Smiths instrument restorer Dave Sauerberg — RIP

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on October 11, 2012 No Comments yet

Dave Sauerberg died on Oct. 5, 2012. He was days away from his 75 birthday. A talented restorer of Brit-iron, and perhaps best known later in life for his deft touch with Smiths instruments, he will be missed. In the following story, written some five years ago, there’s a reference to the number of instruments Dave restored. On my 1951 Triumph T100, I’ve got No. RB1232, and I’m fairly certain it was one of the last — if not the last — to leave his bench.

Dave had recently sold his instrument repair business, and thankfully he had the opportunity to pass along his knowledge to Andy Henderson of www.vintagebritishcables.com.

God speed, Dave.

Dave Sauerberg in 2001 at the Ponoka Rally in Central Alberta. He was aboard his restored Matchless G3/LS. All of his restorations were simply meticulously detailed.

You just never know what’s around the next corner. Hopefully, it’s a new opportunity. When Lethbridge, Alberta resident Dave Sauerberg turned a corner in 2003 he discovered he had a remarkable talent for rebuilding Smiths motorcycle instruments.

At one time optional extras, Smiths speedometers and tachometers became standard fare on just about every make of British motorcycle, from Ariel, B.S.A, Norton and Triumph, and plenty of others in between. There are thousands of Smiths clocks out there, gracing what are now vintage machines. As those instruments age the chances are good they will at some point need servicing – lubricants dry up and needles get wobbly.

Sauerberg began his motorcycling career in B.C.’s lower mainland. In 1950 he was 13 years old when he bought a Whizzer motor for $10. His uncle, an experienced tug boat engineer, helped rebuild the engine. Sauerberg learned how to replace the Babbitt bearings on the connecting rod, and how to set up the Whizzer to run. The pair also fabricated some necessary brackets to hold the motor in a balloon-tire bicycle frame, something Sauerberg hand-sanded and painted with a brush.

“That’s probably where I got my philosophy ‘If you’re going to do something, make sure it’s done right’,” Sauerberg says of the mentorship provided by his uncle Knut Karlsen. “He’d tell me, ‘That’s not good enough; it has to be the best you can get it’.”

Sauerberg kept the Whizzer for a year or two, and moved up to larger and faster bikes as time went on. He road raced and drag raced his motorcycles, the majority of the bikes being British-made. So when Sauerberg began restoring motorcycles in the late 1990s some of the first projects he undertook were Brit bikes. He’d do full, factory correct restorations as well as custom jobs. But for every project he undertook, he never gave restoring or rebuilding the instruments a second thought.

That is, until John Oland of Motoparts in Edmonton challenged him to the task.

“I remember him (Oland) saying, ‘I’ve seen your detail work. If anyone can do it, you can. I’m going to send you two instruments with bezel kits – if you wreck them you can throw them away’,” Sauerberg recalls. “Well, I thought, the instruments are mechanical, why shouldn’t I be able to fix them?” Working in his own double-garage workshop, he had to make his own tools in order to get the clocks apart without doing irreparable damage. In fact, he had to make several tools.

A Smiths clock, whether it’s a speedometer or a tachometer, is about three and a half inches in diameter. The workings are in a housing that resembles a tuna fish can, except a little bigger. A piece of round glass covers the instruments’ face, and there is a seal sandwiched between the glass and the can, and between the top of the glass and the thin chrome ring that holds it all together. The chrome ring is called a ‘bezel’. Sauerberg can get the bezel off easily enough, but getting one back on requires a tool that will roll and crimp the band around both the glass and the can.

Smtihs produced two styles of instruments – chronometric and magnetic. Chronometric speedos and tachs are actual clockworks, the name itself derived from ‘chrono’, meaning clock, and ‘metric’, meaning all internal screw threads are metric. Chronometric instruments, according to Sauerberg, are very intricate and complicated, full of cams, levers and escapements. The second type — magnetic clocks, are much simpler.

The first two clocks Sauerberg repaired for Oland was the magnetic type. “I sent them back to John and he said they were just gorgeous, and that he’d be sending any more instruments that required rebuilding to me,” Sauerberg explains. He quickly figured out what makes the magnetic clocks tick, so to speak, and Sauerberg says he also soon learned what causes a magnetic instrument to fail. Usually it’s dried up lubricant, which turns into a hard wax. And he also learned three or four reasons why a needle will wobble – and it’s all got to do with internal clearances. “I don’t want to give too much away, here, though!” Sauerberg laughs.

Sauerberg rebuilt a few more clocks, and began sourcing his glass and even the printed faces locally. For the seals, he had a special press and cutter made. Every time he orders seals, he sends the tooling to the manufacturer. At some point Sauerberg gave up restoring the British bikes he loves, and focused strictly on repairing Smiths instruments, going so far as to build his own calibrator to ensure the clocks he repaired were telling the truth.

“Magnetic speedos are good up to about 60, 65, 70 mph,” he says. “Then they exponentially drop off, they get lazy, and can be out by as much as 10 per cent.”

It took some time before Sauerberg felt comfortable working on the more complicated chronometric instruments. “I sure didn’t like working on them at first,” he says. “The learning curve was quite agonizing. But I learned. I had to learn. Nobody was around to show me how, and it took a full year before I understood the intricacies of the chrono.”

There are now 27 dealers sending Sauerberg their Smiths instruments for repairs and rebuilding. He has dealers across Canada, from the west coast to the east coast. He also works with dealers in California, Oregon, Florida and even Hawaii. And it’s all word of mouth; he’s never advertised, and doesn’t have a website.

