Motohistory Quiz #104:
We have a winner
This was a difficult quiz, not just because this engine is so rare and obscure, but sbecause it does not even have a brand name. How do you identify an engine with no name? John Landstrom, owner of Blue Moon Cycle in Norcross, Georgia, won the quiz by explaining that it was built by prisoners in Aiud, Transylvania.
With planing, milling, and boring machines, plus lathes and hydraulic presses, at his disposal, the prison warden secured a contract to create a complete motorcycle, including its engine. Among his prisoners were engineers Commander Constantin Nicolau, formerly a technical director of military aviation, and Sorin Tulea, an aircraft designer. Parts, including cylinders and heads from downed U.S. aircraft, were incorporated into the design. New castings were done at the foundries at Siemens. Forty imprisoned craftsmen and technical specialists were involved in the project. The engine was successfully tested to 8,000 rpm, and it is believed that as many as 10 copies may have been built.
Landstrom, who owns an impressive collection of European brands not commonly seen in the United States, was the subject of a Motohistory feature story a year ago. To read more about our quiz winner, go to Motohistory News & Views 12/28/2011.
Congratulations, John. You have become our last Motohistory Know-It-All of 2012.
Kevin Atherton today
Wayne Hicks, owner of Wayne’s Citrus Cycles in Floral City, Florida, was taking advantage of a gorgeous late November evening aboard one of his custom Harley-Davidsons. November can be one of the best riding months of the year in Central Florida, and Hicks had headed north on Route 41, chasing the moonlight through the tunnel of great overhanging oaks that characterize the highway from Hernando to Dunnellon. There he stopped at Crock’s, a popular biker watering hole. As Hicks rolled into an open slot, he spied a sight he could scarcely believe. It was a pristine mid-70s Harley-Davidson XR750 dirt tracker, outfitted with lights, street tires, and big Brembos front and rear. Otherwise, it looked like it was ready for battle, complete with C&J frame and Supertrapp exhaust system.
Hicks strode into the bar and started making inquiries. “Who owns that XR outside?” Some of the bikers just shrugged, likely having no idea what an XR is. Finally, he approached a small man sitting in the corner, having a beer, who acknowledged that it was his motorcycle. “That’s an incredible bike,” Wayne said, “What’s your name?” “Kevin,” the man replied, and just before Hicks was about to ask “Kevin who?” he was stunned with recognition. “I know who you are,” he declared, “You’re Kevin Atherton.” It defied belief. Kevin Atherton (pictured above left), the winner of 14 AMA Camel Pro National Championships, a former Harley-Davidson factory rider, a member of the famed Michigan Mafia, right here in little Dunnellon, riding an XR Harley-Davidson.
Kevin Atherton was born in White Pigeon, Michigan on March 2, 1971, the second son of David Atherton, a racer of note and the protégé of Bart Markel, the godfather of the Michigan Mafia, so named because Central Michigan had spawned two generations of some of the greatest dirt track motorcycle racers that America had ever seen. Kevin was so well pedigreed that Markel, when visiting the Athertons, had changed his diapers (above right: Kevin, Brian, mother Vicki, and father David Atherton).
David Atherton had learned motorcycles from his father, Del, who owned a Ducati and BSA dealership. Del had made a colossal error in judgment when he was offered a Honda franchise and replied, “Why in the world would anyone ever buy a Japanese motorcycle?” After Del’s death, David opened his own motorcycle repair shop where he prepared first-rate racing equipment, including bikes for his sons Kevin and older brother Brian.
Kevin’s first motorcycle was a 1969 Honda mini-trail, which his father outfitted with dirt track handlebars and a megaphone muffler. Kevin recalls, “We had ten acres we could race around on, and I started riding when I was three. Dad put on the megaphone not for performance, but mainly so he could hear me. When the noise stopped, he would leave the shop and come out to see if I had crashed or if the bike needed to be fixed.”
The younger Atherton quickly established a respected reputation in the amateur and semi-pro ranks (above left and above right; seen with his Pro Junior plate left and below), earning his AMA professional license as early as legally possible. Then, only six races after turning pro, he had earned enough points to advance from the Novice to the Junior rank. He quickly caught the eye of the Harley-Davidson factory by winning two Junior championships in 1988. Kevin says, “I didn’t know it until later, but Harley racing chief Bob Conway approached my father with an offer for a factory ride during my Junior season. Dad kept it under his hat until the end of the year at the AMA awards banquet, held on the Queen Mary in Long Beach harbor.” He continues, “After I had received my awards for being top Junior in the nation, it was announced I would begin my Expert year as a member of the Harley-Davidson factory team.”
Kevin Atherton, at the age of 18 was now a Made Man in the Michigan Mafia, sharing elite status with Scott Parker and Jay Springsteen, whom he had idolized as his all-time hero. The fourth member of the squad was Chris Carr, one of the most accomplished and respected riders in American motorcycle racing history, albeit not a Michigander (Below left: The Crew: Carr, Atherton, Springsteen, and Parker. Below right: Parker, Springsteen, and Carr pick on the kid). Atherton says, “You can imagine what it was like. I was a kid, riding with three guys who were at the top of the sport. They picked on me all the time, but they also helped me, watched out for me, and offered me the fastest learning curve a dirt tracker could get.”
Atherton continues, “It was like Chris was my brother, Jay my uncle, and Scotty my father.” Even today, the members of the H-D wrecking crew remain good friends; Atherton still has his own guest room at Parker’s home. “It was a great time,” he relates. “I became good friends with Ricky Graham, and he taught me things with a motorcycle I couldn’t imagine possible.” He reminisces, “Camel was pouring money into the sport, and Harley-Davidson still had a huge commitment to dirt track racing. I became good friends with the family. Bill Davidson would come to Michigan to trail ride with us in the off-season, and Willie G. still has one of my dirt trackers in the foyer of his home.”
