When you live, like I do, out in the middle of nowhere, in the UK equivalent of Buttfuck, Idaho or Dogdick, Delaware, then truly exotic custom machinery is a little bit rare on the ground, a bit few and far between.
Suffolk (Rabbit) Punch
Having said that, I had heard for years of some bloke in the area, a tattooist called Rabbit, and his trike which, apparently, was a V8. Now I’ve been living in this neck of the woods for a good few years now, on and off, and I thought I knew of most, if not all, of the customs round here and, as I hadn’t seen hide nor hare (sorry …) of the elusive Leporidae and his eight-cylinder’d motor tricycle, I was beginning to think that they were a myth, just a story - like Black Shuck, the ghost dog of the Fens, or the proposed dualling of the A11.
Then, one day as I’m coming out of a café in Lakenheath I heard a noise, a distinct noise, a very recognisable noise – a noise that you or I would know immediately as that of a unclad V8 being, as the saying goes, ridden as though it’d been stolen. And sure enough, a few seconds later a low, loud and dead ‘ard-looking monster trike came barrelling round the corner, piloted by a heavily tattoo’d bloke in a pair of flying goggles and a shirt through which you could see his nipples. Bloody hell, they aren’t a myth! Here they were right in front of me eyes – Rabbit and his V8!
The trike actually started life as a bike. Yep, that’s right – a bike. It was built many years ago by everyone’s favourite uber-loony Chris ‘Desperate Dan’ Ireland as a V8 drag bike that he intended to campaign but, Rabbit says, after he’d run it a couple of times and it’d tried to kill him on every pass, he eventually decided he quite liked being alive and cut it up to put a rigid axle on it and sold it.
The next owner of the beast only got as far as buying parts for it as it sat in his garage before his wife decreed that it had to go (you can tell who wears the trousers in that family!) and it was at this point that our hero got his hands on it. He finished assembling it, got it onto the road and then proceeded to ride the hell out of it – as you would. Unfortunately, though, this kind of hooligan behaviour immediately showed up its shortcomings – the rigid axle was just far too hard on the bumpy-arsed roads around his native Suffolk, and he was less than enamoured of the way that when the motor backfired, as it often did, it spat flame backwards and set fire to him. Something had to be done!
Dave at 4472 Engineering was the man commissioned to remove the rigid back end and replace it with a Jaguar one from an XJ6 and, with the relevant paperwork done and dusted, the trike was back on the road and Rabbit’s spine and teeth stayed where they were intended to. It lasted a couple of years in that form before it was decided that it really needed another look at and this soon turned out to be a major re-fit with new uprated forks, new seats, new exhausts etcetera etcetera etcetera. Rabbit then rode it around for a few more years until his daughter asked him if he could use it as the vehicle to deliver her to her wedding and so it was time for another revamp and that’s how it stands at the moment.
So what actually is it? Well, the engine is one of the ubiquitous 3.5 litre alloy V8s, as fitted to the SDI Rover, driving through a Borg Warner auto ’box and it’s been fitted with a set of funky stainless exhausts by local hot rod and custom car specialists, Mega-Tech Engineering in Brandon, who also beefed up the front end, made up a new larger and very subtle under-seat fuel tank, re-wired it and did a few other little jobs too. The frame was originally done by Mr Ireland, but has since been re-worked by both 4472 and Mega-Tech, and the front wheel and brakes are from a Gold Wing. The three headlights are Bateseseseseseses, Rabbit himself made up the chrome tiller ‘bars, Bobby Wells covered the Gold Wing seats, and the back end is all XJ6 with Spax shocks. Rabbit sculpted and modified all the bodywork and sprayed it in the red, orange and black crackle-finish paint scheme you see before you, and there’s a rear-view camera (‘cos mirrors are just so passé, daahling!) and four twelve volt output wotsits to make life at rallies and events that bit easier too.
