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2008 Vintage Penton calendar available



Penton CalendarThe Penton Owners Group has produced a 2008 wall or desk calendar featuring photographs of many of the prized Pentons owned by its members, some for show and some still used to go. The Penton has not been built since 1977, but is still frequently used in vintage racing. 2008 will be the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Penton, the first container of which arrived in the United States early in 1968. To order the calendar, click here.  



Featured marques named for 2008

Legend of the Motorcycle International Concours



The featured marques for the Third Annual Legend of the Motorcycle International Concours d'Elegance, scheduled for the first weekend in May at Half Moon LOTM LogoBay, California will be MV Agusta and Norton. Entries are now being sought for the event through a selection committee that has called for exemplary restored and original condition motorcycles of any make and model up to 1977. The deadline for entries is December 31, 2007. For more information, or to download entry forms, click here. To request entry forms by fax, call 415-673-7980  or e-mail info@legendofthemotorcycle.com.


Saving the Speer Special



Editor's Note: Recently, Johnny Sells, owner of Vintage Motorcycle Works, proudly displayed an original Class C racer called The Speer Special at the Davenport AMCA meet (See Motohistory News & Views 9/7/2007). We thought Motohistory readers might like to know more about this interesting machine.


Speer DealershipThe Speer Special is a 1929 Harley-Davidson DL built in the mid-to-late 1930s by Frank Speer, owner at the time of Frank Speer Harley-Davidson in Paterson, New Jersey (pictured here). Speer began his business as an Ace dealer in 1922, and when Ace went out of business he acquired a Harley-Davidson franchise. Famed Harley factory rider Joe Petrali was Speer's friend, and it is said that when Joe came to town, he and Frank would go Speer Left Sideout and tie one on. Speer competed in hill climbing events, and built the Speer Special for AMA Class C dirt track racing (shown here in left and right-hand views). Between the late ‘30s and 1947, it was ridden by Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Gerish on tracks throughout New England .


The Speer Special has a 1929 motor and frame, but several racing modifications have been made. The front Speer Rightforks are from a 1935 RL model, the carburetor is a Linkert M6, and the engine has been fitted with high-compression heads and drilled connecting rods. Larger intake nipples have been welded onto the cylinders and a JD manifold has been added to accommodate the 1¼ inch carburetor. The original sliding-gear transmission was replaced with a mid-1930s constant-mesh gearbox.


During a practice session at the Newfoundland Speedway in New Jersey in 1947Newfoundland Sign, the transmission locked up, pitching Gerish off the bike and bending the handlebars in the process. For the next 60 years, the bike sat idle. When Joe Rybensky bought the dealership from Speer in 1963, the Speer Special went with the deal. Rybensky hung around the shop as a youth, and had worked for Speer since 1958.


In October, 2006, at the Barber Vintage Festival in Alabama, Rybensky met Johnny Sells, owner of Vintage Motorcycle Works, and learned that Sells is a specialist in Harley 45 cubic inch flatheads. After Sells explained that 45s from 1929 to 193Speer at Davenport6 are the only model and period he restores, Rybensky told him about the Speer Special, and said he wasn't sure what to do with it. Sells said, “If I owned the bike, I wouldn't restore anything on it. I would fix the transmission, replace any missing parts, and otherwise leave it alone in its as-raced condition.” Rybensky was impressed with Sells' respect for the history and authenticity of the bike, and the two became friends, often discussing the Speer Special. Finally, in August, 2007, Rybensky decided to sell the bike to Sells, making him the third owner of the 78-year-old motorcycle.


With less than four weeks to get ready, Sells decided to prepare the motorcycle for display at his booth at Davenport (pictured above). He and his friend Mike Silvio, owner of Cyclemo's Motorcycle Museum, removed and repaired the transmission. Parts that had been Speer at Cyclemoscavenged over the years, such as the battery box, coil, controls, fuel line, and chains, were replaced. One exhaust pipe that was completely smashed was repaired, but the bent handlebars were left as is because Sells considered these an artifact of the bike's racing history. On August 21, fluids were added, a new battery was installed, and the Speer Special was brought back to life. After its debut at Davenport, it was placed on display at Cyclemo's Museum in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee (as pictured above). For more information about Vintage Motorcycle Works, click here. For information about Cyclemo's Motorcycle Museum, click here.



Taking it to the streets


By Ralf Kruger


As a reader of Motohistory and the AHRMA homepage, I recognize an evident difference in the presentPosteration of “Oldtimer Motorraeder,” as we call historically important motorcycles in Germany. If I am correct, the main focus in the United States is twofold: 1) shows and concours, and 2) racing on permanent circuits, as organized by AHRMA. Both types of events have taken place in Germany since about 1985, but both forms of presentation have a specific failing, as far as the public is concerned.


Please let me explain. Shows are about insiders judging the nice, old motorcycles of other insiders. Don't get me wrong. This is fine as far as it goes, and there is some notice by Joe Average, who likes to look at shiny old bikes, and this is good. It is similar with NSUsvintage racing where insiders race against insiders, and many of the fans are retired racers and their friends. This is very nice for those involved, but how much of it is exposed to the public as a whole? Where are the public relations?


Based on a desire to get the average man or woman involved with vintage motorcycles, in Germany the Veteranen-Fahrzeug-Verband (Veteran Vehicle Association) decided that their events need to come to the people, and not the other way around. AfteHorexr the Second World War, racing in Germany included hill climbing on closed public roads, road racing on road circuits and towns like Hannover, and the national or international-level races at permanent circuits like the Nurburgring and Hockenheim. The racing over public roads especially drew huge numbers of viewers. But by the 1960s, most of the racing on public roads had come to an end because it was regarded too dangerous for riders and spectators alike.


It was decided that the best way to expose more of the public to old motorcycles was to try to revive the old way of racing too, namely on courses laid out on public roads and streets through towns. This would not really be racing, MZbut exhibitions at speed, or “demonstration runs.” There is no timekeeping to give participants an incentive to go faster, and a pace car is used to keep speed under control. The response from spectators to these events has been overwhelmingly positive.