Atherton was on the factory team for five years, until the Motor Company had to start cutting its costs; and he continued his professional racing career into 2009. He won 14 Camel Pro championship races, the most memorable of which was at the DuQuoin, Illinois mile in 2004, where he ran the full 25 laps with the throttle opened to full lock, never shutting off for the turns (Below: Atherton at DuQuoin). Atherton says, “Winning the race wasn’t as important to me as just seeing if I could do it; run flag to flag without rolling off.” Afterward, Chris Carr said, “Kevin, you made the rest of us look like idiots.”
However, it did not require a resounding victory to make for a memorable race. There were many others, and the one Atherton will never forget was the season closer at Ascot in 1988. Riding a 600cc Rotax single against a field of big twins, Atherton placed himself in the final, becoming the only two-digit number on the front row. His speed around the oval had not only created a sensation among the fans, but loud protests in the pits. Parker and Bubba Shobert were in contention for the AMA Grand National Championship, and someone concocted the unlikely scenario that a rookie on a single just might make a mess and affect the results of the title.
Riders tried to use the AMA rule book to find a reason to disqualify Atherton from the race, claiming it was dangerous for the single to run with the twins. In truth, big twin purists could not bear the idea of a single cutting competitively lap times, and they wanted to put a stop to it. It must have been amusing to Atherton—a relative greenhorn--to see established stars and grizzled veterans expressing so much fear about his presence on the track.
That evening, Atherton did not screw up, he did not cause a mishap, his racing lines did not interfere with the big twins, and he finished fourth, ahead of Shobert. In so doing, he earned points that helped hand the championship to Scott Parker, who would become his factory teammate the following season (Above: leading Carr and Springsteen. Below right: leading Parker. Below left: leading Parker with Graham on the outside).
But Atherton’s career was plagued by injuries. The first came in 1992 at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, where he was serving as an instructor for the California Superbike School. He crashed his Ducati road racer and broke his arm. It was put back together with plates and screws, and Atherton missed only one AMA championship dirt track race. Two weeks later he was suited up at Parkersburg where he finished fourth.
But the injuries kept coming. At DuQuoin 1999, he was in a 12-rider crash that killed the popular Davey Camlin. Atherton almost severed his right leg and got life-threatening internal injuries that took the doctors days to locate. He recalls, “My belly swelled up like I was pregnant from internal bleeding. My mother was there, giving me blood, while they tried to repair all the damage.” He adds, “I also got my first of two traumatic brain injuries. I was in the hospital in St. Louis for two months.”
Atherton’s racing career ended in 2009 when he was helping develop a Ducati dirt-tracker. He explains, “I clipped a 4x4-inch fence post at over 100 mph, sheering it off completely with my knee. But I didn’t crash. I shut off and coasted around to the ambulance. I was probably in shock, still in the saddle. My kneecap was smashed to powder. The injury would have ended my career, but I also finally realized I should not be out there. I think brain injuries had affected my perception and judgment.” Atherton pauses, seeming to struggle with the pain of the memory, “There was just no reason to drift out far enough to hit that post.”
Today, after years of pain during which he seriously considered having his leg amputated, Atherton has received a new high-tech knee. His right leg is still two inches shorter than his left due to the loss of a piece of his femur, yet it doesn’t keep him off his street bike or away from the golf course, which is now his first love.
Given the battering he has received, Kevin is fit and a man in positive spirits, and he still walks through a door with a smile that will light up the room, just like he did when he was a kid tearing up the dirt ovals of the Midwest (at left). He says with some pride, “I still wear the same size clothes I wore in high school. My racing weight was about 130, and today I am 138.” “But it’s not because I’m fatter,” he laughs, “I’m carrying eight pounds of metal plates, screws, and rods inside my body.” These additions, astonishingly, are the result of 32 surgeries between 1992 and 2012.
The shattered bones and orthopedic hardware had made the Michigan winters intolerable, so a few years ago Atherton rented a winter home on Sanibel Island. This year, he made Florida his full-time home, moving from Sanibel to Dunnellon where the cost of living is more manageable. His father David is still active in vintage racing, along with his uncle Ronnie. They race a Norton and a BSA respectively, but Kevin won’t even consider joining them. He says, “My joy now is golf. My motorcycle racing days are over.” (Right: at Peoria; Below: on the podium at Peoria with Carr and Parker.)
But a man like Atherton cannot turn his back completely on what was once the center of his life. He lived the glory days when Harley-Davidson sustained American dirt track racing, sponsors like Camel Cigarettes put up lucrative prize money, and he was a member of the top team on the track. A man can’t just forget about something like that, so today he keeps his hand in the game by coaching up-and-comers by sharing his wisdom and experience. Atherton says, “I tell them to keep it fun. When it stops being fun, you shouldn’t be out there.”
Wayne Hicks laughs about his chance meeting with Kevin Atherton. “This guy really likes to ride,” he says, and explains: “I wondered how he rides an XR on the street since it does not have an electric or a kick starter, and there’s no way he can bump start it with that bad leg.” Hicks continues, “I learned that he wasn’t at Crock’s just for the beer. He was also plugged in, charging the battery of his remote starter.” Hicks laughs again, “He actually carries a remote starter around in a backpack when he goes riding!”
That November evening in Dunnellon proved to be fortuitous meeting for two lifelong motorcycle enthusiasts. Hicks met one of his racing heroes and Atherton met the best motorcycle technician in Citrus County. This was a good thing, since he had just about wheelied the clutch out of his XR. Today you might find him at Wayne’s Citrus Cycles, keeping his pride and joy Harley in fighting trim (above: With Wayne Hicks at his shop).
Then again, you are more likely to find him on the golf course.
All except lead and final photos provided by the Atherton family.
Where were you in ‘72?
