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June 2008 News

Motohistory Quiz #56:

We have a winner,

and they don't call him Speedy for nothing!



We asked what famous motorcycle company built a car with doors facing front and rear, and Helmut "Speedy" Clasen, of Dundas, Ontario, Canada, may have set an all-time speed record for winning our quiz. It took Clasen, who is a member of the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame, only minutes to respond that the vehicle pictured is a Zundapp Janus, named after the two-faced Roman deity of transition, beginnings, and endings.


By 1954, the improving economy and a craving for bigger and better automobiles sent the German motorcycle industry into a tail spin, so Zundapp and other German motorcycle manufacturers turned to microcar production in response to the changing market. Zundapp brought in several outside design firms to help bring an automobile into production quickly, and settled on the unorthodox design offered by Dornier, featuring a mid-engine and Isetta-type doors opening front and rear. Power was provided by Zundapp's 250cc Bella scooter engine. The Janus went into production in June 1957, but was discontinued a year later. It was projected that the sale of 15,000 units would be required to make the project profitable, but only 6,902 were built. The car was too heavy for its small engine, and passengers sitting backward, watching the landscape recede behind them, proved not to be as entertaining as it might seem.


As a side note, we might observe that the god Janus (pictured here) also represented the middle ground between barbarity and civilization, which seems appropriate to the whole brief era of the microcar. For more information about the Zundapp Janus on Wikipedia, click here. For specs and more photos on Bruce Weiner's Microcar Museum web site, click here. To read about Janus, the Roman god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings, click here. And, would you believe there is a musical group called Zundapp Janus. To decide for yourself whether they are progressive or retro, looking forward of backward, click here.


Congratulations, Speedy, on becoming our latest Motohistory Know-It-All. Your personalized diploma is on its way.


Motohistory Quiz #56


Okay kids, here's another Motohistory Quiz to test your knowledge of things motorcycling, or even things almost-motorcycling.

What famous motorcycle manufacturer built an automobile that had doors on both ends and an engine in the middle?  Rush to your keyboard, be the first to send us the correct answer, and we will send you your own personalized Motohistory Know-It-All Diploma.

Send your answer to Ed@Motohistory.net. 


A brief history of

the three-wheeled motorcycle


By Kenzo


Can-Am Spyder (pictured here) demo rides were a popular hit at rallies last year. Harley-Davidson has patented a three-wheel motorcycle called the Kneeslider, and a Norwegian firm is manufacturing a similar trike—the Brudeli 625L—with leaning capability (pictured below). Three-wheeled “cars” that tilt into corners and operate on both conventional and alternative fuels are already in production and will begin to appear on America's roads this year.

This fascination with three-wheeled vehicles is not something new. In fact, the history of the trike begins with the first mechanically powered vehicle a full century before the motorcycle was invented. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is recognized for building in 1769 the first self-propelled vehicle intended to transport a person (pictured below). He was also the first to have had a traffic accident. Cugnot built his three-wheeled “fardier a vapeur” with two wheels in the rear and a steam boiler and two-cylinder engine mounted over the front wheel. Designed to carry gun carriages, it had a top speed of two miles per hour and stopped every ten minutes to build up steam.


Cugnot inspired William Murdock—a former student of James Watt—to build his own three-wheeled steam vehicle in 1784. After seeing Murdock's steam vehicle in London, Richard Trevithick subsequently developed his famous steam trike in 1801 (pictured here). A Dr. Church built a massive three-wheeled steam vehicle in 1833 that averaged 14 mph on its daily commuter run between Birmingham and London, while carrying 44 passengers (pictured below). This was a viable commercial enterprise until a law was passed that limited the speed of steam vehicles to three miles per hour. It had extremely wide, solid rollers, arranged in a single line, and the weight of this huge vehicle flattened the ground it drove over. Church had inadvertently invented the steamroller.


Lucius Copeland developed a steam-powered trike in 1884 that had an automatic oil-fired boiler mounted behind the two seats, in front of its rear single wheel. The Northrup Manufacturing Company of Camden, New Jersey produced Copeland's machine, and when the company was reorganized in 1890, it was renamed the Motor-Cycle Manufacturing Company, thus coining a new word for the English language.


Karl Benz is often erroneous credited with developing the first car in 1885 (Siegfried Marcus was the inventor of the spray carburetor, spark plug, magneto, and first successful internal-combustion auto-mobile in1875), but his auto-mobile was really a trike (pictured above), configured with two wheels in back and a smaller wheel in front. While a number of steam-powered three-wheeled vehicles were on the market at the time, this was the first with an internal-combustion engine. The first road trip for a gasoline-powered vehicle took place when Frau Beta Benz borrowed Karl's trike one night in 1888 and rode 62 miles to her mother's house in Pforzheim.


Electric vehicles are not a new phenomenon. The first one was built in Scotland in 1839. Using the newly invented galvanic lead-acid batteries, Aryton & Perry built an electric trike in 1881 (it had electric lights), and A.L. Riker began production of an electric tricycle in 1895. Riker won the world's first closed-circuit dirt-track race in Naragansett Park in Cranston, Rhode Island in 1896, finishing the five-mile heat in 15 minutes and one second. Meanwhile, the French were quietly having impromptu races on the streets of Paris in their electric vehicles. Competition between rivals sparked the world's first speed trial, held outside of Paris, in Achères, on December 18, 1898, with the benchmark record established by a “Jeantaud” electric trike that averaged 39.245 mph. Electrics would continue to hold the world land speed record until 1902.


Count Albert DeDion and George Boulton had been producing steam vehicles since 1883, but when they developed their first experimental internal-combustion engines, everything changed. They used their ½ horsepower, four-stroke, 138cc engines to power their first line of tricycles in 1895, and the licensing of these engines gave birth to the modern motorcycle.


