Originally published on AutoTrader.ca.
Hands up if your parents tossed out or gave away objects from your childhood after you, the Ungrateful Whelp, turned of age and moved out of the house. Hockey cards are donated to the church for a yard sale (a rookie card for Wayne who?) and Nintendo systems are tossed aside with the type of zeal normally reserved for presenters on the Home Shopping Channel. That painstakingly curated collection of Marvel comics? Best not mention they were accidentally used to line the kitchen counter while peeling five pounds of root vegetables for Sunday dinner.
Oh, the humanity.
Here’s the good news: not all childhood toys are summarily tossed in the bin. For one Newfoundland family, a 35-year-old Honda three-wheeler is acting as a bridge to the past while building the future for a budding young off-roader. It also provided an opportunity to wheedle a bit of time while navigating the pandemic.
Flashback to 1984, when a sound financial decision put a bit of cash back in the pockets of Ma and Pa just before Christmas. Armed with a bit of fiscal security, these hardworking salt-of-the-earth types thought of their two young sons and, as most parents would, decided to do something nice for them. In no time, a shiny red Honda ATC 70 was squirrelled away in the basement, hidden behind the wood furnace and Black Horse boxes until Christmas morning.
“My brother and I used the Honda a lot,” said Shannon Pinsent, the younger of the two brothers, laughing warmly at the memory. “It started with doing laps around the house and eventually graduated to dive-bombing that gravel pit across the road.” As young kids are wont to do, they emulated adults by installing a trailer hitch and headed into the Newfoundland woods to cut logs, plopping them on a sled of dubious structural integrity.
Not that two young boys with the keys to a 70-cc three-wheeler gave a toss about the laws of physics, of course. More than one tire was rudely ejected from its home on the Honda’s wheels, as were countless wear items. To say the family got their money’s worth out of the machine before it stopped running is like saying Mount Vesuvius barely covered Pompeii.
Alert readers with long memories will recall the furor surrounding three-wheeled ATVs back in the late ’80s. Special interest groups and other nannies of the state were clutching at their pearls, howling that three-wheeled ATVs – like this Honda being enjoyed by the young Pinsent lads – were a danger the like of which the country had never seen, forecasting bloodshed and splintered limbs and cracked skulls if the government didn’t do something right now. With this cloud over the industry, production of three-wheelers (and most parts for them) ceased in 1987 and never restarted.
This explains why the Honda ATC 70 you see on these digital pages wasn’t repaired when it stopped working in 1990; fresh off the manufactured hysteria, parts simply weren’t available. Fortunately, the Pinsent patriarch had the foresight to tuck the little three-wheeler away in the attic (“top loft” in rural Newfoundland parlance) of his shed. Last year, the younger Pinsent brother decided to tackle the task of restoring the little three-wheeler from his youth.
“Remembering those days on the Honda as a kid,” said Pinsent, “It really made me want to provide a similar opportunity for my own son.” As the executive director of a group called Adventure Central Newfoundland, the man knows better than anybody about the importance of having tools to enjoy the great outdoors. It helps that suburban areas of Newfoundland towns such as Gander are very ATV-friendly.
In a moment of lucidity, he called in the cavalry to help with the Honda’s rebuild. “The engine was in hard shape, thanks to the 30-year-old gasoline, plus the frame and metal fuel tank weren’t very healthy.” It was important to preserve the latter, he explained, since a replacement plastic or fibreglass tank would kill the vibe of this retro-cool rig. The sole nod to visible non-originality was re-covering the seat in blue instead of black. Why? Because his son liked the colour.
If there was ever a good reason to mess with OEM spec, that’s it right there.
In a twist of fate, while a community and parts supply has sprung up over the last three decades for ATCs, the Covid situation created something of a run on parts. With shutdowns spanning the globe last year, it seemed other folks were also spending their idle time restoring bikes and similar rigs. The word “backorder” became familiar, as did the art of sandblasting and powder-coating what they had on hand.
As for the engine, long-time family friend Steve Abbott, a truck mechanic by trade who’s equally adept at major repairs as he is coaxing a stubborn demolition derby car into life, took on that task. “The biggest challenge was piecing together the engine,” said Abbott. “The cylinder head was rusted so we bought a kit for fixing the top half of the engine, which increased displacement from 70 cc to 88 cc.” In addition to talking about the delight of helping restore a machine for an eager lad, he also noted the ATC 70’s enjoyable rarity.
All of which made for an exciting unveiling when the project was complete. In fact, because of the pandemic, young Will didn’t see the three-wheeler very much during its restoration. He really only laid eyes on it in two stages: as a machine that looked rougher than Keith Richards after an all-night bender and then as a wholly restored vehicle which seemed to have time-warped out of a 1984 Honda showroom. The delight was palatable.
“I haven’t showed Will how to shift out of first gear yet,” Pinsent laughs. With a network of easy-access Newfoundland trails and a curious mind, however, you can bet young Master Pinsent will have that figured out in jig time. And if he doesn’t, there’s ample time to learn. Even with fully sorted examples – like this one – of the Honda ATC 70 fetching healthy money these days, don’t expect the Honda to pop up for sale any time soon. “It’ll stay in the family,” said Pinsent, with a grin you can hear over the phone.
Now, if only I could find those hockey cards.