Motohistory in Print reposted
My column in a recent issue of IronWorks, entitled “Where were you in ’72?”, discussed the influence of the Japanese on the quality and reliability of motorcycles, leading to the resurgence of the V-twin, a low-tech but overwhelmingly popular engine configuration. This column got a positive reader response, so I thought we would re-publish it below. But here we will do what we cannot do in print: include some links to additional information.
Plus, we will include some photos from the Kaizen exhibit.
When I started writing for IronWorks last year, our venerable editor Marilyn Stemp said she would place no limitations on subject matter, but she did remind me: “Remember this is an American V-twin oriented magazine. Try not to get too far afield.” This month, it may look like I have decided to ignore that advice by talking about Japanese motorcycles. But not really. Read on; I’ll try to get us back on track before I’m finished.
A lot of my time this past year was spent helping curate a new exhibit at the Motorcyclepedia Museum called “Kaizen: The Influence of the Japanese Motorcycle.” “Kaizen” is a Japanese word that translates to “beneficial change.” However, it is also a term used to describe a philosophy of work and manufacturing that emerged after the Second World War. With their industry devastated and economy in shambles, the Japanese could not afford to waste anything. Kaizen was implemented to encourage workers at every level of a company to seek ways to reduce waste. When a way to be more efficient and less wasteful was discovered, it was adopted throughout the company.
This philosophy, combined with techniques of quality control through statistical analysis introduced by American statistician and industrial consultant William Edwards Deming, is what enabled the Japanese to emerge from the ashes and begin to penetrate foreign markets with better products. At that time, “Made in Japan,” which was required on all exported products, generally meant cheap and cheesy ticky-tacky that no one really needed to take seriously. It was probably fortunate for the Japanese that the American press and manufacturers promoted this kind of propaganda, because it enabled them to get a strong foothold in important export markets before anyone saw them coming.
Incidentally, Deming’s methods were taught in America as well, but no one paid much attention to him. Hey, we had just won a world war. Who could tell us anything we didn’t already know? Japan’s cultural shame and strong desire to redeem its reputation in the world, combined with America’s complacency and arrogance (same for the British), would dictate the arc of the American motorcycle industry over the next half-century, which included the near demise of America’s sole remaining brand.
The “official” year of arrival of the Japanese in America was 1959, when the sign “American Honda” went up on a humble storefront in Los Angeles. Whereas motorcycle sales in America had bumped along at about 50,000 units a year throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, suddenly they shot upward, driven by a better and different product introduced by the Japanese, in combination with new and ambitious marketing methods. By 1972, all of the Japanese brands had mid-sized motorcycles that could whip the socks off of any top-of-the-line American or British motorcycle from stoplight to stoplight. By 1974, annual sales peaked at an all-time high of 1.5 million units, of which Harley-Davidson and the British held an alarmingly dwindling share.
Unlike the American automobile manufacturers, Harley-Davidson was not entirely asleep at the switch. They took quite seriously Honda’s little storefront in California, and within a year attempted to globalize and expand their product line by acquiring a controlling interest in the Italian firm Aermacchi. By the early 1970s, no other brand could match H-D for depth and diversity of product. It offered seven distinctly different models from 50cc to 1,200cc, including both two-strokes and four-strokes. This was a brave and strategically correct move, but it did not work out, mainly because in both Italy and the United States, manufacturing lagged well behind the Japanese in quality control.
While the Japanese dazzled their customers and the press with ever-advancing technology, it was actually quality that drove their success. The editorial know-it-alls at the motorcycle magazines began to predict the demise of the V-twin, an ancient design that they reckoned had no place in modern motorcycling. But the fact was, people did not flock to Honda Gold Wings because of their advanced design. They liked them because they were nearly trouble free when compared to the British and American motorcycle brands.
Having failed to beat the Japanese with a broad product line, by the early 1980s parent AMF was ready to write off Harley-Davidson as a bad investment and let it die. However, the buy-out boys, headed by Vaughn Beals , knew that the battle was not about technology, but about quality, and with introduction of the Evolution engine in 1984, they proved once and for all that the V-twin was not dead. Consider the irony that the Japanese – who can still out-techno anyone (a la Hayabusa) -- have found their bread-and-butter markets today with V-twins and Harley look-alikes.
Anyhow, back to that exhibit – Kaizen – that I helped assemble. We wondered how the world’s first all-Japanese motorcycle exhibit would go over, because there are still some diehard motorcyclists who have a negative opinion of anything Japanese. So, on opening day, some of us tried to hang out inconspicuously and listen to what was being said. It was an interesting and rewarding experience.
Again and again, we witnessed lifestyle guys with their black t-shirts, bar-and-shield vests, Harley belt buckles, and chain-drive wallets actually and shamelessly wallowing in nostalgia. “Look at that. I had one of those.” “That’s the first motorcycle I ever took a ride on.” “I always wanted one of those.” We did not hear a single negative remark about a Japanese brand or the role of the Japanese in the motorcycle industry.
It became evident that part of the legacy of the Japanese was the creation of that huge population of enthusiasts who were teenagers in 1972, many of whom still ride in 2012, forty years later. Today, they are riding low-tech but high-reliability V-twins that the press pundits of 1972 said would never survive. Why are they still here and selling better than ever? The answer, I think, is embodied in the word Kaizen.
What could possibly be better than going green? Going brown. Your future may include a motorcycle powered by poo. This historic advancement in technology (pictured right) talks and plays music too! It's creation was sponsored by Toto, a Japanese toilet manufacturer.
The Ohio Valley BSA Owners Club has a flashy new web site.
Here’s a cool video of the Peoria TT.
Lots of great current and old-timey flattrack photos at the Poppa Wheelie Blogspot.
You Floridians, mark your calendars for January 26 for the 7th Annual Dania Beach Vintage Motorcycle Show.
Here’s why Mike Wolfe likes Indians.
This ain’t exactly motohistory, but it is still breathtaking. Remember when observed trials was something we normal humans did. There’s no comic book super hero that has anything on these guys.