Towards the end of the 19th century, there were so many three-wheeled vehicles powered by electric motors, steam boilers, and internal-combustion engines that historians have yet to compile a complete and accurate list. The demise of the trike was due more to poor road conditions than any other factor, because deep ruts for two wheels made a high and bumpy crest for the third. However, despite the dominance of two-wheel motorcycles and four-wheel automobiles in the early 20th century, the trike never completely disappeared.


The Hendee Manufacturing Company began developing a trike called a “fore-car” in 1904, so named because it had two wheels in front and the passenger sat foreword, between the two wheels. This design could also be equipped to carry cargo (pictured above), rather than people. In 1906, this two-wheeled front end was offered as an attachment for any Indian model, and was called the “Tri-Car.” Each wheel had coil springs at the steering posts, and leaf springs for the front seat or cargo carrier. Fore-cars became popular in Europe and were produced by a number of companies from 1903 to 1911. Some, like the 1903 Diamant in Germany, the 1904 Bradbury in England, and the 1907 Brennabor Forecar looked remarkably similar to the Indian. There were also more massive fore-cars like the Rexette (1903), the Raleigh Tandem (1903), the Humber Olympia (1903), and the Kelsey Motorette (1910) that appeared car-like, complete with running boards, fenders, and leather upholstered Victorian armchairs for the passengers. The 1905, the British Quadrant even had a steering wheel instead of handlebars.


The Minneapolis Motorcycle Company introduced its tri-car in 1911. Instead of a front seat it had a beautiful enclosed box, designed for making deliveries. The company went out of business in 1914, the same year that Harley-Davidson presented a fore-car, a two-wheel add-on that replaced the front wheel on any of its five motorcycle models. The Harley fore-car was built for delivery companies, and a special box was even designed for use by the U.S. Postal Service. One of the more interesting fore-cars of the era was the 1914 Dayton Chemical Fire Fighting Unit. It carried 100 feet of hose, 35 gallons of chemical fire retardant, two three-gallon hand extinguishers, a pick axe, crowbar, two lanterns, 12-foot extension ladder, and reserves of both sulfuric acid and soda. Powered by a 9-hp Spacke twin, it also carried two men and could reach a speed of 45 mph. However, all of these fore-cars were simply outclassed by a British “cyclecar” invader, the Morgan.


The single-seat Morgan with a Peugeot engine was introduced in 1911. A two-seater version with the J.A.P. engine replaced it the following year. The Morgan made a name for itself by consistently winning races during the 1920s (pictured above is a Morgan in competition circa 1912). In 1927, it was upgraded to four seats in a streamlined body, and during the Great Depression the Super Sport F series was introduced (1933-37). With its stock 1096cc J.A.P. V-twin motorcycle engine, this stylish British machine (pictured here) would go 100 mph. It was not the first cyclecar, nor would it be the last, but nothing else on three wheels would come close to a Morgan for style or performance.


At the beginning of the Great Depression, a California company created the Cycle-Tow (pictured below), which was simply a set of outrigger wheels that attached to an existing motorcycle. The distance between the rear wheels was 42 inches, the same as for automobiles and, consequently, fit the ruts in dirt roads. In 1931, Indian introduced its three-wheeled Dispatch Tow (Model 101 DT), and a year later Harley-Davidson countered with the Servi-Car. (pictured below are the 1931 Indian and a brochure announcing the 1932 Harley.)  Both were marketed as economical, utilitarian vehicles designed to take advantage of the burgeoning automobile market. The DT utilized the 45 cubic-inch Model 101 Scout, but also became available with the slightly smaller 30.5ci Pony Scout (also Model 101) the following year. In its various configurations, it would be called “Service Car,” “Traffic Car,” and “Indian Patrol.” From 1950 to 1952, the Indian Patrol would be offered with 30.5 cubic-inch Warrior, the 45 cubic-inch Scout, and the 80 cubic-inch Chief, but in 1952 it would only be produced for the New York City Fire Department, using the Sport Scout Model 651. The Indian Traffic Car (Model VC-13) was introduced in 1935 as a 45 cubic-inch Scout. This rare version was an enclosed van with two full-sized rear doors. Built with a steel sub-frame on which oak flooring was laid, its 20-gauge steel box had a canvas-covered plywood roof with an overhang above the saddle (pictured below). A jackshaft had a sprocket on each side, driving two chains to the rear wheels. The transmission featured three forward speeds and reverse. Traffic Cars were always rare and little is known about the series, but a 1939 VC with a 74 cubic inch Chief is one of a handful of survivors.


The Harley-Davidson Servi-Car also had a 42-inch rear span with two rear wheels connected by an axle with a differential gear, and the sprung rear sub-frame supported a covered toolbox. The 1932 Servi-Car was priced at $450 and was offered in four models and any color, as long as it was Turquoise Blue, but most service garages had them custom painted in their company colors. The line included the 219G (small box and tow bar), 36GD (large box without tow bar), and 5GE (large box with air tank) models that first year. The following year, 182 Servi-Cars were manufactured and two new models, the GA (small box without tow bar) and GDT (large box with tow bar) were added to the line. By 1934, production jumped to 546 units. In 1951, it became the first Harley-Davidson model to be fitted with hydraulic brakes, but there were few other changes made during the life of the line, which was discontinued in 1973.


By 1925, Harley-Davidson had introduced the Package Truck sidecar, and the Harley Fore-Car was nearly forgotten. Even during the Great Depression, both Indian's Dispatch Tow and Harley-Davidson's Servi-Car were simply designed as inexpensive service vehicles to complement the dominant automotive market. In Great Britain, Raleigh introduced its Karryall motorcycle van in 1929, but the company closed shop in 1935.