When he first started he wondered how much business there could possibly be, but says every time he turns around there’s another instrument that requires rebuilding. He keeps track of the clocks he’s repaired, noting them in a book and by placing a small decal on the back of the instrument. Starting with RB100 (RB stands for Retro Bike), on March 12, 2003, Sauerberg is now affixing label RB633. That’s 533 instruments in four years.

“By the end of today, I’ll be up to 535,” he says.

Salt attack

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on September 21, 2012 No Comments yet

Trillion Industries Triumph Bonneville. All Trillion images courtesy Spindrift Photography.

Too much sodium is detrimental to our health.

Yet, a growing number of Calgarians have a penchant for salt.

But it’s not the tabletop variety that’s got local gearheads revved up. It’s the flat and level ground in Utah at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

For decades, speed junkies from around the world have traveled to the flats with their custom-built hotrod cars, trucks and motorcycles. On the dry lakebed, these enthusiasts attempt to set land speed records.

This year several teams from Calgary visited the salt, including one that’s been going down for the better part of a decade (Ted Allan and North of 49), one with three years experience (Gord Driedger), and another getting their first taste (Derek Pauletto and Team Trillion Industries).

There were other teams from the city, but we’ll focus on these three.

This was Ted Allan’s best year ever.

In 2002, Allan and the North of 49 team took a heavily modified 1928 Model A Roadster pickup to the salt, where the truck was competing in the ‘B’ street roadster category. Powered by a 427 c.i. (7.0-litre) big block, naturally aspirated Chevrolet engine the roadster was fast, putting Allan and the team past the 321 km/h (200 mp/h) mark.

However, at the time, they were chasing a 344.4 km/h (214 mp/h) record that eluded them. They returned in 2003 and 2004, sat out 2005, and then ran each year up to 2009. That year, a piston wrist pin seized, and Allan sat out 2010.

Somewhat dejected, he began to question the aerodynamics of the old Model A pickup.

“That’s when my wife said, ‘If you’re going to think about building a new car, I’ll buy the body and the metal for the chassis’,” Allan says.

Ted Allan and North of 49, image courtesy Ted Allan.

That perked him up, and he decided to create a rear engine modified roadster using the Chevrolet engine from the pickup. Construction started October 2010, and a running vehicle was ready for Speed Week in August 2011.

With the engine behind him, and a longer and more aerodynamic body in front of him, Allan was confident he’d be faster.

And he was. Putting a new car on the salt, he had to run the shorter 4.83 km (3 mile) course before being allowed on the longer 8.05 (5 mile) track. Right off the trailer, on a shakedown run, Allan qualified for a record, backing it up with a record-breaking run with an average of 370.1 km/h (230 mp/h) in the B/GRMR (B=engine less than 439 c.i./Gas Rear-engine Modified Roadster) class.

Nobody beat that speed by the end of 2011, and the team became world record holders.

That winter, the crew modified the engine with new heads and dual four-barrel carburetors. Spring 2012, they dyno tested the changes. The reworked heads made no difference, and the dual four-barrel carbs actually robbed them of horsepower.

They returned the engine to its original state, but swapped out the automatic transmission for a standard gearbox. Again, right off the trailer in Utah, Allan set a record of 387.5 km/h (240.8 mp/h) in the Fuel class –without the help of third gear.

Allan was shifting first, second and to fourth, as the gearbox was jumping out of third.

With the gearbox fixed by mid-week, Allan took on the Gas class, setting a 399.76 km/h (248.4 mp/h) record with a 402.97 km/h (250.4 mp/h) qualifying run, backed up by a 397.83 km/h (247.2 mp/h) run. For the first time, Allan broke the 402.33 km/h (250 mp/h) mark – an achievement that makes him a 200 MPH Club lifetime member.

“Our learning curve was a bit bumpy,” Allan says of his years on the salt. “And now, I’m just mulling my options about what’s next. But we’ll be back on the salt, that’s for sure.”

Another Calgary salt flat competitor, Gord Driedger, bought a 1953 Studebaker coupe out of California in 2010. The car had been built as a racer, equipped with a flathead Ford engine.

Chopped and channeled, the Studebaker has just 76.2 mm ground clearance. Front fenders and hood are fibre glass; the rest of the car is all steel.

Driedger, on his first run in 2010, managed 218.9 km/h (136 mp/h). Over the course of Speed Week Driedger made 10 more runs, with 241.2 km/h (149.9 mp/h) his fastest. The record for the XF/GCC (Flathead Ford/Gas Competition Coupe) class that year was 251 km/h (156.7 mp/h).

He went down in 2011, ran very close to 156 mp/h, learned more about the car and the salt, and returned again in 2012. Unfortunately, he didn’t break the record, although he had installed a closer ratio gear set.

“I’m maxed out at horsepower, and that’s as fast as I’m going to go in these conditions with that motor unless I make some changes,” he says.

Driedger plans to fabricate new ductwork to get cool, fresh air to the engine, and will install a crankcase vacuum pump. The pump will remove excess pressure from the crankcase, thereby making it easier for the pistons to travel on their downward stroke.

“The record now is 157.701 mp/h, and we made 156.066 mp/h,” Driedger says. “I’m very close; I’m bumping up against it.”

He’ll be back in 2013 for Speed Week.

“The salt is part of my life now, and I don’t have any plans to quit – there are only so many Speed Weeks left in a guy’s life,” Driedger laughs.

While Allan and Driedger raced Speed Week, welder and machinist Derek Pauletto of Calgary’s Trillion Industries attended BUB Speed Trials later in August. The trials are for motorcycles only.

