Motohistory Quiz #75:
We have a winner!
Within seconds of posting Motohistory Quiz #75, we had a correct answer from Somer Hooker, of Brentwood, Tennessee. The motorcycle in our quiz is a Montgomery Ward Mojave, introduced in 1968. Throughout the 1960s, Montgomery Ward sold a line of motorcycles branded “Riverside,” featuring Italian engines mostly under 125cc. They also sold Lambretta, Bianchi, and Mitsubishi scooters under their own brand.
If you read our feature by Mike Jackson about the McQueen Metisse (Motohistory News & Views 1/25/2010), you noted that there was a mention of Derek Rickman and Steve McQueen traveling to Italy on behalf of Montgomery Ward. They were helping develop the Mojave, a motorcycle with a 360cc Benelli engine installed in frame and bodywork that were fairly frank copies of the Rickman Metisse. While it was a good looker, the Mojave failed to earn many sales in the United States. It could not be taken seriously as a competitive enduro bike, due in part to its 320-plus pound weight.
Montgomery Ward launched the Mojave with an advertisement in Esquire magazine for which they hired Dave Ekins for the action photography. About the McQueen connection, Ekins recalls, “My brother Bud advised the Benelli factory to just copy a Rickman Metisse if they wanted a serious off-road machine. It is likely that Bud and Steve had worked up some kind of endorsement deal, but it fell through.” About his experience with the photo shoot for the Mojave, Ekins says, “I didn’t really care for the bike. It stopped running during the second day of shooting.”
Congratulations, Somer, your Motohistory Know-It-All Diploma will arrive soon. To read our feature about Somer Hooker, go to Motohistory News & Views 7/27/2007.
Motohistory Quiz #75
What is it? Be the first to tell us the brand, and we’ll send you your own personalized Motohistory Know-It-All Diploma.
Here’s a hint. If you don’t know, read on and eventually you may find a reference to it in this Motohistory update.
Here's another hint. Three countries were involved in its development.
Send your answer to Ed@Motohistory.net.
The Saroleas at Berlare
By Ralf Kruger
Sometimes, chance is a hidden benefactor.
Who would complain?
On August 22 last year, I visited "Dieburger Dreiecksrennen," an antique motorcycle revival, run on the streets of Dieburg, Germany. From 1948 through 1955, this town was host to an actual street race counting for the German National Championship. Today it is not a race, but a kind of festival and celebration of the old machines. Only in its second year as a revival, it attracted 15,000 spectators for the single-day event; a huge success by any standard of measure.
While walking through the temporary paddock at Dieburg, I noticed a rare Sarolea, a model with a sloping engine that I could not immediately identify. I learned she is owned by Matthias Schmitt (pictured here) and is one of presumably only three 34Bs still in existence in Germany. The appeal of this 1934 sporty road model went beyond just intellectual curiosity. For me, motorcycles made in Belgium represent a combination of beauty, rarity, refinement, and technical sophistication. In a word, they are among my absolute favorites.
Schmitt and I entered into a conversation about the 34B, just like all motorcyclists do when common interest changes them immediately from strangers to friends. He told me about a gathering of Saroleas in the Belgian village of Berlare, coming up the 17th and 18th of October. He reported that more than a hundred motorcycles would be on display, so it didn’t take me a second to make a decision. “This I have to see,” I said.
Berlare is an unimposing but nice village in Flanders, in the northern part of Belgium. When I arrived on the 16th, there was a lot of activity at the backstage door of the Festivalhal Donkmeer, where the meeting would takes place. Although most of the motorcycles are already in place, adjustments were still being made to provide for the accuracy of their presentation. At this moment, I was not allowed to enter the hall. A friendly woman at the door said, “Please be patient. All these owners trying to place their bikes on display treat them like their babies, and they fear anything could go wrong, especially if there are early visitors in the hall.” “That's okay,” I said, and I muttered to myself, “Don’t be so anxious. Just wait until tomorrow.” I returned to the parking lot where I found Mathias Schmitt. The two of us helped unload motorcycles from vans and trailers, then we ended the day with a good supper in a restaurant just around the corner while discussing Sarolea motorcycles and speculating about what tomorrow’s exhibition might bring.
On the next morning, I was among the first visitors to get access to the hall, and I struggled to not stand with my mouth open in amazement as I marveled at all of the bikes on display. More motorcycles than expected had arrived, so there was no reason for disappointment. They were arranged with tender loving care in theme groups, such as racing machines, bicycles, models from the first decade of the 20th century, the final models of the late 1950s, and so on. In addition, there were a lot of pictures and posters mounted on the walls, explaining the history of the marque. There were even blueprints and technical drawings of Sarolea engines, gear boxes, and trapeze forks hanging on the walls. For me, the spectacle was simply unbelievable.
Before exploring some of the most noteworthy motorcycles on display, let me first present some general facts about the history of Sarolea. The firm was founded as a weapons factory in 1850 by Mathias-Joseph Sarolea (1830-1895; pictured here). This makes the marque 20 years older than FN, both of which are located in the same neighborhood of Herstal, Belgium. FN was founded from a network of small, former independent weapon plants which merged in 1870. Both Sarolea and FN would become Belgium’s leading brands, joined later in 1919 by Gillet. These three were not only the most popular motorcycles in Belgium, but to the surprise of many today, they became some of the leading brands on the Continent.
Shortly before the arrival of the 20th century, son Mathieu-Joseph Sarolea (1859-1929) took an interest in the new De Dion & Bouton tricycles made in France, and decided to open a new business for building a similar vehicle. By 1901, he began to produce a single-cylinder motorcycle, a 381cc four-stroke. It was developed by Martin Fagard, who had joined Sarolea in 1895 as a craftsman, became the firm’s first designer, then went on to become factory manager, spending his whole working life with Sarolea. Sarolea’s mastery of the development and production of weapons gave it the metallurgic technology and production skills that would make it a leading early motorcycle manufacturer. It is the reason that both Sarolea and FN would quickly command the field as leading and enduring motorcycle brands. By 1905, they were in competition with more than 50 other brands.