While the automobile was the vehicle of choice in post-war America (and the bigger, the better), on the narrow streets of war-torn and gasoline-starved Europe, other alternatives appeared. The three-wheeled Isetta, with its single front door, was designed in Italy, but produced under license in numerous countries throughout the world. The BMW Isetta (1955-1962) became the most famous of the so-called “bubble cars.” Germany also had the Messerschmitt KR bubble car (1953-1964) while England had Reliants (1952-2000) and the Bond (1949-1966) mini-car (pictured below). Utilizing motorcycle engines, three wheels, and enclosed bodies, these trikes and fore-car designs were hybrids that never became popular in America, although over a half-million Reliants were sold in England.


One of the great trike success stories is the Piaggio Ape (aw-pay), named after the bee, because of its sound (pictured below). Designed in 1948 and built in post WWII Italy, these little scooters with their front cabs and tiny truck bodies initially had displacements as small as 50cc. (I've often contemplated what one could do to an Ape van using an S&S engine and a raked-out front end.) Today, the 175cc version is assembled under license in Bangladesh, Columbia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mali, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey, and Venzuela. It is also built in Pune, India by Bajaj Auto and imported into the United States. Over 20,000 are sold each year and almost two million of these three-wheeled vehicles are on the road. They are sold as rickshaws, vans, and pickup trucks. Vespa offers a similar design, and the current European rage is to covert the vans into roving espresso bars.


In the 1960s, the unofficial car of the counter-culture was the Volkswagen, but a cheap, wrecked Beetle could be easily converted into an ultra-cool trike by welding the rear suspension and engine to the frame of a motorcycle. Build-your-own VW trike plans are still readily available, but unfortunately, old VW parts are no longer inexpensive. However, the Shining Motorcycle Company now makes something similar: a truck body welded to a small-displacement motorcycle.


In 1984, John Lehman built a trike for his wife, Linda (pictured below). He quickly sold the trike, and so had to build another to replace it. In the process, the couple founded Lehman Industries and began manufactured fiberglass trike bodies for Honda Goldwings. In 1991, Lehman made its first Harley-Davidson conversion, established its first U.S. dealership, and attended its first rally as a vendor. Last year, Lehman's revenue from the sale of trike conversions grew by more than 35 percent over 2006. The modern trike industry had been reborn.


For more about Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot and his steam-powered three-wheeler, click here. To read about William Murdoch, click here. For more about Richard Trevithick, click here. To read about Lucius Copelandand his steam machines, click here. For more about Karl Benz, click here. To read about DeDion and Bouton, click here. For more history of the intrepid Morgan, click here. For more about the Can-Am Spyder, click here. To reach Lehman Industries on the web, click here.

About the author:
Ken Aiken is a freelance writer/photographer with a passion for history. Best known as a contributor to numerous American motorcycle magazines, he's also the de facto historian for the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vermont, and is recognized for his research into the manufacturing of early 19th century American firearms. "As a watchmaker, I feel more akin to the technology of the previous century," Aiken states. "The 19th century was an era of invention, and our knowledge of this time has some embarrassingly large omissions. Little is known about the lives and accomplishments of some of America's greatest inventors, but these were men who, without a political agenda, changed the course of history. Even the life of the first motorcyclist, and one of the foremost inventors of his era, that of Sylvester Roper, is almost unknown. I'm simply seeking the treasure of long-buried facts."


Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the May 2008 issue of Thunder Press. It has been revised and republished here with permission.


Other three-wheeled oddities

One could make a scholarly argument that history's strangest vehicles fall into the three-wheeled category, not simply because they are neither fish nor fowl, but also because the three-wheel platform seems to attract some of the most innovative and unorthodox designers.


For example, in 1932, James Martin and the Martin Airplane Company displayed their Martinette at the National Automobile Show in New York City (pictured here).   It was a three-wheeled vehicle that utilized aircraft design principles and materials. It had a wooden frame, aluminum body, and independent rubber-band suspension on each wheel. Access to the vehicle is through a single front door. It was powered by a four-cylinder, 30 horsepower, 750cc American Austin engine with four-speed transmission, mounted in the rear. Martin claimed the shape of the vehicle benefited from the company's expertise in aerodynamics, but to the modern eye the Martinette looks decidedly un-streamlined. The vehicle never went into production. This sole prototype is currently on display at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, on loan from the Owls Head Museum of Transportation in Maine.


In a literal sense, the Scootacar (pictured here) was aptly named. It was developed in 1957 at the Hunslet Engine Works in Leeds, Yorkshire. Its designer, Henry Brown, arrived at its basic configuration by straddling a Villiers engine while an assistant drew a chalk line around him on the floor. It has a steel chassis, a 197cc two-stroke, single-cylinder engine driving the rear wheel through a four-speed gear box, and a fiberglass body built in two halves. Entry is through a single door on the left. The operator sits in a seat and steers with handlebars, and a passenger can sit behind, straddling the engine compartment. About 1,500 Scootacars were produced. Curiously, this tiny run-about came from a company better known for building locomotives. For more information about the Scootacar, click here.


Many other three-wheeled curiosities are on display at the Lane Motor Museum and the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum in Madison, Georgia. While all of these vehicles are technically motorcycles, many were spawned during Europe's post-WWII era of micro-cars, sometimes referred to as “bubble cars.” For information about the Lane Motor Museum, click here. For information about Bruce Weiner's Micro-Car Museum, click here. To read Motohistory's original stories about these two museums, go to Motohistory News & Views 6/12/2007 and 6/21/2005.

John Lehman image from the Lehman web site.  Can-Am Spyder, Indian Tri-Car, early Morgan, Martinette, and Scootacar images by Motohistory.  All other images provided by the author.


Before BMW built the Brick,

Ariel was there


By Mick Duckworth


After launching the innovative all-enclosed 250cc Leader two-stroke in 1958, the Ariel factory was planning a bigger version with a similar frame made of pressed steel, pictured here. The design, overseen by veteran engineer Val Page, formerly with JAP, Triumph, and BSA, would replace the Ariel's famous Square Four luxury tourer, made in several guises dating back to 1931.


