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Apr 01, 2009

Passing of a Royal Enfield Legend

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I am very saddened to announce that George Helm – one of our dealers and a legend in the motorcycle,  Royal Enfield, and Indian world – passed away yesterday at age 87.

George’s story is best told in his own words.

“I started as a mechanic with the Indian Acceptance Corporation of Chicago in 1937. Back then I mostly worked on Indian Scout and Chief big V-twins – lovely machines. I was just getting going with my very own dealership when I was called up in the Second World War.”

George spent his war years in the Navy but on his return to civilian life he opened a new dealership, Maywood Sales, again in Chicago. In 1955, thanks to the new trading arrangement with Royal Enfield, George began to sell Indian-badged Enfield’s.

“The late 1950′s were great times. There was nothing in America that competed with Royal Enfield. I became involved with a number of race machines, both through customers and for myself. I owned a 1957 Apache, in effect a 700cc Super Meteor engine in a stripped-down Westerner frame – and had a lot of success racing it. We did a standing 1/4 mile in 12.04 seconds. Nothing would touch that bike, including 900cc Harleys”.

George frequently raced the Apache at over 120mph and was able to outpace a Vincent Rapide. He sold more Apaches than any other Indian dealer.

“Several of my customers would ride their Enfield long distances to race tracks, compete in a race then ride home. Those bikes were something else.”

George was also heavily  involved in the development of the 700cc police Chief.

“The bike was very heavy and needed reinforcing at the rear to carry a Motorola radio – an essential for a police bike – but the radio itself was as heavy as an engine block. As Motorola was a Chicago-based company, I was lucky enough to become the liaison person for Indian and I also designed and fitted many radio-carrying rear sub frames. We sold 840 Police Chiefs in total.”

When the Royal Enfield-India partnership ended George started to sell Enfield direct imports – the 350cc and 500cc Bullet-based Fury, Crusaders, Continentals and the factory’s swansong, the Interceptor. The Interceptor Series 11 is often times called the best British Twin ever made.

“I sold a succession of BSA and Triumph machines in the 60′s and 70′s and a few Yamahas in the 80′s. But throughout those years I constantly serviced restored Royal Enfield’s, and in particular, Indian-made Enfields.”

Since the 1990′s, George has also serviced many Madras-built Bullets and in 2005, he once again became a new Royal Enfield dealer. When Ge0rge moved his operation to Minnesota he also built a dirt track on his property that was very popular for many years.

“Up until then there was little point in me selling new Bullets because there was already a dealership 30 miles away, but when that business closed I seized the opportunity. I sold five bikes in my first month!  These new bikes have come a long way. The 5-speed gearbox is particularly good.”

True to his roots, George is retro-fitting reproduction 1950′s Indian parts to a new Bullet, which he feels be a promising new addition to his showroom.

“It’s all about nostalgia. That’s why people buy these bikes and it’s why I keep restoring them.”

In 2005 George was featured in a pictorial coffee table book commemorating 50 years of Royal Enfield in India. The book has been sold all over the world.

George was as sharp as a tack right up until the end and had an encyclopedic knowledge about Royal Enfield and Indian motorcycles. I’ve never met anyone who could do math in his head so quickly and accurately. His intelligence was off the chart. He was very quick-witted and would have us in stitches every time he visited us here in the office. Sometimes we would close the office for a while just to spend time with him.

We are going to miss him a great deal as will his family.

3 Responses to “ Passing of a Royal Enfield Legend ”

  1. battlegraphics Says:

    What a terrific posting, Kevin. It is a tribute to George, someone I truly wish I had had the opportunity to meet. But it also goes to show what a fantastic community you have built around your web site. We get to feel we know one another, well enough to mourn the passing of one of the greats. Well done.
    David in Fort Lauderdale

  2. Jams Says:

    My wife Diane and I looked forward to seeing George each year at Sturgis. He was a friend who will be sadly missed.
    God Speed George.

    Ken & Diane James

  3. MOLDY Says:

    George was truly an inspiration to me. It started in 1957,George was to us (Ted,Jerry,Buzz,&me),at first, just an old guy with a m/s shop.I learned WHAT a guy! And what a m/s shop??? He befriended me(maybe felt sorry for me) I had a1948 500 R.E. George would let me go through his trash to see if there was anything there to help me keep that beast alive. He sold me my first 500 twin then my first 700 twin. During our H.S.years at Proviso and lots of time at Santa Fe, I found out how cool George really was.And , WE KNEW COOL ! My memories of George (Maywood Mustangs & Silver Wheels M/C”s)bring back lots of very funny and very good times! Now, tears to my ( now old) eyes to hear about him passing away . I feel blessed to have been able to talk to him within the last 6 months. My heart felt condolences goes out to his family and close friends. Also, to George’s extended R. E . current family and those yet to come! p.s. thanks for keeping me in the loop Buzz, give Pixie a kiss for me. MOLDY now, MOE.

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