Of course, getting local governments to support such events is not always easy, but often they can be used to help towns celebrate their own history and increase tourism. Many of the towns that have hosted demonstrations were once the venues for real BMWraces. There are two major events that now take place annually on the streets of town. One is the Fischereihafenrennen – meaning Fish Harbor Race – in Bremerhafen, and the Schotten-GP, which is one of the biggest. The Schotten event draws 20 to 30,000 people, which is five to six times more than come to the German Superbike National Championship.


I have visited the Dieburger Dreiecksrennen, which is only 15 kilometers from my home in Darmstadt, and it is just indescribable how it is welcomed by the citizens. The general mood was frisky, the local newspaper contained extensive coverage, and 10 to 15,000 people – young and old – attended the festivities. The riders had a great time, though of course they would have liked to race faster and longer! But they understood the importance of playing out their hobby in front of the general public, and it was astonishing to all of us to see people who have no reference to motorcycling in their daily lives cheering wildly.


For information about the VFV, click here. For information about the Schotten-GP, click here.

Photos by Ralf Kruger.


Found in Print



Book Review:

“The Legend of Fireball Fleming”

Fireball FlemingThe historical novel, which follows the exploits of a wholly fictitious character through a real and accurate historical context, has become a very popular literary genre. Now, Peter Gagan, motorcycle historian, collector, and current president of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, has written what is – to the best of my knowledge – motorcycling's first historical novel. Jedidiah Fleming, born on February 29, 1884, near Racine, Wisconsin, becomes a member of America's first generation to be bitten by the motorcycle bug when he reads about Lucius Copeland's steam motorcycle in an issue of Scientific American, then one day in July, 1895, witnesses E.J. Pennington demonstrate his “Motor Cycle” on the streets of Milwaukee. That day in Milwaukee, Fleming also meets two other young would-be motorcyclists, Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson. Then Fleming's enthusiasm for motorcycles is further kindled when, during a trip to visit relatives in Boston, he sees Sylvester Roper ride his steam motorcycle. In fact, he witnesses the fateful day when Roper died while at the controls of his revolutionary conveyance at the Charles River race track. Later, on a trip with his wealthy uncle George to Florida in 1907, Fleming meets Glenn Curtiss and witnesses his record run aboard his V-8 motorcycle at Ormond Beach, as well as Fred Marriott crashing his Stanley Rocket into the surf.


Eventually, Fleming acquires a motorcycle – first an Orient, then a Harley-Davidson - and after shaming his conservative family by getting a local girl pregnant, he sets out to ride to California, inspired by a story he has read about George Wyman, who in 1903 became the first person to ride a motorcycle from coast to coast. Arriving in Los Angeles, Fleming falls in with the racing crowd headed by Paul “Dare Devil” Derkum at Agricultural Park, and soon meets Jack Prince, who has come to town to build a new board track. All of the riders in Los Angeles have nicknames, and this is where Jed becomes “Fireball Fleming.” As the story unfolds, Fireball Fleming meets and interacts with practically everyone of note in motorcycle history from Shrimp Burns to Red Wolverton. In fact, he even goes to England in 1911 where he meets Billy Wells, Charlie Collier, Charles Franklin, George Brough, and Oliver Godfrey, and becomes a member of the support team for Jake DeRosier at the Isle of Man TT.


Gagan's ability to weave a plot that takes Fleming into almost every important event in early American motorcycle history is incredible, but at the same time delightful and almost believable. Fleming was there when Eddie Hasha crashed and eight people died in New Jersey, giving motorcycle racing its darkest day. He saw the horrendous collision between Jake DeRosier and Charles Balke in Los Angeles that ended DeRosier's career and ultimately his life. He was part of the Excelsior crew that saw Bob Perry kill himself aboard the spectacular overhead-cam motorcycle on its first outing, then later he confiscated the engine from Perry's machine when Ignaz Schwinn ordered all of the cammers destroyed. Leaving the Excelsior firm with William Henderson, he helped build and tune Red Wolverton's record-setting Ace, then later stole one of the speedsters when the company went into receivership. Gagan has made Fleming an excellent mechanic, which enables him to brush shoulders with all of the great names in early motorcycling and earn employment with most of the industry's leading firms, including Indian, Excelsior, and Ace.


Fleming's mechanical skills, however, are about his only positive quality. He is endearing and amusing, but otherwise Gagan has made him a totally unsympathetic character: a womanizer, a drunk, a gambler, a cheat at cards, a thief, and a dedicated slacker. As he floats through life and slowly squanders his resources and his reputation, at one point he even considers seeking a job at Harley-Davidson, but having met Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson, decides that at this company he would probably have to work too hard. Fleming's one genuine contribution is that he invents the Wall of Death, which is a suitable symbol of his and motorcycling's downward progress as the great age of board track racing declines and comes to an end. The great wooden structures like Playa del Rey have fallen into disrepair, and racing “on the boards” has shrunk to a carny sideshow playing to the hick towns of America (Fleming even tries to incorporate a monkey and a toothless lion into his act to better appeal to the rubes). At last, Fleming gets thrown out the back door of a brothel by a prostitute who was once his best friend, and the story ends with an aging and arthritic Jed Fleming living in a shack in Tacoma, trying to keep warm by burning wood scavenged from the once great, but now derelict Tacoma board track.


Gagan has created an altogether entertaining story that is ingenious in how it winds a plot through the real events of the glory days of early motorcycling. His making Fleming such a bum is a clever literary device, because it explains why today we don't remember him as we look back on our “real history.”  Fireball Fleming does not go out in a blaze of glory like Eddie Hasha, Charles Balke, or Bob Perry. Rather, he dies alone and in total obscurity as just reward for his wasted life. But what about that name “Fireball?” Isn't there a certain amount of glamour there? All I will tell you is that Jed Fleming did not earn that name for his ability to burn up the boards. How he got it I will not reveal. For that you must read the book, but I will tell you that it arose from an incident entirely suitable to Fleming's dignity, or lack thereof.