A prototype was built with a chassis made on press-tools installed for Leader production, but made stronger, and with twin headlamps on the front fairing. The 700cc OHV wet sump engine's crankshaft lay in the same axis as the frame, slightly offset to the right, with horizontal in-line cylinders on the left. Air-cooling was assisted by a fan incorporated into the flywheel at the rear of the crankshaft, directing air to a duct over the downward-facing exhaust ports. A single-plate clutch took drive to the four-speed gearbox in unit with the engine, and final drive was by shaft and bevels. A Lucas electric starter was mounted at the rear of the unit.


In road tests, the "Leader 4" proved smooth, pulled strongly at low rpm, was comfortable, and exceptionally quiet. However, the fan cooling proved inadequate, leading to overheating and distortion of the cylinder head. It also suffered some lubrication problems and a shortage of horsepower from its single-carburetor. Ariel engineers believed these snags could be overcome, and reputedly considered buying-in a suitable small automobile engine. However, the parent BSA Group was not convinced of the four's potential in the era of the BMC Mini automobile, and apparently squashed the project. BSA was in the process of “rationalizing” Ariel: all four-strokes were discontinued after 1959, production of remaining models moved to BSA's plant in 1963, and the only Ariel made after mid-1965 was the bizarre and unloved 50cc Ariel Three tricycle (for more about the Ariel Three, the last of the brand, click here).


Fortunately, the sole Leader 4 survives at the National Motorcycle Museum UK, near its native city of Birmingham. Though it is a non-runner at the moment, it still stands as proof that BMW's K100 shaft drive four of 1983 was not an entirely original design. To reach the National Motorcycle Museum UK, click here.


Images provided by the National Motorcycle Museum UK .



Robert B. McClean,

1923 - 2008


The American antique motorcycle movement in America lost one of its great leaders on June 20 when Bob McClean, 85, died while returning home from an annual fishing trip in Canada.  McClean was active in the Blackhawk Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America.  He served on the board of directors of the AMCA from 1976 and was elected its president in 1983.  He served as AMCA President for 19 years, retiring in 2002.  In 1990, he was honored with the AMCA's prestigious National Recognition Award, and is also a member of the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame.  In addition to his work with the antique motorcycle community, McClean was most proud of his service as a United States Marine.  Enlisting at the age of 19, he saw action on Saipan and Iwo Jima, and was there when the American flag was raised in victory.  For more about Bob McClean, click here.

Image provided by the family of Robert B. McClean.


MotoStars opens at

Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum


The much-anticipated new exhibit at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, "MotoStars: Celebrities + Motorcycles," opened with a gala and auction on the evening of June 27.  Featuring 51 motorcycles and over 200 artifacts from celebrities, luminaries, athletes, and entertainers, the exhibit is scheduled to run through February 2009, after which it is expected to tour to other museums in the United States.  Motorcycle Hall of Fame Chairman Ozzie Schofield says about the display, "Walking among the machines gathered for this exhibit is a truly remarkable experience.  With a range of celebrities and motorcycles that is inclusive and diverse, we believe that we offer to the viewer a unique perspective on the passion of famous people and motorcycling." 

While the Museum has been acclaimed for its exhibits that appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts, Executive Director Mark Mederski explains that one of the objectives of the new theme is to appeal to a broader audience.  The exhibit was curated by David Morris,

who, as a writer for Robb Report, is well-schooled in motorcycling among the rich and famous.  As was the case

with previous major exhibits at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, MotoStars will be chronicled through a colorful and elaborate catalog that will be available for sale through the Museum.  To read more about the exhibit opening, click here.   For more informatoin about the exhibit and the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, click here.

Images provided by the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum.


Romero and Baird to serve as

Vintage Motorcycle Days Grand Marshals


The American Motorcyclist Association has announced that 1970 AMA Grand National Champion Gene Romero (pictured here) and seven-time AMA National Enduro Champion Bill Baird will serve as Grand Marshals at AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, scheduled to take place at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio July 25 through 27.  Both Baird and Romero established their reputations riding for Triumph, which has been named the commemorative brand at VMD 2008.  For more information, click here.

Gene Romero image provided by the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. 


AMCA opens new exhibit at Hershey



The Antique Motorcycle Club of America has been conducting talks for more than a year with the Antique Automobile Club of America about permanent exhibit space for motorcycles at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania (pictured above), the only motor museum in the nation affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. Once an alliance between the two organizations was agreed to earlier this year, the AMCA went into action to create a display in time for the opening of the 2008 tourist season. Taking advantage of the opportunity required the creation of a new non-profit foundation, but club leaders felt further delay was not advisable because the Hershey region of Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for tourism, surpassed only by Anaheim in Southern California, and Orlando, Florida. Geoff Ringlé, a long-time AMCA member, was hired as the AMCA's new Business Development Manager and to curate the exhibit. He completed the job in only five weeks. Ringlé laughs, “We installed the last bike label in the exhibit at 12:59 p.m. on June 7, one minute before the official 1 p.m. opening!” Peter Gagan, president of the AMCA Foundation, said, “This is an exciting development for the AMCA. With the Museum practically adjoining the popular Hershey amusement park, we have a wonderful location to display the fine motorcycles of AMCA members. The AACA Museum enjoys high attendance, and Hershey will draw a very diverse range of visitors whom we can entertain and educate about the history of motorcycling.”


The AACA Museum is a new 71,000 square foot facility with over 42,000 square feet of exhibit space. The agreement between the AMCA and the AACA provides that the AMCA will have permanent exhibit space for 20 years, which the club plans to update on an annual basis. The arrangement also provides the AMCA office space and support for its staff as well as free admission to AMCA members. The inaugural exhibit, entitled “Motorcycles:1884 – 1973,” provides a historical overview of the technical and stylistic development of two-wheeled transportation, ranging from replicas of the pre-20th century Pennington and Copeland motorcycles to a 1973 Kawasaki Z1, the motorcycle that introduced the era of the modern superbike. Despite its short lead time, attendance was brisk for the opening of the display, and many who showed up were AMCA members. AMCA President Rocky Halter stated, “It was gratifying when the true motorcycle collectors arrived today. This was an indication that we have done things right."


