, not CB. It was a model that only lasted two years in the United States. “They didn’t sell at all but are now very collectible,” he said. “It’s like a modern motorcycle but classic styling.” He got it two years ago and it only has 2,817 miles on the odometer.
The reason for the visit, though, was to see the Welbike and the Valmobile.
The Welbike dates back to World War II. It’s a small, 98cc, two-stroke military model that was built in England by Excelsior between 1942 and 1944. With a collapsible seat and fold-down handlebar, it was designed to stow in an airdrop container for battlefield use. Paratroopers were expected to get the Welbike unpacked and running within seconds. Roughly 3,600 were built. Turkington’s came off the line on Dec. 27, 1942.
“There’s only like 50 left in the world. In Europe, it’s worth $10,000 easy,” said Turkington, whose research reveals that Welbikes were carried ashore on D-Day and were dropped the from planes during Operation Market Garden. The Welbike has a top speed of 30 miles per hour and a range of 90 miles.
Turkington paid $4,000 for the Welbike and put an additional $1,500 into restoration.
The Valmobile is also a small model. It’s a fold-up suitcase scooter with a 50cc engine and kickstarter. Made in Japan, the Valmobile was sold in the states in the early 1960s with an MSRP of $219. “It was all primer when I got it,” said Turkington, recalling that he decided in advance on a sea foam blue color scheme that reflected the time period. “I’m painting the thing and lo and behold that was the original color,” he said.
Turkington’s collection of motorcycles isn’t just for show. All of them run. “I can fire any one of those up in a couple of hours,” he said. But riding isn’t a priority for him, and he doesn’t own a modern motorcycle. “With so many bikes, you can’t ride that much,” he said. With his spare time devoted to expanding his collection, he added, “I might as well get something that’s unique.”
There are bikes in the collection that have a sentimental attachment for Turkington – the 1961 Sportster because he had a similar 1964 Sportster as a teenager.
The 500cc Jawa was particularly interesting to me. Made in Czechoslovakia, is was designed solely for racing. It has no brakes and no transmission. It runs not on gas, rather on methanol. It also had offset foot pegs – the left one forward and the right one rear-set to accommodate racing in a counter-clockwise pattern.
Turkington’s always looking for new acquisitions and is now in the process of getting a French-made 1902 Clement from dealership in the U.K. “It’s a bicycle with an engine. I wanted to get something from the beginning of time,” he said. “It’s all paid for. It will be shipped in a week or 10 days.”
Meanwhile, on his “wish list” is a Neracar, a brand built in Syracuse, N.Y. and England in the 1920s. If he keeps it up, Turkington will have to find a larger space to house his gorgeous collection.