Here’s some nice vintage hill climb footage.
David Uhl has produced another beautiful painting of a beautiful lady on a beautiful motorcycle (pictured left).
Akron, Ohio has a great motorcycle history, and Jack Morris has recorded it.
Hope you enjoy this shop tour and interview with John Renwick, builder of very fast Vincents. Don’t miss the second part of the interview.
If you like the classic "Kings Mountain" Indian Chief , you had better go for it now. Not many more will be built. And while we don’t know what the new Polaris Indians will look like, we do know how they sound.
For the holiday season, consider a nice Norton Reserve. It has nothing to do with motorcycles.
Two of America’s leading motorcycle businessmen have passed within a day of each other. Aub LeBard, who won the Big Bear Run three years in succession, died on December 7. JR Kelley, founder of KK Motorcycle Supply, died on December 8 at age 86. Kelley was known for his generosity, giving both time and money to projects in support of the American motorcycle industry and sport. As Chairman of the American Motorcycle Association, he led it through a difficult period in 1973 and into years of growth and prosperity.
Some very nice retro Triumphs are available from Champions Moto.
To date, more than $100,000 have been raised toward the goal of $150,000 to fund a film documentary about the life of John Penton, narrated by Lyle Lovett. You can help by making a pledge through the Kickstarter web site.
Jill Ivers has turned 103 on a 1941 Indian Scout at El Mirage.
Metro Racing brings you 13 gorgeous girls and 13 vintage bikes with its2013 Metro Racing Calendar. The calendar is $10, or get it free with a $100 order from Metro
Wall of Death rider Kamikaze Pit Lengner will perform at the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh, New York January 11-13, January 25-27, February 1-3, February 8-10, and February 15-17. At the February 2 performance, Pit will be celebrating his 60th birthday. Here’s the Motorcyclepedia web site.
The AMCA Sunshine National Meet will be held March 8 through 10 at New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
The world's tiniest V12 engine will simply amaze you. At least, it did me.
Check out Scott Conary’s beautiful motorcycle art.
Bernd Tesch, Europe’s guru of international adventure travel, is hosting survival training March 8 through 10 in Eifel, Germany, and a world-wide travel seminar in Malmedy, Belgium May 3 through 5. Tesch (pictured left) has compiled the world's most comprehensive on-line bibliography on world adventure travel.
You can see James Dean’s 1955 Triumph at the Indiana State Museum.
Here's an excellent documentary about John Britten.
You’ll enjoy the Cycling Through the Century series on YouTube, parts One, Two, Three, and Four. It was filmed in 1991 at the Harmony, New Jersey Antique Motorcycle Club of America national meet.
The VonDutch XAVW is not on display at the National Motorcycle Museum. This motorcycle (pictured right), assembled by Dutch with a Volkswagen engine in a Harley-Davidson military XA frame, was featured earlier on a segment of “American Pickers.” The bike has Guzzi front forks, a Honda 450 tank, Triumph mufflers, and a Zundapp front fender.
Here is an absolutely incredible amount of information about World War II military motorcycles.
Terry Good brings us a great story about his trip to Spain and visit with motocross legend Les Archer.
The 2013 FIVA International Rally will be held July 18 through 21 in Latvia this year, hosted by our good friend Juris Ramba. Entry deadline is April 1, so don’t fool around. And speaking of Ramba, as always he sent us a cool on-line holiday greeting, pictured here.
Vintage Motorcycle Alliance will host a swap meet and antique motorcycle show at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Eustis, Florida on March 8 and 9.
AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days will be July 19 through 21, the same weekend as the AMCA Wauseon National Meet . . . again.
Recently Cyril Huze took us inside Bobby Sullivan's Triumph collection.
Here’s where to get Ethanol-free gas for your antique motorcycle.
Here’s a movie about the Motorcycle Cannonball.
Neil Keen's birthday party (we don’t know how old he is, and it doesn’t matter because it’s not really Neil’s birthday; just a big excuse for one of the greatest gatherings of the flattrack community ever) will be held at Donelson Cycles in St. Louis, Missouri on February 9. Call Kim at 314-427-1204 for details. Neil is pictured right, on the right, at last year’s party. That’s not his real hair either.
Cycle World’s web site presents one of the best Isle of Man videos ever.
If you read Spanish, you will enjoy the Bultaco Classic Team Newsletter.
BikeEXIF recently interviewed Paul D'Orleans, the Vintagent.
There’s no getting around it. Some customs are just plain Fugly.
Hagerty Insurance has become sponsor of the “Best of the Best” exhibit at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa. Bikes in the exhibit include a Curtiss twin, a Royal Pioneer, a Brough Superior Pendine racer, a 1912 Henderson, and an early Sears.
The 2013 Barber Vintage Festival will be held October 11 through 13 at the Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama.
The Vintagent has published an excellent story about Laurie Jenks and his futuristic Mercury Project.
The 2nd Annual Tennessee Motorama will be held January 5 and 6 at the Mid-TN Exposition Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Here’s a video with Tom White and Gary Jones discussing Edison Dye and the early days of motocross in America.
January 12 is the opening of the annual motorcycle exhibit at the National Packard Museum. This time the theme will be Antique Bobbers and Customs. The exhibit will run through May 19.
A new issue of the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies has been posted on the web. The IJMS International Conference will be held in London, July 4 through 7.
Canadian international road racing champion Mike Duff’s trophies will be on display at the 37th Annual North American International Motorcycle Supershow in Toronto January 4 through 6.
A collection of unusual cut-away engines, including JLO, NSU, Solex, and others will be for sale at the Bonham's Las Vegas auction January 10.
Photohistory by Tom Mueller
One thing I can state clearly about those earlier days of American motocross - the action was up close and personal for both the media and fans.