Many remarked that the exhibit had a bright and clean “Guggenheim style,” which was no doubt enhanced by the actual exhibit stands that were used in the final Art of the Motorcycle Exhibitions staged two years ago in Memphis and Orlando. Following the closing of The Art of the Motorcycle, these stands were acquired by John Parham, an AMCA member and president of the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, who loaned them to the club for its inaugural display. Forty-one motorcycles, many posters, and other historical artifacts make up the exhibit. To read more about the exhibit on the AACA Museum web site, click here.   For more information about the AMCA, click here. For more information about the AACA Museum, click here. For more information about the AMCA/AACA alliance, click here.


Editor's note: In the interest of disclosure, I should point out that I have been asked to serve on the board of directors of the new AMCA Foundation, as well as the board of the AACA Museum, and have accepted those positions. – Ed Youngblood

Motors and music,

according to Bigsby

One of the very interesting displays in the new Antique Motorcycle Club of America exhibit at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is a rare Crocker speedway motorcycle and an equally rare guitar.  What could these artifacts possibly have in common?

Years before Al Crocker became famous for his limited-production road burners, he made his name in racing circles with a speedway machine.  Fewer than 35 of these motorcycles were built.  Paul Bigsby, who later became foreman at the Crocker factory, was very instrumental in the design and development of all Crocker motorcycles, both for the road or the race track.  Bigsby was also interested in Western music, which brough him into contact with singer and song-writer Merle Travis, another motorcycle enthusiast. Knowing of Bigsby's mechanical skills, Travis asked him to have a look at a Kaufman vibrato mechanism on his Gibson guitar that would not stay in tune.  Bigsby immediately identified shorcomings in the design, and built a better device that eventually became the choice of guitar manufacturers the world over.

Pleased with Bigsby's solution to his problem, Travis came to him with a sketch of a guitar and said, "Can you make it?"  Bigsby responded, "I can build anything," and this assertion launched him into the manufacture of guitars that became the tools of choice of many of the leading entertainers of the era.  For more about Bigsby Guitars, click here.   


Cyclemo's is set to grow



Behind its rustic façade—including the derelict Harley-Davidson Sprint and a lazy gray cat resting on its front porch—there's a lot of activity going on at Cyclemo's Museum in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Out back, a big addition is under roof, and workers are installing a weathered barn wood interior, aiming to complete nearly 15,000 square feet of display space prior to the Second Annual Cyclemo's Antique Motorcycle Show and Swap Meet, scheduled this coming September 19 through 21. The ambiance at Cyclemo's is barn-like, reminiscent of a disheveled pre-war motorcycle shop, and shiny is not much valued here. The mood of ancient neglect is so well executed, one must have a pretty sharp eye to detect that the facility is really only a little more than two years old.


This fascinating jumble of motorcycles and artifacts is the brainstorm of Mike Silvio (pictured here), a Nashville-based landscape architect who, with his wife Jennifer, sought out this small village in scenic north-central Tennessee where he could restore motorcycles, and where their sons, Mack and Avery, could benefit from a better school system than they had experienced in East Nashville. The Silvios bought their Red Boiling Springs property in 2005, and started construction of the museum in 2006. Silvio explains, “In addition to being a nice place to raise a family, this town is on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, and this puts it square in the middle of some of the nicest motorcycle roads in the nation.” This quality, Silvio is convinced, will make his museum a favorite destination for those who love motorcycles, old and new, and provide the setting for an annual vintage bike event that can become one of the largest in the region.


Cyclemo's curious name came from Silvio's nephew Andrew, who, when learning to talk, could not say the word “motorcycle.” For him, this two-wheeled device was a “Cyclemo,” and his uncle's fascination with them earned him the name, “Cyclemo Mike.” In addition to their museum, which charges no admission, the Silvios run Cyclemo's Vintage Motor Clothes, a business that does custom embroidery and reproduces motorcycle apparel from the classic era, including embroidered patches, leather kidney belts (upsized for the grander girth of modern Americans), shirts, and club uniforms. Like the building that houses these products, they are so well executed that many are difficult to distinguish from original antiques.


Those who have studied American motorcycle museums will readily note that only one other has the casual-appearing but carefully planned clutter of Cyclemo's, and this is Dale Walksler's Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. This may not be pure coincidence, because Walksler and Silvio are good friends and kindred spirits. Silvio states, “When I decided to do this, Dale was the first person to offer support, even before we had broken ground.” Among the dozen or so motorcycles on display at Cyclemo's now are several machines owned by Walksler, and that number will increase by another dozen later this year when Wheels Through Time closes its doors (see Motohistory News & Views 3/9/2008). “This is a bitter-sweet development for us,” Silvio says, “It hurts to see Dale close his museum, but it is good for our presentation because more of his wonderful motorcycles and artifacts will be moved here to help fill our expanded space, just in time for our swap meet in September.” He adds, “I am glad we can be here so that some of Dale's stuff can remain on display to the public, rather than go into storage somewhere.”


The bug that bit Silvio, eventually resulting in this fascinating museum, was a 1936 Harley Knucklehead, owned by his great uncle when Mike was a youth growing up in Chicago. Silvio recalls, “My great uncle bought it new, rode it for many years, and finally parked it. At the age of 14, I got it running, to the astonishment of everyone in our family. Later, it was covered with grease to protect its original paint and plating, and tucked away.” Today, the motorcycle is the front-window feature at Cyclemo's, still original and easy to start. Other bikes on display include an elegant, black Harley sidecar rig that bristles with every accessory an owner could buy from the Motor Company, and the Speer Special, previously featured in Motohistory (see Motohistory News & Views 9/23/2007). Like Wheels Through Time, the collection is exclusively American. About the only hint of modernity at Cyclemo's is a projected image on the ceiling (pictured here), right in the line of sight of visitors entering the museum. But, of course, it is there to play non-stop vintage racing footage. To learn more about Cyclemo's Motorcycle Museum and the upcoming Antique Motorcycle Show and Swap Meet, click here.