The pioneer days
I started my exploration of the Berlare exhibit with the oldest machine on display, a 1903 four-stroke single (pictured left). This engine was my first big surprise in a string of surprises that day. This early model has a capacity of 445cc and a power output of 3.5 hp, which is on the upper limit of Belgian manufacturers of the era. It was the largest in Sarolea’s product line, which offered smaller models starting at 1.75 hp. It must have been a real powerhouse when you compare it to FN's 1903 model, which had a capacity of 188cc producing 1.6 hp. Conventional in design, it featured IOE poppet valves, with the inlet valve controlled by atmospheric pressure—called a "sniffle-valve" in German terminology—and a cam-controlled exhaust valve. Contributing to its high power is a comparatively modern updraft carburetor with an integrated butterfly valve. This is a very sophisticated design compared to the surface evaporating carburetors so common in Germany at the turn of the century.
While Sarolea’s 1904 model line did not offer great changes in design, and only small improvements in detail, there was huge news for 1905: the first Sarolea big V-twin (pictured here). Its arrival would initiate a great duel between two classic engine layouts, because at the same time FN introduced its revolutionary in-line four-cylinder machine. While the FN offered a modest displacement of 362cc, the big V2 from Sarolea was available in two versions displacing 616cc and 726cc, producing 5 and 6 hp respectively. They were as powerful as they were expensive to purchase. With 1906, a total loss battery ignition system was replaced with a Bosch magneto, and Sarolea’s singles received a cam-actuated intake valve. On the big twins, atmospheric intake valves were retained. In 1907 (pictured above) and ’08, 500cc twins were available in four or five hp. Front suspension arrived in 1908 (pictured right), but a hand-pump, total loss lubrication system was still in use.
Sarolea had not only become a leading marque in Belgium, but its machines were sold also in England under the Kerry brand, and in France as the Liberator.
The flat tank era
The earliest model from the flat tank era that I could detect at Berlare was a 1913 bike with a side-valve engine now, but no gearbox. A 1914 model (pictured here) inspired a great deal more interest. From the beginning, Martin Fagard not only raced his creations for the purpose of first-hand research, but he also established a trade relationship with England for modern components like Royal Enfield two- or three-speed hubs and Sturmey-Archer gearboxes. Was this the reason the 1914 Sarolea definitely reminded me of a British Triumph? Actually, the first Triumphs to come out of Coventry had Belgian Minerva engines. Maybe the influence was vice versa. Whatever the truth was, it was a good choice. Reportedly, Triumph riders in England called their bikes "Trusty Triumph" for their outstanding reliability.
Unfortunately for Sarolea, 1914 was also the beginning of the First World War. Belgium was occupied by German troops, and production at Herstal was stopped for five years. It is little wonder that the first models after the war, appearing in 1919 (pictured right), were simple copies of prewar machines and the big V-twins were dropped from the line. They were generally seen as too big and heavy, too complicated and too expensive for customers in many countries in post-war Europe. Still, some progress was made at Sarolea in the cycle parts. For example, Sturmey-Archer three-speed gearboxes were used throughout the line, though belt drive was still used to the rear wheel. Engines were offered in capacities of 350cc, 500cc, and 550cc.
As far as I could see, the 1920 500cc TT model (pictured above) was the first Sarolea to provide all-chain-drive. It brought a sport bike into a line that had previously been limited to touring models. Still equipped with the proven side-valve engine—but with a sportier cam—it was the prelude to a series of famous OHV sport bikes from Sarolea. These were offered at 1923 year-end as the 500cc 23D Sport and the 23G Supersport, which could easily achieve a speed of 120 kph (75 mph). In 1924, these were supplemented with an even more aggressive sport bike (pictured above and below). The first OHV production racer from Sarolea, it was called the Type C, with “C” standing for "course" or "racing.” Additionally, 1924 was the year that all former belt-driven touring models were fitted with chains. These touring models retained the tried-and-true side-valve engines, in three capacities. The first OHV engine of late 1923 was modified in yearly updates, but retained a single cam in centerline with the crank, actuating inlet and exhaust valves with push rods sitting side by side.
The saddle tank era
In 1928, the last updated model of the original OHV design—the 500cc 23U Supersport—was introduced (pictured below). Being the final development of a proven engine design, it was fast (150kph; 93mph with alcohol fuel), reliable, and wildly popular with sport riders and even racers in Belgium. One of these, specially built by the racing department at Sarolea for Robert Gregoire, would achieve an average top-speed record of 181 kph (113 mph) over a distance of five kilometers (3.125miles) from a standing start! The motorcycle featured a saddle tank and Sarolea's own gearbox and home-made forks for the first time. The magneto was moved behind the rear cylinder. This and other modifications were incorporated in anticipation of a 1929 model that would feature a completely new OHV engine. Indeed, in 1929, all components of significance, other than electrical equipment, were built in-house by Sarolea. The new 500cc 24U (pictured here), designed by Marcel Dumont, was noticeable at first sight for its push rod tubes sitting back and forth on the cylinder's side flange, actuated by two cams. The upper valve gear was mostly covered by an aluminum housing, leaving only valve stems and springs to the outer elements. The special 24U Supersport featured a head with two exhaust pipes, and could achieve 150 kph (93mph) on commercial standard fuel. It was the first Sarolea to provide foot shifting. Very simply, a smashingly nice bike!
Into the 1930s
The beginning of the 1930s was a very successful time for Sarolea in regard to racing. The brand won a string of Belgian 500cc road racing national championships in 1931, 1932, and 1933. The 1933 version of the works racer (pictured right) had a re-engineered motor, noticeable for its single exhaust pipe, which differed from the ’32 Course, the series bike it was developed from. This alteration was initiated by new racing engineer Arille Donis, and the bike was ridden by Robert Gregoire, the 1932 Belgian Champion. He repeated the feat in 1933, but sadly, he met his tragic end on a rainy July 21, 1933, while trying to impress the British competitors (mostly on very fast Nortons) with another record lap during practice for the Belgian GP. Gregoire was a key figured at Sarolea, employed with the company since 1926. To honor his memory, the production racer sold in 1935 was named the "Sarolea-Gregoire" in France and Belgium, while in other markets it was known as the "Monotube."
The year 1935 saw the employment of Gilbert De Rudder, Gregoire’s successor, who got the 1936 and 1937 500cc road racing championship for Sarolea. Interesting as well is the fact that he (on Sarolea, of course), together with Jacques Ickx, were pioneers of Moto Cross in Belgium. In 1937, they began to form the new sport that would inspire the whole of Belgium, and still does today.
