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Ed Youngblood's News and Views
October 2011 News

Del and Wanda Schumacher:

Recyclers for job and hobby

(10/31/2011)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Del Schumacher started his business in 1960, he was called a “scrap collector,” and it wasn't considered a very prestigious profession.  A lot has changed in the last half-century, not the least of which is our attitude toward the Earth's limited resources.  Today, Del and Wanda Schumacher (pictured above) are “recyclers,” and their work―and that of others like them―has become vital to the national economy and the future of our environment.  Del and Wanda also recycle antique motorcycles, a hobby through which they have given countless hours of service to the Antique Motorcycle Club of America on both the local and national levels. 

Del Schumacher was born in Iowa City in 1935.  He was an only child, and jokes, “My mom took one look at me and said, 'That's it!'”  In truth, Schumacher's mother was disabled, as a victim of polio, and was not able to manage a large family.  Del recalls, “I used to get her around on the handlebars of my bicycle because she could not drive and had difficulty walking.”

 

At 16, Schumacher decided it was time to graduate from his bicycle to motorized transportation, and he bought a 1947 side-valve Harley (pictured right) from Bob Boots, the local Harley-Davidson dealer.  Schumacher explains, “I had never ridden and had no idea how to ride a motorcycle.  Boots took me and the bike out to a country road and showed me how to ride it.”  He adds, “He told me something that I would learn is so important and true.  He said to me, 'A motorcycle becomes dangerous when you start thinking you know everything about how to ride one.  When you start thinking like that, you'll get in trouble.'”  Six months later, Schumacher was hit by a car, and it gave him a fright that kept him away from motorcycles more than 20 years.

 

Schumacher quit school in the ninth grade and took a factory job for a company that built burners for furnaces.  In February, 1956 he joined the Air Force, which posted him at Andrews AFB, at Parks AFB in California (pictured left), on Okinawa, and at Kunsan, Korea.  During this time, he completed his GED and mustered out in February, 1960.  He says, “When I got out of the Air Force, I was as poor as you could get.  I returned to the Quad Cities area where my dad was a city employee for Davenport, and I started a scrap business.” 

 

Hard work paid off, the business grew, and Del's personal finances improved.  By 1979, he was again thinking about owning a motorcycle.  Schumacher relates, “I bought a 450 Honda, then a 750, and finally a Harley Low Rider.  But I still didn't do much with them.  I found that I was still afraid of them.”  Schumacher's comfort level with motorcycles improved after he met Erwin “Smitty” Smith, who was a BSA and former Indian dealer in Rock Island.    He recalls, “Smitty had antique motorcycles, and they really fascinated me.  I think I started to understand and appreciate motorcycles more when I got around the old ones and the people who knew all about them.”  Schumacher continues, “One day my wife Wanda and I went to a car auction in Las Vegas  where there was a 1947 Indian Chief (pictured above right).  The buyers were car guys and had no interest in it.  It did not sell, so I went to the owner after the auction and bought it for a good price.”  Schumacher ponders in silence a moment, then smiles and says, “It was the beginning of my disease.”

 

Earlier, in 1976, Schumacher hired Wanda Kleppe (pictured left) to help with administration of his growing business, and on March 16, 1981, they were married.  Wanda shares Del's love for antique motorcycles, but she suffers from her own disease―old bicycles.  Wanda laughs, “The employees at work sometimes get upset about my bicycles taking up space.  But I can't help it.  We get in a lot of them in loads of scrap, and I recognize rare models or bikes I remember when I was a kid, and I say 'Take that off the load and put it aside.'”  Wanda won't even hazard a guess as to how many bicycles she has stashed away.

 

In 1990, Del went with Smitty to a brunch hosted by the Chief Blackhawk Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America.  He says, “I met Bob McClean and Harry Dawson, and I joined the AMCA and the Blackhawk Chapter right away.”  (right: Del with Harry; below left: Wanda with Smitty) Del and Wanda got deeply involved in the organization, especially as workers at its Davenport meet.  They took on responsibility for vender registration in 1995, and continued until 2010.  During this time, the meet grew to become the largest in the nation, and Wanda relates, “Finally, it took not only our evenings, but I was spending time at work on it every day, taking phone calls and answering questions.  The business had also grown to the point that we had 30 employees, and something had to give.”  She concludes, “Fifteen years was long enough, and we thought it was time to let some younger club members step up.”

 

In addition to functioning as worker bees for the Davenport meet, Del accepted leadership positions in the chapter and the national club.  He became a director of the Chief Blackhawk Chapter, and was elected its president in 1999, where he remained in service for the next twelve years.  In 2002, he was elected to the national board of the AMCA, and served there until 2010. 

 

Del tried vintage open-wheel car racing for a while.  He still owns several vintage racing cars, but no longer drives them.  The pride of his collection is a 1969 Edmunds sprint car with a 350 Chevy engine (pictured above), which he drove himself and sponsored through his business.  He explains, “A car like that can really bite you.  Vintage car races are supposed to be more like exhibitions.  We were supposed to be careful and lay off the throttle, but there were lots of guys out there who thought they were racers.  It could get downright dangerous, and I decided I didn't need to be out there.”  In 2000, Del hung up his driving suit.

 

As collectors, the Schumachers show a broad range of interests, and they do not collect motorcycles to show off wealth or status.  Modestly, Del dodges questions  about the number of bikes in his collection, and he rarely allows other than close friends into the several warehouses where they are stored.  It is the nature of the collection―rather than its considerable size―that is most interesting.  Though his collection is abundant with magnificent Harleys, Indians, and Hendersons, as one might expect for a long-time member of the AMCA, one also finds many Japanese, British, and European machines, in addition to scooters and mopeds.  There are gorgeous restorations and untouched originals; great classic marques and obscure brands.  As the whole, the collection speaks of people who simply love old motorcycles, period

 

As recyclers, Del and Wanda Schumacher see their hobby differently than they see their business.  Whereas they make a good living buying, processing, and selling scrap metal, about their large collection of motorcycles, Del says, “Nothing is for sale.  I'm a collector, not a dealer.  It's a trust, not a trade.”   It's an attitude of stewardship.  Owning them is important, but not as important as preserving them for the future. 

 

To access the Schumacher’s business web site, click here.  To learn more about the AMCA, click here.  To see pictures of an Edmunds sprint car similar to that owned by Del, click here. 

 

Ovi Puiu and the Yankee single:

Might they have saved Yankee Motor Corp?

(10/26/2011)

 

John Taylor, president of Yankee Motor Corporation, in Schenectady, New York, wanted to be more than a distributor of Spanish motorcycles and a line of riding gear and lubricants.  He wanted to launch a new American brand; a line of motorcycles actually manufactured in America.  Engines would come from Europe, but the rest would be made in America.  And what better name could one choose for such a motorcycle than Yankee?  And he actually did it, with a twin-cylinder motorcycle that captured the imagination of American enthusiasts.  But a declining economy and rapidly changing technology would make the Yankee a short-lived brand, and leave much of Taylor's dream unfulfilled.  Still, based on the work of an ingenious Romanian engineer named Ovi Puiu (pictured above), the marque might have been saved with the addition of a new, powerful 460cc single to the product line.