CBX wins People's Choice at Gilmore

Vintage Motorcycle Show

More than one motojournalist has opined that the Honda CBX is the Vincent of the future. In terms of relative rarity, overdog qualities, and unorthodoxy of design, the comparison seems apt. And, as with the Vincent, the CBX also has its cult of personality with designer Shoichiro Irimajiri, whose long career in engineering took him to the position of CEO of the Honda of America Manufacturing. Vincent owners might not agree, but recognition of the CBX as a great classic seemed to be validated on June 8 when one was chosen winner of the coveted Spectator's Choice Award by the more than 5,000 people who attended the 13th Gilmore Car Museum Vintage Motorcycle Show in Hickory Corners, Michigan. One who attended the event said, “The Vincent guys were just spitting nails. You should have seen their faces!”


The 1980 Candy Glory Red CBX that topped all rivals is owned by Roger Smith of Clarkston, Michigan. Smith (pictured below) recently acquired the motorcycle from Columbus, Ohio-based CBX guru Jan Ringnalda, known in Honda collector circles as “Dr. CBX.” Ringnalda had the motorcycle in perfect running condition, but Smith spent weeks detailing the bike to Gilmore standards. He reports, “I sent some parts to Brown's Chroming in Kentucky for re-plating, I located a few NOS parts I needed on Ebay, and I even dropped the engine a week before the event just to hand polish the tops of all six carburetors.” The work obviously paid off when the Honda was chosen over more than 200 motorcycles in competition, including Vincents, Indians, Ariels, Triumphs, Harley-Davidsons, and Japanese brands.

With the event becoming ever more popular among motorcyclists each year, the organizers have created exclusive motorcycle parking adjacent to the classic bikes on display. Motorcycles accepted for competition at Gilmore must be at least 20 years old. They are divided into several categories that include country of origin, customs, scooters, racing bikes, and sidecar machines. This year's Vintage Bike Show is only the second time in 13 years that a Japanese motorcycle has won the Spectator's Choice Award. The first time was a year ago when another Roger Smith-owned motorcycle—a 1966 Suzuki X6 Hustler—took the prize. Which seems to beg the question: Is the CBX really the Vincent of the future, or is Roger Smith, who is on the Board of Directors of the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club and serves as its Marketing Director, just damned good at detailing a Japanese motorcycle?


For more information about the Gilmore Museum Motorcycle Show, click here. For a full list of winners of the 2008 Gilmore Motorcycle Show, click here.

Images provided by Roger Smith.



Wheels Through Time

auction canceled



In March, Motohistory announced that the Wheels Through Time Museum would auction much of its collection and close, with a plan to possibly reopen with a scaled-down presentation at a new location at some time in the future (See Motohistory News & Views 3/9/2008). Owner and curator Dale Walksler still plans to close the Maggie Valley, North Carolina facility, but has announced that the auction, originally scheduled for late September, has been canceled. Rather, a portion of the collection will be moved to Cyclemo's Museum in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. For more information on MotorcycleClassics.com, click here. To visit Wheels Through Time on line, click here.




The publishers of Retro Moto Magazine state that it is their goal to fill the gap between modern media and vintage motorcycles. “What does that mean?” you ask, and they respond, “Well, basically, we are going to bring vintage bikes into the computer age. The bikes may be old, but that doesn't mean that we have to look at them in the same old ways. While we are looking to the future in graphics and design, we are staying firmly rooted in the past and intend on getting back to basics with real road and track tests, restorations, and informational articles to feed your obsession.” To learn more, click here.


Few outside of Japan are aware of the scale or duration of Japan's motorcycle industry, which comprised roughly 200 manufacturers in 1955. "Japan 's Motorcycle Wars" examines the historical development and societal impact of Japan 's motorcycle industry throughout most of the twentieth century. Through translations of interview transcripts, industry publications, and company histories, Jeffrey Alexander examines the motorcycle's introduction to Japan in the early 1900s, the influence of motor sports on vehicle sales, the impact of wartime production, and the role of the motorcycle in policing Japanese cities. Postwar developments include the industry's explosive growth in the early 1950s, the role of private endurance races in the 1960s, and the role of driver education and safety campaigns in Japan since 1970. The book is written to appeal to students and scholars of Japanese history, business, and culture, as well as to motorcycle enthusiasts. It is available from the University of British Columbia Press. For more information, click here.


Mike Seate has already written a book, launched an on-line magazine, and is collaborating on a television show about café racers, and to this body of work he is adding a quarterly magazine about café racers, specials, hybrids, street fighters, and other high-performance motorcycles. Seate promises, “If it is fast and naked, you'll find it in this magazine.” For more information, click here. For more information about Seate's new book about café racers, see Motohistory News & Views 5/10/2008.


Arvada creates A Summer of Cycles



The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities in Arvada, Colorado, has opened an exhibit featuring motorcycles from the local collections of Harry Mathews and Jim Dillard. Featuring a wide range of styles and periods, from vintage classics to customs to dragsters, the display follows in the style of the Guggenheim, presenting motorcycles as art while exploring various aspects of their cultural influence. Opened June 6, the exhibit will run through September 7. For more photos from “A Summer of Cycles,” click here. For more information about the Arvada Center, click here.

Images provided by Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.