The absolute apogee in design, which was conclusive of Sarolea's road racing efforts, was the 1937 2ACT (pictured above), a double overhead camshaft single of 500cc capacity which was developed to challenge the GP-dominating Nortons. Although quite good from the beginning, the first version was not much faster than the Monotube, but had potential for even better. But its definitive development ceased at the dawn of the Second World War.
Furthermore, the American stock market crash of 1929 had already had its effect on motorcycle manufacturers, even in Europe. Even small Belgium was shocked. Sales dropped from around 4,500 units in 1929 to less than a thousand in 1931. This led to an attempt to improve sales with cheaper, smaller two-stroke bikes, and diversification to an enlarged 600cc single for sidecar use. In addition, a 1,000cc side-valve boxer with driven sidecar wheel was developed (pictured right). It appeared in 1937 as model 38H in a quantity of maybe ten for testing by the Belgian military. At 825 pounds, this colossus was not for the inexperienced, but its two-wheel drive was a clever design that made it very usable as an all-terrain weapon. Although there had been an internal order to destroy all of these machines to keep them from German troops, who invaded Belgium in May 1940, this order must have been undertaken half-heartedly. It is rumored that Zunndapp—whose KS750 had a superior sidecar drive that even BMW had to adopt for its military R75—acquired one of the Saroleas and copied its design, which featured a differential that could be blocked for straight-through drive to the sidecar wheel. Further on, after evaluation of the Sarolea by the Belgian military, a very small batch of no more than ten motorcycles were built for civilian use, but nobody knows how many were really sold. From those few bikes, presumably several sold without sidecar (pictured above), but most were lost in the turmoil of war. Today, the Sarolea 38H sidecar machine is so rare, it can be considered “Blue Mauritius” of the brand.
The 1940s and the swansong of the ‘50s
Just like most European countries after the Second World War, Belgium's industry lay idle for some time. Cities had been demolished, and even the rural infrastructure had been affected. So, at Sarolea there were no exciting developments the war. Rather, the latest proven prewar models with 350cc and 590cc side-valves and some 350cc OHVs returned to production in 1945.
The year 1948 brought a new 48BL, an OHV 350cc motorcycle with four-speed gearbox, aluminum head, and an fully-enclosed valve train (pictured above; at left is a '48 GT600 with sidecar). While privateers still gained some success in post war road racing with the old Monotube, the Sarolea factory concentrated instead on Moto Cross. They won the 1950 500cc championship with Marcel Meunier onboard. The bike he used was based on a serial-production motocrosser introduced in 1949.
The 1950 model line brought improved sales with a 125cc two-stroke motorcycle—the type Supra—commonly called the “Blue Bird,” which proved very popular. By 1955, this 5.2 hp road-going model had been developed into a 200cc, 7.2 hp trials model on which Lucien Decoster won the Belgian national observed trials championship. Decoster, along with the legendary Auguste Mingels, raced international motocross aboard modified versions of the twin-cylinder Atlantis, a 500cc road bike of completely new design, introduced in 1950 (pictured above). While its engine looks a little bit like a British Triumph Speed Twin, the crank featured a plain center bearing and roller bearings at the end. Even when enlarged to 600cc in 1953 (pictured left), the motorcycle was a little outdated; simply not “modern” enough to compete against the more established motorcycle designs from other countries.
From 1955, motorcycle sales went steadily downward. In an effort to avoid a collapse, Sarolea, Gillet, and even the fierce competitor FN created an alliance so that any of the big three could sell their motorcycles under each other’s name. For example, the Simoun (pictured right), originally a development of FN, was sold also with a Sarolea badge on its tank. Still, even with the use of a modern German ILO 250cc twin engines, the market for the Belgian machines continued to erode. As in many European countries, by this time the customer wanted a car. In 1955, Sarolea even began to import Italian Moto Rumi scooters (pictured left). Sold in Italy as the Formicino (Little Ant), it was named “Djinn” in the Belgian market.
The last "real" motorcycle Sarolea produced was the 350cc "Vedette," the final development of an original design created in the 1930s (pictured right). And although it was as comfortable and dependable as customers demanded, it could not save the company. Sarolea had arrived at the end of its road. They continued to sell mopeds into 1960, but had to close their doors permanently the same year.
The Sarolea specials
There were many surprises for me at the display at Berlare. For example, did you know Sarolea built an aero engine? It was a boxer twin (pictured below), one of which was included in the exhibit. And, Sarolea also built a lovely service car. Then there was the 1931 side-valve 500cc DT31, looking for all the world like an American dirt tracker (pictured below). This is quite odd to European eyes, where speedway-style track racers are more common. Finally, there was a stand by Jean-Michel Spies, who provided spare parts for the classic machines. I was really pleased to see that Saroleas are not forgotten, and that there is a dedicated community protecting their heritage and keeping them alive. Berlare provided the most comprehensive representation of the brand that anyone has ever seen, anywhere. There was an example of practically every type of motorcycle Sarolea ever built. We owe a great debt to Geert Huylebroeck, Yves Campion, and their many friends and helpers who made this tribute to Sarolea possible.
To access the Sarolea/Berlare web site, click here.
All photos provided by Ralf Kruger.
What goes around . . .
With tongue in cheek (we think), Cyril Huze recently described the image shown here as his “scooter of the month.” It is a concept Yamaha called the Maxam 3000, a 9-foot-long scooter with retro styling that is supposed to transport you mentally and emotionally back to the 1960s. Hard to say if such a design is serious or not, but we can tell you that it reminds us a great deal of a very serious venture undertaken by Ray Courtney (pictured right on one his creations) in the 1950s. Courtney built one-off, futuristic motorcycles that he branded “Enterprise.” He built at least two of these—one Harley-powered and one Indian-powered—and may have built a third. Courtney’s vision of the future even appeared on the cover of Cycle magazine in 1952. His hand-shaped body panels were beautifully executed; no fiberglass here! These motorcycles still exist and are in the hands of private collectors in the United States. So, apparently the future is now, and Courtney’s dream has finally come true more than a half-century after it sprang from his fertile mind. And, it’s made in Japan. To read the Cyril Huze blog report about the Yamaha Maxam, click here.