“The Legend of Fireball Fleming” is a fun read. For your copy, E-mail the author at petegagan@antiquemotorcycle.org.


Peter Fonda's "Easy Rider"

memorabilia going to auction


Easy Rider posterHeritage Auction Galleries has announced that Peter Fonda is selling some of his memorabilia from "Easy Rider," the 1969 release directed and co-written by Fonda that has been named among the 100 best films of all time by the American Film Institute.  Items going on sale at the October 6 auction will include the American flag from the back of the jacket Fonda wore in the film, a Department of Defense medal that adorned the jacket, and his personal collection of movie posters from both "Easy Rider" and "Ulee's Gold."  To reach the auctioneer's web site for more information, click here.


Be like Jay



Springsteen ReplicaIf you can never be like Jay Springsteen, at least you can feel like him aboard your new Jay Springsteen Replica, a fully street-legal, dirt track-styled, 105 horsepower hot rod powered by a 1200cc Buell XB engine. These bikes are offered by SHR Enterprises, owned by Billy Hofmeister, a long-time professional racer and AMA national number holder with 14 years experience on the AMA Grand National circuit. With an oil-in-the-frame chassis and Supertrapp exhaust system, these custom-built motorcycles begin at $26,995, and each one is personally signed by Jay Springsteen. For more information, click here.



Wheels Through Time

Fred Ham ride now on DVD



Ham Ride VideoLast April 4, endurance rider Wayne Stanfield, backed by a team from the Wheels Through Time Museum, took to the high banks of Talladega International Speedway to see how many miles he could ride a 70-year-old Harley-Davidson Knucklehead in 24 hours (See Motohistory News & Views 3/10/2007 and 4/9/2007). Inspiration for the project was the endurance feat that Fred Ham performed in 1937 when he rode the same kind of motorcycle – then brand new – 1,825 miles in 24 hours at Muroc Dry Lake, California. The Wheels Through Time team did not surpass Ham's record due to mechanical problems, but they covered more than 1,300 miles in a memorable experience that has been fully documented on video. Stanfield logged laps as fast as 94 miles per hour, but his time on the track was interrupted with the replacement of a burned piston, electrical problems, a broken fuel tank bracket, and at least two failed primary chains, a problem that Ham also experienced in 1937.


The whole event, plus nine brief documentary segments on the building of the motorcycle, is now available on DVD from the Wheels Through Time Museum. It is well produced and captures the emotions of a long night at Talladega, including the frustration of mechanical failures and the elation of completing the 24-hour commemoration of Fred Ham's original ride. To order a copy, or for more information about the Wheels Through Time Museum, click here.



Bob Hannah to receive

lifetime achievement award



Bob HannahOn November 4, seven-time AMA motocross national champion Bob Hannah will be given the Edison Dye Motocross Lifetime Achievement Award at the White Brothers World Veteran Motocross Championships at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, California. Previous recipients of the award include Torsten Hallman, Joel Robert, Roger DeCoster, and Rick Johnson. A special display depicting Hannah's contribution will be presented by Tom White's Early Years of Motocross Museum. To visit the Early Years of Motocross Museum on the web, click here. To read Bob Hannah's official Motorcycle Hall of Fame bio, click here. To see what Bob Hannah is doing today, click here.


Hannah photo published with permission from www.motoxschool.com .



Mark Blackwell to host

Hall of Fame induction ceremony



BlackwellThe Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum has announced that Mark Blackwell, Vice President of Victory Motorcycles and International Operations for Polaris Industries, will serve as Master of Ceremonies for the 2007 U.S. Motorcycle Hall of Fame Induction scheduled to take place October 6 in Columbus, Ohio. Blackwell's career in the powersport industry has spanned more than three decades. He began as a professional motorcycle racer, winning the 1971 American 500cc Motocross title, a forerunner of today's AMA National Motocross Championship. He also won the 500cc motocross class at Daytona in 1972, and was one of the first American riders to compete in the Motocross World Championships during the early 1970s.


Prior to the induction ceremony, the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum will host its 6th Annual Concours d'Elegance. Saturday's events are preceded by "An Evening of Stars and Legends," a cocktail reception honoring the Hall of Fame Class of 2007 on Friday, October 5. Hall of Fame Weekend activities are open to the public. For more information, call 614-856-2222 or click here.



Halm's Inter-Am CZ found



Halm BikeEric Johnson, of Old S'Cool Restorations, reports that an original and intact 1970 360cc CZ ridden by Czech star Miroslav Halm in the Inter-Am International Motocross Series has been discovered. Owned for many years by Czech motorcycle enthusiast Steve Canady, the motorcycle has been authenticated through information found in an American JAWA newsletter dated May, 1971. For the complete story, including many detailed photographs of the bike, click here.


Photo by Steve Canady



Photohistory by Big Sid



BibermanBig Sid Biberman, legendary Vincent expert, has sent us this photograph taken at a grudge race against a Triumph dealer named Gerald in 1956. Overcome by youthful exuberance, Biberman lost the race when he launched his Vincent into a giant wheelie. He reports that the Vincent subsequently beat the Triumph in three out of three runs, despite the fact that it was running 9:1 compression on gas, and the Triumph had a 13:1 race motor burning methanol. The relationship between Gerald and Biberman that gave rise to the grudge race is described in detail in Biberman's book, “Vincents with Big Sid,” by Rapide Press, 1998. For more about Biberman and his book, click here.


Incidentally, there is another book in the works in the Biberman family. Son Matthew, who is also an active motorcyclist and a literature professor, is well along with the working title “Big Sid's Vincati: A Father, a Son, and the Bike of a Lifetime.” The work is not just about the hybrid Vincati, but will discuss all of the great V-twins throughout motorcycle history. It is due for publication early in 2009. To read Motohistory's account of Biberman's Vincent/Ducati hybrid, see News & Views 6/4/2006.