Putnam Museum opens Rare Rides



The Putnam Museum, in Davenport, Iowa, has opened an exhibit entitled “Rare Rides: Americans' Love Affair with Motorcycles” that is scheduled to run through September 7. The exhibit was designed by Joe Hines and curated by Putnam staffer Christina Kassell.  Containing 35 motorcycles and an impressive range of ephemera, the exhibit is dense with written content, including exceptionally complete and informative labels about the motorcycles.  Both rare and common motorcycles are included, many of which were supplied by members of the Blackhawk Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America.  The motorcycles on display range in vintage from a 1912 Yale to 1990s models.  Styles and brands are quite diverse. For example, two of the more rare machines on display are a Matchless Silver Hawk and a Yamaha Gamma. 

In addition to a thorough presentation of technology, the exhibit contains a lot of human interest, including both written and recorded personal stories enhanced by riding gear and memorabilia.  It would be an understatement to say that the lighting is subdued.  In fact, some portions of the exhibit are downright dark, which is a curiously ineffective treatment for a subject that is as colorful and technically complex as motorcycles.  Some of the more interesting motorcycles--such as the Silver Hawk--are quite hard to see and study.

Curator Kastell believes correctly that the exhibit is a natural for the Quad-Cities region, pointing out that for many years Davenport has been the site of one of the largest antique motorcycle swap meets in the nation, promoted by the Chief Blackhawk Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. For more information on the exhibit, click here. For more information about the Putnam Museum, click here.


Brough Superior

comes under new ownership



Following the earlier acquisition of Brough Superior Motorcycles Limited, Netherton Industries Ltd. Has announced the purchase of Brough Superior Engineering Limited and its assets, including the patents, the intellectual property rights, and the exclusive rights to the trademark and logo of the historically renowned company. The transaction was executed by Mark Upham, who has been appointed CEO of the new Brough Superior operation. Upham, 51, a life long enthusiast of Brough Superior motorcycles, states that the company's intention is to preserve, protect, and promote the legend of the prestigious British brand, and that a full company policy statement will be published at a future date. For more information about these Brough Superiour developments, E-mail Mike Jackson at oldmj@ukonline.co.uk.




As usual, there is a lot of fascinating stuff on Cyril Huze's blog, and much is of interest to the history-minded reader. For example, recent posts include a review of “One Percenter: The Legend of the Outlaw Biker,” (click here), and a report about Jeff Decker's new sculpture of a 1930s hill climber that graces the new Harley-Davidson Museum, scheduled to open July 12 (click here). And, on days when Huze doesn't feel like writing anything, he just might treat you to a clip from the new Rolling Stones Imax movie. To reach the main blog, click here.

Buzz Kanter, publisher of several popular motorcycle magazines, has launched a new on-line motorcycle encyclopedia. Because it is built around Wikipedia-type architecture, any motorcycle historian, technician, or enthusiast is able to submit material to the project. Kanter writes, “It is up and running, but we still have a long way to go. It is open to all motorcycle information, old and new. We sure could use the brainpower and knowledge of Motohistory readers.” To check it out and make your contribution, click here.


Caferacermag.com bills itself as the first on-line magazine dedicated exclusively to the cult of café racers. It features bikes, events, vintage rebuilds, road tests, and reports from café racer rallies. Its launch has been coordinated with “Café Society,” an upcoming television special on Speed Channel, and Mike Seate's new Café Racer print magazine. To check it out, click here.

It was 1959 when Honda launched its international market by entering North America.  With the 50th anniversary of this important date just around the corner, a post on the CBRForum reports that the event will be celebrated with a new Super Cub, honoring the little motorcycle that has been sold in a quantity of more than 50 million!  Is a new Super Cub a hoax, rumor, or just wishful thinking?  We won't have to wait long to find out.  To read the post, which includes specs and details, click here

One World flicks hit the road



Motohistory has presented a favorable reviews of “Brittown” and “Choppertown,” by One World Studios, and we are pleased to see that both of these movies are beginning a tour of extensive showings in both America and Europe. For more on this story, including a full schedule of showings, click here. To read our review of “Brittown,” go to Motohistory News & Views 4/11/2008. For our review of “Choppertown,” go to Motohistory News & Views 6/10/2007.




Motohistory reader Tosh Konya sends along a photograph of a motorcycle he has been unable to identify. We here at Motohistory are at a loss as well. The word “Limited” appears to be written in large script on the gas tank. It has a curious spark plug location, protruding through the fins on the left side of the cylinder head. The rider's leg obscures the rear cylinder (if there is one), but the angle of the front cylinder and an intake manifold extending backwards strongly suggest that it is a V-twin. Most interestingly, it appears to have a shaft drive on the left side of the machine. We have been unable to find a Limited brand listed in any of our American, British, or German reference books. Anyone who can help us identify this motorcycle should write to Ed@Motohistory.net.


Don Miller, of Metro Racing, is restoring a Redline-framed Triumph ridden by Don Castro (pictured below), and is desperately trying to complete the project in time for the big Triumph celebration at AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days next month. He writes: 
Don rode this bike for a long time, in many different set-ups.
I am restoring it to the 1972 San Jose half-mile configuration with the Tracy one-piece fiberglass bodywork. It was only raced once with this bodywork, because it was supposedly banned by the AMA. I need some more information on this bodywork to finish the restoration. I am looking for color photographs and any documentation that would confirm whether this type of one-piece bodywork was actually banned. I have every black and white photo that Dan Mahony had on the bike. I have known Don Castro for a long time and have gotten a ton of valuable information from him, but I need more.  

Any Motohistory readers who can help with this problem should E-mail Miller at donzzilla@earthlink.net, or call 877-746-3876. It would be great to see this bike on display at Vintage Motorcycle Days.


Lambert & Butler's

vintage motorcycle cards



Here are more motorcycle cards, distributed with Lambert & Butler's cigarettes in the United Kingdom in 1923, from the Ken Weingart collection.