Since it was finished a couple o’ years ago, it’s taken ‘Best Trike’ at a couple of local shows, but Rabbit doesn’t get to as many as he’s perhaps like because his business, Grin N’ Wear It Tattoo (01842 861104 or www.grinnwearit.co.uk), is one of the most respected tattoo and piercing places in the region and is always busy at weekends. Mind you, I’m not entirely sure that that’s not a bad thing – the last time he took it to a bike n’ tattoo show in Milton Keynes, in a hall with an immaculate polished floor, it dripped hot oil onto it ruining the surface … oops. If it’s any consolation, mate, I once too me ‘Onda to PSP in Norfolk, the guys who did the amazing fast-as-fook Triumphs, and it was the only thing that leaked onto their immaculate workshop floor … ahem.
It also hasn’t really tried to kill him since either, which is always a Good Thing. Well, I say that, but it did throw one of its side panels at his head one afternoon as they were barrelling along a leafy back lane but, believe me, a bit of bruising around the noggin is much, much better than being set fire to any day…
Rover 3.5 litre V8 SDI, SU carbs, K&N filters, Borg Warner autobox, Lucas ignition, one-off exhausts by Mega-Tech Engineering, remote oil cooler & braided lines.
One-off by Desperate Dan’s, one-off footrests & controls by owner.
Honda Gold Wing wheel/brakes/forks, one-off external spring conversion by Mega-Tech Engineering, one-off polished billet yokes, braided brake lines, one-off tiller ‘bars by owner, Honda master-cylinders & switchgear, Smiths clocks in one-off surround by owner.
Jaguar XJ6 axle/diff/brakes/wheels, one-off framework by Mega-Tech Engineering, Spax shocks, Yamaha master-cylinder.
One-off front mudguard by owner, one-off radiator surround by owner, one-off dummy fuel tank by owner, one-off fuel tank by Mega-Tech Engineering, re-covered Honda Gold Wing seat by Bobby Wells, one-off rear mudguards by owner.
One-off loom by Mega-Tech Engineering, triple Bates headlights, Honda Gold Wing & cat’s eye rear lights, aftermarket marker lights, one-off indicators by Mega-Tech Engineering, rear-view camera, four 12v outputs.
One-off red/orange/black crackle finish by owner.
Bike originally built by Desperate Dan’s, converted by 4472 Engineering & Mega-Tech Engineering, fork brace engraved by David Fyson.
‘Mega-Tech Engineering; David Fyson; Ian Fyson; & everyone else who helped along the way …’
Smile For the Camera
Some short while later, we caught up with Rabbit back at the Grin 'n' Wear It studio where - slotted into a genuinely hyper-busy schedule - we shot the breeze to find out a little more about his love of the art:
Meanwhile, over at the Grin ‘n’ Wear It tattoo studio, Rabbit hardly ever gets to take a break - considering its location in the village of Lakenheath near the Norfolk/Suffolk border, it’s surprisingly busy – I figure that the nearby monster sized airbases of Lakenheath, Feltwell and Mildenhall probably account for a fair old amount of trade but on closer inspection it turns out that’s not the case:
“It’s actually about 50/50 really. I’m from here originally and it’s a great place to have a studio. The airbases are a bonus but being here, where’s there’s not too much competition like there is in most towns in the UK, let’s us do pretty much whatever we want to do. We’ve been here twenty years and business has been steady for all that time. You know, when you specialise in something – whether that’s a tattoo studio or a model car shop or whatever – people are prepared to travel to get what they want and that’s really what we’ve tapped into here. I have a constant two month waiting list which is no bad thing and it’s been like that for a long time.”
We’ve been hearing a lot of chat at the moment about employers clamping down on tattooed employees – is that a real world thing for you our there with the guys from the base?
“Not really, they have codes about how much work they’re allowed to get done based on their rank and what sort of a uniform they have to wear, but it’s always been that way. If you have a uniform that requires you to wear short sleeves, then you’re confined to not having anything on your forearms, but if you’re uniform is long sleeved, then you can, but to be honest uniforms and ranks can change, so a lot of people are coming in and getting backpieces done, which can only be a good thing!”
