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|Roadside Discoveries: Nickwackett Garage, a Vintage British Bike Shop|
|Written by Jim Brennan|
|Friday, 26 June 2009 03:36|
On Vermont Route 7 just north of the village of Pittsford there's a small building with an old sign denoting the Nickwackett Garage, what appears to be a bike shop out of the '50s. While another sign out front advertises repairs for Triumph, BMW, BSA, Norton, what caught my attention, a 1938 Supercharged Graham Sedan inside.
Upon entering through the front door, one could not help but notice how very quaint the business looked. There are a number of customer bikes parked on the old hardwood floor of what could be called a showroom, along with various counter displays containing vintage parts, t-shirts, and ball caps. Nestled with the various Triumph, BMW, and Norton cycles is a fairly complete 1938 Graham sedan, with its art deco inspired hood raised. The car was also resting on jack stands, so it wasn't sitting on the floor. Behind one of the counters, I was introduced to the current owner of the shop, Lloyd (Bud) Provin, Jr. Bud was busy updating a customer's work order on his laptop when I asked about his rustic little shop in the middle rural Vermont, and the story was fascinating.
The building in which the business is operating from was originally a schoolhouse in nearby Florence, Vermont, until it closed when the state decided that "its windows did not admit sufficient light for the children's' lessons." Bud's grandfather bought the building and it was cut into three pieces, and transported across the Depot Covered Bridge in the early thirties--which was a trick in itself. Bud's Grandfather set up a Graham Automobile dealership, along with becoming a Gulf Oil distributor. The dealership was opened for business the day that President Roosevelt closed the banks in the Great Depression. The Provin family still owns the last Graham automobile sold from that shop, because, as it was stated to me, it was Bud's father's first car.
Lloyd Provin, Sr. became a Triumph Motorcycle Dealer in 1957 in a garage next to their home, and moved the dealership to the current location when Bud's grandparents passed on in 1962 and 1963. Over the years in addition to Triumph, they have become a franchised dealer for BMW, Suzuki, and handled Speedway minibikes at one point in their history. The business was an authorized Triumph Dealer up until 1982, when the original owners of Triumph went into receivership. There were a few lean years, especially during the early seventies, when Triumph redesigned their bikes, and there was nothing available from the factory. When the franchise folded, Nickwackett Garage became a classic cycle dealer and repair shop.
Some of the bikes that I looked at while reveling in the stories that Bud described were quite amazing, and I really don't know that much about bikes. Bud's personal bike is a 1969 Triumph Trident. It was restored in 1981, and currently sports 23,000 miles on the clock. The Trident is truly a bike with the correct name attached, as it has a three-cylinder 750cc engine, with three separate carburetors, triple exhaust system, and not much else. Bud didn't give any indication as to whether or not it's for sale, but I'm thinking it's not.
Among the famous Triumph nameplates is the Triumph Bonneville. History states that the reason why Triumph adopted this Pontiac of nameplates was because of the speed record set during the 1959 attempt at the world famous Bonneville Salt Flats. A 650cc Triumph set a speed record, reaching a speed of 215 MPH. The Bonneville became Triumph's best seller. There were at least three vintage Bonneville's for sale; A Mustard Colored 1971; A black customized 1971, and a 1977 Silver Jubilee. Triumph produced 1000 limited edition cycles to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of HRM Queen Elizabeth, and Bud has one, in incredible condition, waiting for a new owner.
The elder Provin hung the BMW Roundel on the front of the building in 1972, as an authorized dealer for BMW bikes. "The arrival of BMW at the shop happened just in time." said Bud. "Dad had stopped selling Suzukis in 1969, and by the early seventies, Triumph was in trouble. While we continued to sell Triumphs until the end in 1981, sales fell steadily, and BMW sales were rising." Bud, along with his father, pined about BMWs and their riders; "5000 miles a year was a lot for a Triumph, but the BMW riders were routinely averaging more miles than that." There was one BMW R75/6 that they took in trade, with over 30,000 miles on the odometer. They decided to take the engine apart, and found very little wear, and so a lesson was learned about these motorcycles' durability. The black bike pictured is a 1985 BMW R80 that Bud told me he purchased from an estate sale. As you can see, the bike isn't in pristine shape, but can be restored to like new condition with not a lot of work.
The Graham was another thing altogether. It's a 1938 Supercharged Sedan, otherwise known as the "Sharknose". This was the first car owned by Bud's father. It is going under a lengthy restoration by his brother, and it looks like they bought a parts car as a companion piece. Introduced for recession-plagued 1938, it underwhelmed the market. The Graham supercharger was first offered only as a four-door sedan in two trim levels, but expanded to include a two-door coupe and sedan for 1939-40 in standard and custom versions. The Graham-built centrifugal supercharger was the only blower available in a popular-priced car and boosted horsepower on the Continental six from about 90 to 116 for 1938-39. It was quietly dropped in 1940 in favor of the Hollywood, which was based on the Cord 810 dies.
I didn't get to stay as long as I wanted, as this was just a detour while trying to make time for my next appointment. What I found was another piece of Americana, with an interesting history, and with people you generally want to get to know better. Bud was one of those individuals who is doing exactly what he wants to be doing, and making a living at it. The shop is not pretentious. In fact, it's rather homey, rural, and dare I say, comfortable. It is exactly the place I would want to buy a vintage cycle from, or take one to get serviced. There were a couple of customers that stopped in while I was there, and the relationship between shop owner, and customer was more like a relationship between two very dear, old friends.