David Uhl creates “Stella”
Every second year, fine artist David Uhl adds a painting to his “Women of Harley Series.” Of the six he has produced, many have been seasoned riders, properly outfitted for the ride. For example, the most recent was “Evelyn,” a portrait of a woman on her way to a hill climb in the early 1930s. Since “Evelyn” was produced, Uhl says, “I got to thinking about how women first climbed astride the iron horse in the first place. The decade before Evelyn rode her motorcycle in confidence was a time of paradigm shift in attitudes, now called ‘The Roaring Twenties'.“ He continues, “I decided I wanted to focus on the motorcycle as a catalyst for change during this turbulent era. I wanted to do an accurate rendering with all the details of this slice of American history.“ The result is “Stella,” who sits outside a fashionable hotel on a shiny new Harley-Davidson, dressed in full '20s regalia, igniting the contempt of women from the previous Victorian generation. Uhl explains, “These young women of the ‘20s could not have been more shocking to their parents. They flew airplanes, rode motorcycles, and stayed out dancing until the morning hours. I hope you enjoy ‘Stella,’ the seventh in my series of windows to the past.” To reach the artist’s web site, click here.
The return of the
By Mike Jackson
The Metisse; a brief update
It was almost half a century back that the motocrossing brothers, Don and Derek Rickman, created Metisse. Their high-end race chassis operation ultimately manufactured serveral thousand frame kits, into which were fitted a variety of 500cc and 650cc engines for motocross or enduro competition. Various fine-handling road-race frames followed in the mid-1960s and, in cooperation with AP Lockheed, Metisse were the first company to introduce a production disc brake for motorcycles. The brothers next turned their talents to the performance and cafe-racer market, producing some hundreds of Metisse chassis to suit the majority of Japanese four-cylinder engines, before moving on to a quality range of aftermarket accessories for street bikes, which were sold under the Rickman label. In 1986, the by now low volume Metisse frame operation was bought by Pat French, a former dirt-track competitor, based in Bristol. The machines Pat produced were labeled MRD-Metisse (Model Replica and Design), reflecting the name of his existing business. In fact, his timely purchase coincided with the birth of the retro motocross movement, where MkIII and MkIV Metisse frames proved ideal for the surplus of British engines then available.
In 1999, French entered into partnership with Gerry Lisi - another former racer, on two wheels and four - whereupon the whole Metisse operation was relocated 40 miles east to Lisi's Golf and Country Club, at Carswell, in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside, an extensive site where a complete machine could be fully tested before dispatch. Although Pat and Gerry split commercially in 2001 - as can occur when skilled artisans hold conflicting views - sole proprietor Gerry Lisi has continued producing to the same high standard, still utilizing some of the jigs and fixtures first used in the Rickman's original factory. In recent years, Gerry has supplied hand-built Metisse frame kits all over the world, to customers seeking a traditional product for track or street use and, in more than one curious instance, for static display inside the owner's residence!
It was in 2006 that one of England's best known historic auto racers - and an arch McQueen enthusiast - commissioned Gerry to build an exact replica of the 650cc Triumph-engined Metisse upon which Steve had so happily cow-trailed, and occasionally competed, during the 1960s. After construction and testing, the purchaser displayed this unusual grey-liveried Metisse for several month at his wife's boutique store in Chelsea, London (In production days, a MkIII Metisse was offered in either red, blue, or British Racing Green, so grey was definitely different, though no less distinctive). It was perhaps inevitable that by showcasing such a bike in Chelsea it would generate considerable interest, along with requests for similar examples. Faced with such encouraging demand, Gerry approached the Trustees of the McQueen Estate and, following a formal negotiation, he was awarded a license agreement to manufacture 300 similar machines, each 100 percent identical, except of course for the frame and engine numbers. The supply of Triumph engines, fortuitously, remains secure; pre-used engines are sourced in the USA, or the UK, where stocks are plentiful, for it should be remembered that through the 1960s Triumph sold around 25,000 650cc models, year on year (During my last visit I saw at least 40 engines, ready for fitting, on the shelf!). Upon arrival, each motor undergoes a comprehensive nut-and-bolt rebuild to a pre-determined specification, regardless of whether the parts concerned show wear or not.
As an aside to the negotiation process, and an indication of just how thoroughly they operate, the McQueen Estate insisted on a physical check of the Metisse factory itself, resulting in three executives from the New York office undertaking a full inspection visit. Given the eventual outcome, however, their observations were clearly positive!
Don and Derek Rickman, meanwhile, who retired from business during the early 1990s, are regular visitors to Carswell, where they take a keen interest in current production activities, and often play golf against a selection of previous race rivals, all of whom are amazed that tucked away behind a clump of trees is a miniscule motorcycle factory! Longer-term Motohistory readers will recall that the Rickman brothers were deservedly inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in October 2007.
As at December 2009, production output is around three machines per fortnight. The first Desert Replica off the production line was supplied to Chad McQueen. Approximately25 machines have to date been delivered to customers.
The McQueen connection
Quite a few famous figures from the film world have enjoyed an association with motorcycles. England’s Sir Ralph Richardson rode the streets of London, way back, Lee Marvin raced the Catalina Grand Prix, and James Dean was a rider before his move to sports cars. Elvis also dabbled with bikes, though it seemed he was usually accompanied by a pack of publicists when venturing forth. Today’s film studios tend to approve that their macho stars are seen on two wheels, in contrast to the anti-bike philosophy that prevailed for so many years. Has an enlightened Hollywood finally recognized how such pursuits perhaps give said stars an edge over their rivals? It is difficult to say. Nonetheless, the resultant photo opportunities are often still quite questionable, for how can Joe Public be 100 percent certain if the actor concerned has genuinely sampled the machine, or was simply posed by the photographer?
At the opposite end of this spectrum, however, sits Steve McQueen! No sooner was he attracted to cars and motorcycles than that interest developed into a passion for the competition side of things. In Steve’s case it’s fair to say the racing bug was linked to a good slice of natural ability conveniently fuelled by a growing prosperity. Even so, with the exception of Paul Newman, no major screen persona ever competed quite as successfully as McQueen. It’s well chronicled that his achievements included some notable leader-board finishes in high-level auto events—such as Sebring—and he was frequently placed when racing motorcycles off-road on the West Coast. Who doesn’t remember that fine tenth finish at the 1970 Elsinore Grand Prix, recorded in “On Any Sunday” (OAS), confirming his genuine competence on a Husky moto-crosser?