Pauletto challenged himself, basing the build on the remnants of a 1970 Triumph Bonneville to run in the M/PBF (Modified/Pushrod Blown Fuel) class. He used the front frame loop, fork and engine of the Triumph, but everything was heavily modified. Pauletto designed and built the custom rig, but had plenty of help putting together and tuning the engine.

Basically, he took antiquated British engineering and pulled it into the 21 st century, outfitting his 650cc racer with current technology. He installed an aftermarket turbo for a 1.8-L Audi car, and modified throttle bodies from a 2003 Honda CBR for fuel injection. Custom cams, pistons and crankshaft went in the Triumph cases, and an HKS F-Con V Pro fuel management computer system was tricked into thinking it was running a two-cylinder Toyota Supra. That work was thanks to automotive computer tuning gurus Reg Reimer and Chris Hart of Calgary-based RCTS.

Pauletto and crew got the bike to start on Thursday, August 23, ran it on the dyno on August 24, and were on their way to the salt flats at 8 p.m. that night to make the Sunday tech inspection.

They made it, passed inspection, and squeezed two qualifying runs (171.94 km/h – 106.838 mp/h and 172.28 km/h –107.049 mp/h) out of the motorcycle before being sidelined by electrical gremlins.

“Our venture didn’t end on the best note, and we couldn’t make up the stuff that happened,” Pauletto says, and adds, “I definitely grew some grey hair and added a couple of wrinkles, that’s for sure.”

There’s no question he’ll be back, however.

“You get out there and you’re surrounded by the salt – it’s an eerie and surreal place, like nowhere you’ve ever been before,” Pauletto concludes, and adds, “For sure, there’s always next year.”

Daughter searches for dad’s long lost Cobra

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on September 20, 2012 3 Comments


The whereabouts of Lloyd Samaha’s 1963 Shelby Cobra remains a mystery.

Calgarian Mary Ann Samaha’s late father sold his Cobra before 1968 when she was born.

While she was growing up, Samaha told Mary Ann stories about his beloved car. He always wondered where the Cobra ended up.

The story goes like this.

On February 2, 1964 a Cobra was shipped from Los Angeles to Pflueger Lincoln-Mercury in Honolulu.

Samaha co-owned a restaurant in Hawaii, and he purchased the Cobra from the dealership. The car cost $5,195, and with its Class “A” accessories that included aluminum rocker covers and different tires the total was $5,475.

Immediately, Samaha began racing.

“My dad ran a high-end steak house, called Canlis,” Mary Ann says. “Racing his Cobra was just fun on the side.”

He’d chosen a car built for competition, as noted American racer Carroll Shelby based the Cobra on a lightweight platform from English automaker AC Cars.

Mark II Cobras, which is what Samaha owned, were equipped with a 289 c.i. (4.7-L) Ford Windsor V-8 and were built between early 1963 and 1965.

According to daughter Mary Ann, he was competitive.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of this stuff,” she says of the numerous trophies the family still has. “As kids, we always had them in our rooms, they were in every room of the house. And, all of the newspaper clippings I’ve just organized into binders.”

According to one of those aging, yellowed papers, Samaha began racing in 1959 when he borrowed a car and drove ‘the old Kahuku’ track. He then bought a beat up Jaguar for $400, and enjoyed the competitive spirit of club racing.

Mary Ann says her father never told her why he eventually invested in the bright red Cobra, but the car, and his racing days, were important to him.

“Even when he was teaching us to drive, it was always about that racing mentality and being defensive,” Mary Ann says. “It was part of our lives.”

Samaha moved his young family in 1965 from Honolulu to San Francisco, his home city. He shipped the Cobra there on Pan American airlines. Once settled, he raced the car a few times at Laguna Seca.

“But, he had two young kids, and I was on the way,” Mary Ann explains. “It just wasn’t practical to keep the car anymore, and he sold it for only a few thousand dollars.”

The family moved to B.C., her mother’s home province, in 1981, and Mary Ann to Calgary in 1987.

In late 2000, as the Internet was burgeoning, Samaha asked Mary Ann if they might use the computer to help locate his Cobra.

“All we knew at the time was that it was a red 289 Cobra,” she says, and adds, “We didn’t know the all-important chassis number.”

Mary Ann found Ned Scudder, Shelby American Automobile Club Cobra registrar, and gave him those few details. Without a chassis number, he couldn’t help.

Samaha died in 2007, and Mary Ann then decided somebody somewhere had to know something concerning the whereabouts of her father’s old Cobra. This time she was armed with a list of modifications that had been done to make the car competitive, and she sent them to Scudder.

He responded immediately, and called Mary Ann.

“He said, ‘I found the car, and I have a photo I have to get to you’,” Mary Ann says. “He also said to be prepared when I saw the image.”

Scudder knew of Cobra chassis No. 2238, and knew its history except for its first owner – Samaha. When he read about the racing modifications, he instantly put two and two together.

Cobra 2238, according to Scudder, had been put back on the street. In 1969 it was left at an Albuquerque, NM service station for a water pump repair. When the owner came back to collect the Cobra it had been stolen.

It went unrecovered until 1974. Missing its engine, and shot full of bullet holes, the Cobra was discovered crashed at the base of Mt. Taylor near Grants, NM. But all of the modifications Samaha had made matched those found on the stolen car.

It was the photo of the crashed car Scudder wanted to share with Mary Ann.

“A part of me was really sad when it was found, and I wouldn’t be able to tell my dad about it,” she says. “But, to have shown him that photo would have broken his heart.”

