A neglected and nearly forgotten Ariel 350 is brought back to life.
“A wonderful jigsaw puzzle,” is how Nick Christian remembers the 1946 Ariel 350 when it first arrived at Calgary’s Old Motorcycle Shop, where he serves as lead fabricator.
The bike was delivered there in pieces approximately a year ago by a family from Saskatchewan who wanted it restored as a surprise gift for their grandfather, the close-to-original owner of the British-made single.
The problems facing Nick were manifold. “When it arrived it looked like it had been subjected to a lot of rage,” says Nick with a good-natured laugh. While the Ariel had been in the family a very long time, it had been subjected to a variety of tasks and fixes, some of which were of the ‘more urgent, less gentle’ persuasion.
At one point the OEM engine had been literally cut out with a gas torch and replaced by a motor from a farm implement, possibly a grain auger.
As fate had it, the extracted stock motor was left sitting in the same barn where the surgery took place, and there it lingered until the day it was called back into service for the sake of the Ariel restoration project.
It’s nearly impossible to consider the history of Ariel motorcycles as a breed without accounting for its role as an asset of the British army during World War Two. The famed Red Hunter was purpose-built for military service for which it proved nimble, versatile, and easily stripped-and-serviced in the field. The little warhorse spawned various iterations including this 346cc overhead valve “NG” model.
Production of Ariel motorcycles during 1939-45 was exclusively for the war effort with little or no penetration into the civilian market until 1946. Little about the Ariel’s basic architecture had changed when they resurfaced for public consumption, hence a model such as this 1946 could easily pass for one made in 1939.
But in the post-war years, Ariels quickly became desirable commodities in terms of their styling and reputation—the competition must have thought so too, as BSA purchased Ariel in 1951, with production of certain models lasting into the 1960s.
So Nick Christian had his work cut out if he were to bring it back to factory trim, on time and on budget. Among the challenges were “Identifying pieces that weren’t there,” says Nick, and dealing with the ones that were.
Nearly all components of the completely disassembled bike were in some state of ruin. “Most looked like this,” says Nick pointing to the licence plate holder with its many waves and ripples as though it had been pulled from a fire at some point.
There were obvious signs of jury-rigging for exigency’s sake, with little regard for aesthetics. Glaring examples included the magneto chain cover replaced by a tuna can fixed in place with a tapping screw. (“Seriously?” I ask. Nick confirms this is true.)
The original gas cap for the Ariel 350 had long since been dispatched to who knows where and replaced with something automotive. “A hub cap from an old Nash or something,” ventures Nick, who admits that among the greatest challenges he faced in the restoration process was simply “fighting the urge to mend and make do,” as the owner had done over the years as matters of pure practicality.
Another example: the need to purchase several sets of taps and dies to deal with the multitude of fastener threads and grades that had pierced the Ariel’s hide over the decades.
Few original components would be of much use in the Ariel’s reconstruction although there were some surprises. Most of the OEM parts were in the four-speed transmission and the original girder front end was still serviceable after some straightening.
Beyond those items, nearly everything for the Ariel 350 needed to be sourced from the vintage reproduction aftermarket or fabricated by hand during long exhausting hours that would ultimately push Nick’s considerable skill and ingenuity to the max as he progressed with what he terms “trepidation.” The goal was to return a beloved motorcycle to its owner in as-new condition while remaining mindful of cost and time.
The Ariel 350 project was nearly complete and ready for presentation to the unsuspecting owner at the time of my visit to Old Motorcycle Shop in late July. Before I departed I thought to ask Nick what had given him the greatest pleasure during the Ariel’s year-long restoration process.
“Riding it,” said the fabricator who, to make the point, tickled the bike’s tiny carb, set the choke and timing levers, dialed-in a bit of throttle and gave the Ariel a kick. The bike immediately leapt to life and settled into a lumpy idle.
By now, someone in Saskatchewan is very happy.
• Story and photos: John Campbell Canadian Biker Issue #344