By the way, since attending the Joe Parkhurst “OAS” preview at Paramount Studios in February 1971, and the Westwood based Premiere a few months later, I’ve watched this stimulating film a zillion times. When listening to Bruce Brown’s superb voice-over, has anyone noticed he never once mentions Husqvarna, Harley, or Greeves by name, despite that these three bikes are virtually the documentary’s main props? I’ve long pondered this omission, but know not if it was deliberate.
Over the years, McQueen owned several brands of competition motorcycle, although it’s astride Triumph—the make on which he cut-his-teeth and later represented USA in the ISDT—that he’s probably best remembered. In 1966, however, he discovered Metisse, thanks to close friend Bud Ekins, who was an official US distributor. Steve purchased a 650cc Triumph-engined Metisse from Bud and, for personal preference, specified Ceriani forks in BSA triple clamps; a single-sided Triumph front hub, some box-section foot-pegs, plus a trials pattern front tire up front. So how could a part time American racer hope to improve his machine over something so thoroughly developed in MX Grand Prix? It is a fair question; one that I recently asked Derek Rickman. Rickman responded, “Well, Steve wasn’t the first to modify a Metisse. If you look at his choice of parts, for instance, none of them—including the Cerianis—altered the bike’s fundamentals. And after all, as he said when he visited us, he’d already had some success using this other equipment, so it was no big deal.”
The basic attraction of Metisse was that, in stock specification, here was a ready-to-race machine; something which had never been previously available straight out of the crate with the exception, maybe, of a few European imports, but all of them being two-strokes. In fact, Greeves, Husky, Maico, CZ, and so on, had been imported from around 1960 onwards. But for four-stroke diehards, anxious their steeds would be reliable and competitive, the sole solution after purchase back then was for the owner himself to undertake the requisite modifications or, failing that, persuade his local shop so to do. Either way, each solution took time and both involved extra cost! After fitting the engine unit, an out-of-the crate Metisse kit was considerably lighter than its so-called rivals, it provided superior handling, and was tough enough to survive the occasional ‘unload.’ In addition to gaining a reputation for durability, Metisse also operated a readily available parts service. Their success in the USA’s discerning market was well deserved. Shortly after becoming a Metisse owner/rider, and while filming in England, Steve dropped by the factory in New Milton, Hampshire. He wanted to meet the Rickman brothers, who had so diligently developed, raced, and built Metisse into a winning brand. He was clearly impressed by their experience, which had been learned the hard way. While talking to me in November 2009, Derek recalls, “That first meeting went well, we all got on like a house on fire. Luckily, in a way, it was early Friday evening, so all the female staff had gone home; we didn’t have a single interruption!” Steve later went on to order additional Metisse models through Bud Ekins, who was geared up for individual customer modifications. By this stage of course, the factory was fully systemised, employing 100-plus craftsmen, yet the two owners still possessed the patience and flexibility to talk with their end users one-to-one, a factor that was impossible at BSA, Matchless, Norton, or Triumph.
California, in the Sixties, was the place, and probably still is, where anything is possible, be it mechanical or cosmetic. From his time in the US Marines, McQueen nursed a passion for the color battleship grey. It was this passion that determined how his personal Triumph-Metisse machines should be finished; i.e. in an exclusive and very distinctive shade of grey! By this time, the two brothers, having already started full-scale manufacture of their Mk III frames in 1961, were unbelievably busy; not only were they supervising production, and selling to customers worldwide, but they were both still competing at international level. In 1965, for instance, Don Rickman won the British Motocross Grand Prix on a Triumph-Metisse, virtually a 500cc version of today’s Desert Replica! It is interesting to note that the Mk III chassis, once begun, remained unchanged in production throughout the next decade, by which time the sport’s fashion changed to a new generation of lighter weight two-strokes, and, in the process, arguably lost some of the appeal. The double loop nickel-plated Mk III frame deliberately used large diameter high quality tubing, which, as well as containing the engine oil, also cooled the lubricant, all in all a formidable weapon on which to race competitively. The bike’s handsome appearance was clearly only one feature admired by McQueen for, in 1967, he reputedly told Bud Ekins, “That Metisse is my favorite for desert!”
Today, Don and Derek’s abiding memory of McQueen is that of a committed racer, who just happened to have a glamorous day job. It is one of their eternal regrets that when he visited they failed to take photographs, although the brothers confirm Steve took exceptional care to avoid this type of exposure. Indeed, his day-to-day world was a league apart from that of the two brothers, albeit they were established stars within the international motocross community. Derek remembers once collecting Steve from Peter Sellars' London apartment -- missing Sellars himself (and Britt Eklund) by just a few moments -- prior to journeying a deux back to Hampshire. While en route and supposedly enjoying a quiet country pub dinner it seemed half the population of that rural village dropped by their table for autographs. McQueen, totally relaxed, acquiesced. Unsurprisingly, and to his great delight, several of the signature seekers recognized his companion!
Derek also recalls Steve saying how he’d sometimes take a Metisse onto the set of a cowboy film, much to the annoyance of the director, stating, “He’d leave tyre tracks in the sand, apparently, obliterating all the carefully preserved imprints of the horses hooves!” When visiting his house in Malibu one time, Don recollects Steve’s infectious enthusiasm while examining his road-legal D-type Jaguar, as well as an assortment of other automotive toys parked adjacent. On another occasion Steve and Derek spent several days together in Italy on a mission to find an engine suitable for a projected dirt bike on behalf of the American mail order company, Montgomery Ward. These incidents served to form an enduring friendship between the film star and the English racers. During their whistle stop visits to California, the Rickmans endeavoured to include at least one race in the Mojave Desert. Asked if they ever rode with The Man himself, Don says, “Well, he was so busy he was often very hard to contact; but, with 1000 or more riders under starter’s order, he could have been out there, we never knew.”
McQueen’s affection for race machinery has been long articulated, so too the aura surrounding his maverick life. Without doubt, the Metisse Desert Replica is an honest endeavour to recapture the esprit attaching to The King of Cool.
To learn more about Metisse motorcycles, click here.
Photos by Kyoichi Nakamura and Nick Haskell.
