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Pentons to Appear at Davenport

(8/9/2004)

 

The Penton Owners Group will present a 1,000 square foot exhibit at the Antique Motorcycle Club of America national meet at Davenport, Iowa over Labor Day weekend. The display will amount to a mini museum consisting of original and restored Penton motorcycles and historical artifacts. Members of the POG, as well as John Penton himself, will be on handPOG display to answer questions about Penton history and the restoration of Penton motorcycles. Penton owners are encouraged to attend the meet and bring their motorcycles for display.

 

The exhibit is planned in connection with the Penton Future Project, described in Motohistory 11/20/2003. A strategy in the Project is to expand POG outreach to larger audiences of enthusiasts who are likely to have an interest in the Penton legacy and the history of off-road motorcycling in America. Previously, the POG has exhibited at Cycle World motorcycle shows, AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, and the AMCA meet at Oley, Pennsylvania as pictured above. For more information go to www.pentonusa.org. At Davenport, look for the POG display in spaces R16 and R17.  A dozen or more Pentons are expected to be on display.

 

On the web

(8/9/2004)

 

Fine Art

True motorheads will certainly enjoy the fine paintings of motorcycles by William F. Storm. If you are not a motorhead, there are also nudes, nature, and nose art. Click here.

 

MZ Gelandesportkalendar 2005

If you have an interested in the era when Eastern Germany's MZ battled capitalism with road racers, enduro bikes, and all its might, you will enjoy the 2005 MZ enduro calendar. There are some wonderful historical photos here. It can be had for 11 euros. For more images and information, click here, or write to Leo Keller at leo@vinduro.de .

The Ghost of Greenwood

Dean Adams has posted on SuperbikePlanet.com an interesting story about the Des Moines area Greenwood Raceway, once considered the best motorcycle road course in the United States. Greenwood ran its last race on August 6, 1966, when Gary Nixon won both the 250 and the 500/750 classes. To read the whole story, click here.

 

Jim Kersting's Treasures

In the Middle of Nowhere

(8/7/2004)

 

When Jim Kersting was in the sixth grade, he swiped the gasoline engine from his mother's Maytag washer and installed it in an old Simplex frame. Kersting recalls, “It was mounted on the washing machine with only four bolts, so I figured I could use it, then put the motor back on the Maytag before Friday wash day rolled around.” He pauses and smiles, thinking of the foolishness of youth, then continues, “But what I didn't count on was how much I was going to enjoy that bike. I completely forgot what day it was, and Mom had a fit when she wanted to do laundry and the engine on the Maytag was missing.” Hoping he could keep his homemade motorcycle running and satisfy his mother at the same time, Kersting tried to hook a belt from the power take-off on the family tractor to the washing machine, nearly destroying it in the process. He recalls, “As soon as I engaged the belt, it yanked the washing machine right off its stand and threw it over on its side. Mom wasn't very happy!”

 

Today, one of the first bikes you see when you walk into Kersting's Cycle Center and World of Motorcycles Museum is a little Maytag-powered Simplex with the name “Simpletag” painted on the tank. It is noKersting Museumt the original, but a replica that Jim's son Randy built and presented to his father for Christmas in 1986. Though of scant monetary value, it must be one of the most prized motorcycles in Kersting collection, which now numbers close to 150 bikes. Jim says, “I cried when he gave it to me.”

 

The Simpletag is just one of many unusual motorcycles one will find at Kersting's museum and Harley-Davidson/Kawasaki dealership located in North Judson, Indiana, which Kersting proudly describes as “the middle of nowhere.” In addition to many old Harleys in excellent condition (as depicted above), Kersting proudly displays one of the most eclectic selections you will find anywhere. It includes a British-made Excelsior and a Rudge, a German DKW Hummel, Italian Aermacchis, a Czetta scooter with matching trailer (pictured below), an example of every three-cylinder motorcycle Kawasaki ever built -- including Jim's own H1R racer -- and much, much more, all surrounded by an overwhelming and rich array of toys, license plates, service station paraphernalia, vintage clothing, photographs, and bric-a-brac beyond description. It is all housed in a 10,000 square foot purpose-built building behind his dealership.

 

When Jim and Nella Kersting opened their Harley-Davidson shop on thCZettais site in 1962, it was a 2,000 square foot building with two gas pumps out front, one for regular and one for Ethel. Jim drove the local school bus, so he opened the shop each morning after taking the kids to school. With Nella manning the store, Jim used his lunch hour to take the kids back home. Nella and the family – Sandy, Randy, and Jason -- were readily available to fill in, because the tiny shop also included the family living quarters! Today, Sandy is a general manager of the sprawling business, Randy is its service department manager, and Jason handles sales. They're backed up by 15 employees, and they've given Jim a nice jacket that says “Vintage Expert,” which Jim explains it intended to keep him in the museum and out of their hair.

 

Surrounded by a vast expanse of corn fields midway between the Chicago and Indianapolis markets, Kersting's is a dealership that Harley-Davidson, in its current drive to tap into urban wealth, would never approve today. However, through decades of conducting an ethical business, building friendships, and providing a downright fascinating atmosphere, the shop and museum have cultivated a loyal and far-flung clientele, and earned the rare official designation from Harley-Davidson as a “destination dealership.” That's code Ariellanguage for saying, “This place defies all of our marketing logic, but it works too well to mess with.”

