Gawd, I hate it when I whiff on a call. Last year when pics of this Phantom Norton crossed my desk, I dismissed it as an inconsequential bit of British fluff. As if, in an economy nosediving like a suicidal Stuka, this silly thing stood a chance. One and done, I thought, hope the poor dumb bloke hasn’t sunk his life savings into this folly. Well, blow me down if the Phantom Manufacturing Company hasn’t built and delivered four Phantom EGs, the last dispatched right here to the Colonies.
Judging by their website, they’re having fun doing it, too, and Good Christ there’s not enough of that in the bike biz these days. As the story goes, Erasmus Thump, a long-deceased Edwardian-era engineer, communicates his bike-building wishes from the Great Beyond. These are transformed into metal by “mortal facilitators” toiling away in the British Midlands -- one of whom, Mark Frost, is actually an expat American.
Thump’s missives from the ether led the team to craft a neo Brooklands-style flat-tanker around a Commando 750 motor. In fact, the accompanying photos were shot on the few remaining sections of Brooklands’ storied concrete banking -- though apparently the spirit world wasn’t clear on instructions for a sidestand so an oily old jackstand had to be pressed into service. Other goofiness? How about nightmare ergonomics, especially those ridiculously dropped handlebars…or did the Edwardians have arms like orangutans? And good on ya, guys, for the modern Swedish-made ISR brakes, but what’s with the glass apothecary jars as hydraulic reservoirs? One rogue stone could screw up your stopping distance from full chat but good.
Never mind. Whimsy on wheels is the message here. Besides, drink in all that cool machine-turning. The whole thing looks like something Von Dutch might have built for a McQueen movie.
Of course, the Phantom has drawn flak from the usual boo-birds; at $50,000 give or take, derided as yet another overpriced confection, much as was the Falcon Kestrel on these very web pages. Well, Erasmus kickstarted the ol’ Ouija Board and returned fire from the other side:
“A few punters have made some rather derogatory comments about the EG being for men with lots of money and no sense. Well, I suppose one could put all motorbikes in that category, really. A motorbike is a thing of leisure and excitement. It is a toy for gentlemen (and ladies) with a taste for such things. In the case of the EG, it is a very specific type of person to whom it is best suited…one who knows something of the pioneering days of motorsport and feels a certain sense of resonance with that era. They seek more of a time machine, more than a simple road machine. They seek a device that will not only take them down a leafy lane on a Sunday afternoon, but also back to an age of excited exploration and experimentation. An age where everything seemed possible with a measured application of the disciplines of engineering.
“In that era, no machine was perfect. As a result, each one had a character that was unique and changed over time. It was also accepted that such machines gave the rider a new perspective on things -- once you had experienced high-velocity travel, the normal pace of things seemed so sedate that an appreciation of everyday details was intensified. And when you next returned to that world of speed, the sensation was ever more dramatic.
“People these days are exposed to such speeds in such comfort at such an early age that the impact of velocity is almost lost. It is as if you have become a different species to that of our generation. In some ways it is this change in human perception that lies at the heart of the name of our machine, the Phantom EG (Erasmus' Gamble). We are gambling that it is possible to recapture that thrill of the sensation of first speed, and be transported by it across both time and space.”
Well played, Erasmus, me old son. I ne’r should ha’ doubted ye.