 

In 1962, Taylor became the distributor of Bultaco motorcycles for more than half the states in the nation through a company called Cemoto East.  In 1969, he formed a second distributorship called Yankee for OSSA motorcycles and Fullbore clothing and lubricants, as well as the rights to an exciting new twin-cylinder two-stroke designed by OSSA head engineer Eduardo Giro.  To keep his interests distinct, Taylor established Yankee in Schenectady, New York, but appointed Frank Conner to run OSSA distribution out of OSSA West in Texas 

 

Soon it was known throughout the American motorcycle industry that Taylor had a project for a new American motorcycle in the works.  Dick Mann was working on a chassis design, and as a bonus he created the OSSA DMR (Dick Mann Replica) short tracker, a machine that enhanced the performance reputation of the company and demonstrated its ability to manufacture a significant product in the United States.  The Yankee twin prototype (pictured above right), which would be the flagship of the new brand, was revealed in Cycle Magazine in April, 1968.  A novel aspect of the Yankee was that it was a “big bang” twin, with both pistons rising together and both cylinders firing simultaneously, creating the torque characteristics of a large single.  The company was also testing a version that had its crank pins offset by 15 degrees, which had the effect of prolonging the big bang.  Taylor recalls, "The traction of the 15 degree engine was unbelievable.”

 

But slow final development of the Yankee twin delayed production until 1972.  By that time, rapidly changing two-stroke engine technology brought the whole concept of a twin off-road motorcycle into question.  Indeed, the Yankee had the power, but was heavy and proved to be too much to handle for all but the most skilled, robust, and determined riders.  In the hands of riders like Charlie Vincent it could do its stuff, but it was not a realistic motorcycle for the rank and file of American off-roaders. 

 

While the Yankee twin was in final development, John Taylor was not ignoring the technological trends.  Few people knew then that as early as 1969 he was on the hunt for a supplier of a state-of-the-art two-stroke single-cylinder engine.  He could see a future for the Yankee twin as a road bike, for which the engine was quite suitable when firing was smoothed out with a 180-degree crank.  But Taylor’s personal love was off-road competition, and he intended to keep motocross and endure machines in the Yankee product line.  That same year, Taylor sold his company to Bangor Punta, a giant American sports and leisure product conglomerate.  Bangor Punta owned companies that made firearms, airplanes, boats, and snowmobiles, and also wanted a motorcycle brand in its stable (BP was also trying to buy Harley-Davidson).  Bangor Punta brought to the table an infusion of cash to fund manufacture of the Yankee twin as well as rapid development of a single-cylinder engine that Taylor commissioned to Swiss engine builder Motosacoche.  Unfortunately, Bangor Punta also owned a railroad that would eventually put both Yankee and its parent company off the rails.

 

Working at Motosacoche at that time was Ovi Puiu, an ingenious Romanian engineer who had defected to Switzerland in May, 1969.  It was fortuitous timing.  Except for Puiu's presence, Motosacoche would likely never have been chosen for the Yankee engine project.  And, except for Taylor, Puiu might not have fulfilled his potential as a visionary engine designer at the old and conservative Swiss company.  And very likely, a Yankee single would not have seen the light of day at all.

 

Puiu was born to a Hungarian mother and a Romanian father in Transylvania, a province of Romania, on May 8, 1931.  He and his siblings attended German schools.  Ovi's father owned a 1927 BMW with leaf spring suspension, and Ovi's first time to operate a motorcycle was aboard a cousin's hand-shift DKW at the age of nine. He was a good student, but after finishing high school in 1950, was denied admission to the University of Bucharest because of his family’s “political history.”  Puiu’s grandfather had been the owner of a saw mill and a parquet flooring factory, and thus, as a Capitalist, was regarded an “exploiter” by the post-war Communist government.  Puiu’s parents had not been involved in the business, and the grandfather died in 1931, but still his successful private business history tainted his progeny as undesirables, officially denounced with having an “insane social origin.”  Some 2,000 families, including Puiu's, were deported from his hometown of Brasov to a government settlement some 100 miles away.  The Puius were given a basement room of 18 square meters with a ceiling so low that they could not stand fully upright.

 

Ovi avoided the deportation because he had joined the army and demonstrated outstanding skill as an alpine skier.  In fact, he became a member of the Romanian National Olympic Ski Team for the Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway in 1952 (pictured above left).   Through this path he earned an improved status and was allowed to enter the University in 1954.  He completed a degree in mechanical engineering in 1959, with a specialty in automobile engines.

 

Puiu had begun racing motorcycles in 1948, and by the mid-1950s was nationally recognized both as an accomplished rider as well as an alpine skier.  With his new engineering degree, he went to work at a truck factory in Brasov where he was named head of the repair shop.  There, with the support of the factory director, he set up a motorcycle division.  At first there were no motorcycles to repair, but Ovi solved this problem by bringing in about forty salvage bikes from a junk yard in Bucharest.  He says, “In this modest manner I began my new activity, but I was full of passion.”  Puiu also renewed his motocross career in 1962, but with no motorcycles to race.  With the blessing of his company director, he designed and built 250cc and 360cc engines in a period of only four months, making four copies of each.  On self-built motorcycles, he raced successfully until 1966 when the FRM, the governing body for the Romanian motorcycle sport, allowed him a twin-pipe CZ, and on this he won a national championship (Puiu is pictured above in Romanian national competition in 1963, and in international competition aboard the CZ in 1968).  In 1967 and '68, the FRM let him travel to Western Europe to race the Grands Prix, and he was even invited for the winter of 1969 to compete in an international series in Australia and New Zealand.

 

Puiu's racing career was soaring, but things were not so good back home at his day job.  His supportive director had been reassigned, and the new boss was offended by the whole idea of Puiu's motorcycle operation.  Then, Puiu's plan to ride in Australia was scuttled by the FRM.  All of this bad news was delivered to him in October of 1968.  He says, “Ten years of fight and struggle were up in the air, and my future was in doubt.  I realized I had arrived at the end of my career in Romania.”  Under these circumstances, Puiu decided secretly to defect to the West.  The following spring, he raced in Belgium and France, and on May 1, 1969, after competing at Pernes-les-Fontaines, a friend and former Swiss champion helped him slip away to Geneva.

Two months later, he accepted a job as a technician/mechanic in the testing department of Motosacoche-Geneva, also called MAG for Moteurs Acacias Geneve.  MAG, which dated back to 1899, was a builder and supplier of engines, which included engines for many early motorcycle manufacturers in Europe and England.  In fact, the name Motosacoche means “engine in a bag,” which referred to its early small engine package designed to easily attach to a bicycle.  MAG also built highly competitively motorcycles that won international competitions in the late-1920s and early '30s, but by the time Ovi arrived, the motorcycle business was long gone.  For the most part, MAG had become a supplier of four-stroke stationary industrial engines as well as two-strokes for the Canadian and US snowmobile manufacturers.  