 

As a destination, Jim Kersting's museum attracts thousands of visitors a year, and has become a stopping place for organized rides by Harley Owners Groups and other motorcycle clubs. However, it was never planned to work out this way. Kersting says, “I was just trying to run a business, but my own collection kind of got out of hand. Pretty soon I had too many old bikes in too many different barns and garages around here, and I had to do something about it.”

 

As Kersting's collection and museum have grown, so has his reputation and status in the antique motorcycle community, where he holds membership #2 in the River Valley Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, and serves as the chapter's vice president. With the kids running the retail business, he finds more of his time taken up by his unofficial status as “Vintage Expert.” Apologetically interrupting our museum tour, he takes a typical call: “If it's a real 1945 Knucklehead, it could be worth eighteen thousand dollars. But look at the motor numbers very carefully. If they are altered, or if the number boss looks like it has been ground off, that will drop the value by at least half in a minute!” He hangs up the phone: “Knuckleheads are in such demand, people are throwing them together from all kinds of parts. You've got to really be careful what you're buying.”

 

Jim expects nothing for his advice, or from spending hours on the phone fielding such calls. It is just an extension of the helpful and friendly business style that Kersting has espoused since he opened his shop 40 years ago. He is a humble and genuinely nice man who has built one of the most remarkable private motorcycle museums in America , and he is ready and willing to share his knowledge and experience with visitors and other collectors.

So the next time you are blazing across Indiana on Route 30, I-80 or I-65, slow down and give yourself a break. Haul out the map and locate North Judson, then follow the signs to Kersting's. Just about the time you think you are hopelessly lost among the corn fields, you'll see a giant American flag rising above the flat landscape. Then you'll see a huge, cartoonish Harley-Davidson, forty feet long, with big earth-mover wheels. Beside these landmarks is the long, low gray building that you might have missed if you weren't diligently looking for it within the straight-line grid of rural Indiana tarmac. For a motorcycle enthusiast, it is one of the finest destinations you will find anywhere, or – as Jim Kersting will proudly declare – in the middle of nowhere. To plan your visit, call 219-896-2974, or write to Jim at kerstings@hotmail.com .

 

Jim's Velorex

One of the most unusual vehicles in Kersting's collection is a Velorex three-wheeled cyclecar, still seen in frequent use in Czechoslovakia as late as Velorexthe mid-1970s. Durable, cheap, and simple, it has a tubular steel body cage covered with coated fabric. To my knowledge, they were available only in brown, as seen here.

Behind the two-person cabin is a Jawa power train, complete with chain drive and a motorcycle-type swinging arm rear suspension.   It looks like someone sawed a Jawa in half and bolted a birdcage-type body frame around it.  Even the two front wheels are spoked Jawa rims and brake drums.  One of the really simple and clever aspects of the design is that the operator finds reverse gear by shutting off the two-stroke engine and restarting it backward! Thus, technically, the machine has four speeds forward and four in reverse.  (I can almost envision inebriated Czech teenagers having backward drag races with the family Velorex!)  Velorex also manufactured motorcycle sidecars that had a sturdy fiberglass body with good fit and finish. For more information on this curious vehicle -- including a good photo of the naked cage frame -- check out Dutch enthusiast Ronald Loman's Velorex home page. Click here.

 

  

In print

(8/6/2004)

 

Jean Davidson , the granddaughter of Motor Company founder Walter Davidson, has just released her third book entitled “ My Daddy Makes the Best Motorcycle in the Whole Wide World .” Davidson's first work, “Growing Up Harley-Davidson,” provided insight into the life style and family activities of the Davidson clan. Her second, “The Harley-Davidson Family Album,” shared rare and interesting photographs gleaned from the albums of both Harleys and Davidsons. Illustrated by Theresa Hammerquist, the latest is a children's book told from the point of view of eight-year-old Jeannie, the author's childhood persona.

 

In “Growing Up Harley-Davidson,” Jean revealed an adoration for Gordon, her father, who, in the face of the tragic death of his son, buried himself in the business and essentially worked himself to death at an early age. In this book, Jean has been able to limit herself to a happier slice of family history, exploring the best years of her childhood and her relationship with her father. It is published by The Guest Cottage, Inc. of Woodruff, Wisconsin, or go to Jean's web site at www.jeandavidson.com.  Jean will autograph books ordered through her site.

 

Whitehorse Press has just published an updated edition of Dale Coyner's Motorcycle Journey's Through the Appalachians .”  With chapters entitled “The Trail West,” “Shrine of the Confederacy,” and “Mountaineer Country,” it is clearly about a two-wheeled trip through the history of the region. There are full color photos and maps throughout, and it is the perfect size for your tank bag. At $24.95, you can get it through the Whitehorse Press web site. Click here.

