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Ray Palmer 1942-2023

Known in the trade and the racing community as the country’s top man for frame and wheel straightening, Ray Palmer of Maidstone Motoliner, Aylesford, Kent, died recently in Maidstone Hospital after suffering from cancer and a short illness aged 80.

Born in Crayford, Kent, Palmer left school aged 15 to work in a hardware store. The shop was shut on Wednesdays, convenient for Palmer to attend motorcycle practice days at nearby Brands Hatch.

The following year his father bought him a motorcycle. From then on Palmer was besotted with powered two-wheelers. He immediately joined the Erith Motorcycle Club and got to know local key players in the racing world.

Moving on to work for a Dartford gearbox repair company, he took up motocross on a 350 Matchless, followed by a Greeves, and then switched to grass track which became his passion, especially the design and construction of frames for solo and sidecar use.

He was able to develop his frame-building and tuning skills when he became the first employee at Crosthwaite and Gardner, vintage and classic car restorers, whose later work included creating replicas of the 1930’s V16 Auto Union race car.

Palmer and his first wife Jacqui, lived above the firm’s Lamberhurst, Kent, premises. After working on Bugattis, Maseratis and the like, he had access to tools and space to work on two and three-wheel projects when off-duty. His first grass track special was a 175 MV in a straight tube chassis.

When Crosthwaite and Gardner moved premises, Palmer joined grass track and long track manufacturer and champion rider Don Godden at Little Preston, Kent.

Palmer later left Godden so that he could have more freedom to develop radical designs at his home workshop in East Farleigh, Kent. One was an Ariel 250 two-stroke twin grass tracker in a frame which integrated a fuel tank and expansion chambers.

Palmer sponsored riders and organised events at international level, the best known being the Bonfire Burn-up at Collier Street, Kent. A founder of the Tonbridge Motor Cycle Club, he was selfless in his enthusiasm for grass track and speedway.

In 1975 he and 50cc racer Maurice Thomas set up Molray Engineering in Dover Street, Maidstone. Thomas’s nickname was Mol, hence the name of the company.

In 1977 they were one of the first to acquire a Swedish Motoliner frame straightening jig. Insurance companies gave their approval after denying Palmer cover using his home-made frame jig.

While Thomas was an expert on spoke wheels, Palmer concentrated on the growing cast wheel market as well as working the Motoliner and modifying it to suit later alloy and cast frames. His skills with a hammer, torch and hydraulics became legendary.

In 1987 Palmer moved next door to set up Maidstone Motoliner as a separate business. In 1990 he moved it to its current premises at Aylesford, Kent. Son Tommy joined him in 1991 and competed in speedway and grass track, becoming the 1994 350 British grass track champion (Jawa 4-valve).

In 2000 Ray and Tommy acquired a second Motoliner to cater for the classic bike market. By this time, the business was long established as the UK’s leading frame and wheel truing specialists, attracting work from BSB and other top race teams, private riders and trade.
With Tommy taking a more prominent role in the business Ray was able to winter in Australia, where he married his second wife, Sue, in 2004.

An indulgence was collecting lightweight Italian bikes, Ray’s involvement with the Pope brothers’ 50cc Itom Road racer as a young man being a key influence.

A fun-loving character who enjoyed a glass of Budweiser, home parties around a snooker table and a bit of mischief revving up JAP grass trackers at any time of day or night, Ray Palmer leaves sons Tommy and Jody, daughter Rachael, and six grandchildren.

Maidstone Motoliner continues to be in high demand, run by Tommy Palmer, working with a full-time and a part-time employee.


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