 

John Taylor’s introduction to Motosacoche was arranged by Bangor Punta's Geneva office, and what he found was a company with an impressive history that simply no longer had the technical competency to address his needs, except for the skills and experience of its newly-arrived Romanian engineer.  Puiu relates, “I was an odd fit in this old Swiss company.  I had been promoted from the testing department to the drafting department, but they still had no intention of using my engineering skills. But to earn the Yankee contract, there was no other choice.  I hit it off well with John Taylor, I understood what he wanted, and I was the only person they had who knew how to design it.” (Puiu and Taylor are pictured above right at the Yankee Reunion in 2011) 

 

Design work began in 1971, drawings (pictured above and left) were completed in four months, and the first of ten prototypes was assembled early in 1972.  It was an air-cooled two-stroke measuring 453cc, derived from a bore of 85mm and a stroke of 80mm.  It had a five-speed gearbox, 36mm Bing carburetor, a diaphragm-type dry clutch, and Motoplat breakerless double ignition.  Two versions of the engine were drawn up, the first being for motocross as described above, and a second with greater electrical output, heavier flywheels,  and wider gear ratios for enduro competition (only one of the enduro version was ever built).  Later, at least two publications in the United States trumpeted that the motocross prototype was pumping out 70 horses.  Puiu still chuckles about this absurd claim.  In actuality, the engine generated a more than sufficient 42hp at 6,500 rpm and 45hp at 6,800 rpm, and Puiu still has the dyno charts to prove it (pictured right).

 

A single-loop frame for testing was completed and sent from Schenectady to Geneva, and Puiu began to construct a prototype motorcycle.  During testing in France, then later by Barry Higgins in the United States (pictured below), it was decided that work still needed to be done on the engine, but even moreso on the frame.  The prototype, Puiu reports, was hard to handle.  Still, Higgins ran second at a scrambles race before withdrawing the machine with a mechanical problem in the hand-built engine.  When interviewed for a story in Motorcyclist, he simply responded, “It’s dynamite!”  He did not comment about its weight and handling.  At that point, it weighed over 250 pounds, but Puiu felt he could bring it below 230 without much trouble.  In fact, upon returning to Geneva from the test sessions in America, he brought the engine weight alone down by 12 pounds!  In Schenectady, they began work on a lighter frame, based on what they had learned from the prototype.

 

But this was as far as the Yankee single went.  Bangor Punta also owned the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad (BAR; now defunct) which suffered an $8 million loss in 1973.  This was devastating to the company’s stock and its ability to attract investment bankers.  Funding was immediately withdrawn from the Yankee project.  Furthermore, by this time, recession and the so-called energy crisis had arrived in America, and a falling dollar on the international markets made it harder for companies like Yankee Motor Corp. to conduct its day-to-day business.  It was also clear that the Japanese manufacturers were coming on strong in the motocross market (the game-changing Honda Elsinore arrived in 1973), and owning a motorcycle brand no longer seemed so glamorous to a struggling conglomerate like Bangor Punga. 

 

Before funding was withdrawn, a total of ten Yankee single engines were built; nine motocross engines and one ISDT-type engine.  Seven of the mx and the ISDT engine were  sent to the United States (#2 motocross engine is currently on display at Jim Hoellerich’s Vintage Trail Bike Museum in Cheshire, Massachusetts).  Numbers nine and ten remained in Switzerland.  An effort was made by Bangor Punta to persuade OSSA to take over and put its own investment into the manufacture of engines (Motosacoche had already created tooling capable of producing 2,000 engines).  OSSA’s head engineer Eduardo Giro retained Roger DeCoster to test the bike, and it is reported that he declared it one of the most powerful 500cc-class machines he had ever ridden.  However, OSSA did not take up the project, and with Motosacoche out, Puiu attempted to carry on on a private basis, but also could not find investors.

 

The collapse of the Yankee single project was a bitter disappointment for Ovi Puiu on several levels.  It had elevated his professional status at Motosacoche and given him an exciting project through which he could demonstrate his technical skill and fulfill his creative potential.  But it also gave him a personal dream, which was to immigrate to the United States for a career in motorcycles, probably with Yankee Motor Corp.  After the project, Motosacoche assigned Ovi to a subsidiary in Geneva that produced equipment for handling nuclear fuel.  It was sophisticated engineering work, but Puiu took little interest in this business. Rather, he moved to Lausanne to open a garage, and later became a successful Honda automobile dealer.  Still, he had not seen the end of his Yankee single.  Thirty years later, he learned that when Motosacoche went out of business in 1980, an employee had taken the single prototype motocross bike home.  Puiu traced the machine, bought it, and restored it to its original condition (pictured right) in his garage in Lausanne.  He still proudly owns it today.

 

John Taylor bought Yankee back from Bangor Punta in 1975, and carried on for another five years.  Would the Yankee single have saved the company?  It is impossible to say, and any answer would be pure speculation.  However, there is a historical model that may give us insight into what might have been.  Consider the fact that in 1971, KTM, an Austrian moped and bicycle company that had entered into a partnership with John Penton to build off-road motorcycles around the nearly-obsolete Sachs engine, committed resources to a modern two-stroke single.  It was launched as a 175, but designed from the start to expand beyond 400ccs.  Today, working against the Japanese onslaught and the same economic forces that bedeviled Yankee Motor Corp., KTM is a powerhouse in the industry.  Had Bangor Punta remained committed to the Yankee single, is there any reason why Yankee would not be alive and as successful as KTM is today?  It seems an entirely plausible outcome. 

Most images provided by Ovi Puiu. 

 

(10/20/2011)

 

Bonhams reports that the 1949 Triumph TR5 ridden by The Fonz in the television series “Happy Days” will go on the auction block at the Classic California Sale at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles on November 12.  For more information, click here

 

The centenary of the Reading Motorcycle Club will be celebrated in a 208-page book packed with history and photos, including four pull-out panoramic spreads.  It is due out in November at $35.00.  For more information, click here.

 

The Sixth Annual Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame Induction Banquet and Reunion will take place November 6 at the Delta Meadowdale Resort and Conference Centre in Mississauga, Ontario.  For tickets, click here.

 

The Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum will host its annual induction ceremony on November 20 in Las Vegas.  Special celebrants will be Kenny Roberts and Roger DeCoster.  For tickets, click here

 

Upcoming events on the Both Barrels Promotions calendar include a motorcycle swap meet on November 13 in Smyrna, Tennessee and the Second Annual Collector's Swap Meet on February 25 in Lebanon, Tennessee.  For details, click here

 

The International Journal of Motorcycle Studies Conference will be held at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs June 7 through 10.  For more information, click here

The 1894 steam-powered Roper (this is the real one) will be sold at auction in Las Vegas in January.  To read about it on the Cyril Huze blog, click here. 

To see a helmet cam video of dirt track racing aboard a hand-shifter at Davenport, click here.

For lots of photos from the Biker's Classic weekend at Francorchamps, click here

The Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina has extended its season openings through November 12.  For more information about the Museum that Runs, click here.   

For photos from the recent Del Mar show, click here.    

 

The legendary Lee Roy Hartung collection will go on sale November 3 through 5 in Glenview, Illinois.  For more information, and to see videos at the Wheels Through Time web site, click here.  For more information on the Auctions America by RM web site, click here.