Steve McQueen image from the Metisse web site.
and the declining interest
in custom motorcycles
By Ed Youngblood
Custom motorcycle guru and blogmaster Cyril Huze presented recently a provocative graph (shown below) depicting Google key word search trends for the topics “custom motorcycle,” “motorcycle parts,” and “custom harley davidson” over the last six years. The graph shows an unmistakable and steady downward trend in the more frequently searched categories of “custom motorcycle” and “motorcycle parts,” the latter of which is down 75 percent since the second quarter of 2004! The narrower topic of “custom harley davidson” remains relatively stable, but also appears to be trending slightly downward. The graphs also clearly depict the seasonality of the motorcycle business in America, with valleys in the fourth quarter and peaks in the second quarter.
Huze calls the graph “a faithful representation of the worldwide economy taking a beating.” Undoubtedly, he is correct, but I wonder if there is more going on here than just economic forces. I recall wandering through the Harley dealership at Destination Daytona three years ago, where I saw a row of maybe 20 or 25 custom choppers, all bearing price tags in the $30,000 range. These were not bona fide one-off customs, but limited-production cookie-cutter models with special paint jobs. I wondered if people were really paying this much for such an unremarkable vehicle, or whether the high price tags were part of the whole racket; signs of status that owners could boast about after buying at a negotiated and much-reduced price. Whatever the case, I though to myself, “How long can this go on?” Clearly, at this level, the custom motorcycle was no longer transportation, art, or ingenuity, but just another example of conspicuous consumption and acquirable status.
A hell of a lot has changed during the six years covered by Huze’s chart, and especially during the three years since my visit to Destination Daytona. In fact, the greatest changes have taken place in the latter three years. In 2006, the U.S. was showing signs of weakness, but George Bush was assuring us that “the fundamentals are sound,” whatever that means. It was a year later that a contrived and overblown American economy began to implode. Whether it is was lenders making bad loans that they could bundle and pass on to speculators, consumers maxing out a dozen credit cards for things they couldn’t afford, or brokers hosing their clients with dubious financial products and high fees, the whole charade has now come undone. Housing costs—the conspicuous indicator of a credit-driven economy—peaked in 2005, began to steadily decline in 2006, and crashed in 2007. In August, 2008, banks cut off consumer credit, the buying frenzy ended, and the U.S. economy went into a tail spin, sending ripples of recession around the globe. And speaking of housing and motorcycles, did you ever wonder how many of those Boomer bikers bought their scoots with their home equity loan?
So take a look again at the graph. The rate of decline on the left side of the graph (2004 through 2006) is as great, or greater than the rate of decline on the right side (2007 through 2009). The decline in interest in custom motorcycles—to the extent it is indicated by searches on Google—was clearly underway at least three years before the economy crashed, suggesting that something else is at work in addition to economic forces. I think it is demographics. Almost every week we see news stories and editorials about the impending sea change in the American culture due to demographic trends. Much of the focus is on what will happen to the American economy and culture when the Baby Boomers finally wander off toward the grave. As the largest and most self-indulgent population segment in American history passes on, its buying power will go with it (if it has not already), and its values and fantasies are likely to die as well. Demographers tell us that by mid-century (just two generations hence) Caucasians will be a minority in America, so it is reasonably predictable that future generations will not be obsessed with Peter Fonda, Steve McQueen, and the myth of the post-war American motorized cowboy. For future motorcyclists, masculinity may not necessarily be associated with the sound of a big twin. They may prefer the howl of a four, or—shudder—the hum of an electric motor.
I also do not believe that the current economic crisis is a bump in the road that our purportedly infallible capitalistic “market forces” will straighten out in short order. I believe we are in for a long, slow, and grinding decline in standard of living that will be the “correction” required from more than two decades of wild, credit-driven spending. It is likely that by the time (and if) the economy rights itself, major demographic forces will have taken greater hold, and we may not see the graph pictured above “bounce back,” ever. Motorcycle buying as a whole may continue to decline, even in an improving economy, and the motorcycles of future buyers are likely to be more like the sport bikes and street fighters that young people buy today. Whether the great American cruiser, imprinted on us by Willie G’s FX Super Glide in 1971, will prevail remains an unanswered question. Of course, we'll have to wait for future motohistorians to give us the answer, but I don't expect the motorcycle phenomenon to be what it has been, even after we have clawed our way back to some semblance of prosperity. But whatever happens to the new motorcycle market, collecting and vintage bike enthusiasm will remain strong, probably even moreso than it is today.
To read Cyril Huze’s story that triggered these musings, click
here. For an account of the effect of the so-called American housing bubble, click here. For an analysis of the financial crisis, 2007 through 2010, click here. For information about American population trends, click here.
Jack and Judie Wells:
On wings and wheels
After a full life of hard work, Jack and Judie Wells are retired and homeless.
Well, not exactly. They live in a 75x100-foot hangar at Cannon Creek Air Park, just north of Gainesville, Florida. It’s what you have to do when you need to take care of four airplanes and more than a hundred motorcycles. About this unusual state of affairs, Jack acknowledges, “We’ve all got our addictions.” But don’t feel too sorry for them. A quarter of their hangar is outfitted as an apartment with all the comforts of home, and nearby a new house is under construction. Not that they couldn’t get along just fine as they are, but now there are only two—a 1948 Navion (pictured above) and a Vans RV8—of the four aircraft housed in the hangar, and it would always be nice to have room for a few dozen more motorcycles.
Jack is known for his collection of vintage BMWs, but he is certainly not a one-brand kind of guy. There are also three Broughs, two Vincents, three Indians, four Sunbeams, an Ariel Square Four, and a Velocette Venom V-Line. Then there are those bikes you don’t see just everyday, like a Maico Taifun, an NSU Max, a Neracar, a Lilac, an Adler, and an Abingdon King Dick. And among this sea of motorcycles, you can even occasionally run across a cool scooter, such as a Maicomobile or a Fuji Rabbit.
One might quickly get the idea that Jack Wells likes owning motorcycles more than riding them, but he would be wrong. Jack and Judie have ridden a sidecar rig in every country in the Americas, from Prudhoe Bay to Tierra del Fuego, except for Colombia. They could have ridden there as well, but they approached the frontier at a particular hot spot, and decided they didn’t want to be shot at. They also have ridden in Australia and Hawaii. Judie has logged over 200,000 miles in the saddle of her own motorcycles, and Jack has compiled 700,000. They have also participated in the Three Flags Classic five times, and three of those were in connection with four-corners tours. But Jack admits, “This antique motorcycle thing has really cut into my motorcycling. I spend so much time now hauling my bikes to meets and attending air shows that I don’t get much time to ride.”
