Quadrophenia, "Ton Up" and the Cafe Racer

When I was fourteen I remember feeling super cool and rebellious secretly watching Quadrophenia about the trials and exploits of youthful English mods and their exploits and clashes with Rockers. I had no idea who these subcultures represented yet I was drawn so much to the film that I went out and bought a fishtail parka. I could not see the connection. Later in life I started to listen to every genre of music I could get my hands on, including punk, ska, reggae, rockabilly, old soul, rock, funk jazz. I was continually exposed to these massive cultural productions and still I had no idea about the cultural context, politics and subculture that spawned all this energetic music.

Recently I started moderating on my friends motorcycle club site "Dotheton.com" and never even asked what this term "the ton" meant? I was selling "cafe racer" leather jackets and had no clue what the origins of "cafe culture" implied. I was sent on a research mission!

Post WW2 was an interesting time in England. Like the U.S. and Canada, soldiers returned from the stresses and dangers of post war Europe to a quiet life and an shattered economy. The work of rebuilding Britain included a rapid new transportation system and a baby boom. With the massive surplus of cheap available military surplus motorcycles, post war riders would buy up these clunkers and customize them for civilian life. The roadways in the English countryside were winding and often in bad shape. Many of the routes traversed original roman roads that weaved through the English countryside avoiding ancient topographic obstacles long gone. Motorcycle enthusiasts would chop down their heavy military bikes into racing machines capable of handling the bad roads with their winding turns and poor conditions. With the paving and creation of asphalt Ring Arterial s around the larger cities, and the building of Cafes to service this new transportation network, the cafe race was born. Hungry for adventure, motorcyclists would customize their bikes (ranging from bobbers to "cafe racers") for handling and speed, and then race each other from cafe to cafe, roadside stop and back. Often the race was timed by playing Rock and Roll on the Juke box and if the speeds hit 100 mph..the rider was said to have done "The Ton" or reached the 100 mph mark. These were referred to as "record races" as in the time to play a song on a 45 vinyl record. Needless to say the culture of customization, bike culture, clothing and location are all what are referred to in "rocker" or "greaser" culture.

The cafe racer jacket is one of the many offshoots of this post war motorcycle culture. Cafe racers refer to a British or European style of simple sleek leather jacket particularly functional for racing. Minimal pockets and impediments were left off, and tight fitting military style cuts, with a mandarin collar were the norm. This type of jacket appears very early in Canada and Britain. I have many examples of simple mandarin collared jackets from the 1920s and 1930s. But that final racing style became common in the 1960s and 1970s made by such great companies as Lewis Leathers, Beck, Brimaco, Score and Buco.


  1. Hello,

    I've just finished reading the entire backlog of your blog, and I just love it. Keep everything up, it's great. I do have a question though, in your option, who/where who one apprentice to learn about the craft of leather jackets in America?


    @ kai.watkins@gmail.com

  2. I think of you now every time I go thrifting and see leather. I just don't know which ones to look for, or at least I forget which ones to look for. I think i'll know then when I see a diamond in the rough.

  3. Ok Serial...I will send you some pics and maybe some details about zippers so you can learn this way you will have more ideas about picking

  4. Kai...
    It would depend on what you wanted to learn how to do...there just are not that many people with "super skills" left. Bags, belts, motorcycle garments, fashion garments...the techniques are different for every area...even shoes. I am blessed because there are many retired people here in Toronto that spend an entire lifetime making goods when they still had to be "good"!!!

  5. great articles Dave.
    in my twenties, i wanted to do what you're doing, making my own leather jackets from scratch. i ran into the same issue, that very few people were still making jackets, and nobody was teaching it at the local continuing ed classes :-)
    i'd be interested in anything you have to send Kai as well, and even better, i live in Toronto, so any local resources would be fantastic.
    and thanks to Kai for actually asking (i was too sheepish to ask when i discovered your blog)


  6. Always good to see the UK manufacturers getting props on your site,David.One of the things I liked about our manufacturers was the use of lambskin.Although not the toughest of leathers,it was certainly one of the most comfortable.Also,it is great to find jackets from the 60's/70's that have ahd time to lose the top finish and have taken on a suede like feel and look.Some of these jackets can feature great patternation and charactor.
    I also have to give a shout out to the race jackets made by Rivetts of Leytonstone(East London).Under their own name,as well as the Highwayman and Champion brand names,they made some of the supplest leather jackets I have found.The linings to the jackets were often a heavy satin rayon that gave them a luxurious feel.No suprise that they are highly prized amongst collectors.
    Other Names to look out for are Luda,Reg Cross,Goldtop,Mascot,Pride and Clarke,Millitus,John Pollock,Oakleaf.....the list goes on.
    To think,we had all this and we traded it in for disposable plastic.

  7. I am sadly under informed about british manufactureres. I own a few oakleaf 1930s and 40s jackets..I have a couple of Lewis' I have sold a few mascots and just this week I bought a Rivetts racing suit and traded a goldtop...these jackets were part of a time of indegenous leather production and deep competition to make the best jacket possible..today it is just about profit (that is a sin to an outrageous capitalist) I believe good begets good and we need a little dose of luddite!

  8. I wish I had more access to British jackets...completely different parts and bits..different tanneries the whole deal..I only own 10 British jackets!

  9. These vintage jackets are so appealling, and I love the classic look for men's jackets!

  10. can you help me appraise an old (I think 70s-80s) avirex bomber jacket with a map of what seems to be part of france on the inside? i've looked for your email but can't find it anywhere.

  11. I generally do not do appraisals...it is a variable market for what people are willing to buy and sell vintage jackets for...and prices range wildly depending on who is selling and who is buying. I suggest that if you wanted to sell it you should price comparables on ebay or some other auction sites


  12. Regarding making jackets...I know that Tandy...the local leather supplier for craft hobbiests gives lessons on jacket sewing. The other option would be to find a local manufacturer if you have one and volunteer. As well if you have immigrants from Korean or Pakistan, Mexico or other countries with manufacture there is probably someone in your town that could teach these skills at night, you would have to track down that communities newspaper and take out a classified.

  13. Help with jacket, I just purchased a 1973 blue and white cafe racer, look like bates, but tag reads enduro motor cycle accessories, main zipper lightning and has the elbow and shoulder pads, looks like the vintage bates jackets, wondering if it is or does anyone know this maker, thanks, Randy. Halifax, Nova Scotia, can send photos , but dont know if this site will allow,Email randylaurie@hfx.eastlink.ca, Thanks a bunch, Great Site

  14. My neighbor just gave me a leather jacket marked Beck. One very similar is selling on eBAY, bid up to $811!

    How do I date a jacket? The lining is a beautiful orange green silky stuff.

    This blog is awesome. All I thought about when I first saw this jacket was James Dean. soooo cool.

    Thank you for any feedback you can give me.


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