Iron man and bon vivant George Chamarro (left) is planning to take on the Starvation Ridge 24-Hours Off-Road Team Race single-handedly to raise funds for the Mountain Trail Vehicle Riders Association Legal Defense Fund.  And he plans to do it aboard his 1983 Honda XR500!  For information about the off-road marathon, click here.  To learn about the MVTRA, click here.  For more about Chamarro, click here.  To contact George to learn how to support his worthy cause, e-mail yorchie@bresnan.net.

 

For a wonderful story and photos about a 1953 motorcycling holiday, posted by Paul Gander, click here.

 

The Meteor Motorcycle Club is hosting the 75th running of the Sandy Lane Enduro on March 18, and is planning to celebrate the anniversary in style with a display chronicling the history of the event.  Celebrity attendees will be invited as well. The club is currently seeking photos, clippings, scrap books, and other memorabilia.  If you can help, contact Joe Adomaitis at j.adomaitis@verizon.net.  For more information about the Sandy Lane Enduro, click here

 

The Wheels Through Time Museum raffle for a 1936 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead will take place November 12.  For more info and to get your tickets, click here

 

To read an interesting account of the recent Barber Vintage Festival on Arthur Treff's Moto Lingua blog, click here

On October 17, the ever-popular three-times AMA Grand National Champion Joe Leonard suffered a double stroke at his home.  He is currently in rehab, but no visitors will be allowed until further notice.  For Leonard's official Hall of Fame bio, click here.

 

To see a great photo of Nicky Hayden, age 11, at Larry Lawrences' Rider Files blog, click here.  

 

The Royal Enfield Bullet, the world's oldest new motorcycle (or is it the newest old motorcycle?), enjoyed sales of more than 40,000 units this year!  That's a figure that any British manufacturer would have been pleased with even during their heyday.  To read more at The Cyril Huze blog, click here.

 

Those of you who follow Bike Exif know all about its beautiful and sometimes bizarre images of customized motorcycles.  You'll like the Bike Exif 2012 calendar for sure.  Click here.

 

The Vintagent brings us news and photos from the 2011 Stafford Show.  Click here.

 

The National Vintage Motorcycle Drag Racing Association has been formed to provide competitive opportunities for drag racing with engines built in 1972 or earlier.  To access their web site, click here. 

 

Joe Gardella (right) won the Barber Vintage Festival Century Race in the Twin Class aboard a 1910 Harley-Davidson.  Dale Walksler won the Single Class aboard a  1911 Indian.  Only motorcycles 100 years old or older are allowed to compete.  To see it on YouTube, click here.

 

The Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, has opened a new motorcycle exhibit.  For more information and photos, click here

 

Outstanding German two-strokes
we shouldn't forget:
Part Three, the 1930s

By Ralf Kruger
(10/18/2011)

Editor's Note: For Parts One and Two of this series, see Motohistory News & Views 6/20/2011 and 7/15/2011 respectively.

The reader will forgive me, I hope, if we expand our discussion well beyond the decade of the 1930s, because it is simply impossible to understand the huge success of DKW without noticing its early, formative years. The company transformed an engine concept to the extent that the words “two-stroke” became synonymous with DKW, providing a technology that benefited other brands throughout the post-war world.

Most essays about DKW praise their motorcycles, and rightly so. But few tell the story of how DKW came to rapidly dominate the two-stroke motorcycle market in Germany, almost from the day the marque was established. Certainly, there is no easy or complete single reason for this dominance, but I believe the main differences of DKW from its competition is in the details. DKW's history is full of market-defining innovations that made the brand such a phenomena, and caused others to struggle to keep up.

Motorcycle companies mushroomed out of the ground in Germany after the great inflation of 1923, and by 1928 registrations were at an all-time high of 800,000. But this recovery ended abruptly for a second time in 1929 when world-wide economic crisis set in. Germany was deeply dependent on American capital at this time, and with American banks cutting off credit, Germany was even harder hit by the recession than many other European countries. This ended the growth of 50 to 75 percent of the small motorcycle firms in Germany due to insufficient capital for development and manufacturing. This, plus a dwindling demand for vehicles, caused them to simply disappear.

A notable exception was DKW. By 1929, a significant number of German motorcyclists were riding the marque. Its rise from a small auxiliary engine supplier for bicycles to the largest motorcycle company in Germany, and after 1928 of the entire world, can be credited to a series of wise decisions by its founder, Jorgen Skafte Rasmussen (1878 - 1964). (above right) By 1924―only its fourth year in business―DKW had produced 50,000 auxiliary engines and small motorcycles. The two-stroke engine, which had started as a cheap alternative to more complex and expensive four-strokes, had developed into a widely accepted kind of engine, which made German two-stroke motorcycle manufacturing so successful on the home turf. As early as the fall of 1926, DKW offered a wide range of motorcycles that extended from a 148cc "Reichsfahrtmodell" (above left) to the air-cooled Z500 twin (above right).

I am convinced that Rasmussen's basic idea to start his brand using the two-stroke engine and develop its design further beyond its assumed limit, was one of the key-factors that contributed to the rise of DKW. When the first sales boom of the century set in during the 1920s, the motorcycle market in Germany was dominated by small vehicles, many of which featured extremely complex two-strokes (see Motohistory News & Views 7/15/2011 for Part Two of this series about engines such as the Bekamo and the Schliha). In the context of these “trick engines,” the DKWoffered a different approach. Their "trick" was to avoid all unnecessary complexity with novel but simple design elements.

Keys to success:
Here are my thoughts about the wise and thoughtful management of Jorgen Rasmussen that contributed to the enormous success of the the Zschopau, Saxony-based DKW factory (above left).

It all started with his idea for an auxiliary engine for bicycles, named "The little miracle." (above right) This product's enormous sales even in its first year of production, together with a demand for more robust frames to replace the over-strained original bicycle frames, enabled Rasmussen todevelop a clear concept of a "Volksmotorrad,” a motorcycle that was cheap enough to appeal to working class customers, both men and women. Rasmussen's solution how to build in large quantity applied Henry Ford's concept of the assembly line. In fact, Rasmussen visited America several times to learn about the newest production methods and marketing trends.

But, of course, it was the talent of some of the engineers and tradesmen that Rasmussen employed who contributed as well to DKW's success. I have already mentioned Hugo Ruppe (1879 -1946) in my "Outstanding German two-strokes of the 20s" article, who became DKW's first engine designer. Ruppe was followed by Chief Designer Hermann Weber (1896 - 1948), (above left7) who spent his career until the end of WWII with DKW in Zschopau.

Another fundamental player on Rasmussen's team after 1922 was Dr. Carl Hahn (1894 - 1961), (right) who was in charge of sales and advertising. He developed the largest dealer network Germany had ever seen. Due to his efforts, DKW customers had easy access to dealers, even in the most remote areas of Germany. Instructed in all details of DKW motorcycles, these dealers were well educated in sales and service. This training was not provided by most other brands, which, if at all, just sent out technical bulletins!

