Good Paint Job/Bad Paint Job

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

MORE THAN a quarter of a century ago, I knew a bloke named Custer. Can’t be sure exactly how he got his nickname, but most likely called that because he had long, wavy blonde hair, blonde moustache and a goatee beard. Oh, and like General George Custer, had an almost irrational fear of being near any large group of Sioux Indians.

Like all my friends back then, Custer was a dead-set unit—mostly weird but a lot of fun to drink with. Also, like all of my friends back then, he was a biker. And like all my mates from way back then, he still rides now; I see him flashing past on a big old Laverda triple from time to time.

But back then, we were saddened when he went over to the dark side and bought a Jap bike, getting rid of his Triumph for a Kawasaki 900.

But Custer had his reasons. I think he’d done his brief for about a year (pissed riding, most likely; another common occurrence of the time) and as his 650 Triumph was all chromed and polished and custom painted with a Rick Pacey mural, he figured it was a good idea to not be the owner of a going motorcycle for the duration of the suspension.

So the flash Triumph was swapped for a piece of shit Kwakka 9 in pieces. He used his time to rebuild the Kwak and make it all purty just like the Triumph. He even got Rick Pacey to airbrush a mural on the tank.

In the 1970s, tank murals were all the rage, and if you lived on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, it was a fair bet your mural would be airbrushed by either Dave Hart or Rick Pacey. Both these custom painters were legends in the Hot Rod field but Pacey leaned more towards the bikes. Even the chrome flames on my AJS tank were taped out by Pacey; the flames still remain and look damned fine to this day.

But Custer had a different vision for his tank mural and that choice led him to cop a big flogging from a number of large, angry men in blue uniforms. The beautifully-rendered artwork on the predominantly metalflake black tank was surrounded by green flames; that artwork, while expertly done, was fairly vile. It featured a severed pig’s head, complete with policeman’s hat, perched on a pile of rubbish spilled from a garbage can.

Of course, in those pre-politically correct days, wild artwork was prevalent, but it was art and the tits and arse wasn’t there to offend, just to look good. Custer’s tank art, however, was meant to offend, and early one morning, it did.

We’d all ridden to a big party at some ritzy house in Bilgola Plateau, near enough to Palm Beach. I suppose the party was okay, I don’t remember much of the specifics, but I do recall Rocky being a bit upset that the lights on his 1951 AJS single had failed again (being an AJS owner, he should’ve been expecting it). By his reckoning, the most common reason police pull over pissed drivers is because those dopey pissheads were driving along oblivious to the fact they’d forgotten to turn their headlights on.

“Hullo, hullo, hullo,” the coppers say, “Pull over and blow in this bag, you lightless idiot!”

Rocky had arranged to leave the Ajay there for the night and was a bit apprehensive when Custer offered to double him home. Custer’s licence suspension was over so he was actually licensed.

But he was pissed.

And his bike was unregistered.

And uninsured.

And carried ‘number plates calculated to deceive.’

Rocky declined the offer of a lift as he had his girl with him.

“I’ll take her on my Ajay,” I chirped in.

“Yeah, thanks, mate,” Rocky replied in monotone.

We’d only gotten a few suburbs souther to Mona Vale, home of the infamous Mona Vale police station, when the old AJS and the new Kawasaki were waiting at the lights next to the even more infamous Mona Vale pub.

I was aware there was a cop car just behind us, but you know, back then, it wasn’t always a problem. See, we only had to travel about another half a mile and the copper would have looked at the inviting driveway of the Mona Vale cop shop, looked back at us and said, “Arggh, frig it! Get out of here, you scallywags; I’ll book you next week,” before steering into the station for a nice cup of hot tea and bikkies.

‘Yep, home and hosed,’ I thought, ‘if we can just keep it cool for another two minutes…’

Custer spoiled that dream by revving the absolute ring out of the Kwakka and feeding the clutch into a drag racing start that would’ve pulled a 12-second quarter mile time two-up.

I was on the horns of a dilemma: the racer in me told me I should at least try to keep up, but the barely-used, still-in-its-original-wrapping commonsense valve in my brain kicked in and the Ajay left the line with little more than a determined lurch. While Custer’s red tail light was disappearing rapidly into the night, the cop car swerved into the next lane.

But before pursuing Custer, it paused a while and paced me. Six-foot-two inches of anger in a blue uniform was yelling something at me from the passenger’s window. It was either: “YOU LAD! PULL OVER AND STOP RIGHT THERE; I’LL BE BACK FOR YOU LATER!” or it could’ve been: “Be a nice chap and turn into that driveway just there, ride your bike into the middle of that long grass and lay your bike, your good self and your young female companion down in that long grass and hide from us.”

Confused and anxious, but willing to comply, I took what appeared to be the safer option. Sticking my head up from time to time, looking through the long grass and the trees across the park, I could see the spectacular light show up ahead where Custer was pulled over. I could see someone who looked like Custer being walked across the road to the cop shop; I could also see someone who looked like Rocky riding a Kawasaki 900 up around and into the driveway of the cop shop. Some time later, I then observed a person I believed to be Rocky, hitchhiking south across the road from the cop shop.

I felt safe where I was as I could see regular police patrols cruising past…

To by-pass the police station, a pleasant ride across the park was called for—just like Marlon Brando and Mary Murphy in The Wild One. A bit of a double shuffle was called for, and Rocky’s girl got dropped home, then I returned for Rocky. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve tripled them home in one trip, but these were not normal circumstances.

We got home safe, but no so Custer.

He was gone for a row of shit-houses, for sure.



Numberplates calculated to deceive.

And pissed riding.

Hoo boy! Talk about hamburger with the lot!

But that wasn’t all. More was to come once the first rays of golden sun caressed the idyllic, beachside cop shop.

Recounting his experiences the next afternoon, Custer reckoned that, despite the serious charges and the usually serious attitude he would always give, he was treated fairly and justly by the cops. That was, of course, until he heard those fateful words, made harsher by the brutal light of day, “Hey fellas,” Custer heard a copper say, “come and look at what this fucking dickhead has painted on the petrol tank of his bike…”

“Uh, oh,” said Custer…

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