1950's George Whitlow 531 retro mod build - a labour of love

velocipede

Senior Retro Guru
So, I've just completed this full refurb…..and it's got some history so I thought I'd share the story…..

This "bike" (in proper "Triggers broom" style) was bought secondhand by my Dad in around 1975 from the Liverpool Cycle Exchange (which I vaguely remember was in Toxteth). He was just getting me into cycling (I was 10 at the time) and this caught his eye because he'd had one in the late 50's when George Whitlow was still building frames in his garden shed in Runcorn. I have looked long and hard on the web and I can't find reference to another anywhere so I don't think George was knocking many out!

The frame is full 531 and it came with a mixture of parts inc Weinmann 500/730 brakes and simplex mechs, campag shifters and 27" wheels, finished in a lovely dark ruby red with George's signature in gold on the down tube.

The bike was used by my Dad for club rides, 10's and occasional road races (it had tubs on it by then) until replaced by a Harry Quinn in about 1980.

I used the Whitlow as my runabout - built up singlespeed, at one point with flat bars, I used it to ride to school and then took it away with me to Uni in 1984…at this point I'd taken a random bunch of spray cans to it and made a poor attempt at doing a 1980's faded paint job on it….it looked a bit sorry for itself then! I also managed to come off it a few times so it picked up a couple of nasty dents in the top tube too, just to add to its "patina"!

On return from Uni, it sat in my Dad's garage for a few years before my brother in law took it on as he first got into cycling…..he put some more modern parts on it, inc some 700c clinchers. He brought it up to scratch in the 90's with a home done "splatter" paint job…..just to make sure it kept looking awful!

He put a few miles on it and then, in the early 2000's, it finished up in his garage too…..and sat there until last September when he mentioned to me it was going to the tip……

NO WAY!

I took it off his hands again not really knowing what to do with it, but being sure I didn't want to see it thrown away.

I decided, in its rough state, that it wasn't worth a full enamel respray, and instead opted for a "cheap" powdercoat just to tidy it up. I got the powder coaters to sort out the top tube dents while they were at it. I went for a dark red, not the same as the original ruby but at least a bit of a homage to the bikes roots.

When he'd painted it, my brother in law had oversprayed some of the parts, so things like the headset, down tube shifters and seat post were in a mess. Also, the old Cinelli bars and stem it had inherited some years ago were unsuitable - the stem was a 130mm and bars 38cm, so no good for me! It had also picked up some nasty Shimano Exage aero brake levers at some point so they had to go too.

I decided, given the state of the downtube shifters and the front mech, that I'd go with a single chainring set up. With this in mind, I had a look for a new downtube clamp and remarkably found an NOS Campagnolo one on eBay for less than a tenner and was able to save the right hand lever from the old, nastily painted clamp.

I'd discovered when I'd come to remove the cranks that the crank threads were shot (had to use a mates automotive gear puller to remove the drive side) and the BB was also shot. I had a modern RaceFace MTB chainset with a single 34t narrow-wide ring already fitted, so decided I'd use that for now at least. It's not really in keeping with the rest of it but it does the job and is very light & easy to look after, so what's not to like!

I managed to clean up most of the remaining bits and some of them, particularly the wheels, turned out to be in good shape. A bit of elbow grease and a quick bearing service and they were fine.

I sourced several other new parts, including a nice new seatclamp bolt, a Nitto Technomic stem (eBay), Nitto touring bars (Planet X), new tape (Planet X) and I thought I'd bring the brakes into line and fit some Tektro long reach nutted dual pivot jobs (SJS Cycles). I picked up a NOS Stronglight A9 headset (Planet X again!) to replace the knackered and oversprayed old one. Some brand new SKS mudguards were sourced via a Facebook post.

Then, to add to the nostalgia, I dug out some old parts that had been hanging around on a shelf in my garage for years. A beautiful Brooks B17 that had belonged to my Mum, again from the 50's, and had been fitted to a Falcon Super Course that she had used as a teenager (when she met my Dad!) and had also found itself on one of my school bikes in the early 80's.

Then the "piece de resistance" - I dug out the old Campag brake levers that I'd kept from my Manchester Division Road Race winning Swinnerton from 1983 (I've also still got the Turbo saddle from that bike!). They were lacking lever rubbers so I managed to source some gum hoods on eBay (they are Diacompe but a good fit).

Then came the build…..

It all went together well apart from a couple of slight glitches. The threads on the steerer tube weren't long enough to handle the more modern headset, so I needed to get an extra 5mm of thread cut into the steerer. And the rear end had been squished in to just 110mm width, so needed respacing to 126mm to fit the 7 speed screw on hub of the wheels. Thanks to Dave Hinde for his help with this.

The only things remaining from the build bought by my Dad in 1975 are the frame, forks and seat post…..parts being changed & added pretty often over the 43 years since then, although mainly in the last few months as this has come together.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon and finally got round to finishing it off, and here it is:

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So, here we are a good 6 months later, with a lovely, rideable "old" bike. It's an eclectic mix of parts but with some light and easy to maintain bits like the BB and headset and some modern brakes that actually work! As it's always had a mix of parts, I guess this is more or less in keeping with its history.

In fact, it's a very nice comfy ride and not too shabby speed-wise either…just as I remember it! My only regret now I've built it is that perhaps it would have been worth a proper paint job after all….

I have no idea what I'm going to use it for, other than the odd cafe ride….it's likely to spend most of it's time hung on my garage wall…..but one thing is for sure, it won't be going to the tip.
 

The History Man

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A really nicely built frame. A credit to its history. Great write up. Long may it run.
 

Toecutter

Devout Dirtbag
Re: 1950's George Whitlow

What a nice bit of history and well done for hanging onto it.

Maybe the very last thing you could do is somehow source some GW transfers or find pictures of them for copies.

Shaun
 

velocipede

Senior Retro Guru
Thanks for the comments guys…..and yes Shaun, I've tried to find any reference to George's frames and can't find anything (the originals were lost a long time ago under both mine and my brother in laws home done paint jobs!).

I have manage to find a pic of it (albeit no detail to see the decals - I remember them being on a gold script, perhaps Georges signature, with a blue and yellow shield shaped head badge…

So here it is, in full flight in around 1977 with my dad astride!

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The History Man

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Re:

Like this?
 

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The History Man

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I have my own inbuilt fuzzy logic. Can’t remember. Took about 15 mins.
 

Toecutter

Devout Dirtbag
Re: George Whitlow transfers

Amazing what can turn up.

Steve at Lloyds Decals could probably knock up the necessary artwork from that image and recreate some transfers. If the downtube transfer name was originally in script he could probably conjure something up that wouldn't have been too dissimilar. Might be worth checking through old trade directories at the library to determine G.W's telephone number for the head badge - the bit that's missing.

Shaun
 

The History Man

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Overbury’s font would work for down tubes. If you want decent pics/measurements let me know. Or ask Gil m.


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