Carl Hahn is also credited with organizing the first "Roadshows" for motorcycles in Germany. To make sure anyone interested in bikes could see DKW motorcycles first hand, a lorry loaded with the latest models was sent on tour throughout Germany.

Hahn always paid close attention to pricing, making sure that DKW offered the cheapest motorcycle in its respect class, even if the difference was only marginal as compared to leading competitors, such as Zündapp, German Triumph (TWN), or Ardie. And, if you couldn't pay cash for your favorite DKW, there was a program that would provide installment financing over 75 months. (left) Thanks to Hahn, DKW was not only at the forefront of good technical design, but also had highly recognizable advertising campaigns that featured color brochures with a unique combination of graphics and text that left a lasting impression. Text was worded as a rhyme. For example, about DKWs auxiliary engine and its Reichsfahrt model, the advertising said, “DKW -- das kleine Wunder, läuft bergauf, wie andere runter!” (DKW -- the small miracle, runs up- as others down the hill!) (right) It was a very catchy slogan for former bicyclists who would understand and welcome the ability to speed up hills as well as down. The jingle may not work so well in English, but it is an excellent example of how attention to detail was important in every aspect of DKW's success.

Attention to detail also explains the success of the small DKW RM engine, which really made a difference in the attitude of Germans toward the lightweight two-stroke motorcycle. From its outset, the DKW auxiliary and RM engine featured progressive details. For example, it featured primary gear reduction inside the crankcase for better appropriate gear ratios, as well asmagnet ignition within the flywheel, (left) which eliminated the conventional and often troublesome magneto as a separate unit, driven by gear or chain. When Bosch took no interest in manufacturing such a modern device, Rasmussen opened another factory just to manufacture these flywheel magnetos and other electrical components. It was the same with carburetors and other mechanical components: Framo was founded.

Racing was another field of activity for DKW after 1922, when the first Reichsfahrtmodell RM type, a small 143cc motorcycle, was introduced. Because the RM was basically disadvantaged against "supercharged" motorcycles of main opponents, such as Bekamo, DKW made the strategic decision was to concentrate on long-distance reliability runs. This was a sport very closelywatched by spectators, because reliability and durability of many small motorcycles was not at its best at that time. Several wins of ADAC organized "Reichsfahrt" contests, like the Berlin to Heidelberg run, were highly recognized and helped popularize the DKW brand. To improve the chances to win, the model was continuously modified, leading even to water-cooled engines not sold to the ordinary customer. (above right)

August Prüssing (1896 - 1967) was placed in charge of the DKW Racing Department in 1927 (left), taking over from from Hermann Weber. To achieve greater success in "real" road races, DKW copied and developed the concept of the "Ladepumpe" (charging pump) from Hugo Ruppe's Bekamo for more speed. This led to the development of the ARe 175cc and ORe 250cc singles, plus PRe 500 twins (right). These were still conventional piston port engines―not twingles of later times―that were water-cooled and featured a charging pump. Since 1929, the 17hp ORe 250 race bike was on sale for racers. It was the first true production racer by DKW, (below left)and was hugely successful in sales as well as in racing.

The next step was to adapt Puch's twingle technology, after Puch beat DKW in a race for the 1931German road racing championship. Swiss engineer Arnold Zoller (1882-1934), who had formerly worked for very famous ARGUS engine works (a Berlin-based factory that built in 1912 the first 100hp inline-four aero engine in Germany) (below right) designed the so called Zoller connecting-rod, which was an immense improvement over the original, simple forked-rodthat Puch used. Various different versions of supercharged racing twingles (UL) were created over the years. They included reed valve inlet designs (ULM) and drum rotary valves (ULD), supercharged by "Ladepumpe" or, after 1937, "Kompressor"(designated US). (below lefty)

After five years of many speed-records and racing achievements, the supercharged engines would earn DKW's highest pre-war award when Ewald Kluge won the 250 TT lightweight class at in the 1938 Isle of Man TT! (below right) A sideline of these factory racing machines was the 250SS model, a 20hp true racing machine as well, but in a lesser state of tune. It was on sale from the spring of 1935 as DKW's support for privateer racers.

But as successful as DKW became in the sporting world, at home and abroad, Rasmussen never lost his focus on the development and sale of series production bikes. He always resisted the temptation to use expensive racing technology for DKW's line of commercial standard bikes.

However, he did adapt water-cooling to his imposing air-cooled Z500 twin as early as 1927, designated ZSW500, to get eliminate overheating, (below left) but only with modest success. The problem of overheating, caused by a notoriously heat-absorbing piston and inadequate scavenging in the typical two-stroke of the time, was never solved completely. The water-cooling worked with the thermosiphon principle, which provides only slow water movement as compared to water cooling with a pump. it was not this reason alone that the cooling system couldn't cope with the heat. If you take a close look at the water passages, you will detect varying cross sections, which caused standing water pockets which, when creating bubbles of steam, failed to sufficiently transport heat.

So, the 12 hp Z500, advertised mainly as a heavy duty motorcycle for carrying a sidecar, and its more sporty 18/22hp 500 and 600SS model, (right) which was the fastest road going DKW motorcycle to date, were discontinued in 1933.

Obviously, the simple piston-port two-stroke engine had to be developed further, to avoid misbehavior like overheating and high fuel consumption that was common to every two-stroke engine with more than about 25hp per liter. Until now, specific power had been low enough to avoid the problem somewhat. But since theearly '30s at least, the old scavenging system and piston designbegan to show its age. But no solution had yet been found for a better combination of reliability with more horsepower, despite extensive testing and research.

As the situation became more urgent, in 1931 Rasmussen asked his chief engineer Hermann Weber (1896 - 1948) if the new concept of a "blown" Zoller racing twingle could be adapted for series production as well. Rasmussen was aware of the high costs a twingle would bring, but with no cheap solution at hand, a prototype of a twingle without a charging pump was designed and tested. It had flat piston crowns for less heat absorption and provided uniflow scavenging.

Only weeks later, Rasmussen read an article by Herbert J. Venediger about modern scavenging methods for two-stroke engines. Venediger's paper referred to the 1925 patent by Adolf Schnürle (1897 - 1951). Rasmussen knew immediately that Venediger was "his man", and he contracted him for the development of a Schnürle based scavenging system. After Rasmussen purchased the Schnürle patent from N.A.Otto & Cie Gasmotoren Fabrik Deutz, the new twingle to-be was shelved from the dyno. Again, Rasmussen had shown a good nose, and he would earn the profits. Not only did Schnürle scavenging solve the heating and scavenging problems of the past, but it resulted also in more power. (above left)

But the best thing for DKW from the business point of view was that it created a gap with the competition that they were unable to close until after the Second World War. The only exception in Germany was Richard Küchen's layout with three transfer ports, a development for main rival Zündapp, which could do even better than the original Schnürle design with two ports. But Küchen's design was heavily penalized through legal process. Most attempts by various manufacturers to implement a similar scavenging method were faced with law suits by DKW and rejected by court as illegal copies.