Rescued from the mountain, the Cobra was eventually restored, and sold almost repeatedly until a German buyer purchased it in 1989. Currently, the owner of the car is unknown, but the vehicle is still thought to be in Germany.

“I will continue Googling the car in the hopes that I will one day find it. If I could just sit in the car, and feel what my dad felt when he bought it, that would be enough,” Mary Ann says.

She concludes, “It was gone before I was around, and even though I never saw the car with my own eyes, I just can’t let the mystery go.”

 

History on a Post Card

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on August 20, 2012 No Comments yet

This column was penned for my Pulp Non-Fiction column that appears in the Antique Motorcycle Club of America’s magazine, The Antique Motorcycle.

Motorcycling history surrounds us, even when attending a simple jumble sale. Read on.

Self-promotion: On News Years Eve in 1910, the Eclipse Machine Co. sent out this post card (and presumably many others like it) to promote its line of motorcycle clutches among American riders. In the process, the company also shone a spotlight on a talented young racer of the era, Raymond Seymour.

Welcome again, fellow antique motorcycle enthusiasts, to Pulp Non-Fiction. Last issue’s column focused on Douglas motorcycles, produced in Bristol, England. For exactly half a century—from 1907 to 1957—Douglas built one of the most distinctive motorcycle lines in the world, based almost exclusively on the flat-twin engine design.

This issue, I’d like to change gears and highlight how a single post card led to some interesting discoveries about a company on this side of the Atlantic.

At a recent flea market, I stopped to visit a seller specializing in the post card trade. The cards were neatly categorized, and I thumbed through the Transportation file, discovering a gem—a little 5½” x 3¼” card that brings to light two different chapters of early American motorcycling.

The card features an image of a motorcyclist riding next to a river, with a caption reading: “Raymond Seymour, of Los Angeles, Cal., amateur world’s champion, on the speedway approaching Washington Bridge, New York, using an Eclipse Free Engine Pulley and Coaster Brake on his Motorcycle.”

On the back of the card is the printed message:

“Dear Boys: Real merit makes Raymond Seymour the leading racer of this country. It also makes the Eclipse Free Engine Pulley the leader among its kind. It has all of the desirable features—none of the faults; the lightest, the neatest and absolutely the best.

“ECLIPSE MACHINE CO.”

The card I have was postmarked on December 31, 1910, in Elmira, New York, a town near the Pennsylvania state line in central New York State. But the bridge shown (not to be confused with the more famous George Washington Bridge) connects Manhattan and the Bronx in New York City. Nowhere is the brand of machine identified, although it bears some resemblance to a Reading Standard.

Here, though, is where the discovery of a single paper item can open up a whole chapter of history, thanks to the availability of information on the Internet.

As mentioned, there are two distinct areas of interest on this card. First is the Eclipse Machine Co., and second, racer Raymond Seymour.

A little bit of online research turned up the fact that the Eclipse Machine Co. started life in 1895 as the Eclipse Bicycle Company, based in Elmira. For the next four years, until 1899, the company produced bicycles. It then began specializing in the making of coaster-brake rear hubs offered to the public as the Bell Hub Bicycle Brake and, later, the Morrow Coaster Brake. In December 1902, the firm changed its name to the Eclipse Machine Company.

But one of the best resources for learning more information about the Eclipse Machine Co. turned out to be the AMCA’s very own virtual library, available through the Club website at www.antiquemotorcycle.org (you’ll find it by going to “Features” in the menu across the top of the page, then down to “Virtual Library”). This is a wonderful resource, consisting of hundreds of scanned historical documents such as parts manuals, original sales brochures, service guides and dealership papers. Best of all, AMCA members can download any of those documents free of charge.

I found a single document for the Eclipse Machine Co., in the form of a 1913 manual. Its full title is the “Eclipse Motorcycle Dealers Ready Reference Showing Types and Sizes of Eclipse Engine Shaft Pulleys.” It is a slim piece outlining the wide range of machines the Eclipse Engine Shaft Pulleys—what we would refer to as a clutch these days—would fit, including bikes from American, Armac, Curtiss, Detroit, Emblem, Excelsior, Flanders, Greyhound, Harley-Davidson, Haverford, Indian, Marvel, M&M, Merkel, Minneapolis, Pierce, Pope, Reading Standard, Sears, Spacke, Thor, Wagner and Yale.

In 1912, the Eclipse Free Engine Pulleys were fitted as standard equipment to Emblem, Merkel and Yale machines. The units were optional on Detroit, Haverford, Marvel, M&M, Pierce, Pope and Wagner motorcycles. And with numerous flat or V-shaped pulleys in a range of diameters, the clutch could be made to work on many other machines. Just a year or two later, the Eclipse clutch found its way onto machines fitted with two- and three-speed gearboxes, allowing a rider to shift gears.

Prior to the Eclipse clutch, belt-drive motorcycles used a tensioner pulley to connect or disconnect engine power to the rear wheel. But those systems required frequent adjustment and could not be used with the more reliable drive chains that were becoming common in the motorcycle world.

Courtesy AMCA Virtual Library.

The Eclipse clutch was designed very much like the clutches still used on most motorcycles, with a stack of “driving” and “driven” plates that could be squeezed together to transmit engine power to the final-drive belt or chain. According to the Dealers Reference, the Eclipse clutch could be controlled by either a side lever or a hand lever. Instructions for adjustment were the same for both: “IF THE CLUTCH SLIPS, loosen the screws in the face of pulley and turn the Tension Adjusting Ring slightly to the LEFT, again tightening the Screws very firmly in place. TO INCREASE THE SLIPPAGE, loosen screws slightly and turn Tension Adjusting Ring to the RIGHT, being sure to tighten Screws.”

