▲ This low-mileage 750cc Triumph TSX was immaculate in every respect, right down to the raised lettering on the tyres. It fetched £6,999. If youj're looking for one of these, or an X-75 Triumph Hurricane, or a Triumph T120 Bonneville, or a T140 Bonneville, or a BSA Rocket 3 or a Norton Commando, this is a good place to start.
Inset image: Evan Cosmo hamming it up for a 70s night at the Ace Cafe, hence the improbable 'tache. Cosmo keeps a close eye on 1970s and 1980s British twins and triples. And if he hasn't got something interesting in stock, call back in five minutes. But not Wednesdays or Sundays.
Royal Enfield Bullet T-shirt:
You know how it is when you kind of attach yourself to a place and make it a second home? Minehead, maybe? Or Buxton? Or Guantanamo? Well with us itís Hastings, in East Sussex. And Eastbourne. And Clacton. And most of the Isle of Wight. And Bamburgh. And Lindisfarne. And Edinburgh. And a lot of other places besides. We like to put it around, you know?
But Hastings (population 90,000 at 2013) has a special appeal. Maybe that because on one level itís such a desperate, struggling place. The sandstone cliffs are falling down. Most of the castle went into the surf ages ago. The local fishing industry is on the blink. The beach is practically all shingle. The pier burned down. The townís knee deep in legal and illegal immigrants. And high unemployment has made the place a popular bolt hole for the social security set, which means youíre best advised not to draw any money at night from a local cash machine unless youíve got a gun in your pocket.
But for all that, we like Hastings plenty. It's the birthplace of television. It oozes faded charm. It's got some wonderful backstreets. Detective Inspector Foyle, from the TV series Foyles War, haunts the town. It's one of the historic Cinque Ports. It's got good skies and great sea views and plenty of chip shops, and weíre forever dreaming up excuses to nip on down there for a bit a sun and sin, and then nip back to London sharpish glad that we donít actually have to live there permanently.
Some places are like that.
They get under your skin.
And now weíve got another reason to mosey on back to this minor Sodom-on-Sea, and thatís to re-check out Evan Cosmo who runs Cosmoís Classics; an olde worldy motorcycle emporium within spitting distance of the Channel, and a veritable oasis of 70s hardware in a desert of contemporary despair.
But if you want to be pedantic, Cosmoís shop isnít really in Hastings at all. Itís actually located in the adjacent town of St Leonards-on-Sea. But as you canít get a ten-thou feeler gauge between the two, the difference is largely academic.
That said, Cosmo feels that we're a little harsh about Hastings, and maybe he's right.
▲ Cosmo's had more Hurricanes than Louisiana, but rising prices have meant that the Triumph Hurricane season appears to be over, except perhaps for the occasional one that happens along. Cosmo took this X-75 to the Ace Cafe's 70s Day and dressed the part. Funky dude, or what? The 'tache came off the following day, we hear.
So who is Evan Cosmo, anyway?
Well, heís got Greek in his blood. Heís older than thirty, younger than fifty, is chatty, friendly, knowledgeable on most things related to bikes, and has a thing about Triumph Hurricanes, Kawasaki Zeds, and pretty much anything else that rolled off a motorcycle production line at about the time Nixon was bugging the Watergate Building.
ďIíve actually been into bikes since I was fourteen,Ē said Cosmo. ďI started off on TS185 Suzuki trials bike with a banana exhaust. Remember those? Four of us pitched together to buy it. All the rich kids at school had Ossas and Bultacos, but the TS185 was all we could afford, and it was a good little bike too. I loved it. I still love it.
ďIíve been buying and selling bikes since I was sixteen, and started selling FSI1Es and AP50s. I guess I always had a flair for it. Maybe thatís because my parents are in the antique trade. Consequently, I like vintage stuff; old furniture, period antiques, and anything with history. I like original patina and original paint and all the usual signs of good use.
ďThese days, unfortunately, you donít see enough of that. Certainly not in the classic motorcycle world. Instead, you see plenty of old bikes on their third or fourth restorationówhich is okay as far as it goes, but for me, itís the original paint and original chrome that works. Thatís what Iím into.Ē
▲Two Triumph Trident T160s, an ultra rare Triumph TR65T and a Norton Commandoóplus a view of the English Channel. Cosmo is widely known for the interesting and desirable classic British bikes he turns up, but he trades in Japanese and Italian bikes of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
The Carl Rosner connection
Cosmo used to repair bikes for friends. He regularly bought old BSA A65s for £250 (those were the days, huh?), and then flogged them on for £400 or so. Sounds quaint now, but it was serious money then.
ďI thought I was doing well at that,Ē said Cosmo. ďAnd maybe I was. But soon I decided that I wanted to learn more about the technical side of it. So I did a BTEC ONC at Merton College in Surrey. I studied motorcycle engineering and materials technology, and I learned about electrics too.
ďThen, in around 1984 or 85 I started working for Carl Rosner, the long established Triumph dealer in Sanderstead, Surrey. I used to commute up from Hastings on an old BSA A65 and later a 1949 sprung hub Thunderbird. That would be about a forty or fifty mile ride each way, and were good times as I remember.
ďI worked with Carl for about ten years and then became an RAC patrolman for the next eight years or so fixing broken down cars and occasionally bikes, and then I founded Cosmoís Classic Motorcycles in Horsham.Ē
Horshamís near Gatwick Airport, in case youíre not sure.
▲Very early BSA Rocket 3. Cosmo had two of these when we visited. Chances are he'll have another two when we next lope on down. His prices aren't the cheapest, but he deals in quality bikes well-prepped and ready to roll. If you wanna buy junk, look elsewhere.