Gus Kuhn and the 1921 TT


We are always pleased when Motohistory can make a connection that leads to better understanding our history and our traditions. Such was the case recently when we published an article about BSA's unsuccessful assault on the Isle of Man TT in 1921 (See Motohistory News & Views 9/10/2007), written by Mick Duckworth. That article prompted the following response by Valerie Davey:


THANK YOU. You have solved a mystery for me. Gus Kuhn is my grandfather and I have been sorting out the pictures that I inherited from my mother. Very few of them had any info with them, but over the last year I have managed to work out the “who, where, and when” of most of them, anBSA Teamd I have now made a web site of my grandfather's exploits.


However, there was one picture, marked “BSA Riders,” that I couldn't fathom out. I had no record of his riding a BSA (though he rode just about anything he could get his hands on!), and I thought he had given the 1921 TT a miss – that is until I found your web site! It explains everything. It explains the picture itself and it explains why Gus is standing at the back in “civvies.” I got out my magnifyBSA Ridersing glass and now I can see that he has a walking stick, which is explained by your information that he had an ankle injury.


I have sent you a copy of the picture with Gus Kuhn standing behind, third from the right (top photo). I have also sent a photo of three members of the BSA team in their very jazzy regalia (above), which must have been very remarkable at the time.


Valerie, we are pleased to have been of service, and especially we want to thank Mick Duckworth for submitting the story with photos of the one known remaining 1921 BSA works machine that appeared at the TT in 1921. Thanks for sending the great historical photos of the team. 


To check out Valerie's new Gus Kuhn web site, click here.


Motohistory Quiz #44:

We have a winner!



Salsbury EngineIt did not take long for Florida reader John Wiser to identify our Motohistory Quiz engine as that of a Model 85 Salsbury scooter. John should know, since he owns an exquisiteSalsbury at Guggenheim Model 85 that was declared Best of Show at the Riding into History Councours a few years ago, then featured in the Orlando edition of the Guggenheim's The Art of the Motorcycle Exhibition beneath a huge mural of Clark Gable, as pictured here.


At the depths of the Great Depression in 1935, E. Foster Salsbury designed a tiny two-wheeled scooter he called the Motor Glide. It featured a ¾ horsepower Evinrude engine that powered a roller that pressed directly on the rear tire. The novel drive system was problematic, working properly only in dry weather, but Salsbury's total package became the platform for all subsequent scooter design in that it advanced Salsbury Frontfive key features, most or all of which can be seen on all modern scooters. These are: 1) the motor next to the rear wheel, 2) step-through construction, 3) bodywork covering the motor, 4) small wheels, and 5) automatic transmission/clutch.


The Salsbury went through several improvements and model changes prior to the Second World War, then the company turned much of its engineering resources to defense work, including the developmentSalsbury Advert of a wind tunnel for jet aircraft design. Its scooter contributions to the war effort included military models used for Navy base transportation and a “mono-ambulance,” which was basically a scooter with a sidecar bearing a stretcher. During the war, Salsbury sold his company to a subsidiary of Northrop Aircraft Corporation, and when hostilities ended a new scooter was put into production, still under the Salsbury name. Salsbury ProfileThis - the Model 85 - was starkly different from its pre-war predecessors. Designed by aeronautical engineer Lewis Thorstenson, it was large, luxurious, and radically modern in its styling, often described as “pure Buck Rogers!”


Today, the Salsbury – especially the Model 85 – is a coveted collectible. Somewhere between 700 and 1,000 Model 85s were produced, and today a goodSalsbury Engine example will command upwards of $10,000. For more information and pictures at the U.S. Scooter Museum web site, click here. To reach the web site of the International Salsbury Restoration Society, click here. For an explanation of the continuously variable transmission created by E. Foster Salsbury, which has far broader application than just scooters, click here. For an excellent history of the Salsbury, and scooters in general, refer to “The Scooter Bible” by Michael and Eric Dregni. It is available from Whitehorse Press. Click here.


John responds:

Salsbury and girlAfter being informed that he had won our Motohistory Quiz, John Wiser sent us this great photo of his wedding day.  He writes, "I still have the scooter yet today, but the girl did not make the whole trip.  It was wonderful to be 29!"

Congratulations, John. Your Motohistory Know-It-All Diploma is on the way.


Cannonball Baker's

rotary-valve wonderbike



Cannonball Baker on RotaryErwin George “Cannonball” Baker, born in Indiana in 1882, became so renowned for his long-distance endurance and economy runs with both cars and motorcycles that relatively little has been written about his achievement as a machinist, designer, and inventor. According to published reports, Baker undertook over 140 timed long-distance record attempts during his career, 126 of which were cost-to-coast marathons across the continental United States. In 1911, he rode an Indian across the nation in 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes, and in 1922 he reduced his time for that crossing to six days, 22 hours, and 52 minutes aboard a four-cylinder Ace. As reliability of both cars and motorcycles improved, manufacturers began to place more emphasis on efficiency, and Baker's cross-country jaunts became tests of fuel-economy rather than just speed and endurance.


Trained as a machinist from his teens, Baker learned about metallurgy by working in a foundry in Indianapolis, and he consolidated his technical knowledge and interests in vehicle performance and efficiency into a project to build a better engine, based on a revolutionary rotary-valve design. According to a report written by his nephew, Baker RotaryClarence, Baker began working on a single-cylinder, rotary-valve, air-cooled engine in 1929 (pictured here and below). The theory of a rotary valve is to achieve higher speed – thus, more power – by eliminating the reciprocating parts in the valve train. There are basically two types of rotary-valve designs that have been applied to four-stroke engines. One is the Aspen-type vertical valve, which is a rotating disc that sits atop the combustion chamber. As it turns, timed ports function as valves to introduce fuel and expel exhaust.


