Late this morning, once I’d sobered up enough to focus on the typewriter keys following another MotorPunk shindig, I started to scribble out the bare bones of this piece. You see, I’ve had an idea … well, more of a classification really, something that I ran by a renown car restoring chum of ours over a few brews last night who also thought we might have ‘something’ that, with a bit of work, could become a ‘thing’. Anyhow, you can be the judge and add your comments below. First some background:

Café Racers – Hipsters and hype:

Apparently, over the last four years the amount of folks punching ‘Café Racer’ into Google has increased threefold; the resurgent interest in these pared-down hotted-up classic bikes has gone absolutely bonkers. It’s outgrown the so-called Hipsters and entered the mainstream to such an extent that you can now buy shonky crate-fresh Chinese facsimiles straight from eBay for under a couple of grand.


To be fair, things like that 125cc SkyTeam Ace really do look the part, but, to me, it also completely misses the point. You see the original café racer motorbikes were the cherished steeds of grubby leather clad yoofs in a post-war Britain where money was tight and cars were expensive. Inspired by 50s and 60s race bikes the Rockers cracked open the spanners to take the best bits from various BSA, Vincent, Norton and Triumph to build hybrid superbikes; tuned, streamlined and lightened to within an inch of their lives, they were designed to crack that magic 100mph milestone and join the revered ‘ton up club’. It was a ‘built, not bought’ philosophy from Blighty’s engineering Golden Age, plus a bit of war-time ‘make do and mend’ thrift, that bore the café racer. Not a £1,795 (VAT Included) Buy it Now + Free Delivery Powerseller!

Café Roadsters – The Inspiration:

But my Mum wouldn’t let me have a motorbike when I was a spotty 80s yoof. Sadly, that chapter has passed me by I think. But never mind MotorPunks, because there is an interesting four-wheeled alternative.

If we apply what I see as the basic rules for a café racer – lean, clean, tuned British classics – and apply that to sports cars, then we have a genre of motors that we have coined the Café Roadster. And while that pared down, racecar-inspired vibe isn’t new – we’ve had Cal look Beetles, Outlaw Porsches and the like for decades – there hasn’t really been a coherent home-grown equivalent. However, it was a brilliant thread on the RetroRides forum that raised the question of café racers and the definitive ‘British’ look which inspired me to bookend a small sub-group of modified classics soft tops. It’s also given me a burst of enthusiasm for my stalled MG restoration and ideas for several future projects; think budget Magnus Walker with Harris tweed, tartan tea flask and cricket on the radio … a Suburban Outlaw if you will.


The Rulebook:

In our opinion a true Café Roadster should:

– Be based on a classic British open top sports car designed in the 50s or 60s, just as the original café racers were. Ideal base cars could include various MGs, Austin Healeys, Triumph TRs, and Sunbeam Alpines.

– Be mildly tuned to at least crack ‘the ton’. The ubiquitous Midgets and Spitfires of the 60s barely passed 90mph; major modifications should be in period.

– Have improved handling and lowered stance. The original café racers, in a kind of Rock n Roll version of the MotorPunk Sprint Series, would challenge each other to get their bikes to a distant waymarker, and back, before a 7” single could finish playing on the jukebox. Similarly, we think Café Roadsters should be able to twice lap Blyton Park within Professor Elemental’s three minute classic Fighting Trousers

– Have added lightness and a simple uncluttered appearance. Bumperless, detrimmed bodywork in subtle race-inspired paint jobs is considered de rigueur. No extraneous adornments are encouraged (in-period Feu Orange ‘traffic light’ air fresheners are acceptable).

– Noisy car stereos are discouraged. In any case, nothing can compete with the glorious sound of a screaming pushrod four-pot on the verge of explosion.

For clarification, inspiration or masturbation see the gallery above. What do you think chaps? Leave your comments in that box thingy beneath. More stuff and developments will be appearing at in the New Year. But before you go you must watch this beautifully shot video of some gals in their stunning Cafe Racer inspired MGA built by Cool & Vintage Garages in Portugal.

MGA Cafe Racer “Girls Road Trip” from Cool & Vintage on Vimeo.

Photo credits Christopher Michel, Thomas Bursy, Travis Isaacs, Anton Imm and Bryan Jones via Flickr creative commons. MGA Café Racer pics and video from and Cool & Vintage.

By Dr.O


About The Author

Darryl can usually be found up to his elbows in some unloved piece of BL detritus when he isn’t snapping and scribbling for various print magazines or producing the book on road tripping or tally-ho adventurers. As an occasional presenter on CBS's Carfection YouTube channel, his other hobbies include vintage Scalextrics, ‘60s Bang & Olufsen and dabbling in grassroots motorsport.

4 Responses

  1. Marcus Potatoes

    I think the Café Roadster is already a ‘thing’ in the ‘clubman’ classic hill climb scene as quite a lot of them are road registered but still have comfy seats and radios in many cases! Pop down to Shelsley Walsh with you camera when the MGOC are in town.
    I’m not knocking the site – I think it could be a very cool ‘thing’ – I already think it’s going to be more relevant than things like Deus or Silodrome. Good luck. Genuinely.

  2. Ned

    If you don’t want to finish your Midget, please can I turn it into a Lotus 11?

  3. Steve Boitoult

    I don’t like to criticise, especially in what is my first post here, but it seems to me that your rules completely miss the point of the original cafe racers. You’ve quite correctly stated earlier that these were the product of blue collar lads who couldn’t afford cars and did, of necessity, all their own work, “built not bought” indeed! I was one of these guys (At the very tail end of the movement, I was 16 in 1970) and had a 1959 BSA Rocket Goldstar 650 stripped to the bone and with Norton forks, clip ons, rearset pegs, close ratio gearbox twin Amal concentric carbs etc etc. This bike owed me maybe £120 in 1970! (And many hours of work) But this is my point, whilst it wasn’t THAT cheap, to buy the same bike in the same condition now, you’d have to add at least a couple of Zeroes to the back end! The price of a NEW Fiesta! This is even more true of the sports cars of the 50s and 60s you are suggesting as a base. A running but ratty MGA will set you back at least £20K, a big Healey or TR quite a lot more than that! So the basis for todays Cafe Racers (or roadsters, if you must) need to be drawn from the late 70s through to the 90s, banger territory! I also subscribe to RR and have contributed several times to the Cafe Racer thread under my forum name of Carledo along with several pics of my car, also called Carledo, a 73 Triumph Toledo running a 1989 2.0 Vauxhall engine (from a Carlton) This car is also stripped to the bare essentials (to go faster, add lightness) Proudly carries the “built not bought” logo and, I think, is a fair example of what a modern 4 wheeled Cafe Racer should be! I didn’t plan it that way, I built it long before the thread started, it just turned out that way, maybe harking back to my youth, something of the ethos of my biking days carried over through the years.


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