 

The September issue of Cycle World contains a feature by Kevin Cameron entitled “ Sands of Time ” about BSA's stunning performance at the 1954 Daytona 200 when factory machines captured the first five places. To my way of thinking, too many motojournalists immerse themselves in the technical minutia of motorcycles, treating their subject as if it exists in a cultural vacuum. Cameron, to the contrary, always explores both engineering and history, explaining in insightful ways how one inevitably influenced the other. And more likely than not, when he's on the subject of engineering, he does not treat innovation as if it sprang from an empty machine shop. Rather, he reveals the personalities who contributed to great motorcycles, and in this case it is Roland Pike, the man who made his beloved Gold Stars live long beyond the era of British singles as a whole. Photography by Mark Langello features the recreated 1954 racers that are currently on display at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in an exhibit entitled "BSA's Greatest Daytona."

 

On the Road to Great Collections

(8/6/2004)

 

Mad about motorcycle museums?  If so, you need the latest offering from Mad Maps. This one, sponsored by J&P Cycles and the American Motorcyclist Association, is a national road map that shows the location of 18 leading motorcycle museums. In addition, it provides the location of major rallies, custom motorcycle builders, two-wheeled resorts, and American motorcycle manufacturers (there are more than you would believe). Also, it includes a graphic key to state helmet laws. For more information on various offerings from Mad Maps, go to www.madmaps.com or call 1-877-MAD-7899.

 

 

Motohistory Quiz

(8/5/2004)

 

Quick, Motohistory readers, be the first to E-mail me the name of the vehicle pictured here and tell me the Bobcatspecial purpose for which it was designed. The first person with the right answer will receive a Motohistory cap.

If you attended the recent Craig Vetter seminar at AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, you already have a head start. Send your answers to Ed@motohistory.net .  And, by the way, Craig Vetter and Jim Kersting are ineligible to compete.

 

They're Baaaack!

(8/2/2004)

 

You recall the scene. The enigmatic little girl in “Poltergeist II” turns from the hissing television screen and intones ominously, “They're baaaack!” Appropriately, she is referring to spirits set free by the disturbance on an ancient Indian burial ground. And, as much as we would like to see the venerable old Indian brand rest in peace, life continues to follow art.  They're baaaack!

 

Stellican, Ltd., a London-based investment firm has acquired the trademark and logo rights recently served up in the Indian Motorcycle Company liquidation auction, and is sniffing around south Florida for a manufacturing facility. And, says Stellican founder Stephen Julius, according to press accounts, Gilroy, California and Springfield, Massachusetts are also being considered. The last person to invoke the name of Springfield in connection with an Indian resurrection operation was Philip Zanghi, and look where it got him.

 

Stellican already has a relationship with business development agencies in the Sarasota-Bradenton area since it operates Chris-Craft, Corp. Ltd., which it acquired in March 2001. Stellican's Julius said, “Our most likely strategy will be the one we followed with Chris-Craft. Start slowly and do things right.” This would be a departure from some of the previous American brand resurrection hopefuls in recent years.

 

For more on Indian's possible re-re-re-return, click here

 

Jack McCormack,

Modern Motorcycle Pioneer

(7/30/2004)

 

Jack McCormack was born in Oak Park , Illinois in 1931, but his family moved to California before he was two. He got a Triumph T100 in 1947 and soon set it up for Class C racing. Because his parents did not want him to race, he competed under the name of John McDermott. He joined the Marines in 1951, became a drill instructor, and served until 1954. After the Marine Corps, McCormack (pictured below with his wife Gerry and Massimo Laverda in 1967) went to work for Johnson Motors, a U.S. TMassimo Laverdariumph distributor, hiring on as a regional dealer representative. He recalls, “That job helped destroy my first marriage. I was responsible for nine states, traveling around in a truck with three Triumphs in the back. Sometimes I was away from home two or three months at a time.” In late 1959 McCormack

left Triumph to join the fledgling American Honda.

 

At first, traditionalists from the British and American contingents of the industry did not take Honda very seriously. It had a limited and unorthodox product line; however, quality was good and the company had the capacity to produce in greater quantities than either Harley-Davidson or the British. Honda also did not have the entrenched mentality of the veteran players in the industry. McCormack explains, “Throughout the whole of the 1950s, industry-wide sales were stagnant at about 45 to 50,000 units a year. Everyone had his niche and was pretty much satisfied with it. For the most part, motorcycles were sold by dealers in one-light bulb shops to people they already knew, and there was not much ambition to change, grow, or look for new or different customers.” He adds, “This mentality accounts for the fact that all of the brands combined spent only about $300,000 per year on advertising. Why spend more when they saw no reason to do so?”

 

Going into the 1961 model year, McCormack persuaded his Japanese bosses at Honda to give him a $150,000 advertising budget, which he justified by sticking his neck out with a 15,000 unit sales projection. About 80 percent of that budget was spent on three advertisements in Life Magazine, which represented a totally new and unorthodox advertising strategy. Honda was not just looking for new and different customers, but it was also seeking the attention of a new crop of business professionals to become motorcycle dealers. McCormack recalls, “That year we got as many as 250 dealer applications a week, and the paper work just piled up while I sat there with the phone at my ear. There was a small motel around the corner from our little storefront office. Sometimes, I would shut off the phone at five o'clock, walk around the corner to the motel to take a shower, change my shirt, and get a bite to eat, then come back to do the paper work late into the night.” In 1961 Honda sold 17,000 units!