The other is the Cross-type horizontal valve, which is a cylinder or drum that sits horizontally across the top of the combustion chamber. It also contains ports that introduce and expel gasses as the cylinder turns, timed to the rising and falling piston. This design was developed by Roland Cross in Great Britain from 1920 to 1945. It was reported in The Motorcyclist in December, 1934 that Cross had perfected the design and it would appear on production motorcycles the following year.  This, however, was an overly optimistic claim.  When Cross entered two rotary-valve machines in the TT at the Isle of Man in 1935, one failed to qualify and the other retired with “spark plug trouble.” Cross's rotary-valve development came to an end when his company had to devote all of its resources to military production during the Second World War. Still, the design showed Rotary Right Sidesuch promise that as late as the 1960s, Norton development engineer Joe Craig was working on a Cross-type rotary-valve head for the Manx engine. For more information about rotary valves, Cross, and the experimental Norton, and for excellent drawings of both vertical and horizontal valve designs, click here. 

The “spark plug trouble” that Cross experienced at the Isle of Man is symptomatic of the Achilles Heel of the rotary valve design when the valve is integral with the combustion chamber on a four-stroke engine. The competing objectives of compression and friction are hard to overcome. Significant areas of metal against metal must be lubricated, and sealing for compression is complicated as metals expand and contract at different heat ranges. When one tries to overcome these problems with excessive lubrication, spark plug fouling is the result. How to keep the valve adequately lubricated without spilling too much oil into the combustion chamber is hard to do.  Cross tried to place a cast steel valve in a bronze sleeve, using a spring-loaded scraper to reduce the amoung of oil spilling into the combustion chamber.  The Isle of Man results and the failure to ever put a rotary-valve on a production motorcycle would suggest it did not work.


During more than a decade of development, Baker overcame this sealing/lubrication problem through extensive experimentation with the material used in his rotary valve. This was referred to in the undated report written by Clarence Baker sometime after 1941, and in an article by Chet Billings that appeared in The Motorcyclist in June, 1941. Billings stated that Baker overcame sealing and lubrication problems by using a “sintered material which Rotary Leftwas subjected to heat treating.” Clarence Baker reported that his uncle made the valve from “oil-impregnated graphite.” Baker's design took the form of a tall, finned cylinder head with a shaft and large sprocket on the right side, rotated by a chain driven from the crankshaft (pictured above). On the left side of the head is a round, finned, removable plate (shown here), presumably slightly larger than the valve itself. Baker mounted this upper end on the crankcase from a 21 cubic inch Harley-Davidson single, which was attached to an Indian primary drive cover, clutch, gearbox, and magneto drive. The whole package was mounted in an Indian Sport Scout frame. Billings reports, “Ready for the road the outfit weighed together with the rider a total of 725 pounds.” Since Baker was a big man, the motorcycle must have come in well under 500 pounds.


Most people who want to perfect a new engine design would spend countless hours in the relatively safe and controlled environment of a test track, or perhaps on local roads. Not Baker! In typical fashion, he decided the best way to demonstrate the viability of his new engine was to ride it from coast to coast, which would test its durability and efficiency under all kinds of riding and weather conditions at altitudes from below sea level to 8,000 feet. This would be a feat for any test rider, but by this time Cannonball Baker was 60 yeas old. Chet Billings described his departure: “At 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 16 th [1941], it was the old time Cannonball Baker who sat astride his motor at the city limits of Los Angeles and Alhambra . To see him off were AMA referee Al Koogler, west coast AMA representative Chet Billings, old-timer Fred Ludlow and Ed Farrand. At the tick of 3:30 Koogler wBaker in New Yorkaved him on, cameras clicked and a huge husky figure bent forward on the machine in the same position that it held years ago when many weary miles of bad weather and high speeds were ahead. Yes, Cannon Ball rode again.”


Clarence followed in a Chevrolet as his uncle made his way to Tucson, then Clovis, then Oklahoma City, then Carthage, Missouri; then on to Indianapolis, his home town. Billings reports, “He was brown as a berry, bewhiskered and tired. So, he treated himself to a bath, shave, some sleep and a good feed. He lost nine hours in all.” Continuing on, Baker passed through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, arriving at the Holland Tunnel in New York with an elapsed time of six days, six hours, and 25 minutes. Baker is pictured above after his arrival, with Indian dealer Ben Kasof. Though it had not been Baker's objective to beat his record set aboard the Ace when he was nearly 20 years younger, he did so, bettering that crossing by 16 hours. Rather, it was his intention to prove the reliability and economy of his rotary-valve prototype, which complete the coast-to-coast trip without mishap, averaging 57.2 miles per gallon on any type of pump gas that was available along the way, including the low-grade fuel that was known as “white gas” at the time.


Like Roland Cross in England, Baker had great hopes that his rotary-valve design would revolutionize the internal combustion engine. Not only did it offer a simpler, non-reciprocating valve train; he reckoned it would be cheaper to manufacturer and capable of greater horsepower without sacrificing reliability. For example, his transcontinental prototype, Billings reports, produced close to one horsepower per cubic inch. But it was not to be. Baker – an accomplished salesman and self-promoter – could not persuade investors to back his design, probably for the same reason that Cross ceased development in England in the mid-1940s. As nations prepared for war, few investors or governments were interested in funding novel or unproven ideas that did not involve weaponry or aeronautics.


Today, Cannonball Baker's rotary-valve prototype is owned by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, and has recently been placed on display in a new motorcycle exhibit created to celebrate the fact that next year Indy will host a MotoGP. The motorcycle is original and unrestored, and its engine wears a patina of oily grime which may well be the very residue of its successful cross-country ride. Arguably, it carried rotary-valve development to a higher level of success than any other example, and it certainly proved that Cannonball Baker was a great deal more than a tough and stubborn man who could sit in a saddle for a week at a time. It is a tribute to a thoughtful and creative side of Cannonball Baker that has often been overlooked in the many stories of his feats of endurance.


To read Cannonball Baker's official Motorcycle Hall of Fame bio, click here. To reach the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum web site, click here.


Picture of Baker aboard his rotary-valve prototype courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Thanks to Donald Davidson and Mary Ellen Loscar of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum for assistance with research for this article.