Classic bike prices and profits
ďI always wanted to start my own business and work for myself. So I left the RAC and rented a workshop. I used to build Tritons and Gold Stars and backed it up with general bike sales. But really, I was looking for a shopóand then this place came up in St Leonards.
ďHowever, Iíd just sorted out the lease and everything when I got called out to Iraq. I used to be in the army and was a reservist, so when the call came, I had to go. I suppose it was lucky that I hadnít got properly established yet, because that would have been an awkward break. In the event, it worked out alright for me.
ďAfter my tour of duty, I came back, painted the floor of the shop and worked to improve it generally, and then I set up in business. The workshop accounts for around 40% of trade. About 10% is down to counter sales. The rest is bike sales. I suppose I sell around one machine a week now. Maybe a little more.
ďBroadly speaking, there are three main groups in the classic bike market. Investors, collectors and riders. What Iím finding now is that investors are snapping up the high value stuff, and prices are still rocketing.
ďPeople sometimes talk about it slowing down or collapsing, but I donít see the market shrinking. I sold a Vincent Rapide about 10 years ago for £11,500. Thatís probably worth £30,000-£35,000. I sold a DBD34 BSA Gold Star for £7000 not that many years ago. Theyíre now fetching at high as £12000. I now have to pay a lot more for the bikes I sell, and am finding them harder to source.
ďThe thing is, if you buy a bike for £10,000 and sell it, you donít really make any more profit than you do when you buy and sell a £5,000 bike. But your outlay is much higher for the ten grand bikes. Thatís the difference. I like my Triumph X-75 Hurricanes. I had three for sale not that long ago at around £15,000 eachówhich isnít very much money in todayís market. But Iím not going to make any more profit on those than I will on anything else in the shop. Thereís a limit to how much profit you can make."
People donít realise the costs involved in selling bikes. Say, for instance, you buy a Triumph Trident T160 for £4,000 and sell it for £5,000; people think youíve made £1,000 profit, which would be nice. But in fact, youíve got to pay to service the bike, MOT it (which might require a few parts), you got VAT and income tax, youíve got to store the bike, which is part of your costs (rent, rates, etc), and you might have to advertise it. Thereís no warranty on such bikes, but when youíre selling a machine thatís taxed and MOTed and ready for the road, you need to be prepared to keep your customer happy in the event of a problem. Itís a question of goodwill, and that often costs a dealer money.
▲Would you buy a used bike from this man? We would. Nuff said.
Commando's, Rockets and Z1s
"Commandos are currently very popular, especially in Germany, France and Belgium. Most of my Commandos go to mainland Europe.
ďIím interested in everything from Kawasaki Z1s to Vincents to BSA Bantams. If I had just one bike, it would probably be a Zed. I like Kettles too, and H2s, RD Yamahas, T120 Bonnies, T140 Bonnies, Commandos and of course Triumph X-75 Hurricanes. Iíve got a soft spot for Hurricanes. Iíve been selling them for quite a while now. People often think Iím advertising the same bikes over and over again. But in fact Iím constantly selling them and finding more bikesóexcept that itís getting so much harder to sources them now.
ďThe spares I sell are mostly service items; plugs, gaskets, filters, inner tubes, oils. Thereís not a lot of point in keeping many replacement parts on the shelves. People buy their stuff over the internet these days. Itís hard to compete with that. For me, itís better to keep a range of service items. I donít have the storage space in the shop for much else, not with the showroom and the workshop. Itís pretty tight in there."
▲This is strictly old skool. The shop is small. Stock turnover is fairly quick. The workshop stays busy. And it feels like the sun is always shining on this corner on the UK. Get there if you can.
Kawasaki Z1s, Honda 750-4s, and Ducatis
ďI do occasionally buy spares, but most of it goes into the first autojumble I find. I just donít have the room. But Iím always interested in buying bikes.In the shop at the moment Iíve got a 1936 Norton, an Ivory Calthorpe, a Triumph Daytona, a couple of Rocket Threes, a Norton Commando and half a dozen or more other bikes (see Cosmoís website details below for the very latest).
ďYou can make a sale to customers anywhere. People will come to you if youíve got the stock and if itís what they want. But Iím buying from and selling to America fairly often too. Meanwhile, I also get a fair amount of riding time, but mostly when road-testing after servicing or repairs. But I donít do restorations.
ďA lot of Zeds went to Northern Ireland for some reason, but the Zed market has dried up now. A couple of years back we had six Zs in the shop. The early ones are very much worth collecting. Itís the same with early Honda 750-4s, GSXR 750s, early R1s, and even early Hayabusas.
▲Got a Kawasaki Z900? Cosmo loves 'em as much as he loves the British, Italian and Yank bikes. Come on down and make a deal.
ďThe Japanese stuff is really moving and hard to replace, thatís why Iíve got a shop thatís full of British stuff, mostly. I used to have quite a few Ducatis, but itís the same problem. A good Kawasaki Z1 is worth upwards of £10,000. A good Kawasaki H2 is worth around £9,000. And a good Honda 750-4 at maybe £15,000. These are all early bikes, note.
ďEarly Yamaha RDs can fetch £3,000-£4,000. But the RD LCs have dropped a bit because the market has been flooded, which, of course, forces the prices down. A lot of examples came in from Belgium and Germany.
"Generally, business has been good over the past few years. It doesnít matter what the economy is doing. There will always be people with money. I've fairly recently been back in the army for another tour, this time to Afghanistan. But that's over now and I'm focussed on business again.
"I'm looking looking to buy good bikes and make a deal, especially if it involves 1970s motorcycles. Give me a call."
Editor's note: This interview was conducted in 2009 and updated in 2013.
Cosmo Classic Motorcycles
Classic bike dealers, engineers, mechanics and experts
Copyright Sump Publishing 2013/2014