 

Thanks to originality, ambition, diligence, and the enthusiastic field staff that McCormack helped assemble, Honda simply exploded in the American market. McCormack says, “Sales and profits were going up and up, but my salary was not, and the Japanese were not interested in talking about it.” Consequently, in September of 1963 he left Honda and set up his own company, McCormack International. He had his eye on Suzuki and went to Japan to obtain the rights to distribute in the United States. Suzuki did not want an independent distributor. Rather, they wanted to set up a company-owned corporation. McCormack had the experience to build such a company, so he spent three weeks in Japan negotiating a personal services contract to form what was then called U.S. Suzuki, of which he had 25 percent ownership.

 

As the new company began to grow - again with a team of experienced Americans selected by McCormack - the Japanese began to send over people to take up newly created, but vaguely-defined, executive positions which had the effect of pushing the Americans down the chain of command. McCormack says, “I had seen similar behavior at Honda, and I had written language into my contract to deal with it. I had the right and the authority to tell Suzuki Japan that I didn't need these guys and was not going to pay their salaries out of the U.S. Suzuki budget. Most of them had nothing to do but ask us questions and report back to Japan, so if I could not keep them from hanging around, at least I could force Suzuki Japan to carry the overhead.” This disagreement became a serious bone of contention, and in 1966 McCormack let Suzuki buy his share of the company.

 

By the mid-1960s the industry was booming, driven by an aggressive pro-growth attitude that had replaced the stagnant inertia of the 1950s. But Jack McCormack was finished with building companies and making sales for other people. Using the brand name “American Eagle,” he created what we call today a “virtual company.” Though it is Endless Cyclecommon now for some of the world's most successful companies to have no engineering or manufacturing resources whatsoever, in 1967 it was a relatively new concept, and previously untried in the motorcycle industry. McCormack worked with suppliers in both Europe and Japan to create a motorcycle product line ranging from 80 to 750cc, including a minibike, five street machines from 150cc to 750cc, and three motocrossers in 125, 250, and 400cc capacities. These machines were supplied by Italjet and Laverda from Italy, Kawasaki from Japan, and Sprite from England. In addition, McCormack prototyped a twin-track snowmobile and a dune buggy that he planned to have built in North America. Motorcycling was a seasonal business and it was American Eagle's plan to create a more diverse recreational vehicle line that would generate year-round sales. AE's slogan, as depicted in the advertisement above, was “The Cycle that Never Ends,” referring to a 12-month sales cycle.

 

With American Eagle, McCormack introduced what were, at the time, novel and reCatalog 2volutionary merchandising concepts. He promoted the idea of purpose-built, stand-alone stores with display windows on three sides. The concept drawings of stores depicted at trade shows and in AE advertising were clean, blight, open, inviting, and conspicuous in red, white, and blue. In this respect, AE was perhaps 15 years ahead of its time. Honda had taken steps to take its dealers out of the era of the dingy one-bulb store front, but it would not be until the mid-1980s that Harley-Davidson would drag its retailers, kicking and screaming, into the era of modern merchandising.

 

By 1969 AE had over 100 dealers and McCormack had to go in search of outside capital to meet the demand for product. A deal was cut with the Minneapolis-based Leisure Dynamics, which had its own problems and pulled out in 1970. Negotiations were conducted with Sunbeam, Borg-Warner, and others, but near-deals kept coming unraveled. The economic climate was turning downward. McCormack explains, “By late 1970 I decided someone was trying to tell me something, and I abandoned the project.” In retrospect, it was not an untimely decision, because by 1973 new motorcycle sales in America started a precipitous decline that wSuperwedgeould continue for more than a decade.

 

Fewer people were buying new motorcycles, but the aftermarket remained strong, in part because enthusiasts were spending money to keep their old bikes running and presentable. McCormack teamed up with Walt Fulton, who had been his national sales manager both at Suzuki and American Eagle, and created Jackwal Corporation to market motorcycle accessories. Jackwal's flagship product was the Superwedge (pictured above), a fairing designed by Lenny Stobar, who had also done styling for AE. The Superwedge was quite different from anything on the market at the time, attempting to reconcile the advantages of both frame-mounted and fork-mounted fairings. It had a long, wedge-like main body mounted to the frame that extended sleekly over the front wheel with a headlight streamlined behind a curved Plexiglas window. However, the wind screen and upper fairing was a separate unit that turned with the handlebars. It was quite striking in appearance, reminiscent of the so-called “dustbin” fairings once seen on grand prix road racers. About 2,500 were sold, but dealers shied away from the Superwedge because it was time consuming and difficult to mount.

 

In pursuit of modern business concepts – the virtual company, a broad recreational product line, stand alone retail outlets, clean and modern merchandising practices – Jack McCormack was a pioneer for what the American motorcycle industry has become. Today he lives with his wife Gerry in California's Santa Ynez Valley, owns a ranch in Australia, and serves on the boards of several corporations. He remains involved in motorcycling, but now on a personal level, often taking to the twisties aboard his Kawasaki ZX11 sport tourer in the hills east of Santa Barbara .