Rasmussen was never shy to adapt any progressive technical details, even if he had to buy a patent or just adopt a good idea, so long as it wouldn't jeopardize DKW's financial future. One of these adoptions was the reed valve for the inlet tract. In this case, the original idea came from Austria. The Grazer Motorenwerke, from Puntigam/Graz, had developed this type of one-way inlet valving for its Titan motorcycle. Its main task is to block the fresh charge in the crankcase from being pushed back, out into the inlet funnel, while the downward stroking piston pre-compresses the charge. (above right)

The DKW reeds were made from thin metal strips, riveted on one end to a slotted block. The other side of the strip can move and opens the inlet funnel for streaming in a fresh air/fuel mixture. If the partial vacuum generated by the up-moving piston is dwindling because the crankcase is filled, the reed valve closes again.

So far so good, but there are some small and some bigger problems with this design. To open the reeds, you need a certain amount of force which will delay aspiration time a bit. The more serious concern is with breakage. As I said, the reeds are from a spring steel alloy, but if you flex it far enough or often enough, or both, the result can be breakage. In 1932, when the reed valve was introduced with the DKW Block 350, the (above left) chosen compromise was quite durable, but it limited maximum engine speed to about 4,500rpmbefore the reed would float and eventually break if this speed were sustained for a long period of time. But this sounds much more dramatic than it actually was, because peak power of 11hp was in the range from 3,500 to 3,800 rpm, with a very flat torque curve down below. So, there was no evident fault with this design. The opposite was true: The engine, combining Schnürle reverse scavenging, a flat piston crown, and a reed valve was durable and easy on your purse because fuel efficiency was better than all previous comparable DKW engines. In this context, I can't help but make a stunning comparison: The next series bike that used these principal details, promoted as "torque induction,” was the 1972 Yamaha DT 250 Enduro, and respectively the road-going 1973 RD 250/350 series(above right) 40 years later!

Another novelty Rasmussen introduced was adding a Dyna starter to his midsize and big motorcycles. (left) Both liquid-cooling and electrical starting were commonly seen as real luxury by most motorcyclists, because these were details almost exclusively featured on automobiles, not by motorcycles of the '30s. No other German motorcycle manufacturer could offer such devices.

But it was not always easy going for DKW.DKW was already experiencing financial woes as early as 1928, which was one year before peak production and prior to the crash on Wall Street in October 1929. This was due to heavy investment into its factories for even greater anticipated production numbers. When the world economic crisis hit Germany in 1929, DKW had about 15,000 employees working in 12 factories, building cars, outboard engines, stationary motors, and even refrigerators. This huge success seemed to be at risk. DKW built about 60,000 motorcycles in 1928 and 65,000 in 1929, but this number collapsed to about 20,000 in 1931. How deep the impact of the crisis became is shown by the fact that the shop floors were depleted to less than 2,500 workers by the fall of 1930. (above right) The company's financial situation became more and more strained. Even in this situation, Rasmussen couldn't resist to buy the renown Schüttoff motorcycle factory as late as 1931, the year of deepest recession yet, which led to an additional debt of two million Reichsmarks.

On the initiative of the State Bank of Saxony in 1932, the merger of Saxony's automotive manufacturers Audi, Horch, DKW, and Wanderer created Auto Union AG. Even though Rasmussen was a key figure in founding Auto Union and served on its board from 1932 through1934, DKW lost much of its independence to the banks. Finally, irreconcilable differences in management positions led to Rasmussen's elimination from Auto Union in December 1934.

In 1940, the successor of the 1936 RT100—the new RT125—appeared. For it, Hermann Weber designed a completely new little engine, which featured a three-speed gearbox and five hp (two more than the RT100). The outer appearance of this engine borrowed its flowing lines from the big NZ500 and its power was astonishing to any motorcyclist of the pre-war era. This little bike was as fast as a former 200.(above left) Prior to 1941, 21,000 were produced for the civilian market before sales were limited to the German army.

After the Second World War, the technical blueprints of the RT125 were distributed to various motorcycle manufacturers all over the world as part of the reparations Germany had to fulfill. These templates would be used by BSA for its Bantam motorcycle in England. Yamaha's first model—the YA1—launched in 1955 borrowed from the DKW, and even Harley-Davidson in America saw a market niche to propel American youngsters with its 1948 125cc Model S. Even if not as popular as in Germany a stretched out 165cc version could be bought as late as 1957.(above right)

Rasmussen's long success over DKW came from dedicated development of the two-stroke engine, racing, efficient manufacturing, and innovative sales and marketing strategies. To end this chapter, I want to simply show a picture of the 1940 500 twin, the new NZ500 (above left) of which only about 1,500 copies were made during the early days of the Second World War. Designed by Richard Küchen, it was the pinnacle of DKW style, technology, and manufacturing. Just enjoy.

 

Joe Bolger's three-wheeler

(10/15/2011)

 

They have a rule in the automobile industry about product development: You can do it good. You can do it fast. You can do it cheap.  But you can only have two of the three.  In other words, if you are going to do a quality job and not throw money at it, you have to take your time.  But 37 years? C'mon!  That's how long Joe Bolger spent working on his hand-made three-wheeler, and now that it's seen the light of day, it seems well worth the wait.

 

Joe Bolger (left), of Barre, Massachusetts, always liked three-wheeled Morgans, and he thought that one day he just might build his own.  When the Honda CX500 liquid-cooled V-twin arrived in 1978, Bolger figured this might be an ideal engine to mount on the nose of a shaft-driven three-wheeler.  Work on the project had only begun when, three years later, the CX650 arrived, and Bolger thought, “Well, this is even better.” 

 

Bolger (seen below right with his work-in-progress in 2004) based his length and wheel base on a 1930s-era Morgan, but decided the cockpit should be somewhat wider.  He explains, “You've seen those pictures of a Morgan going down the road with two Englishmen bulging out both sides.  I thought, 'What's wrong with a little comfort.'”  The chassis is tubular, using chrome-moly, built around a three-inch center tube.  Much of it is oval tubing that was salvaged from the Yankee motorcycle project in Schenectady, New York.  The rear wheel is suspended by Honda Gold Wing adjustable air shocks.  The front axle, hubs, brakes and steering gear are from a Honda Civic.  The front suspension was designed and fabricated by Bolger and his son Brent, who helped him throughout the project.

 

The bodywork is a marvel of hand fabrication.  Made from aluminum, every piece of it was shaped by Joe and Brent on machinery that they created for the task.  Bolger explains, “I built my own English wheel and power hammers.  Brent built a special head for the hammer to create the louvers.”  Yet Bolger is not above working with hand-me-downs in a pinch.  He says, “The hub caps are lids from a couple of pans my wife wasn't using any longer.  They looked just right to me.”

 

Just under four decades in the making, Bolger's three-wheeler was rolled out for testing earlier this month, after Twin Brooks Restoration of Suffield, Connecticut, laid on a gorgeous coat of red paint.  Bolger reports, “We're really happy with it.  I would have been happy if we didn't have body panels pop loose when we hit bumps, and I figured we would come back from the first test drive with 37 things we couldn't live with.  But this is not the case.”  He explains, “There is some annoying drive-line noise that I'm sure is a spline, but otherwise everything worked just great.”  He adds, “Knowing that it weighs considerably more than a motorcycle, I was expecting it to be pretty docile, but it accelerates much faster than I thought it would.  The steering is surprisingly light, and it has a good self-centering quality.”