One difference between the Eclipse design and modern clutches is the system used to compress or expand the clutch pack (thus connecting or disconnecting the engine from the rear wheel). Most modern clutches use a pushrod to separate the plates, while the Eclipse design used a helical worm-gear design that the company referred to as a Triple Thread Screw.

By the mid-teens, many manufacturers were developing their own multi-speed transmissions and clutches, which meant that Eclipse’s motorcycle market was drying up. But beginning in 1913, the company found itself playing a key role in bringing another convenience to the motoring world: electric starting.

Most early automobiles featured a hand-crank starting system, which made starting the engine an onerous and potentially dangerous task. In 1910, inventor Vincent Bendix developed an electric starter that required a helical worm gear very much like the one Eclipse was using in its motorcycle clutch. And he contracted with Eclipse to produce what would become known as the “Bendix” drive that connected the starter motor to the automobile’s engine.

In 1914, the Chevrolet Baby Grand became the first car offered with Bendix-designed electric starting, and the company sold 5,500 of the electric-start vehicles that year. By 1919, more than 1.5 million Bendix starters were in service.

Eclipse continued making sundry other mechanical components, including braking systems for automobiles, airplanes and bicycles. It’s unclear exactly when Eclipse stopped producing their motorcycle clutches, but they were likely finished in that line of business by the end of the teens.

In 1928, the Bendix Corporation acquired control of the Eclipse Machine Company, bringing an end to the Eclipse name. But the company’s innovation, in the form of its helical Triple Thread Screw, remained a part of most automobile starter designs into the 1960s (and in many motorcycle electric starters, too).

Now for the other interesting angle of research, and another perfect example of how pulp and computer mix. I had heard of racing legend Raymond Seymour, but turned again to the computer for information. Googling Seymour’s name, I found fellow AMCA member Pete Young’s excellent blosgiste, www.occhiolungo.com, where he had written a post about Ray Seymour and his contributions to the world of motorcycle board-track racing.

In 1909, at the age of 17, Seymour set many speed records aboard a Reading Standard motorcycle. During that year, Seymour rode his V-twin Reading Standard to record speeds of 72 and 73 mph at the Los Angeles Coliseum, before setting a world record for the mile at 47 seconds (76.6 mph) on the same track. Seymour raced on many other board tracks across America, but in 1910, Reading Standard stopped supporting racers. Seymour then moved to Indian, where that company provided him with one of its factory eight-valve machines.

Seymour was mentored by Canadian-born speed sensation Jake DeRosier, who was one of the first factory-backed racers. DeRosier was a star of American board-track racing, and in 1911 was the first American to compete in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races.

Under DeRosier’s tutelage, Seymour raced Indian motorcycles in 1910, 1911 and 1912 before retiring. Although he was still highly competitive, Seymour likely left the sport as a result of a board-track tragedy on September 8, 1912, at the New Jersey Motordrome.

Seymour was leading the race that evening when his Indian teammate, Eddie Hasha, lost control of his machine and crashed into the crowd, killing himself and six spectators, along with fellow racer Johnny Albright. The subsequent publicity over that tragedy put another nail in the coffin of board-track racing.

As Young points out: “Board track racers did nothing but go FAST. The bikes had one gear (top gear). They had no brakes, no clutch, nor suspension. They had no throttle; the carburetors were set to wide-open throttle all the time. If they needed to slow down, there was a button they could use to ground the magneto to the frame (stopping) the spark at the plugs. But of course the bike would continue to roll forward with its momentum. The motors spewed oil from the constant-loss oil systems, made worse by the holes drilled into the motor heads and barrels used to increase power. This oil went onto the rider, the rear tire, and onto the track. The front forks were set up to go straight, not to turn sharply. The tracks were extremely high-banked, almost like the wall of death tracks.

“(Racers) did all this with the technology of the time, i.e. Schebler carbs (aka the Controlled Leak), clincher tires that pop off the rim sometimes, primitive metallurgy in the connecting rods, pistons, chains, etc. And they went over 100 mph regularly. With this combination, riders had little chance to avoid the crashes that often occurred… During crashes the wooden track would give splinters up to 8 feet long. Riders wore minimal protective gear, typically a wool sweater and jodhpurs, maybe a leather helmet and puttees over their lace up shoes.”

Seymour was one of the lucky survivors of this culture of speed, but his life after retiring seems a bit of a mystery. Stephen Wright, noted author of the “American Racer” books, told me, “(Ray) was a fast rider, but he just wasn’t a very glamorous guy.” That could account for his relative obscurity later in life.

In 1913, one source suggests Seymour became a traveling representative for the Indian Motocycle Company, and Wright says that in the late teens, and perhaps into the early 1920s, Seymour had an Indian agency in northern California. “After that, he just sort of falls off of the map,” Wright noted.

All of that history stems from a small post card produced in 1910 by a company promoting its products through what is now a very quaint medium.

The Eclipse Machine Co. remained in operation in Elmira, New York, until 1928 , when the company became part of the Bendix Corporation. Photo by Paul Osborne

Off-roading teenager makes her mark

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on July 17, 2012 No Comments yet

All images courtesy Mitch Brown @ Dirtbikenews.ca.

Giant logs, a pit full of split firewood, a muddy water hole and large boulders.

All are sections of an off-road motorcycle course in a relatively new sport called endurocross, or enduro X.

“Ice racing, trials, hare scrambles, hill climbing, flat track; all of those dirt bike skills come together in endurocross,” says Lexi Pechout.