 

Innovation and the Eagle

As a “virtual company,” American Eagle might be dismissed by some as a venture that simply branded other people's products. However, this would be an unfair characterization, overlooking the innovative energy behind the company. Jack McCormack's ability for creative leadership was evident in hiAE Catalogs ventures at Honda and Suzuki, and with American Eagle he pursued marketing and corporate structural ideas that did not become commonplace in the American motorcycle industry for many years.

 

But, American Eagle practiced technical innovation as well. For example, just look at the integrated fiberglass tank/seat/fender concept applied by designer Lenny Stobar to the little 150cc Renegade (pictured here). This motorcycle appeared two years before the famous Vetter Hurricane, which has been generally credited with introducing the concept. Furthermore, AE was on course to introduce an idea called “Unicon custom styling,” offering alternative body components that would convert the Renegade to a two-up streetster or a pack-carrying trail machine. In addition, AE marketed a helmet with a spoiler designed into the shell, intended to be more stable at high speeds.

 

Regrettably, the snow machine and the dune buggy never made it into production, because they were the essence of innovation. Unlike conventional snowmobiles, the AE snow machine had twin tracks and no steering skis. Rather, the twin tracks provided both steering and forward motion. The dune buggy had a midship-mounted Ford Tanus V4 engine with upswept exhaust pipes that went through the spoiler in the rear. The radiator was mounted behind the engine and had no fan. The mufflers were vented where they went over the top of the radiator and used the velocity of the exhaust gasses to pull hot air off of and away from the radiator. The concept is reported to have worked well under testing in hot, desert conditions.

 

The Eagle and Knievel

For a time, Evel Knievel was affiliated with American Eagle, and claimed a world record aboard the 750 Eagle before he went on to forge an alliance with AMF/Harley-Davidson. McCormack recalls that Knievel came looking for sponsorship while he was still on crutches from his infamous bone-breaking Caesar's Palace jump. McCormack says, “At first I was reluctant as I had been fighting for Knievela better motorcycle image most of my adult life. But, after looking into it further I decided that Evel was emanating such an image. He was talking against drugs and alcohol and generally putting forth a positive image. Even though his stunts were ‘dare devil,' they were not what could be construed as antisocial.”

 

AE outfitted Knievel with two 750cc machines prepared to his specifications, gave him $2.500 a month for expenses, and Knievel kept all his earnings from his jumps and personal appearances. McCormack says, “He did a great job for us, appearing at trade shows and special motorcycle events. And, of course, we got a lot of publicity and product exposure through his jumping schedule.” When Knievel reported to McCormack that Harley-Davidson had offered him $100,000 a year, his expenses, plus his jump earnings, McCormack told him he should take the deal because AE could not participate in that kind of bidding war. However, AE had assisted Knievel with the development of his Snake River Canyon jump vehicle, and remained involved through that event. McCormack says, “I only saw Evel once after that, and that was in a California state prison in Newhall when he was serving time for attacking a Hollywood producer.”

Seen at VMD

(7/21/2004)

 

AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car CourseVintage Beemers just gets huger and huger. The AMA and the facility owner will not divulge precise numbers, but in the past have reported the crowd in the range of 40,000. Very likely, it pushed 50,000 this year. BMW was the commemorative marque, and BMW Mobile Tradition knocked itself out with an incredible display of vintage motorcycles and BMW Isetta cyclecars. I have seen the Mobile Tradition presentation before, and this one was lightyears beyond anything I have previously witnessed.

 

No doubt, attendance was bolstered by strong promotional support from several ZundappsBMW enthusiast organizations. But even without the conspicuous greater presence of BMW riders, the event far surpassed its predecessors. The swap meet had nearly a thousand vendors, the J. Wood auction had the most unusual and best quality offering of product ever, and the same can be said for the outdoor bike show as well. Unusual and beautiful equipment abounded, highlighted by the best collection of Vintage BMWs I have ever seen in a single location. Among their Teutonic counterparts were more Zundapp KS600s than I have seen at one time.

 

Boss Hoss, Eat Your Heart Out!

Think you're some kind of macho dude because you ride a ground-pounding V8 BossLincoln Hoss. Well, just steer clear of that guy aboard the Lincoln Zephyr-powered V12! While machines like this are not noted for their subtlety, a careful inspection of this one revealed some very clever engineering. For example the twin leather saddlebags actually contain two radiators, eliminating the need to hang a big ugly box out front as most designers do with liquid cooled motorcycles.

 

BLT is Not Just a Sandwich

Not long ago, Motohistory (Motohistory 4/29/2004) told the story of Motorcycle Hall of Ossa BLTsFamer Joe Bolger, a former New England scrambles champion and innovative designer who in the 1970s was working on the leading edge of long-travel motocross suspension. Bolger's design was put into limited production in the OSSA BLT, which in this case means “Bolger Long Travel.” Astonishingly, there was seen at VMD this year nine OSSA BLTs in one location! Such a grouping may never again be duplicated, since less than 150 of these machines were ever produced.