 

So far, Bolger has tested the vehicle to only about 55 mph.  He says, “You can run it up to about 40 in fourth gear, where it is doing only about 3,600 rpm, and shift into fifth and you can almost hear the beats of the engine.”  With red line at 10,000, Bolger believes it should be able to top out at 100mph.  But how's it going to be on a long cruise with that radiator behind the engine, just in front of the cockpit.  Bolger explains, “Our upholstery guy sprayed a high-tech coating on the bulkhead that insulates for both noise and heat.  It seems to work pretty well.”

 

And being a motorcycle man at heart, Bolger added a special touch that will make his three-wheeler friendly to both car and bike guys.  It has two clutch controls: a hand lever and a foot pedal.  Take your choice.

 

To read our previous feature about Joe Bolger, go to Motohistory News & Views 4/24/2004.

Most photos provided by Sandra Bolger. 

 

(10/12/2010)
 

What has center-hub steering, a massive frame, shaft drive, and a four-cylinder automotive-type engine?  You're right: a Militaire!  But actually, that's not what we are describing at all.

 

Craig Vetter, who loves scooters and novelties of design (we do to), sent us this true oddity.  Its history and builder are unknown.  It was acquired by its current owner in an estate auction after it sat under a porch for years.  Its current owner—with no offense to Denis Manning—has named it BUB, meaning “Big Ugly Bastard.”  He states, “I honestly thought the body work was hideous, but when I saw the center-hub steering front end, I bought it just because of the engineering.” 

 

The vehicle is powered by a 1.1 liter Opel Cadet engine (below) with cast iron block, high-compression heads, and twin downdraft carburetors.  We're pretty sure its purpose was not Bonneville since it is massively heavy and produces less than 60 hp.  The frame is brass brazed and the header and muffler are made from flat stock.  Its final drive is by shaft to a BMW single rear end.  The owner added fenders under the shell and lights to make it street legal, and says he has identified parts from 15 different manufacturers, including that cute little Mercedes Benz star on the nose.  And, oh yes, he added that quirky paint job since it was not conspicuous enough!

 

If you have ever seen this machine and know anything about its history and origin, please e-mail ed@motohistory.net.   

 

News from Kurland

(10/10/2011)

 

Our Latvian friend Juris Ramba sends a group photograph and news from the 2011 Round Kurland Rally, reporting that 24 antique motorcycles from eight countries, completing the 700 kilometer course in four days.  The tour included visitation of 12 castles and attendance at four concerts.  The next rally will take place in 2013.  For more information, click here

 

(10/8/2011)

 

Art of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle,” just released by Motorbooks and the Quayside Publishing Group, pulls together the best of photographer David Blattel's Harley-Davidson portraiture into a large format, hard-cover book that features 100 of the Motor Company's best from 1911 to the present.  The collection is divided into eleven groupings.  Single groups are devoted to the Knucklehead and the Panhead.  Each motorcycle presented is accompanied by historical text by Dain Gingerelli, plus specifications. This gorgeous book contains 192 pages in a 12” x 10” landscape format.  It is a licensed product of Harley-Davidson and is available in bookstores now at $40 US, £27.50 in the UK, or $44.00 in Canada.  For more information about “Art of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle” on line, click here.

About four years ago, John Stein authored a gorgeous large-format book entitled “World's Fastest Motorcycles,” about the history of land speed racing at Bonneville.  Stein is back, focused again on the straight-line speedsters with “Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History.”  In a large format of 254 pages, with more than 200 photographs, this work takes drag racing from the beginnings of the sport to the present day.  More than 500 people are profiled, two of which—Terry Vance and Cook Neilson—have written reviews for the back cover of the book.  Compared to other aspects of the motorcycle sport, which have been exhaustively studied, drag racing history has received relatively little scholarly attention, and this book will be welcome to those who want to know more about the sport. “Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History” is available for $40.00 with free delivery in the United States via media mail.  To order a copy, click here.

 

Proof again that airheads never die is the re-release of Bill Stermer's “BMW R100RS” by Whitehorse Press.  Published originally  in 2002, this book has been out of print for three years, but demand for it among BMW fans remained strong enough to justify re-issue just in time for the Christmas season.  At 80 pages, it comes with a more substantial binding than the first edition.  Stermer—himself an R100RS owner—sets the stage with a brief history of the marque, describes the development of the R100 engine and the ground-breaking styling of the RS by Hans Muth, addresses the sporting nature and ride quality of the machine, discusses how the bike spawned a specific aftermarket, and explains how the concept enlivened BMW's image for a second time with the re-release of the RS in 1988.  Photography is excellent, and there are comprehensive spec charts as well as an index. “BMW R100RS” is available for $17.95.  To order it on line, click here

 

Steve McQueen: A Passion for Speed,” by Fédéric Brun, explores the history of McQueen the Motorhead in film and reality.  Brun, a leading French film fan, car lover, and amateur racer, does a thorough job of chronicling McQueens love for cars and motorcycles, and how his passion for speed and excitement carried over to his motion picture career.  The text is thorough, but photography is also a strength of this volume.  Because so much of McQueen—still today—is “image,” it is appropriate that so much space should be devoted to depictions of the subject in large-format pictures.  In all, there are a hundred color and 60 black and white photos in this 196-page volume.  The book is approximately a 10” square format, in hard cover with dust cover.  It is available from Motorbooks for $40 US, £25.00 in the UK, and $44.00 in Canada.  “Steve McQueen: A Passion for Speed” is in bookstores now or can be ordered from Motorbooks on line.  Click here. 

 

In June, we presented a pre-publication review of “Biker are Animals 3: On the Road,” the third children's book in a series by cartoonist Paul Jamiol (see Motohistory News & Views 6/8/2011).  Though they are not really history books, I find Jamiol's core message to be so important that they should be on the shelves of all libraries and in the collections of every motorcycling parent or grandparent who believes in fair and equal treatment, not just over the road but in life as well.  These books shatter the stereotype that bikers are rough, thoughtless, and a cut below society as a whole.  In addition, like its predecessors, “Bikers are Animals 3” delivers strong messages about safety and social responsibility.  To order your copy, click here.

 

The October issue of The Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Magazine features a rare RH67 on its cover, Suzuki's first attempt at a production motocross machine.  The photo was shot at the 2011 Dana Point, California, Concours, which is extensively reported within the magazine through five pages of photos and text about the event.  There are also stories about Vintage Motorcycle Days 2011,  how a Honda 400 project bike morphed into a 450cc cafe racer, technical stories about rust removal and drum brake renovation, and lots and lots of classified ads for collectible Japanese motorcycles.  As the official publication of the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club, North America, this magazine is not available on newsstands.  To get it, join the club.  Click here.

