20 November 2022

Comerford’s name is
not forgotten among
motorcycle enthusiasts

Comerford’s of Thames Ditton in Surrey were once one of the most respected car and motorcycle dealers in Britain

Patrick Comerford

Comerford’s of Thames Ditton in Surrey had a reputation as one of the most respected car and motorcycle dealers in Britain until recently incorporated into CI Sport in Leatherhead. Comerfords Motorcycles dated back to 1930, and the motorcycles were produced and marketed by Comerford’s of Portsmouth Road, who were dealers of some standing.

During the early 1930s, a speedway machine appeared with a new frame designed by George Wallis and a new JAP speedway engine. The resulting debut was spectacular and success was so great that around 300 machines were built and sold, and known as the Comerford Wallis.

The design was revised in 1933 to lengthen the wheelbase, steepen the fork angle, allow the rear frame to flex and place the engine, countershaft and rear wheel in line when viewed from the side.

The machine went on to become the Comerford Special, then the Martin-Comerford or Martin-Rudge. This was fitted with a JAP engine and the name reflected the Rudge speedway form of the frame. After World War II, they built the Comerford Cub, a trials machine with a Triumph Cub engine.

Comerfords premises on Portsmouth Road, Thames Ditton, at its height of fame

Comerford’s was subtly different from the other big-name London area dealers because of its focus on off-road competition machines. Comerfords was known internationally, and the US team headed to the workshop to prepare the ISDT bikes supplied by Triumph.

Later on, Comerford’s supported star American trials rider Bernie Schreiber, and celebrity visitors to the Portsmouth Road premises included Steve McQueen.

Things were changing in the trials world in the late 1960s. The era of the heavyweight AMC, Ariel, BSA and Norton machines was all but forgotten, and even the heyday of Greeves, Cotton, DOT et al was drawing to a close, with Villiers engines no longer available and the Spanish armada well under way.

Comerfords reportedly considered making trialers based on the BSA Bantam Bushman, but decided it would be uneconomic, and so it eventually succumbed to the continental onslaught and took over Bultaco importation from the Rickman brothers in the early 1970s.

John Patrick Comerford (1932-2014) was instrumental in Comerfords forming a special and successful partnership with the Spanish marque Bultacoxxx

A key figure in the family business was John Patrick Comerford (1932-2014). He had a promising legal career ahead of him, but decided instead to joined his father in Thames Ditton, where he was instrumental in Comerfords forming a special and successful partnership with the Spanish marque Bultaco.

John Comerford was born in Walton-on-Thames in November 1932, but he spent much of his childhood in and around Bristol, where he attended Clifton College before completing his National Service with the Royal Artillery in Germany.

He read law at University College Oxford and enjoyed his time at Oxford immensely. He rowed and was an active participant in the University Players, appearing in a number of productions. After leaving Oxford he had a brief spell in advertising before applying to Gray’s Inn, where he was offered a place to study at the Bar, completing his qualifications as a barrister in nine months.

He never entered the legal profession, instead opting to join his father at Comerford’s Ltd in Thames Ditton. There he helped to cement the firm’s reputation as one of the most respected car and motorcycle dealers in the country. His legal training served him well, but he also held a traditional view on the importance of integrity in matters of business, believing wholeheartedly in the agreement of a deal with a handshake.

Steve McQueen visiting Comerford’s premises on Portsmouth Road, Thames Ditton

He was instrumental in Comerford’s forming a special and successful partnership with the Spanish marque Bultaco, acting for them as sole importers and UK concessionaires. The company also provided the technical and logistical support that helped Bultaco win numerous Trials and Motocross titles, including an unbroken run of seven years that saw them win every European, then the renamed World Trials Championships between 1973 and 1979.

John Comerford lived in Woking, Surrey, for most of his life, but was proud of his Irish roots and always regarded the Ireland as his spiritual home, keeping a house in Kilkenny that he loved to visit.

He always had a passion for theatre and the arts. In later years, he and his wife Pauline built up a very well regarded private collection of portrait miniatures that were exhibited in Ireland on a number of occasions. He enjoyed watching a good game of cricket, listening to choral music and visiting the RAC club in Pall Mall, where he was a lifelong member.

John Comerford died on 27 March 2014 aged 81, after a protracted illness. At the time of his death, he was living at Chestnut Farm, Ockham Lane, Ockham, Woking. He was survived by his wife Pauline and their son Patrick John Comerford.

Comerford’s was recently incorporated into CI Sport in Leatherhead, but the Comerford’s name and branding are still remembered by enthusiasts.

The Comerford’s name and branding are still remembered by enthusiasts


Anonymous said...

Comerfords was actually formed in 1925. It was never incorporated into CI Sport and remains a family business owned by the Comerford family. Steve McQueen, Bud Ekins and the rest of the USA team actually prepped their bikes at the Comerfords workshops before heading to East Germany for the 1964 ISDT

Anonymous said...

Just acquired a Greece’s Griffon 380 69 that I’ve found went from factory to Comerfords. Wonder if there’s any way of tracing history of bike onwards, who they sold it to, whether modified etc. It’s ended up on Norfolk where it’s been stored for at least last 30 years

Kevin Godding said...

I was surprised to read in "Comment 1" that the Comerford business is still in the family. John Comerford, Ted Comerfords son, attended my grandfather's funeral in 1989 and I am sure he told me that he had just sold the company name to Don Houlett, one of its last directors.

Anonymous said...

If you look on the Companies House website, you will see that Comerfords Limited still exists as a company and is run by Patrick Comerford, John Comerford’s son. Patrick John Comerford did not write the article above

Anonymous said...

Hi. This is a great article. I have recently acquired a bike that was originally sold by Comerfords I believe in 1935. Does anyone know Are those little vehicle traders stickers still available? Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Remember visiting the shop in early 80s , classy bike shop with loads of Alpinestar kit and old school KTMs

Anonymous said...

Bought my FS1E there, WGH928M, and GT250, LGT803P. An amazing place, full of competition bikes and the latest and best road bikes. Never knew Steve McQueen hung out and prepped his bikes there; would have been nice to have seen that pic of him on the wall but I guess no-one really thought of that sort of promotion back then!

Anonymous said...

Can anyone confirm if Comerfords sent the Suzuki t20 racer across to Taiwan for Steve McQueen to use whilst filming there

Anonymous said...

I purchased a new Greeves 20TA Scottish from Comerfords in 1958. The reg. no. 465 GPL, the bike is still on the DVLA database and I would like to know if it is still being ridden?

Anonymous said...

I worked he, Bert Thorn was the heart and soul of this place in my view. Great guy.

Mrs Doris Butler nee Forshall said...

I worked for Comerfords in the 1st half of the 1960's - in the insurance office - a great place to work and both John and his father very good bosses. Many happy memories - Doris Forshall - dorisbutler@btinternet.com