I am very saddened to announce that George Helm – one of our dealers and a legend in the motorcycle,Â Royal Enfield, and IndianÂ 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 heavilyÂ 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!Â 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 wasÂ off the chart.Â He was very quick-witted andÂ wouldÂ have us in stitches every time he visited us here in theÂ office. Sometimes we would close the officeÂ forÂ a while just to spend time with him.
We are going to miss him a great deal as will his family.