 

The Unmissable Craig Vetter

You simply couldn't miss Craig Vetter this year at VMD, since he was riding around on a scooter of approximately the size, color scheme, and art deco styling of Brooks Stevens' legendary Hiawatha locomotive (Motohistory 7/1/2003)! Craig showed up at VMD last year with the rolling chassis of a scooter powered by a Harley FLH engine. At his entertaining and informative seminar on scooters at VMD this year, Vetter acknowledged, “ItVetter Scooter was just too much. That thing had a hundred horse power, and when I pulled away from a light I was always spinning the rear wheel.”

 

Still, the idea of a Harley-powered scooter had not lost its appeal, and Craig returned this year with a prototype of the Defiant, a scooter featuring Sportster suspension, engine, and running gear. Designed as a kit bike, except for its frame and swoopy body, almost every other major part comes from a standard Sportster, including its forks, wheels, fuel tank, and pipes and mufflers.

 

Has Craig gone totally insane? I don't think so. The mean age of American motorcyclists gets older with each passing year, and more and more of us will be looking for something cool we can step through, not climb over. And we don't want any of those wimpy little scooters like you saw in “Roman Holiday.” Americans never have taken to those things, but we just might step aboard something that has some real guts to it. In fact, we already are, as evidenced by Honda's Silver Wing and Suzuki's Burgman. These are scooters that can mix it up with the eighteen-wheelers on the old super slab, so why wouldn't it be cool to do the same with something that throbs and sounds like a Harley?

 

To see how all those Sportster parts fit inside the Defiant, go to http://www.defiantscooter.com .

 

The Little-known Penton Hiro

(7/20/2004)

 

This year at AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, Pat Mickevicius had his beautiful Hiro-powered Penton on display. The Penton Hiro is an obscure chapter in the story of this legendary marque. One of the people deeply involved was Dane Leimbach, John Penton's nephew, a member of the 1974 Six Days team in Camerino, Italy, where Penton Hirothe Hiro connection was made; and the current manager of Penton Imports. Motohistory has asked Dane to tell the story.

 

Our first contact with Andy Mosconi, the man who owned the Hiro Motor Company, came after the opening ceremonies for the ISDT in Camerino in 1974. A group of us – Jack Penton, myself, and a couple of other guys - were walking back to the dorms and as we walked along, we heard a voice with an English accent, asking us if we were Americans. We replied that we were, and the fellow, who looked every bit the part of an English gentleman, asked us if we knew John Penton. Jack replied that indeed he did, since John was his father. The fellow then introduced himself as Andy Mosconi, the owner of an engine manufacturing company by the name of Hiro Motor.

 

We took him to meet JP, and the adventure of working with the Hiro engines began. JP and I made a visit to Mosconi's factory and saw some of the various projects that Mosconi was involved in. At the time. Aprilia did not have their own engine, so they were using Hiros. There were two other brands of motorcycles that had the engines in them, but I can't remember them. I believe that one may have been the SWM, but I can't be sure. And I don't have an idea of who the third one was.

 

I looked all of them over, and then did a cursory evaluation of the machines, based on the Sachs-powered Pentons. While I did find some flaws, the bikes were pretty tidy, and I thought with some refinement, they could be winners. I seem to remember that we bought some of these bikes so we could test the capability of the Hiro engines, but for the life of me, I can't remember what ever became of them.

 

JP was sufficiently impressed with the engines, and decided to purchase a quantity (25 I think) of them, and had them shipped to us in Amherst. We then proceeded to take the engines out of probably fifteen 125s, and went about doing the necessary modifications to install the Hiro engines in the chassis.

 

This whole project was spawned by the introduction of the Honda Elsinores, because they were so light and fast. We had been trying to get KTM to build a new 125 engine, and because they were dragging their feet, JP decided to take matter into his own hands, and went with the Hiro engines in the hopes that if KTM wouldn't get off their butts, that perhaps the Hiro engines would fill the bill.

 

The engines were much more modern than the Sachs engines, but they did have some drawbacks. The most problematic for the Penton machines was the narrow power band. For motocross, it wouldn't have been too bad, but woods riding was a challenge.

 

Besides having a much better shifting mechanism than the Sachs, the cylinder had a hard coat bore instead of a cast iron liner. This was way ahead of it's time, and I can't tell you how long it was before the Japanese companies started to use this design. This, of course, made the engine lighter than anybody else's engines. There was another radical departure on these engines that you just didn't see in off road technologies, and that was a dry clutch. In fact, I'd never even seen a dry clutch at that point, so it was quite a revolution.

 

The time frame for all of this would have to be some time in 1975, but I can't tell you exactly when it was. The major modifications to the chassis were the reversal of the drive system (because the engine drove on the left side like the Japanese engines instead of the right side like most of the European engines), and, of course, the modifying process to the engine mounting system. We had to cut the chain guard/guide pieces off the swing arm and re-manufacture them so that these parts were on the left side. Of course, the front engine mounts had to be removed and a new mount fabricated. 

 

There were less than 20 Penton Hiros built, and I have no idea where all of the machines went. I do know that Jeff Piasecki had one, and I think that he did some winning on it.

 

Dane Leimbach

Penton Imports Co., Inc.

 

The History of Motocross, Part Three

(7/15/2004)

The third installment of my history of motocross, entitled "Edison Dye and His Flying Circus," has just Motocross Americabeen posted on the AMA Pro Motocross web site. 