The 15-year old Calgary racer is proving her mettle in endurocross (www.lexipechoutracing.com). She just returned from Los Angeles where she participated in the X-Games 2012 Women’s Enduro X Finals.

In a field of 10 women, some almost twice her age, Pechout finished fourth. That’s very respectable, given she had a poor start and was caught up with another racer at the beginning of the first lap.

But, Pechout’s philosophy got her through the race.

“I felt really intimidated,” Pechout says. “There were a lot of fast girls there, and I didn’t really know how I was going to get through the race.

“But, I knew if I psyched myself out, I’d never do very well, so I just relaxed and decided to have some fun.”

Pechout says she was late getting off the starting gate, and early in the lap there was a tight 90-degree corner where racers not only had to turn, but navigate riding over a large log. At the log, another racer fell on top of Pechout, and it took both of them more than a few seconds to get untangled.

At that point, she was dead last, but determined to close up the gaps and chase the leaders.

Pechout has been riding for years. I first met her at the Blackfoot Park (Wild Rose MX Track) about 11 years ago, where she had a tiny Yamaha PW50 dirt bike equipped with an even tinier sidecar.

Her father, Siggi Pechout, has been passionate about all things off-road motorcycling his entire life, and that Lexi would be riding at such a young age was a given.

He is a founding member of the Second Gear Motorcycle Club, which is dedicated to encouraging and promoting an interest in the more technical types of off-road riding, including trials and hare scrambles (www.secondgearclub.com).

“There are a variety of skills required to negotiate the terrain in endurocross,” Siggi says, and adds, “We cover all of them in the Second Gear club.

“And usually, wherever I was riding, Lexi always rode and competed at the same venues as I did.”

Just last September an endurocross track was put together at the Wild Rose MX Park in Calgary. This was Lexi’s introduction to the sport, and endurocross allowed her to use all of the skills she’d been learning while competing in events such as trials and ice racing.

“I loved it,” she says of the first time she rode the endurocross track. “I ride it all the time now, because I prefer the more technical kind of riding.”

Endurocross is different from motocross, another popular form of off-road racing. Endurocross is slower and more involved. Motocorss is generally faster with large jumps.

“I’m all right on a motocross track, but it does scare me a bit because I don’t like jumping as much,” Pechout says.

Pechout says she’s learned a lot from her dad, and two other mentors, Shane Cuthbertson and Stephen Foord. She has been racing a 2011 KTM 250XC, a motorcycle that is supplied to her by Cycle Works Calgary. Last week, Cycle Works presented her with a new 2013 KTM 250XC.

At the X-Games Enduro X in Los Angeles, she also had some professional help dialing in her suspension courtesy of Ride Concepts Calgary.

Pechout is set to start Grade 10 this September, but will spend this summer competing, riding, and working. She clears tables at the Austrian Canadian Club during weekend banquets.

“I can’t wait to get my driver’s licence, because I currently rely on my parents to drive me to the track,” Pechout says. “And I’m there five days a week.

“I see myself doing this for a very long time, I love it so much.”

Historic Husqvarna 400-Cross

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on June 15, 2012 No Comments yet

All photos courtesy Matt Stone.

Rob Phillips got lucky when he came across this 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross off-road motorcycle.

What is so exciting about this vintage motocross machine? Well, if you happen to worship Steve McQueen, the racer has some interesting history.

It was ridden by Steve McQueen in the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix racing scenes in the iconic 1971 Bruce Brown film On Any Sunday.

When Phillips bought the Husqvarna, neither he nor the seller realized the motorcycle previously had a rather famous owner. It was not until almost a year after he made the purchase that the McQueen connection was even discovered.

In 2006, Phillips began collecting Husqvarna off-road motorcycles, and in 2008 discovered one for sale in California. He purchased the bike, sight unseen, for $1,500 and stored it in his daughter’s San Diego garage.

Enter Don Ince of Vintage Viking. Ince holds all of the documents of Edison Dye, the man responsible for importing Husqvarnas into the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Founded in Sweden in 1903, Husqvarna became part of BMW in 2007, and the company continues to make off-road machines, and has also recently returned to manufacturing road-going motorcycles. Bow Ridge Sports in Cochrane is the local Husqvarna dealer.

Digging through Dye’s paperwork, Ince discovered the invoice and Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO) for Phillips’ acquisition.

 Rob Phiilips created the McQueen period-appropriate helmet by making his own decals.

“I was in San Diego at the time when Ince phoned, and he said ‘Go check the frame and engine numbers on the Husky’,” Phillips said from his New York office, where he runs Advanced Racing Technologies and Husky Restorations. “I checked the numbers, and it turned out to be a McQueen bike.”

Dated Feb. 9, 1970, the MSO complete with engine and frame numbers indicates Phillips’ Husqvarna was sold to McQueen’s company, Solar Productions.

After using the motorcycle, Phillips’ thinks McQueen returned it to a local California dealer, where it was sold to an owner in 1972 who raced it for a few years. He kept it until 2008 before selling it to another owner, who promptly sold it again. It was from the fourth owner that Phillips bought the motorcycle. Nothing was known about the Husqvarna until Ince searched his records and discovered who first owned the historic racer.

As a Husqvarna restorer, Phillips most often completely refinishes a machine from top to bottom. With McQueen’s 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross, he sympathetically cleaned it, but did not restore the motorcycle.

“There’s a fine line between (deciding when to do) a restoration or not,” Phillips says. “Especially with the provenance of this bike, and it was in very good shape.

“I call it a soap and water restoration.”