Jack Wells was born on Long Island, New York, in August, 1942, and grew up in Sparta, New Jersey. His first motorcycle was a Cushman scooter with an ice cream box on the front, which he bought for five dollars and kept hidden from his parents. He admits that he was pretty much a scholastic wash-out, stating, “I spent all of my time in machine shop and wouldn’t attend regular classes, so I flunked my freshman year of high school. I wanted to know about things that run, and I couldn’t see the point of English or history.” That performance convinced his father to ship him off to Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia, where his first year wasn’t much better. He recalls, “I spent most of my available time working off demerits.” He adds, “I finally got it through my head that this wasn’t the easiest way to do things, so I got serious in my second year.” Wells graduated from the Academy in 1961 as a Cadet Officer and member of the Honor Society.
Wells wanted to go straight to the military, but his mother insisted he get at least two years of college, which he completed at Tusculum College in Greenville, Tennessee. He says, “I needed 60 credits and earned 65. I probably could have had six or eight more, except I refused to attend chapel.” Flying had always been prominent in Jack’s family—his father was a TWA pilot and one of the first to fly international routes—so upon graduation from Tusculum, Jack joined the Navy, where he learned to fly T34s and T28s at Pensacola. This proved to be his true calling, and after the Navy he quickly earned private and commercial licenses, flight instructor credentials, and qualified to fly DC-8s and eventually heavies, such as the Airbus. Jack flew for several charter freight lines, and for awhile dodged small arms fire while flying cargo and troops into Vietnam. He spent the last years of his career with American, retiring in 2002 after 34 years of service on the flight deck.
Jack and Judie, who was a friend of Jack’s sister, had known each other since she was five and he was six. He says, “I was always doing things with Judie. She was a lifeguard and I had a boat, so we became water and snow skiing partners, depending on the season. However, there were no romantic inclinations until after I completed military school.” They were married in 1966 and raised two children, Wendie and John, who is also a commercial pilot. They got a BMW R60 with Steib sidecar, and later Judi got her own BMW K75 police special. For their adventure riding they outfitted a 1984 BMW RT with Earls forks and Ural sidecar. The vintage motorcycle bug bit in 1974 when Jack ran across a Dover White BMW R26 in Phoenix that was on its way to the landfill. He says, “It was really rough, but I knew it was too good to throw away, so I had it loaded on an airplane as luggage and took it home.” For a long time, Jack’s fascination for the little BMW singles governed his collecting. Today, he has virtually all of them—from the R2 to the R27—except for the exceptionally rare R39, built from 1925 through 1929. But once he had acquired most of the singles, he branched out into BMW boxer twins, military motorcycles, and finally other brands.
Now his nine BMW singles are only a fragment of his motorcycle collection. His rare Wehrmacht Zundapp with sidecar and armament has been featured in the Guggenheim’s Art of the Motorcycle Exhibition twice, and it, along with his Harley WLA, Harley XA, Indian 841, and BMW R75 with ammo trailer are in demand at military shows all over the nation. To meet this demand, he has acquired a big diesel truck to pull his 30-motorcycle trailer to various motorcycles to antique meets from coast to coast. He is a member of two Antique Motorcycle Club of America chapters, and an AMCA Field Judge. In addition, he is Chapter 977 President for the Experimental Aircraft Association and a regional director for both the Veteran Motorcycle Club of America and the Vintage BMW Club. In all, Jack belongs to six motorcycle clubs in America and six in England and Europe. Any given month, his desk calendar (pictured right) contains more writing than white space, and when they’re not on the road, Jack and Judie are entertaining flying and riding friends at their hangar/home. Jack thought he was pretty busy when he was flying aircraft all over the world, but he admits that he didn’t know what busy was until he and Judie decided to enjoy their retirement on wings and wheels.
To learn about Moto Retro Wieze, Belgium’s biggest motorcycle jumble, click here.
Now here's a web site dedicated to what's important in life: Ironhead Sportsters and food! It even has a links section for barbecue! Click here.
Many very cool vintage motocross videos may be found at The Motorbike Archives. Click here.
Eric Johnson’s OLD S'CooL MX Restoration web site has a new URL. Click here.
A must for every V-twin fanatic. Click here.
For images from the 1989 U.S. World Superbike Round at Brainerd International Raceway, click here.
Tibor Sirossy, who in 1969 set a coast-to-coast record of 45 hours, 41 minutes aboard a BMW, was recently killed in a hit-and-run accident in his home town of Cleveland, Ohio. To read about it, click here. To read our story about the history of cross-country record setting, go to Motohistory News & Views 2/28/2009.
Hall of Famer Kenny Eggers, one of BSA’s wrecking crew that dominated Daytona in 1954, recently passed away. To read about Kenny at The Rider Files, click here.
To read a reminiscence by Honda factory rider Jeff Haney on Superbikeplanet, click here. For a story about one of the machines ridden in Haney’s era, click here.
Penton owners and fans won't want to miss this year's annual meeting of the Penton Owners Group, scheduled to be held at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum on February 6. All the details are on the POG message board. Click here.
To read about the Akron, Ohio motorcycle scene, as described by motorcycle historian and all-round character Jack Morris, click here.
Bator International has announced that consignments are being accepted for the 23rd Daytona Classic Motorcycle Auction, to be held March 3 through 6. For more information, click here.
Hall of Fame breakfast
to feature Manning and Carr
Chris Carr and Denis Manning, of the team that currently holds the world motorcycle speed record at 367 mph, will be the guests of honor at the 22nd Annual Motorcycle Hall of Fame Breakfast in Daytona Beach, Florida on March 5, 2010. The event will take place at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort at 8:30 a.m. Tickets are $49 when ordered prior to February 15, or $55 at the door. For more information, click here. For a YouTube video of Carr’s record run, click here.
