Report in Motorcycle Trader, June 1986
GUS KUHN HAVE BEEN IN BUSINESS FOR OVER HALF A CENTURY. NORTONS, SUZUKIS, BMWS, HESKETHS .THEY'VE SOLD THEM ALL AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER. NOW THEY'RE EXCLUSIVELY BMW. VINCENT DAVEY RECALLS THE GOOD OLD DAYS. WERE THEY REALLY GOLDEN?
"Dear Mr. Kuhn. Owing to complications in preparing a lease during wartime, it would not be advisable for me to grant one on the above property until hostilities with Germany have ceased .." (letter dated March 17th 1945)
There's something reassuring about dealerships that have chalked up their half-century, or beyond. Gus Kuhn started trading in 1932 when the man himself, then Captain of the Stamford Bridge Speedway Team, decided to combine business with pleasure. The present MD, Vincent Davey, joined the firm in 1949.
Gus Kuhn have been involved in racing for decades, although the track programme was curtailed a few years ago. They were once the MV Agusta importers, they used to tune and race Norton Commandos (fast bikes as long as they held together), especially at Barcelona, and naturally they raced BMWs.
In the early and mid seventies, though, it was obvious where the British industry was headed. Gus Kuhn set up the country's first BMW Centre, having already been the country's first BMW dealership. They tried Suzuki as well, but gave that up about eighteen months ago to be solus BMW. "We weren't really making any money out of it," says Vincent Davey sadly.
He regrets the passing the old British bikes, but on the other hand he cannot find it in him to mourn the way business used to work. "In the end with the Nortons we just didn't have any faith or confidence in the company. It was only enthusiasts or oddballs who were buying them. We've gone upmarket. It's the only way to survive." Of course, Gus Kuhn did take on Hesketh and the mention still brings a wry grimace to Vincent Davey's face. "Terrible machine. It wasn't a modern superbike at all: it was like an old fashioned Vincent engine. Well, you can't sell things like that any more. They've had their day." It's a conclusion that eluded everybody at first.
What about the satisfying moments that he can recall? "People just don't remember the filth and disorganisation. I like they way we've been able to develop the trade. I'm pleased to see a situation where mechanics can wear clean overalls and the customers can look round the goods without getting their hands dirty."
On the other hand, the actual way of doing business has changed, and Vincent fondly remembers the wheeling and dealing of the fifties. "In the Fifties you could sell every Triumph you could get your hands on, and there was awaiting list for some models. Sometimes I'd be dealing in four or five deals at the same time. The speed with which you'd transact business in those days was incredible. People used to make decisions on the spot. I'd have somebody looking at one bike, and I'd make him an offer on his existing machine, then leave him and run over to another one and talk with him, then onto someone else . now you get people coming in six or seven times before you can actually sell them anything."
They've always operated from Clapham. There's been some contraction of late: the parts and accessory department used to be over the road, but they extended the showroom to accommodate it under the same roof, and right now they're looking for a buyer for the old department. The snag at the moment is that Clapham/Stockwell is no longer the genteel area it once was. The rates are appallingly high, and thefts are depressingly commonplace. They were broken into during the Brixton riots and only the other day someone smashed the showroom window glass, and clambered over the security screen to make off with a dummy clad in BMW leathers and helmet. The window cost £2,000 to replace, and now the top of the window is shielded by a series of sharp steel stakes that wouldn't look out of place at Alcatraz. Vincent admits that moving out is an attractive proposition: if he were to find a nice industrial estate his costs would be slashed, to say nothing of the greater security. But on the other hand, Gus Kuhn have been where they are now for over half a century. It's a prime site, and if it's been good enough for fifty years .. Then why change?