Motohistory Quiz #44



Quiz 44Okay, readers, it's time to test your knowledge of Motohistory.

Just tell us what two-wheeler this engine was built to power. The first person to send us the correct answer will receive a personalized Motohistory Know-It-All Diploma.

Rush to your keyboard and send your answer to Ed@Motohistory.net.



BSA's terrible '21 TT


By Mick Duckworth


Riddell on BSAPublicity gained from road racing can be a two-edged thing. It's fine if you do well, but not so good when everything goes terribly wrong. That's what BSA learned in 1921, when a high-profile racing campaign fell apart on its first outing at the Isle of Man TT. The management of the old-established company in Birmingham, England were so stung by this spectacular failure that the BSA marque kept well away from road racing for years.


The 1921 TT was well supported by factory teams. In the premier 500cc Senior race, 12 different marques were officially represented in a total of 68 entries. The TT had been revived in 1920 after the traumas of World War One and the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. Several leading factories stayed away, saying that they had enough work meeting orders for Britain's booming motorcycle market without having to prepare TT machinery.


But in 1921, the big names were there: AJS, Indian, Norton, Scott, Sunbeam and Triumph as well as BSA, seeking to expand motorcycle production after demand for its armaments slumped. The Birmingham presence attracted great interest, since BSA was not regarded as a race-oriented factory and because the 14 single cylinder machines shipped to the Island for six riders were of starkly radical design.


BSA was fielding its first overhead valve engine, with a bore and stroke of 80.5 x 98mm. Although a four-valve head had been tried, the TT engine was a two-valver. The valves were set vertically atop the head, operated by hollow pushrods with unusual ‘lubrication-free' rockers. Instead of rocking on spindles, they had hardened knife-edge projections on top, pivoting in notches on steelBSA Left Side plates fixed above the head. The rockers were held in place by pressure from the main valve springs and auxiliary springs on the pushrods.


The head and barrel were of cast iron, but the piston was of light alloy, then still an experimental material for the purpose. Carburetion was by BSA's own twin-barreled instrument, mounted at an extreme updraught angle, while the single exhaust port led into a Y-shaped manifold and twin exhaust pipes. A BSA hand-shift gearbox was driven via a dry clutch, with a small external flywheel on the engine mainshaft.


A mechanical pump took oil from a remote reservoir to the roller bearing big-end and as a back-up measure an external pump could be pedal-operated by the rider's right foot when the engine was stressed on long climbs. The BSAs were low-slung, with the cylinder inclined forward, parallel to the frame's twin downtubes. While most British machines of the day had horizontal box-shaped gas tanks, the BSA's sloped downwards from the steering head to the tube supporting the low-set saddle. The handlebars were wide and it is worth noting that today's 200mph TT riders use wider-than-normal racing 'bars.


BSA's team of six riders, plus a reserve, included frame designer Harold Poole and chief road tester Albert Wood. One of those recruited from outside the factory was Gus Kuhn, who had finished second in the 250cc race run concurrently with the 1920 350cc Junior TT.


Early in the practice period, Kuhn collided with Wood and was sidelined by an ankle injury. Handling problems had to be addressed and metric-sized 650mm wheels were replaced by the slightly larger, more generally used, 26in size. And while the BSAs were fast, allegedly reaching 70mph in second gear, they were plagued by engine troubles throughout the two weeks of early morning practices. Failures included piston seizures, valve breakages and even melted aluminum exhaust manifolds. The press were told that it was a case of the parts not being able to withBSA Right Sidestand the engine's phenomenal power output. There was a small ray of hope when Irish BSA rider Tommy Green was fifth fastest in one practice session.


Another teamster, Charlie North, caught his foot on the road when trying to operate his oil pedal, so the auxiliary pump's operation was changed to a cable and handlebar lever. Durable iron exhaust manifolds were also fitted. In the race, BSA's performance was disastrous. Only one of the six machines, Albert Taylor's, managed to complete a single lap of the 37.73-mile Mountain Course and it misfired badly before expiring only yards into its third circuit. Howard Riddell, pictured above, broke down only two miles out and rode back to the start on a pedal cycle, receiving a big cheer from the grandstand. It seems that the engines were just too experimental and BSA had much to learn about aluminum pistons.


The race, which lasted six laps, was won by Howard Davies (who later founded HRD) on an ohv AJS single. Sensationally, he rode the 350cc machine on which he had finished second in an AJS 1-2-3 Junior TT finish days earlier. Indian side-valve singles ridden by Freddie Dixon and Bert LeVack were second and third in the Senior, while the fastest lap was set at 56.4 mph by Fred Edmond on a Triumph, also a side-valve single.


Plans for BSA to contest a grand prix event in France were quietly dropped and reputedly, the disgraced TT bikes were scrapped. However, at least one escaped the death sentence and turned up decades later. It was found near where Albert Taylor set up in business after leaving BSA and is believed to be his longest-lasting TT machine. Bought by BSA EngineBirmingham's National Motorcycle Museum, it was restored and put on display in the early Eighties.


In 2003, fire swept through the hall where BSAs of all ages were assembled to celebrate 100 years of the marque's powered two-wheelers. The TT racer was severely damaged, but fortunately not beyond repair, as was confirmed when it recently returned to the Museum. The restoration, carried out in-house, proved difficult, especially as solder holding the surprisingly elaborate fuel and oil tank fabrications had melted away entirely.


While it is the Museum policy to have as many of its 700 machines as possible in fine running order, a race track thrashing for this BSA would seem most inadvisable. To learn more about the National Motorcycle Museum UK, click here.


Period photo of Howard Riddell courtesy of FoTTofinders.



A call for papers



The organizers of the Motorcycling Culture and Myth Section of the American Pop Culture Association Conference, scheduled to take place in San Francisco March 19 through 22, 2008, have issued a call for papers. The deadline for submission of an abstract is November 1. For more information, click here or E-mail Gary L. Kieffner at Kieffner@miners.utep.edu.