Although motocross had been promoted at a few venues in America since the late 1950s, Edison Dye created, as Monty Python would have said, "Something completely different."  This is the story of Dye, Hallman, Husqvarna, the Inter-Am, DeCoster, Bickers, Robert, and how Americans went crazy over them.  Next month we will continue the story, telling how international motocross in America evolved from the Inter-Am to the Trans-AMA.  For Part three, click here .

 

We Have a Winner!

(7/15/2004)

Motohistory reader Dave Price answered that the motorcycle in questioEagle Renegaden is a 175cc American Eagle, manufactured in Italy, and introduced into the American market in 1966.  I am accepting this answer as close enough since it is the best received within 24 hours.  My notes indicate that the bike was introduced in 1967, but I only asked that respondents be accurate within a year, so Price is within range to say 1966.  The only area where Price is off is the capacity.  The engine is 150cc and was manufactured by Laverda, which, as he correctly states, is an Italian company.  For the perfect and original example pictured with our quiz, I am grateful to Jim Dillard, who has a superb collection of mostly-Italian, mostly-small motorcycles.

American Eagle was the brainchld of Jack McCormack, one of the pioneers of the modern American motorcycle industry.  After a stint with Triumph, he joined Honda at the very beginning of its involvement in the United States, helping set up its dealer organization and its then-unorthodox marketing strategy.  Then McCormack left Honda to set up U.S. Suzuki.  In 1967 he launched American Eagle, his own brand, featuring a range of recreational products.  Within the motorcycle line was the 150cc Renegade, featuring a one-piece fiberglass tank and seat unit designed by Lenny Stobar, which appeared two years before the much-celebrated Triumph Hurricane, the motorcycle often credited with introducing the concept.

American Eagle, though not long-lived, was a company driven by innovative branding and marketing ideas. For example, it predated Harley-Davidson in striking a promotional alliance with Evel Knievel.  Watch for more about Jack McCormack and American Eagle in a future update of Motohistory.

Again, congratulations to Dave Price for winning our Motohistory Quiz.

 

Bob Jorgensen,

Memphis Man of Steam

(7/14/2004)

 

Bob Jorgensen crouches by the side of his odd-looking two-wheeler (pictured below) and puts small scoops of charcoal through a little door in the side. He says, “It's no hill climber, but on level ground it will go like a scalded dog,” which he intends to demonstrate as soon as its little boiler cooks up a head of steam. What Jorgensen is hovering over is a full scale working replica of a steam motorcycle Roperconstructed more than a century ago by American inventor and steam aficionado Sylvester Roper.

 

Roper, born in New Hampshire in 1823, designed and built a variety of steam vehicles, including two steam motorcycles. His first was constructed in 1869, and is arguably the world's first motorcycle, arriving more than a decade before the celebrated German Daimler. Another steam-powered motorcycle – the Michaux-Perreaux -- was invented in France about the same time; however, the M-P -- like most early motorcycles -- was actually a bicycle, complete with pedals, with an engine attached. Roper's machine was designed to be powered solely by its steam engine, with no muscular assistance from its operator. Like a modern motorcycle, it has foot pegs and no pedals. This Civil War-era vehicle still exists and can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History . Then, in 1894, Roper built a second steam motorcycle, and this is the machine that Jorgensen has chosen to replicate.

 

Bob Jorgensen, 76, was born and raised in and around Memphis, Tennessee. Like Sylvester Roper, he is a life-long designer and tinkerer, a machinist, and a great devotee of steam. However, his first attempt to build a motor-powered vehicle employed electricity, not steam, and it very nearly ended in disaster. Jorgensen recalls, “At the age of ten I mounted a Dodge starter motor on a bicycle. I had no idea what I was doing, and I put a big sprocket on the motor and a little one on the back wheel. We hooked up a car battery and when my uncle jammed the cable onto the post it just took off. All I could do was hang on as it went faster and faster. The only think that saved me was that I ran across a railroad track at what felt like about 70 miles per hour, and it threw the chain!”

 

Jorgensen (pictured here in his shop) learned about steam as a maintenance engineer at a lumber yard with a steam-powered mill. Fascinated with these big, reliable steam engines, he began to build his Jorgensen in shopown steam engines in a wide range of designs and sizes. Over time he has built more than three dozens. A high shelf around the perimeter of his home machine shop is filled with them. In addition to the Roper replica, he has also built steam cars and boats.

 

Like the original Roper steam cycle, Jorgensen's bike has a water tank located where you will find the fuel tank on most conventional motorcycles. Beneath it is a fire box that holds smoldering coal or charcoal, clad with wood to insulate it from the rider's legs. Behind the box on the right side is a small steam engine with 1 ½ inch bore and a 3 inch stroke. Its drive shafts operate a crank on the rear axle. On the left is another crank that drives forward to a water pump. The vehicle weighs 140 pounds and is perfectly balanced, with 70 pounds on each wheel. Where Jorgensen's steamer differs from the original Roper is its superior brakes. Roper had only a single steel shoe that pressed down on the front tire. Jorgensen's has conventional bicycle twin rim brakes on front and rear.