Back when I was twenty or so and when me and my friends were all starting our ‘tattoo journey’, it was pretty normal to aim for the upper arms and that was about it – nobody really ventured anywhere other than that. Now, it seems normal to go in and get yourself a sleeve or a backpiece as your first work – is that true or a misconception on my part?
“No – I’d agree with that. For a lot of reasons, people now collect tattoos as personal works of art. It used to be that people would get a tattoo as a landmark in their life, but like I say, now they’re now also seen as works of art – collectors pieces...”
Do you think TV is largely responsible for that? It has its good and bad sides but it’s definitely made people aware of what’s possible and that you don’t have to be a rock star to go that far.
“I don’t watch those shows regularly – not because I don’t like them but when you watch shows over and over that are essentially about your job, it gets to be a bit dull! There’s been a definite rise in the amount of customers through the doors since they started though and yeah, to a certain extent, people are coming and getting bigger and bigger pieces done. The only real restraint is their budget, but if somebody wants to book an hour a month and work it like that, that’s fine by me. You can get a lot of work done in an hour and if you have the patience for it instead of wanting something ready to go in one appointment, you can get some serious work done!”
With the popularity of tattooing at the moment, do you think it will stay like this or find a way to dig itself back into a more underground culture?
“I’m not sure – there are a lot of conventions springing up all over the place so it looks like there’s the demand for it to sustain its popularity. Not so long ago, there were a few big ones that were great to go to, but now they are everywhere and show no sign of slowing down. How long can that go on? I still work a couple of shows each year but I prefer to go and see what everybody is doing rather than work them now. I’ve not peaked yet and I like seeing where things are headed. Some of the European artists are streets ahead of what’s going on here. They are really pushing the styles and whatever is going on out there – its free flowing styles and fine art influences - will filter over here for sure, so I would say it’s going to be a long time before it goes underground – if it ever does.”
With a string of awards under his belt and a beautiful studio to hand, it’s easy to see why Rabbit is one of the most popular tattoo artists in the UK – you just need to watch out for bits coming off that bike and hitting you round the back of the head!
Tattoo Freeze - Paint It Black
If there was ever a hulking great link between custom bikes and tattooing, it has to be all about the art, right?
Next year, at Tattoo Freeze 2011, Skin Deep will be hosting a custom paint display that should send shivers down the spine of even the most hardened veteran. As hours and hours of passion and dedication are spent on customising vehicles every year (oh yeah – there’ll be cars and trucks as well), we thought it only fair to let the public see just what’s on offer, how it’s done properly and also offer the chance to pimp your own ride.
That’s right - not only can you spend time checking out some of the best airbrushers in the business as they demonstrate throughout the day, if you’re feeling brave, you could even get your own wheels pinstriped by a leading pin-stripe artist who will be working the event.
Much like tattooing itself, there are a multitude of opinions with regards to what’s right and what’s wrong, what works and what doesn’t, so whether you have a longing to get into it yourself or would prefer to leave it to the professionals but still curious as to how the magic happens, this is the place to be.
For 2011, Tattoo Freeze has increased its foundations – now taking place over two days and with an additional 3,420m2 of floor space, there will once again be graffiti demonstration and workshops (produced live by some of the country’s best graffiti artists), BMX and skateboard demonstrations, a BigTattooPlanet.com art gallery, ArtFusion canvases topped off by our National Tattoo Photography competition.
Held at the Telford International Centre and just minutes off the M54 Motorway, the event is ideally located to attract a large audience, which made it a great day out to kick off the show season.
You can book tickets online now at www.tattoofreeze.com
Grin ‘n’ Wear It Tattoos
154 High Street
Lakenheath - Brandon
Suffolk - United kingdom
Tuesday to Saturday (10am - 6pm)
Sunday to Monday (By appointment only)
Out of hours appointments (Call for details)