Original Hildebrand & Wolfmüller
to go to auction
An 1895 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller, described by auctioneer Bonhams as the “ultimate motorcycle barn find,” will be auctioned at the International Classic Motorcycle Show in Stafford, England on April 25, 2010. Manufactured in Munich, the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller is the first powered two-wheeler to enter serial production, and is the first such vehicle to be called a “motorcycle.” The Hildebrand brothers, Henry and Wilhelm, developed their motorcycle in partnership with Alois Wolfmüller and his mechanic, Hans Geisenhof. Their design was powered by a twin-cylinder, water-cooled, four-stroke engine displacing 1,488cc, producing 2.5 horsepower at 240 rpm. Patented in January 1894, H&W's motorcycle was greeted with enthusiasm and plans were drawn up to build a factory in Munich to produce it. It was also licensed to a firm in France and marketed there as “La Petrolette.” Despite some impressive demonstrations by factory riders, the H&W's shortcomings became all too apparent once delivered to customers, and early in 1897 both the German and French ventures collapsed. It is not known how many were produced, but today the H&W is exceedingly rare. The example offered for sale is unrestored and last ran in the 1930s. For more information about the Stafford, England, motorcycle auction on April 25th, visit here.
USB hub for motorheads
Are you finding that hours at the computer screen are cutting into your riding time? Now there’s a 3-port USB hub that will lift your spirits and give you a motorcycle experience while you’re otherwise frittering away your time in cyberspace. You’ve got to watch the video we will link you to below to really appreciate it. The pitch man is about as dry as toast. He couldn’t sell ice in hell, but the sheer whimsy of this little 4x5-inch Triumph engine sells itself. It roars, it vibrates, you can shift it and work the kick starter. For some outright fun, click here.
“Long Way Down” photo collection
sale going to UNICEF
After circumnavigating the globe on their epic journey “Long Way Round,” actors Ewan McGregor (pictured here) and Charley Boorman began a second expedition called “Long Way Down,” a 15,000-mile trek from the northern tip of Scotland to the southernmost tip of Africa. An exclusive photo collection from this ride, consisting of 32 matted and framed photographs, will be auctioned by Bonhams on May 8 at the Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, California. Proceeds from the sale will go to UNICEF, McGregor and Boorman’s charity of choice. For more information about “Long Way Down,” click here.
now available on DVD
Video producer IGNITION3 has just released the story of the U.S. team at the 84th running of the International Six Day Enduro, held in Figueira da Foz, Portugal in October, 2009. The show follows the riders over through six days of international competition as they race through the Portuguese countryside. Among them are Trophy Team riders Ricky Dietrich, Destry Abbott, Tim Weigand, Damon Huffman, Nathan Kanney, and Kurt Caselli. “ISDE Portugal” is the seventh consecutive ISDE to be covered and produced by IGNITION3. It is shot in high-definition by an experienced crew that has developed a relationship with the USA team that enables them to capture the rare and intimate moments that make the ISDE an unforgettable event for those who have the privilege of attending, as riders or spectators. Hall-of-Famer Larry Huffman helps with the narration. The two DVD set is available for $29.95. Running time is over two hours. To order your copy, click here.
National Packard Museum
opens 10th annual motorcycle exhibit,
“On the Road Again”
The National Packard Museum, in Warren, Ohio, opened on January 9 its 10th annual motorcycle exhibit, featuring nearly 30 antique and classic motorcycles. Emphasizing the techniques of restoration and preservation, the exhibit also includes several “barn fresh” un-restored motorcycles displayed alongside the same model restored to Concours condition.
For those who enjoy early motorcycles, several rare and significant machines are featured in this year’s exhibit, including a 1908 Thor Single, a 1911 Marvel Single (pictured below), and 1917 Smith Motor Wheel. In addition to these rarely seen motorcycle marques, the exhibit includes other makes and models from the past, including a 1939 Ariel Square Four, a 1948 Cushman scooter, a 1951 Ariel Red Hunter, a 1957 Horex Victoria, a 1958 NSU Maxi, and a 1957 BSA Goldstar. The exhibit also features significant machines produced by more well-known manufacturers such as 1928 and 1938 Indian Scouts, 1946, 1947, and 1965 Harley Davidsons, a 1954 BMW R-25/3, a 1962 Vespa scooter, a 1972 Yamaha CS-5, and a 1976 Triumph Bonneville 750.
Along with this exhibition, the Museum will present a motorcycle restoration lecture series, free and open to the public. The series will include “Acquiring Restoration Parts” by Bear Oehler on February 20, “To Restore or Not To Restore” ken Sampson on March 20, and “Restoration Services: Working with the Professional You Have Hired” by Fred Davis. The exhibit will run through May. For more information about, click here.
Motohistory Quiz #74:
We have no winner!
It has been five days since we posted Motohistory Quiz #74, and still we have no winner. There have been only a couple of incorrect guesses, so it looks like our little moped with its odd twin shocks has stumped the chumps. It is a Sarolea, manufactured in Belgium.
Mathias-Joseph Sarolea founded his arms factory at Herstal, near Liege, Belgium in 1850, and in 1892 began to manufacture bicycles. Sarolea died in 1894, but his company prospered under his children, headed by son Mathieu-Joseph (1859-1929), who was attracted to motorcycles, and built a first prototype in 1901. Series production became reality in 1902. From the beginning, Saroleas became known for their competitive capability under the guidance of development engineer and racer Martin Fagard. The bikes excelled at hill climbing, reliability trials, and long-distance runs. They got a string of national championships in road racing in the 1930s, then later at scrambles. By the mid-1920s, Sarolea was building 50 motorcycles per day, and 75 per day by the end of the decade.
The company exported its engines to several countries before the First World War, mostly to England, where complete motorcycles were also sold under the Kerry brand. The financial crisis of the 1930s forced Sarolea to diversify into some new models of cheaper and smaller two-stroke motorcycles, along with it's proven range of four-sroke motorcycles. This trend continued after 1950 when the enlarged product line offered a new 125cc two-stroke single, known as the "Blue Bird," and a new 500cc four-stroke twin. In 1955, the two-stroke line expanded even to 250cc two-stroke twins as well as 50cc mopeds, all beside the well known SV and OHV four-stroke singles. In a trial to exploit all trends in motorcycing, Sarolea also got a license from the Italian firm Moto Rumi to import scooters, which were sold under its own brand in Belgium. The manufacture and distribution of Sarolea motorcycles ceased in 1960.
The bike pictured in our Motohistory Quiz is a 1960 Model N50 moped. For more Sarolea images, click here. We plan to have more about Sarolea in a future Motohistory Update. Better luck next time, Motohistorians.
Quiz image provided by Ralf Kruger.