Check out this shot of Broc Glover putting a bead on Steve Wise, as the pair snakes through a slight right hander. Two greats in the sport, Glover went on to multiple championships and Wise became a flat track and road racing star.
As a journalist for Cycle News, I had full reign on every track and was allowed to shoot from any vantage point available. And the fans? Well, they had almost the same opportunity. I guess being a foot in front of the fence is better than a foot behind it, correct? It's fortunate there weren't more collisions in those days. Mix alcohol and spectating and it's probable a drunk could dart across the track at any moment.
But as I often profess, that was then, and this is now. As facilities progressed, the sport attained a higher level of restricted access to "hot" areas. Corporate sponsors and VIP suites became the order of the day. Modern motocross isn't better or worse, it's just different. That's a good thing to remember when we reminisce and remember.
See more of Tom Mueller’s photohistory at his Retromotocross Blog.
Sturgis Motorcycle Museum
plans for the future
There are some very ambitious plans going on in the City of Sturgis, including the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame. We contacted Dave Davis, Chairman of the Museum board, to tell us what is in the works. Below is our interview with Mr. Davis (pictured left).
MH: Dave, as Chairman of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame Board of Directors, you are currently heading up a very ambitious agenda that includes significant expansion of the Museum. Let’s start with your telling us about your background. What has led you to this point in your life, and how did you get involved?
DD: Ed, as you’ve mentioned, it is a very exciting time for the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame. Like most everyone on the board, I have been a rider for many years; 41 to be exact. My wife, daughter, and son also are avid motorcyclists. In addition to owning an insurance agency for the last 17 years, I also have a contract with Harley-Davidson to teach leaderships academies around the country for the Harley Owners Group. When the opportunity arose several years ago to join the museum board, I jumped at the chance to be part of this great project to preserve the past and promote the future of motorcycling.
MH: Give us an overview history of the Sturgis Museum. When and how did it get started, and what have been the landmark events since then?
DD: The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame opened on June 1, 2001. We moved to the current location a year later, in 2002. Over the years, we have remodeled and updated the facility, which was built in 1938, the same year Pappy started the Rally.
MH: Tell us a little about the structure of the organization and where it gets its funding. Are the City of Sturgis and the State involved?
DD: The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame is a self-funded 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Most funding comes from admissions, gift shop sales, vendor rent, membership, raffle, and so on. Most years, we do receive grant funds from the City of Sturgis for special projects, but we receive no city, state, or federal funding for the day to day operations. Our current building was donated to us in 2002 by the City of Sturgis.
We are blessed to have a very active and passionate board of directors who have dedicated themselves to this project. They include:
Dave Davis –Board President; - Owner, Dave Davis Agency Inc. in Rapid City, SD.
Brian Neumann– Board Vice President; - Project Manager, Heavy Constructors, of Rapid City, SD.
Robin Baldwin –Board Treasurer; - Owner, Black Hills Rally & Gold in Sturgis, SDDr. Craig Bailey – CEO, Black Hills Manufacturing Services Inc. in Rapid City, SD
Marcia Johnston - City Council Representative, Owner, Johnston’s Hardware Hank in Sturgis, SD
Coe Meyer – Owner, Gypsie Vintage Cycle in Sturgis, SD
Vickie Netterberg – CPA, Sturgis, SD
Kenny Price - President, Samson Exhaust Inc. in Spearfish, SD
Terry Rymer – GM and Partner of Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City, SD
Loren Stanley – Manager of Walgreen Drug in Belle Fourche, SD
Rod Woodruff – President, Legendary Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, SD
MH: Tell us about the displays, bikes, and artifacts one can see when visiting the Museum?
DD: The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum is home to nearly 100 motorcycles dating back to 1907. Bikes represented include American V-Twin, Japanese motorcycles, British bikes, race bikes, and customs. We have a very well-rounded collection, displayed in both common and subject specific areas. There is a room dedicated to women in motorcycling, a room that preserves the history of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and a room about the Jackpine Gypsies, the club that started the Sturgis Rally. In addition to historic motorcycles, we have a vast array of memorabilia including pins, patches, toys, printed materials, and riding apparel. At this time, the majority of our collection is on loan from patrons around the globe.
MH: In regard to expansion, you recently released concept drawings for an expanded facility that, if realized, will create one of the most striking motorcycle museums in the nation, and certainly the most eye-catching structure in the City of Sturgis. Tell us how this concept came about.
DD: The City of Sturgis has recently undertaken a downtown revitalization project. As part of the project the museum was approached to be the subject of one of their vignettes. The timing was perfect as we were just beginning to prepare the feasibility study for our expansion project. The drawings were prepared by Four Front Design of Rapid City as part of the revitalization project and at no cost to the museum.
It is important to note that these drawing are in fact “concept drawings.” Although considerable thought has gone into the concept, the final project may or may not resemble this concept.
Since the corner of Junction & Main has been the epicenter of the Sturgis Rally for decades, we have chosen to expand the museum at our present location. In fact, Junction & Main may well be the most famous intersection in the world of motorcycling. Recently the museum board purchased the property adjacent to our current building. With this additional land we feel we will be able to build both a world class facility and preserve this historical location. Besides, wouldn’t you love to have your picture taken in front of a 50-foot-tall motorcycle on the corner of Junction and Main in Sturgis?
MH: Any particular reason you chose a 1938 Indian for your giant motorcycle?
DD: The ‘38 Indian is representative of the origin of the Sturgis Rally. When most of us think of the Sturgis Rally, we think of something that is bigger than life. When Pappy Hoel started this event in 1938, I’m pretty sure he had no idea that several hundred thousand motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world would converge on this little western South Dakota town every year. Nor could he have imagined the millions of attendees whose lives are a little bit fuller because of him. How many times have you tried to explain the rally to someone, only to say “You just need come and experience it for yourself. Then you’ll understand.”