Seen at Davenport


EnterpriseThis year's AMCA national meet at Davenport, Iowa, held over the Labor Day weekend, offered up the usual vast array of oddities, theasures, and priceless one-offs.  Frank Westfall brought his Enterprise, an Indian-powered streamlined prototype built in 1950 by Ray Courtney of Pontiac, Michigan.  Courtney built three prototype motorcycles, one of which was powered by a Henderson engine.  The example pictured here, which still runs, was featured on the September, 1952 cover of Cycle and the March, 1953 cover of Popular Science.

Speer SpecialJohnny Sells proudly displayed in his Vintage Motorcycle Works booth the Speer Special, a 1929 Harley-Davidson DL built in the mid-1930s by Frank Speer of Paterson, New Jersey.  Speer, a friend of Joe Petrali, competed in hill climbs and built the Speer Special for Class C dirt track racing.  We hope to report on this motorcycle in greater detail in a future Motohistory update.  To reach Sells' Vintage Motorcycle Works web site, click here

Dale Walksler was bombing around on his recently-acquired Clem Murdaugh's Indian sidecar rig that he rode at the Jack Pine Enduro from 1948 through '51.  Walksler Indian sidecarbought the motorcycle in a pile of Indian stuff, and being owner of the "museum that runs," it did not take him long to get it running.  It is powered by and Indian Four engine and features a snorkle that runs to an air clearner mounted on top of the tank.  It has power to the sidecar wheel that can be engaged by the passenger, and an engine-driven winch that can pull the machine out of sticky situations.  Walksler is brandishing a brush cutter that came with the rig.  For more about the Wheels Through Time Museum, click here.  

At last, the Excelsior takes to the track

We have been reporting for more than a year about the development of a recreation of the Excelsiorfamous 1919 Excelsior overhead-cam racer by Paul Brodie of Flashback Fabrications.  Paul has been promising since the beginning of the project that one day it would take to the track, and at Davenport it did, ridden by Larry Barnes of Massillon, Ohio.  The machine ran well in practice and heat races, but failed to start before the main, possibly due to the sheered Woodruff key.

Barnes, describes the experience: "Taking laps on the Excelsior replica was a great 'checkered flag' to top off my 30-year motorcycle Barnes at speedracing experience.  When it lit up, the roar from the two very short pipes was music.  And it handled like being on rails. The only issue was the extreme vibration created by the big twin engine.  My glasses were bouncing on my nose so much I couldn't see where I was going at anything over half-throttle.  Riding the bike gave me a real appreciation and amazement for what those young men in the board track era must have felt." 

To read our most recent story about this project, with references to previous stories, go to Motohistory News & Views 7/12/2007.  To reach Paul Brodie's Flashback Fabrications web site, click here.

Excelsior photos provided by Paul Brodie.     



From the Web



Interested in Isle of Man racing photos? Check out Manxshop.com, which contains links to TTmuseum.com and FoTTofinder.com. Click here.

Terry Good has posted on his MX Worksbike web site an excellent story about 1961 World Champion Sten Lundin and his Lito motorcycle, a derivative of the Swedish Monark brand.  To check it out, click here.


The AMA has just published on its web site a thorough and sometimes amusing (e.g. vintageous) glossary of motorcycle terms. To check it out, click here.


For collections of motocross motorcycles and memorabilia, see the “Your Collection” feature of the RacerX Illustrated web site, which is updated frequently. Click here.


Vetter LiberatorCraig Vetter and Elvis Presley had a great relationship. Craig bought one of Elvis's albums and Elvis bought one of Craig's fairings. For this and other little-known facts, check out the new feature about the Vetter Liberator fairing on the Vetter web site. Click here.


The Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum now offers a virtual tour of its acclaimed Motocross America Exhibit. Click here.


For all things Salsbury, click here.


To visit the U.S. Scooter Museum, click here.


To read a strange tale of the Mafia, murder, and a motorcycle sidecar used as a barber's chair in the 1920s, click here.


For Bird at the Wheel's collection of vintage motorcycle art, click here.



Vincent gurus gather



Vincent GurusKen Horner, leading Australian Vincent builder, pictured here center-right, recently visited Big Sid Biberman, pictured here center left, at his home in Louisville, Kentucky (To read our previous story about Biberman, America's Vincent enthusiast extraordinaire, go to Motohistory News & Views 6/4/2006). Others pictured are Sid's son Matthew (far left), also an expert Vincent builder and historian, and David Howard (far right), sales and marketing manager for Irving Vincent. Horner Vincent at speedreports that he will enter one of his Vincents in the AHRMA Battle of the Twins at Daytona 2008. The bike will be ridden by Criag McMartin (pictured here), seven-times Australian ProTwins Champion.  For a previous story about the Irving Vincent team, see Motohistory News & Views 3/15/2007.  To reach Ken Horner's Irving Vincent web site, click here. To reach Sib Biberman's web site, click here.

Photos provided by Sid Biberman.



Found in Print



Penton Hard CoverIn collaboration with the Penton Owners Group, Motohistory has republished “John Penton and the Off-Road Motorcycle Revolution” in hard cover. Originally published in soft cover by Whitehorse Press in 2000, the book went through several printings before it went out of print earlier this year. The new edition contains a foreword by POG President Paul Danik in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Penton motorcycle (2008). It is available for $25.00, including shipping, from the Penton Owners Group. To order a copy, click here.

Flat OutStreamliner pilot Rocky Robinson has recorded and shared his rare experiences in "Flat Out: The Race for the Motorcycle World Land Speed Record," a 265-page hard cover book published by Motor Books International.  Robinson held the ultimate prize briefly in September, 2006 aboard the legendary Ack Attack streamliner, only to see it snatched away a day later by Chris Carr in a machine owned by his former employer and his team's chief rival Denis Manning.  To reach the author's official web site, click here.  To acquire the book at a discounted rate of $23.35 through the Motorbooks web site, click here



Von Dutch stuff to go to auction


The auction house of Bonhams & Butterfields has announced that the Stan Betz collection of Von Dutch memorabilia will go on sale November 10 at its annual auction at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Bonhams states Flying Eyeballthat the personal property to be auctioned has never previously been exhibited, and therefore represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a part of the Betz and Von Dutch legacies. Mark Osborne, vice president of Bonhams & Butterfields' Motoring Department, states, "We are thrilled to offer such a major collection of Von Dutch memorabilia. Whether on a billboard in Times Square or in a magazine ad, his legend is as important and relevant today as it was at the beginning of his career." The sale will also include a variety of assorted racing collectibles, memorabilia, scale model cars, and vintage motorcycles. To register to bid remotely or in person, click here. Illustrated auction catalogs will be available for review online and for purchase in the weeks preceding the auction.