Phillips replaced a couple of cables, and freshened up the engine internals so it would run properly. However, he did not refinish any other components. When the engine was removed from the frame, an uncirculated 1960 Lincoln head penny in a protective plastic case was discovered in a frame cavity.

“Steve McQueen was very superstitious, and I suspect he might have placed the penny there as a good luck charm,” Phillips says. McQueen’s son, Chad, was born in 1960.

Phillips currently has McQueen’s Husqvarna on display in the San Diego Automotive Museum, and it was invited to participate at the Greystone Mansion Concours d’Elegance in 2012. The Husqvarna has also been displayed at the Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show, a fundraiser for the Boys Republic in Chino Hills, Calif., where McQueen spent time in 1946.

Datsun Matsuri in Kelowna — a festival for vintage Datsun fanatics

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on May 11, 2012 No Comments yet

First published in the Calgary Herald May 11, 2012. All images courtesy David Myers.

Datsuns at the 2011 Alberta Meet in Red Deer.

David Myers is fast becoming known as Mr. Datsun.

The Edmonton man appreciates all old Datsuns, from Roadsters to 510s, and everything in between.

To share his enthusiasm, Myers hosted the Alberta All Datsun Meet in Red Deer last year.

“We had really bad weather on June 4,” Myers said. “It was cold, and there had actually been a couple of snowflakes in the air. But, we still had about 25 or 30 cars, which is a respectable turnout.”

Those Datsuns came from Calgary and Edmonton, and from points further afield.

But this year, Myers is going a step further, organizing Datsun Matsuri 2012 to run on the May long weekend. Matsuri is Japanese for festival, and Myers is piggybacking his show with a long-established event in Kelowna, B.C. – the Turner Volkswagen 55th Annual Knox Mountain Hill Climb.

By hosting the event in B.C.’s interior, Myers hopes to attract more fans of the Datsun/Nissan brand from western Canada and the northwestern United States.

“I graduated from high school in Kelowna, and I was aware of the Knox Mountain race,” Myers said. “I drove through there last year, and I got to thinking about drawing people to the event by hosting a Datsun show during their event.”

Datsun 510 at the start of the Knox Mountain Hill Climb, 2009.

The hill climb is held on Knox Mountain Park Road, in the City of Kelowna. At 3.5 km in length, Knox Mountain Park Road is paved, but is narrow with off-camber turns and steep grades, and climbs some 245 metres in elevation for an average grade of 6.7 per cent.

No other paved road hill climb in North America has run as long as the Knox Mountain event, attracting drivers from several provinces and states. During the run, cars race up the hill one at a time; the one with the quickest time wins.

There are several classes, from open wheeled to GT cars, and of course, there are often Datsun 510s and Z-cars taking part.

“When I spoke to the organizers about the Datsun show, they said ‘the more the merrier’,” Myers said. “There is a car show that is part of the Knox Mountain Hilll Climb, and ours is really going to be a show within a show.

“Entry to the car show is free for car and driver and is managed by the hill climb organization – we’re just joining in.  The hill climb (also) organizes a people’s choice award for the car show, and participation in that is optional.”

Myers has planned three days of events, including an informal meet and greet on the Friday evening. He and several Edmonton-area Datsun owners plan to drive out in convoy, and Myers said plans are afoot for Calgary owners to do the same.

Saturday is the hill climb and car show, with Myers giving out goodie bags to all registered Datsun participants. There are opportunities to win draw prizes from several sponsors, including a 1:18 scale model Kyosho BRE (Brock Racing Enterprises) Datsun 240Z die-cast car numbered and signed by Peter Brock.

Brock Racing Enterprises fielded a Datsun 510 in the Sports Car Club of America’s 1971 Trans Am 2.5 series with driver John Morton behind the wheel. Morton won the season. For 1972, BRE prepared three Datsun 510s and had a repeat performance.

Other sponsors providing prizes include Sports Imports from Surrey, B.C. Sports Imports specializes in the Datsun Roadster, and fabricates metal body repair panels that quite simply are not available anywhere else.

Wolf Creek Racing is the national distributor of Mikuni automotive sidedraft carburetors and parts, and also manufactures CV axle kits for Datsun 510s and Z-cars. Wolf Creek Racing has supplied a Triple Mikuni Master Rebuild Kit and Manual.

And, Z Therapy remanufactures the popular SU carburetors. They are up for giving away a set of SU carbs – prepared to a fit a vehicle of the winner’s choice.

On Sunday, Myers has routes laid out for what he has dubbed the Twisties Tour. Drivers can take part in a shorter, 141 km loop around the northern part of Lake Okanagan, or go further, driving a 216 km loop that includes the lake plus a farm loop.

If interested in attending Datsun Matsuri 2012, visit www.myautoproject.com to register. Spectators are welcome.

Calgary’s Spring Thaw and Terry Murphy’s 1949 Ford

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on May 3, 2012 No Comments yet

Spring Thaw is Calgary’s first car show of the season, and this story first ran in the Calgary Herald Driving section on April 27 to help promote the event. Terry Murphy’s car was featured, and what a ride it is. Photos by Christina Ryan.

Car crazy Calgarians are revving up.

This Sunday, the 27th edition of Spring Thaw ushers in car cruising season.

“Our show has become one of the rites of spring,” says John Moore. “It’s generally the first car show of the season, and it’s all about getting the cars out, gassed and oiled up, and cruising.”

The Nifty Fifty’s Ford Club of Calgary hosts Spring Thaw, and Moore says since the show’s inception in 1986, the intention has been to bring many of the city’s different car clubs together in one location.

Both clubs and individuals embraced the concept, flocking to Spring Thaw as it has moved to various locations around Calgary. Currently, the show seems to have found a semi-permanent home at Deerfoot Mall.