Since this museum is charged with preserving the history and enhancing future rallies, we feel that it too needs to be physically larger than life. Additionally, we believe that in years to come this huge motorcycle will become one of the prime photo opportunities at the most recognized and historical intersection in the motorcycle world.
Why the 1938 Indian you ask? We knew when we presented this concept that we might be opening Pandora’s box. Several have suggested a Harley-Davidson, stating that historically the Sturgis rally has been dominated by H-D riders. Others have been quick to remind us that Indian has been out of business since the mid 1950s. One even suggested that we use a dirt bike.
Although each of the opinions expressed is interesting, 1938 and the Indian motorcycle are both symbolic of the origin of the rally. Pappy, with the help of the Jackpine Gypsies, started the annual event in 1938. Pappy and Pearl owned the Indian dealership in Sturgis. When we were looking at motorcycles for the concept drawing, the ‘38 Indian seemed to be the most appropriate.
MH: We note you are expanding to multiple floors on your current site, rather than relocating. Is this for historical or financial reasons? Or both?
DD: There are a multitude of reasons why this conceptual drawing includes a four story building. This building will house the finest collection of domestic and foreign bikes in the world. We very well may need this much space just to accommodate such a collection.
For anyone passing by this world class museum, the structure should project the opportunities that await inside. One item on our wish list is a multi-story hill climb display inside the museum to commemorate the impact that this sport has played in the success of the rally. The different roof levels could be built as viewing areas. These could be used year round, for both rally and non-rally events. For instance, wedding receptions, class reunions, and of course the other -–such as Mustang, Cushman, and antique motorcycle--rallies held in Sturgis could benefit from such architecture.
MH: What’s your timeline and how will you fund such an ambitious project?
DD: In the coming months our feasibility study will be completed and the fund raising efforts will begin. At that time we will be looking for donations, both in monetary form and items to enhance our collection. I sincerely believe that the motorcycling community will come together to insure that the heritage and history are preserved in an expanded Sturgis Motorcycle Museum.
MH: Thank you for granting us this interview. We want to wish you the best of luck. We support all efforts to preserve hour motorcycle history and heritage. But is there any way Motohistorians can help?
DD: Ed, we’ll take all the help we can in getting the word out about our project. You and the Motohistorians are representative of those whose lives have been impacted by motorcycling in general and the Sturgis Rally in particular. It is for each of you, and the future generations of motorcyclists, that the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame exists. Ultimately, the size and scope of the new museum will be limited only by the imagination of those who embrace the dream and our positive fund raising efforts.
I want to personally thank you and all Motohistorians for spreading the positive word about the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, the Hall of Fame, and our expansion project. Together, I know we can make this dream a reality.
Editor’s Note: To access the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Motorcycle Hall of Fame web site, click here.
Bonhams to offer rare Leo
motorcycle at Vegas auction
News release provided by Bonhams
Following the recent news of Bonhams’ consignment of an original 1902 Rambler Model B from the Indian Motorcycle Museum, Bonhams has announced another headlining addition to their third annual Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction.
Thought to be the sole surviving example of a marque lost to time is a recently discovered, complete and original, 1905 Leo Two-Cycle made by the L.A. Mitchell Manufacturing Company of Oakland, California. The machine is historically significant for several reasons beyond its extreme rarity. Vehicles of California manufacture are exceedingly uncommon, the Leo is thought to have been produced for just one year, 1905, and it represents perhaps the earliest surviving example of an American two-stroke motorcycle.
Unlike many manufacturers of the day, the Leo was a purpose-built motorcycle utilizing a motorcycle – not bicycle – frame. It’s lightweight, compact motor demonstrates the brand’s progressive vision as two-cycle engines weren’t commonly used in American motorcycles until after World War I (the Schickel appeared in 1912). Nor was this machine simply a prototype as close examination shows evidence of many miles of use, suggesting an explicit, well-sorted product.
Discovered in the warehouse of a New England museum where it sat hidden and forgotten for decades, the 107 year-old Leo is in extraordinary condition, offering a freely-turning motor, strong compression, and original components, such as spokes and rims, Thor pedals, and Troxel leather saddle.
The motorcycle will be offered at auction on Thursday, January 10, at Bally’s Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Other noteworthy motorcycles being offered at the sale include a rare 1939 BMW Rennsport Kompressor and Steve McQueen’s 1970 Husqvarna 400. For more information, click here.
Our Motohistory Quiz 103 (see Motohistory News & Views 10/31/2012) featured a Pannonia motorcycle, built in Hungary and sold in America under the name “White.” Tom White, the owner of the Early Years of Motocross Museum and no relation to the Jack White who imported the machines, has one of the few restored examples known to exist (pictured here), and wrote the following:
The White Motorcycle Company didn’t stay in business very long, nor did they sell very many motorcycles back in the 1960s. Based on Broadway Street in Santa Ana, California, White Motorcycles private-labeled the Hungarian-built Pannonia 250 and brought it to the U.S. market as the White Tornado (pictured above).
The Tornado has a stamped-steel hanger frame. A spin-on aluminum air filter canister attaches to the right side of the stamped frame, and the hollow frame is used as the airbox. The chrome and black gas tank is held on by a leather strap. The swingarm is pressed steel, but it is actually comprised of three separate pieces bolted together.
Most intriguingly, the handlbars have braces that bolt directly to the top of the fork legs. This setup makes in impossible to adjust the bars in any direction. Sticking with this theme, the cast steel footpegs bolt to the frame, but do not fold. They can be adjusted fore and aft on a sliding bar.
Hungary was not famous for its motorcycle, but the Csepel Steel Works produced a series of bikes under Communist control from 1951 to 1975. These brands included Danuvia, Tunde, Panni, Pannonia, and White.