 

When the boiler is simmering nicely, Jorgensen climbs aboard, opens a throttle valve, feeding steam to the engine, and takes off up and down the street, making sweeping circles in the cul-de-sac in front of his suburban home. Though the vehicle makes barely a sputtering whisper of a sound as it flies by, a neighbor comes out, and Jorgensen on bikeworkmen nearby drop their tools to gather at the curb. They shout, applaud, and cheer Jorgensen on, calling him “Mr. Bob.” “Go, Mr. Bob, go go!” It is obvious that Jorgensen fires up his steamer rarely enough to not kill the thrill.

 

On this day, Peter Gagan, president of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, is the special guest for which the Roper replica has been made to perform. Jorgen gives Gagan a few pointers, then sets him off on the bike. Next April, when “The Art of the Motorcycle” reopens at the Wonders Museum in Memphis, it is planned that Gagan will ride Jorgensen's Roper at the head of the grand opening parade.

 

Sylvester Roper actually died in the saddle of his steam-powered motorcycle on June 1, 1896, while demonstrating it at the Charles River Park race track in Boston. He was on his fourth lap, coaxing the machine to ever higher speeds, when he slumped, slowed, and fell, probably dead before he machine came to a stop. Roper had suffered a heart attack. He was 73 years old.

 

For more information on Bob Jorgensen's Roper replica, click here.

 

 

Motohistory Feedback:

(7/12/2004)

 

Sandra Perry from Down Under writes: Hello from New Zealand . Not sure if you know that a film is being made about the late Bert Munro.  Bert will be played by Sir Anthony Hopkins.  The film will be made in New Zealand and will be titled "The World's Fastest Indian."  New Zealand film maker Roger Donaldson will direct the film. He directed Hopkins and Mel Gibson in “Mutiny on the Bounty”  (1984).

Thanks, Sandra, keep us advised as to when the film wraps.  Here in the United States we don't get a lot of film product from Australia or New Zealand, but maybe we can create a little biker lobby to make it happen.  Indian enthusiast Dave Hansen single-handely got distribution for the new Munro biography in America (Motohistory 1/20/04), so it can happen. 

 

 

From the web

What the Schnuerle?

(7/10/2004)

 

In my latest installment about the history of motocross (Motohistory 6/12/04), I made much of the influence of German engineer Walter Kaaden, who discovered the principle of the expansion chamber and thereby radically advanced the use of two-stroke engines. Dane Leimbach wrote to point out the importance of Schnuerle porting, patented in 1925. Leimbach's letter sent me on an Internet search to see what I could find about the man who gave us Schnuerle porting. For an abbreviated overview of the history of the two stroke engine, click hereBesides a quick history of the two-stroke, you will enjoy being accompanied by a classical piano serenade while you read from this site.

 

I also think you will enjoy Matt Keveney's animated drawings of all types of engines, two-stroke or otherwise. This is the Internet at its best, containing the work of clever people who educate us and make us smile, but ask nothing in return. Click here.

 

As for Herr Schnuerle, I came up empty. Lots and lots of sites about RC model aircraft and endless references to Schnuerle porting, but not a word about the man. I couldn't even determine whether his parents gave him a Christian name! Resorting to desperate and antiquated measures, I went to the public library and still came away with nothing.

 

So, dear Motohistory readers, this is not an official quiz because, in my state of ignorance, I would not know whether you are right or whether you are lying, but I would dearly love for someone to enlighten us on where Schnuerle porting came from and who earned the patent.  Inquiring Motohistory readers want to know.

 

 

Motohistory Quiz

(7/10/2004

 

But we do have a Motohistory Quiz and here it is. Tell me the brand of the motorcycle pictured below, what is its capacity, where was it manufactured, and American Eaglewhen – within a year – did it appear in the American market. The person who sends me the first correct answer will receive a video tape of the curator's tour of the Heroes of Harley-Davidson Exhibit at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum.  Send your answers to Ed@motohistory.net.

 

In Print

First to go Coast to Coast

(7/8/2004)

 

The August issue of Iron Works contains a feature by Margie Siegal about the 1903 California, which was the first motorcycle to be ridden across America. Siegal does her usual thorough job, addressing both the history and technology of her subject. The story is amply illustrated with beautiful photographs of a rare and fully restored California owned by Otis Chandler. Siegal also addresses the process of restoring this machine, and purists will cringe, since its primitive “surface carburetor” has been replaced with a hidden modern Tecumseh carb. This curious update was undertaken by restorer Steve Huntzinger because Chandler stipulated that the motorcycle had to be a runner.

 

A machine such as this was ridden in 1903 by 26-year-old George Wyman from San Francisco to New York in a grueling trek that took 40 days. Because roads in many areas were nonexistent, Wyman often followed railroad tracks across the West. His account of the historic crossing was published in a five-part series that began in the June 1903 Volume I Number 1 of Motorcyclist magazine. The now-defunct Road Rider magazine reprinted the account in its entirety in August 1979.

 

So how did George Wyman make it all the way across America on a motorcycle with a primitive carburetor that today's rider has found it necessary to replace with a Tecumseh carb? It's all in the fuel. Modern gasoline is quite different from what Wyman had access to, and the bike, as built 101 years ago, simply will not run on our current environmental blend.