 

The June/July issue of Ride With Us!, the official magazine of the International Motorcycle Federation (FIM) contains an interesting and remarkably frank interview with Wayne Rainey, who was on his way to a fourth consecutive road racing world championship in 1993 when a crash at Misano ended his career and put him into a wheelchair for life.  Rainey talks about how his rivalry with Kevin Schwantz carried both riders to a level of performance that eclipsed the grand prix road racing field as a whole.  He explains how more than 2,000 races on dirt during his national career gave him skills and a riding attitude that revolutionized international road racing when he and other Americans with similar background arrived in Europe.  He says about current American GP riders Spies, Edwards, and Hayden, ”I am not sure they would have had a place twenty years ago.”  He adds, “Edwards has been here for ages.  If I had results like his, I would have gone home a long time ago.”  He talks about his dark days following his injury, and says, “I am still here. I have understood that the essential thing is not to be successful, but to like how you're living.”  To reach the FIM on line, click here

 

In the December IronWorks, Margie Siegal's regular “Seasoned Citizen's" series features a 1948 Indian Chief and custom-built sidecar created by Matt Blake, a Sam Pierce protege and former mechanic for the Steve McQueen collection.  Siegel outlines both the history of sidecars in the Indian line, and the history of the Chief, dating back to 1922.  The beautiful sidecar that Blake built for an Indian project is almost indistinguishable from a late-model boat-nosed Indian sidecar, but was built from scratch.  After showing it at Davenport some years ago, Blake found himself in the sidecar fabricating business since there are more frames around than surviving bodies.  Blake typically builds one a year, his latest being a high-tech aluminum model attached to a 1948 Chief modified for reliable cross-country travel.  This issue also contains a story about a very interesting series of ironhead Sportster customs built by the Del Prado brothers of New River, Arizona.  To subscribe to IronWorks, click here

 

In writing about the history motorcycle competition, journalists invariably focus on the technology of the legendary machines and the skill and personalities of the great men and women who rode them.  But what about the tracks that helped the riders and their machines earn acclaim?  The December issue of Racer X Illustrated contains a fascinating story by publisher Davey Coombs entitled “Carlsback,” about Marc Peters' (son of motocross promoter Stu Peters) who has pursued an unusual labor of love by building an accurate, full-scale recreation of the famous Carlsbad Raceway that figured so prominently on ABC's Wide World of Sports during the era when Americans first exploded onto the world motocross stage. Significantly, it was the elder Peters who first promoted a race in the dusty arroyo that became known as “Carlsbad.”  The new Carlsbad has become so popular as a favorite playground of former champions and vintage racers that Peters thinks maybe he should next recreate Saddleback Park!  The story includes a sidebar that offers sources of American race track history on the internet.  To subscribe to Racer X Illustrated, click here

 

Imagine a street-legal Norton Manx!  The November/December issue of Motorcycle Classics does with a cover story about such a machine, built by Steve Tonkin, 1981 Isle of Man Junior TT winner and professional classic bike restorer.  British motohistorian Phillip Tooth provides both words and photos for the feature.  The issue also contains features about the 1975 Suzuki GT550 Indy triple, the Laverda 750SFC, placed in the context of Laverda's 1974 full lineup; a 1955 Vincent Series D barn find known to be among the last batch of motorcycles to leave the factory before it ceased production, David Roper's 1946 Moto Guzzi Dondolino vintage racing bike, and a tribute replica of the 1978 Vetter/Pridmore Kawasaki KZ100 Superbike racer.  Photography, journalism, and art direction are to the high standard we have come to expect from Motorcycle Classics.  To subscribe, click here.  

 

American Iron Magazine caters to Harley riders in the here and now, but there is always an “American Iron Classic” feature that carries us back to yesteryear.  In the December issue, Editor Jim Babchak chooses the 1955 Harley-Davidson ST165, which in this case is a near-perfect original example that belongs to Pennsylvania collector Leon Blackman.  Babchak describes the post-war market that the Motor Company needed to address with a light, economical street machine, and how opportunity came its way with the rights to use the engine design of the DKW RT125.  Launching its S series with the 125 Hummer in 1948 (noteworthy for its rubber-suspended girder forks), over time Harley-Davidson improved and upgraded the basic design, enlarging it to 165cc then eventually 175cc before it was displaced by more modern two-strokes from Aermacchi.  Blackman, now 81, still takes short rides on his little Harley which still has only 1,300 miles on the clock.  To subscribe to American Iron Magazine, click here.

 

(10/5/2011)

 

In our feature about American motocross pioneer Bryan Kenney (Motohistory News & Views 9/28/2011), we incorrectly credited him as being the first American to earn a point in “Grand Prix” competition in Europe.  Dave Ekins wrote:

 

Hi, Ed.  Lets keep the facts straight regarding Bryan Kenney.  In 1952, Bud Ekins went to the AJS factory to learn how to ride motocross.  I guess he impressed them because they sponsored him on a special 350 AJS for the British round of the FIM European Championship.  The 6’3” Ekins finished third,  earning a point towards the Championship.  Bud was 22 at the time.

 

Dave is correct, and we have corrected the story accordingly (thank you, digital medium).  Our error arose from vague and incorrect terminology.  We used the term “Grand Prix,” where we should have stated that Kenney was the first American to earn a “World Championship point.”  When Bud Ekins earned his point in the 1950s, the series was designated an European Championship.  There were points races in Britain, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Luxembourg, and all were referred to as “Grands Prix.”  Thus, Bud was the first American to earn a Grand Prix point in motocross in what was the highest level of international competition at the time.  In 1957, the FIM changed the series to a World Championship.  Consequently, while Kenney became the first American to earn a World Championship point, he was not the first to earn a Grand Prix point.  Our apologies to both Dave and Bryan, and to the memory of Bud Ekins for our error and any confusion we may have caused. 

 

We also heard from Les Archer, Kenney's mentor and the last man to earn the European Championship title in 1956, aboard his famous Norton Manx scrambler. 

 

I was pleased to see your story on Bryan Kenney.  Amazing coincidence that at the same time the story appeared, I was reunited with the old Norton at this years Goodwood Revival Meeting. I am sure Bryan would have also loved to be there to see the Norton so beautifully restored by the National Museum, and listen again to the roar of that wonderful engine.   With Jeff Smith, Don & Derek Rickman, Dave Bickers, Arthur Lampkin, and Dave Curtis, we did a few demonstration laps of the Goodwood circuit.  Seven Old Champions to represent the Golden Age of MotoCross, so there were a few memories there between us.  It was good to get together and on bikes again. 

 

Oh yes, I forgot to apologize for the freezing accommodation that Bryan put up with over my old Garage in the UK, but we were only trying to toughen him up a bit so that he could ride the Norton. They were big tough guys riding big bikes in the 50s.!!  However, as I recall he managed to make me quite jealous at times in the manner that he dealt with the cold conditions, so it was not all bad.  Bryan was just born to be successful, I guess.

 

Thanks, Les, for sending along the then-and-now photos shown above of both you and the Norton, and for the group photo from the Goodwood Revival (Archer is second from left).  What a glorious meeting that must have been.  I understand we can thank Motohistory contributor Mike Jackson for getting all you grand men of motocross together.