The White 247cc Tornado had a 68mm-by-68mm bore and stroke engine that produced 28 horsepower at 6,700 rpm via a five-speed transmission. The ignition was a Bosch six-volt magneto, tires were by Pirelli, the hubs were from an unknown Austrian manufacturer, the carb was a 32mm Puch, and the rear fender was hand-formed from aluminum.
The 1966 White Tornado 250 was available in both dirt track and motocross versions, and hit the scales at 246 pounds, dry. It retailed for $695.
The White scramblers were a complete sales failure, so only a limited number of thse machines were imported into the U.S. Tom White paid $3,500 for his White, plus almost $6,000 for restoration by Vintage Iron. Is it worth $10,000? If your last name is White and you own one of the leading collections of early motocross bikes in America, it probalby is. White also offered a street version called the Shooting Star.
Thanks, Tom, for sending us this history on the short-lived White. I’m sure all Motohistorians will be pleased to know that you have restored and preserved one of these rare machines.
To visit Tom White’s Early Years of Motocross Museum, click here.
Bob Coy sent the following about the Wing midget racer (see Motohistory News & Views 10/15/2012):
Ed, it was great to see the story you posted about the Henry Wing midget.
Henry was quite a man and an avid collector of both motorcycles and cars. I first knew of Henry as a kid when I visited his museum on the Mohawk Trail outside of Charlemont, Massachusetts back in the 1950s. I can still picture his Orient Buckboard today. To a kid, it seemed like that was a realistic project. The museum closed at some point, but the building still stands today along Route 2.
I later met Henry (pictured left) in the very early 1970s at his Greenfield home. He had a great collection of motorcycles in his factory in Greenfield. He even had one of the midgets in the front entryway. Henry was one of the original founders of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. His collection was second to none. He had a great knack for finding motorcycles, and beat me to several by mere hours. He sold several of his collection to Steve McQueen and several others remain in the area in private collections. I was always very impressed by his Douglas and Scott racers because racing was my interest.
Though Henry is no longer with us and his collection has scattered, his old business still putters along in the same building that it has been in for many years. The foundry building is occupied by some local artisans, one of which is the shop teacher at the school where I taught for 34 years. The back part of his factory is cooupied by a highly talented artist who does custom furniture as well as paitings. He was a former art student of mine and graduated from the Cooper Union in NYC. I believe that the sole person still running the factory was an old employee of Henry’s.
Thanks, Bob. I am very grateful for your message. I had tried, but not been able to confirm that the builder of the Wing midget was the same Henry Wing who helped found the AMCA. You have clarified this issue.
Coy, who promotes vintage racing and Motogiro events, also advised me that there are plans to construct a museum about New England motor racing history at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and that on October 23 he was elected to the board of directors to represent motorcycle interests. Congratulations, Bob, this is a great achievement.
Motohistorians can learn more about the North East Motor Sports Museum project by clicking here.
Coy informs us also that USCRA USCRA will conduct vintage road races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway June 8 and 9, 2013. This will also be a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the last AMA National held at the old Belknap Recreation Area in Laconia. Jody Nicholas won that race aboard a BSA.
Photo of Henry Wing from the Antique Motorcycle Club of America archives.
“Short Way Up” is the story of British motojournalist Steve Wilson who, in 2009 at the age of 66, rode a 1954 Ariel Red Hunter from Cape Town, South Africa, through Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and back to South Africa in a 5,000-mile loop that was plagued by almost every way an ancient Brit bike might find to misbehave. “Jerry,” so named by Wilson, was not even a motorcycle that the Ariel factory had chosen to give birth to. It was a bike assembled from mismatched parts that the author discovered—again and again in the course of his journey—had been very shabbily prepared, from its miss-aligned crank up.
This is a kind of a “bucket list” adventure for a man who knows he is running out of years for such daunting undertakings, and who chooses a test of self-discovery in the midst of a marriage that is collapsing. Beyond any selfish motivation, he structures the trek as a charity ride to raise funds for Project Luangwa, an ambitious program to educate young boys and girls in Zambia. Haynes Publishing has continued the mission by donating a portion of the sale of each book to the Project.
At the very end of the book, Wilson describes his ill-fated Ariel as simply a “bad bike.” My only complaint would be his drawn-out effort to convince us of this fact even before he has admitted it to himself. Literally, we are half-way through this 335-page book before Wilson ever puts a wheel on the ground in Africa. Almost 150 pages are dedicated to the frustrating and awful process of pulling the bike together and getting it running, albeit not for long. Enough, already.
The second half of the book is far more interesting and rewarding; more than just a travelogue about the beauties of Africa, but also a cultural and political commentary that can help us outlanders better understand the on-going struggles of an emerging continent where great promise is thwarted by misery, exploitation, and government corruption to varying degrees. The fact that Zambia, where whites with colonial roots are doing so much to bring the opportunity of education to poor African children, and Zimbabwe, where colonialists were driven out seemingly so blacks could screw their own kin into even deeper poverty, share a border is hard to imagine. Perhaps Haiti and the Dominican Republic living cheek by jowl is a similar example.
Unexpectedly, Wilson and his troublesome Ariel benefit an international antique motorcycle movement in southern Africa. Through his repeated appeals for help or rescue, vintage bike enthusiasts from Cape Town to Lusaka interact and forge stronger bonds. Some of these and their motorcycles are depicted in sections of color photos in this hard-cover volume. At £19.95 ($32.95 US), “Short Way Up” is available from Haynes Publishing.
“Triumph Production Testers’ Tales from the Meriden Factory” author Hughie Hancox joined Triumph in 1953. When called to national service, he became a member of the famous Royal Corps of Signals Motorcycle Drill Team—known as the White Helmets—where he was both a riding member and responsible for maintenance. When discharged from the military in 1959, he returned to Triumph’s experimental department where he worked on the prototype of the Bonneville. He served as a tester, technical adviser, and trouble-shooter until the factory closed in 1973. He ran his own restoration business until his death in 2011.