27 in a series of 50:


The text on the back of the card reads:

The Lea-Francis motor cycle is manufactured by a very old engineering firm, and the 5 h.p. model as illustrated is a result of their long experience. It is a proud record of the manufacturers that their machines have gained gold medals in every British Reliability Trial of note. In addition to the 5 h.p. model there is also a 3½ h.p. machine. All models are fitted with twin cylinder engines and three speeds.  

28 in a Series of 50:


The text on the back of the card reads:

The machine illustrated is the Standard Model “T,” and is probably the most popular of the present range of Levis two-stroke motor cycles. The engine is the Levis single-cylinder air cooled two-stroke. The machine is fitted with two-speed gear, incorporating clutch and kick-starter, and though weighing only 135 lbs. will be found capable of long distance touring.



More about colored leathers



As I thought it would, or report about the history of colored leathers on the race track continues to generate very interesting information. Paul d'Orleans, author of the Vintagent blog, writes:


I read your article on non-black leathers, and know of an example of colored leathers long, loong before they became popular.  It took a little digging, but I remembered reading that the Scott motorcycle company had used purple leathers at the TT on their 'works' team (Scott used a purplish color - more fuschia really- on their petrol tanks). In Jeff Clew's history of the marque, “The Scott Motorcycle; The Yowling Two-Stroke" (Foulis, 1974), he mentions on page 36, "Despite kitting out each of the three riders in a set of purple-coloured leathers, Frank Philipp, Eric Myers, and Frank Applebee, the Scott bid to achieve success in the 1922 Senior [TT] race failed as the result of an unforeseen mechanical problem." -- which was a typical Scott story at the TT!


Noting that Applebee won the Senior TT in 1912 aboard a Scott, becoming the first rider to lead the race from start to finish, d'Orleans continues:

The important question is, did they wear purple leathers in 1912? I don't find any mention of it. Perhaps the embarrassment of 1911's mechanical failure prompted a more subdued team attire.  Attached is a photo of the 1912 'team,' consisting of Frank Applebee and Frank Philipp in conversation with Alfred Scott himself, on the porch of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Ramsey, Isle of Man.  I have yet to find a good photo of the purple-clad 1911 team, not that the period black and white photo would do it justice!


Thanks, Paul, the conventional wisdom that colored leathers were made in America can apparently be put in the dustbin of bad history. Readers who would like to check out d'Orleans' blog can click here.


David Wright, who has submitted some excellent material to Motohistory, confirmed d'Orleans' report that colored leathers were worn in UK road racing early in the century, and reminded us about Putt Mossman, who predated Sammy Tanner's use of white leathers by two decades! Wright wrote:


Although I cannot lay hands on the exact reference at present, I know that Putt Mossman came from the USA to contest the 1938 TT in what a report of the time called "leathers that were once white," and I have seen a photo of him here in white leathers. I realise that does not quite answer the question of the first user in USA, but I guess he wore those same white ones at home. Not sure of his racing pedigree, as he was billed here as an American stunt-rider come to contest the TT (rather than as a racer). Also, Scott 'works' rider Frank Phillipp rode the TT in purple (Scott color) leathers and in 1922 those of the Rudge team were green.  

Wright's message made us wonder if it is time to quit procrastinating and go take that Alzheimer's test, because we in fact published information some time ago about Mossman and his white leathers. To read that story, go to Motohistory News & Views 9/1/2007. Our sputtering memory banks also now recall that Gus Kuhn's granddaughter Valerie Davey sent us last year some photos of the 1921 TT BSA team wearing some very snazzy outfits, though it is not possible to determine from the photos whether their upper garments are leather or some other material. To view those photos, go to Motohistory News & Views 9/14/2007.  

Roberta Hansen, daughter of great American fast bike builder Bob Hansen, wrote:  

Hi, Ed. I can't believe you'd write an article about the advent of colored leathers and matching team leathers without mentioning my dad, Bob Hansen, and his spectacular TeamHansen orange and white bikes, leathers, and van. My sister and I even wore orange and white jumpsuits, embroidered with the TeamHansen logo and colors! Don't you remember the team of Swede Savage, Ralph White, Dan Haaby, Yvon DuHamel, and Gene Romero, among others? I'll never forget the pride I felt, watching that sea of orange and white on the track. Perhaps I missed an earlier version with mention of TeamHansen?  

First, Roberta, let me say that I can't even remember what I wrote on my own web site less than a year ago, as noted above. I knew when approaching the subject of colored leathers, it would be a huge topic and that many notable examples would be overlooked and left out. I guess it is a great redeeming feature of this medium that we can carry on, update, and improve the dialogue, and our errors or omissions are not end-all mistakes, as they might be on the printed page. So, if you will send us those photos of TeamHansen (and hopefully of you and your sister in your orange and white jump suits as well), we will be more than pleased to publish them as we continue to pursue this interesting topic.

Photographer Dan Mahony, son of famous racing photographer Walt Mahony, wrote:  

The AMA's demand for some color on the leathers was the simple fact that in those days most horse track half-miles were lit up with something akin to 100-watt bulbs strung along the fence, and when a rider dressed in black fell, he was pretty hard for other riders to see, and a lot of guys were getting run over.


Dan is right. In our conversations with Neil Keen, Bob Rudolph, and Sammy Tanner, all noted how dark it was at Ascot, and Keen expressed his opinion that the use of colored cloth jumpers, prior to the use of colored leathers, may have begun because of the poor lighting conditions at Ascot. He says it is the first track where he recalls the local referee requiring that riders wear the colored jumpers.


Mahony added:


Also, I think that Dave Aldana's “Superman” leathers topped the “Mr. Bones” outfit as they came complete with a full-size cape which Dave removed at the starting line.


I don't know, Dan, in my opinion it is damned hard to top those Mr. Bones leathers, but I agree with you that the only person who might have topped Aldana was Aldana himself.