More about boxer two-strokes



Our Motohistory Quiz #43 featured an unusual opposed two-stroke engine. After Ralf Kruger identified it as a JAWA (see Motohistory BMW R10News & Views 8/3/2007), I commented on the relative rarity of this engine configuration in motorcycles. I could identify from memory only one production motorcycle, the MZ BK350, and two prototypes, the BMW R10 (pictured here) and the JAWA in question, that used such an engine (see Motohistory News & views 8/11/2007), and I asked Motohistory readers if they could identify others.


VelocetteReader Jean Roquecave responded immediately from France, reminding me of the Velocette Viceroy, pictured here. Introduced in 1961, the Viceroy contained a 248cc boxer two-stroke. Contrary to conventional scooter design, the Viceroy's engine sat forward, more like that of a motorcycle. The Viceroy was a commercial failure that one road tester called “Velocette's biggest mistake.”


MarmanSid Biberman wrote about the Marman Twin (pictured here), a clip-on-type bicycle engine built in America. Marman Products Company was founded by – believe it or not – Zeppo Marx, brother of Groucho, Harpo, and Chico. It introduced a motorbike in 1948. For additional pictures of a Marman Twin, click here.


JohnsonIn the American “clip-on” engine department, we can think of two others. An early example is the 1920 Johnson Motors twin two-stroke manufactured in South Bend, Indiana. A rare example, owned by Dave Bagne, is pictured here. Similar to the Marman Twin was the Monark Super Twin, also powered by a boxer two-stroke manufactured by Power Products. The magnificent example pictured below was on display recently at the AMCA meet at Davenport, Iowa. It too is owned by Dave Bagne. ForMonark more information about the Monark, click here. Neither the Marman nor the Monark took much market share from Whizzer.


Ralf Kruger, our German reader who originally identified the JAWA, was a wealth of information about boxer two-strokes. First, he informed us and sent photos of a rather imposing-looking four-cylinder Maico special built by Hans-Gerd Reichler in 1970 for sidecar racing (shown below). Kruger writes, “In the ‘60s and ‘70s, sidecar racing was tremendouslyMaico popular in Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. Most of the German riders used BMW engines, but there were some people – such as Reichler – who were disturbed by the rising tide of conformity.” Kruger explains that the engine used Maico RS125 cylinders, a Krober ignition, Bing carbs, a BMW gearbox, and developed about 70 horsepower.


FathLikewise, Helmut Fath, a man who tuned winning bikes for Phil Read, Dieter Braun, and Martin Wimmer, also created an alternative for sidecar competition by building his famous URS four-stroke. It is less well known, however, that he also created a 500cc, four-cylinder, boxer two-stroke, pictured above in a sidecar chassis.


In addition, the Konig, originally built as a boat engine, was used in motorcycles. Konig built both boxer twin and boxer four two-strokes (pictured here), and in 1972 the fourKonig was adopted as a BMW-killer in sidecar racing. Kruger writes, “Steinhauser and Huber won the sidecar world championship in 1975, and Schwarzel took the German national title.” He adds, “The big problem for all of them was that the Konig was developed for constant load for boat racing, and the spark plugs fouled when the throttle was closed for too long, then opened.”


Thanks, Ralf, Sid, and Jean for all the additional information. We are finding a number of examples of boxer two-strokes used in competition, but still have identified only two serial production vehicles – the MZ BK350 and the Velocette Viceroy – plus three American-built motorbike engines.

Photos of BMW, Maico, Fath, and Konig engines provided by Ralf Kruger.




More about Putt Mossman



Putt MossmanOur story about Putt Mossman (Motohistory News & Views 8/6/2007) brought responses from two readers. Antique Motorcycle Club of America President Peter Gagan wrote, “Ed, there is a little sidebar on Putt Mossman's life that is not mentioned in the Hall of Fame bio. Mossman rode at the Isle of Man Lightweight TT with works rides from OK Supreme (pictured here) in 1936 and 1938. He didn't qualify in '36 due to a crash. He qualified in '38, but didn't finish. He was a big hit with the fans with his white leathers and stunts in the paddock aboard a unicycle. The motorcycles were painted white to match Mossman's leathers.”


And Bill Brokaw, author of a story about Jim Lusk (Motohistory News & Views 8/7/2007), wrote:


Seeing the bit about Putt Mossman next to the Lusk story brings back memories of more of my dad's stories.  Putt was from Iowa and would come in my folks' shop fairly often, usually begging something.  Dad had many stories about Putt, but some were so bizarre that only his telling made them sound plausible.  Putt was a crack shot, as well as a horse shoe champion, and he incorporated both in his act.  My last time to see him myself was at Daytona in '46.  I was with my dad when he was with Alf Childs on the beach.  Putt was putting the sell on Alf to score a Sunbeam for his act.  He suddenly told Alf to wait right there as he would do an original stunt just for him.  He took off down the beach, which was loaded with traffic, on his Indian four. Soon 

the white and riderless Indian returned.  As it got closer we could see Putt being dragged on his belly at arms length behind it, hanging on to the rear stand.  Somehow, nothing got in his way and somehow he pulled himself back aboard.  His traditional white clothing was quite the mess upon his return.  All was for naught, as Alf did not come across with the Sunbeam.


Thanks, Pete and Bill, for more tales of Putt Mossman.

Photo provided by Peter Gagan.