Hancox brings to his subject experience and a point of view that perhaps no one else could. As a man who tested Triumphs in development and right off the assembly line, he relates amusing anecdotes about the trials, tribulations, and the fun of his work, providing an intimate and entertaining account of Britain’s most famous motorcycle factory in its heyday. At 160 pages in soft cover, this book contains hundreds of historical photos, official factory promotional images, advertising, and reproductions of drawings and charts from technical manuals. It is a must for any Triumph enthusiast. AT £19.99 or $39.95US, it is available from Veloce Publishing.
The “Classic Honda Motorcycles: the Illustrated Buyer’s Guide” is an updated version of a volume published in December, 2000. Since Honda made its mark on the motorcycle world with small, affordable bikes, then grew to create some of the most important performance machines ever built, these bikes are increasingly coveted by collectors and enthusiasts. This guide to the collectible Hondas gives prospective buyers a leg up on the current market for classics like the CB77 Super Hawk, CB92 Benly, Dream 300, CB750, CB 400F, as well as 1970 to 1979 models that are quickly becoming classics in their own right. Photographs of the models are accompanied by complete descriptions of specifications, components, paint codes, and serial numbers. A five-star system rates the bikes on collectibility, parts availability, two-up touring compatibility, reliability, and power. Author Bill “Mr. Honda” Silver also highlights common repair and restoration needs, and looks ahead at future collectible models. In soft cover, with 224 pages, it is available from Octane Press.
The December issue of the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Magazine celebrates Christmas with a cover story by Libby Longston, who gifted herself with the restoration of a Honda Trail 70, which she has owned since the age of 12, forty years ago. We note that it is not unusual that many VJMC members still own are restore the very motorcycles that brought them into the sport and hobby decades ago. There are stories about VJMC’s first West Coast National Rally, its annual gathering at the Barber Vintage Festival, the 24th White Rose Show, and several other club events. Bryan Bentley, a lender to the Kaizen Exhibit at Motorcyclepedia, pens a nice story about the ribbon cutting party of this first-ever all-Japanese classic bike exhibit. And, there is a very sobering story about how the Colorado wildfires destroyed a collection, including devastating before-and-after photos of what were once beautiful motorcycles. As always, there’s a good section of classifieds for buyers, sellers, and wishers. You can’t get it on the newsstand because this magazine is strictly a benefit of VJMC North America membership. To learn more, click here.
The January issue of Racer X Illustrated, most of which is dedicated to the here-and-now of motocross, contains a feature about the Vets Motocross des Nations, which author Adam Duckworth explains “is quickly becoming the world’s greatest motocross nostalgia-fest. . . where you will see novice riders competing against some of the very best in the world of every era, from yesteryear to right now [including] world champions, U.S. motocross and supercross champions, Motocross des Nations winners, British champions, German champions, Belgian champions, Australian champions, European champions, amateur champions; all of them mounted on bikes ranging from shockingly rare to cheap and cheerful.” The event is held at Britain’s old Farleigh Castle Circuit. American greats who attended this year included Chuck Sun, Jeff Ward, Mike Bell, Ron Lechien, Ryan Hughes, and Doug Dubach. To subscribe to Racer X Illustrated, click here.
There is much for the Motohistorian in the January/February issue of IronWorks. In addition to a feature with many photos about the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012, popular columnist Sam Kanish devotes his writing to that topic this month. There some righteous (yes, use of this work makes me cool) Knuckle and Pan customs, and a feature about artist “Weld Guy,” a.k.a. Kendall Polster, whose made-mostly-from-junk sculptures have been featured at the Harley-Davidson Museum. My “Motohistory in Print” column this month is about how higher standards of quality from the Japanese manufacturers benefited the whole motorcycle industry, eventually leading to a resurgence of the age-old V-twin. There is a story about the rebuilding of a WLA, and Margie Siegal’s “Seasoned Citizen” feature is about a 1920 Excelsior from the Richard Morris collection. To subscribe to IronWorks, click here.
The November/December issue of Classic Racer, published in the UK, contains a wonderful eight-page feature about Nobby Clark, who was recently inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Norm DeWitt tells the story, enhanced by black-and-white period photography. To use a Brit turn of phrase, this magazine is chockablock with motohistorical content and excellent photography. “Chasing my Heroes,” by Tim Beaumont, chronicles the greatest American riders of the 1970s and ‘80s. “Tangerine Time Machine” is a race test of the Laverda 915SFC by Alan Cathcart. “The Real Deal,” by Malc Wheeler, is about Kevin Schwantz’s Yoshimura Suzuki used in AMA Superbike racing. And there is much, much more. Fans of Nobby Clark can obtain a copy of this issue from Chris Smith at Motorsport Publications LLC for $6.00. Click here. To subscribe to Classic Racer, click here.
On The Level, the official magazine of the BMW Riders Association, is one of the best club magazines in America. With ample color on glossy paper stock, it is a package that will rival the quality of any of the commercial magazines. While it has good advertising sales, it is clear that this publication is not based on an ad-to-editorial ratio, as most magazines are. For example, the June 2012 issue gave greater coverage to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering than any other magazine, by an order of magnitude. With 25 pages devoted to the event, it is clear that editor
has the freedom to base his decisions on editorial and aesthetic considerations, rather than ad sales. Impressively, the treatment utterly lacks the brand-centric myopia that is often association with the BMW-riding community (I can say that because I are one). Photos are huge (rarely less than a half-page in size), and within the entire coverage only four are of BMWs. Gorgeous double-truck spreads are dedicated to a Triumph, a Crocker, a Vincent, and an MV Agusta. Granted, you will not see this kind of broad, motohistorical coverage in every issue, but it is refreshing to see a BMW club magazine acknowledge that many BMW riders love more than just BMWs. If you own one, you should be a member of the BMW RA. OTL cannot be had on newsstands; it is a benefit of membership. To join, click here.