Capacity in the northeast parking lot is 500 cars, and Moore says if the weather is good, they often end up having to turn away vehicles.

Moore, in his second year as president of the Nifty Fifty’s Ford Club of Calgary, says he is just putting the finishing touches on his 1956 Thunderbird as he readies the car for Sunday’s show.

His T-bird is mostly original, but Moore has rebuilt the engine and transmission, and this year was working on the interior, having had the seats reupholstered.

“These cars are never finished, one always seems to be working on something,” Moore says.

Terry Murphy would agree.

Murphy bought his 1949 Ford Business Coupe five years ago, fresh from a farmer’s field near Three Hills, Alberta. The car was a rolling shell, sans interior and most of the engine.

Surprisingly, though, the body was in good condition and all of the factory glass was intact.

“It was my intention to keep the car fairly original,” Murphy says, and he restored the Ford’s running gear including brakes, suspension and steering. He left the paint alone.

Bert Curtiss of Competition Services in Crossfield built a 1950 Mercury Flathead V-8 for Murphy, and this he mated to the original three-speed Ford transmission.

Murphy was inspired to build his Ford as a ‘rat rod’ after he tagged along to help his designer/photographer son Chad of Lucky U Dezine shoot Viva Las Vegas, a rockabilly weekend in Sin City. Part of the festivities includes a car show, and the homebuilt hot rods captured his imagination.

The rat rod is itself an art form, as counter culture builders routinely thumb their noses at big-dollar painted and chromed up rides. There are no rules to the build, and it is completely up to the individual creating the car just what direction they go.

“It’s summed up by a saying I saw on a t-shirt down there – ‘I Do It Because It’s Wrong’,” Murphy says, and adds, “It’s all regardless of what the mainstream is doing.”

He continues:  “I was looking at these ‘underdone’ cars, and how they tie into rockabilly fashion,” Murphy says. “And the whole scene just energized me – the art of it all and how these mostly young guys are so passionate about what they are creating.”

So, for Murphy, the ’49 Ford became a canvas that he transformed into rolling art, adding pinstripes, stickers and paintings at his whim. Stylized Frankenstein interior door panels, for example, are the work of his son, Chad.

But he took the car to another level this past winter as he had the body stripped and painted matte black.

Murphy then had artisans from airbrushers to pinstripers showcase their talents on the outside of the Ford.

Calgary airbrush artist Ryan Vaness of Bloodshot Airbrushing created the rats on the doors, and although painted freehand, are almost exact duplicates.

And Bruce Ander, one of Calgary’s best-kept secrets, according to Murphy, pulled the pinstripes on the trunk lid. “That’s a spectacular piece of art,” he says.

One of Murphy’s friends calls him the ‘doo-dad king’, thanks to what would seem to be a hodge-podge of unique parts he’s added to the car’s interior. Pieces include an altimeter and a bomb drop stopwatch from a B-52 bomber that actually flew combat missions.

“The pilot had them sitting on his mantle, and I bought them from his estate,” Murphy says. There’s also a compass from a military Jeep.

“It’s got items in it that by themselves could be a story, and I can ramble on to people who have the patience to listen about each piece,” Murphy says.

“Some people say it’s too busy, while others love it. But there’s something in there that will help create a memory for someone, and that’s why my wife Jan and I built it.”

Murphy is looking forward to showing off his rolling canvas this Sunday at Spring Thaw.

“The car show is free fun for all ages, and I really enjoy the fun of watching the reaction of kids and newcomers (as they take in) all of the cars, because they’re truly art on wheels,” Murphy says, and adds, “After all, the future of this car crazy passion depends on the next generation; and we were all the next generation at one time. Experiencing the sounds, paint and chrome can ignite that passion and build life-long memories.”

Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles meets Double RL in London

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on March 31, 2012 1 Comment

Ralph Lauren’s Double RL store window display in London. A great concept, one using the allure and mysticism of vintage motorcycles to entice customers. Does it work?

What we find fascinating about the montage is the use of a 1935 Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles catalogue. It’s framed, and is hanging above the Velocette’s handlebar.

Take a closer look at this image. It’s in there!

 

Off the bookshelf …

Posted in STORIES by Greg Williams on February 10, 2012 No Comments yet

On the bookshelf of J.B. Nichoslon, author of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics, was found this amusing little book: Motor-Cycling Personalities Past and Present.

The book is filled with caricatures drawn by Sallon of the Daily Mirror, and was published by Shell-Mex and B.P. Ltd. in May, 1957. The book was printed as a tribute to the greats of the motorcycle industry.

A brief Foreword states: “Last October we published a book containing caricatures of well known motor racing drivers, past and present, to mark the 60th anniversary of the British Motor Industry. This was so popular with motor racing enthusiasts that we have decided to follow it with a companion volume of famous motor cycle personalities.

“This year happens to be a double jubilee, since it is not only the 50th anniversary of the Isle of Man T.T. Races, but the 25th anniversary of the existence of Shell-Mex and B.P. Ltd, who have throughout the years supported the T.T. races by providing petrol and motor oil to suit the exacting demands made upon racing motor cycle engines.

“All the caricatures which are once again drawn by Sallon of the ‘Daily Mirror’ are of motor cyclists who are still living. The only exception to this is Joe Craig, well known to all motor cycling enthusiasts as ‘the Professor’. We learnt with great regret of his death after the original caricatures had been made.”

Drawings of Alec Bennett, Joe Craig, John Surtees and Stanley Woods are just four examples of the 54 caricatures found in the book — what a gem!

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