Saturday, April 12, 2014

BROUGH SUPERIOR TO CONQUER THE CANNONBALL...

Motorcycle Cannonball writer Rebecca West recently interviewed me for thoughts on the September 2014 event, in which I'll ride Bryan Bossier's 1933 Brough Superior 11-50 across the USA from Daytona to Tacoma, in a team with Alan Stulberg of Austin's Revival Cycles.  I have a curious mix of dread and anticipation for the event; it's truly an endurance rally, 17 days of 320+ mile rides, a rigorous up-before-dawn schedule, and timed checkpoints at least twice daily.  Any maintenance needs to be done after the day's ride...and before the next!

Here's the interview; check out the Motorcycle Cannonball website here:

"On September 5, the Motorcycle Cannonball will be welcoming back another familiar face to the endurance run in the form of Paul d’Orleans. For anyone involved in 2012’s event, you probably remember Paul and his small but extraordinarily quick 1928 350cc Velocette in the Class 1 Division — that and his chronicling of the journey through tintype photography, but we’ll get into that later. If you’ve never met him, he’s the motorcycle aficionado behind The Vintagent and a respected consultant for Bonhams who splits his time between New York, San Francisco, and Paris. This year, he’ll be riding a 1933 Brough Superior 11-50 courtesy of owner Bryan Bossier of Sinless Cycles. In stark contrast to the little Velocette back in 2012, this particular bike is the largest model in the Brough production lineup and boasts a sidevalve v-twin JAP engine featuring a 60-degree configuration that Paul claims to be very smooth.
Having gotten into the antique motorcycle scene well ahead of the curve, he loves Broughs and has owned many over the years. He views these beautiful, old British motorcycles as grand touring machines along the same vein as Harley or other American touring bikes. Ironically enough, by his own admission, he’s not a touring kind of guy, though. Like the seductive sounds of Calypso’s siren song, racing is what actually calls to him. It speaks to his soul and is his true passion in motorcycling.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Paul in between his busy schedule (he’s in the process of publishing his third book in the last year!) in mid March regarding the upcoming event, the bike itself, the team he’s assembled, and their efforts to put a Brough Superior across the continent this fall. All in all, this multifaceted individual seems pretty confident at the prospects for success and what lies ahead.
Q: In regards to a Brough Superior making a transcontinental run, to your knowledge, has it ever been done before?
A: I don’t think so, at least not in modern times. I think this is the first time anybody’s done it, or at least tried — but we haven’t done it yet (laughter).
Q: Bearing that in mind, I guess the $64,000 question is: will it make it?
A: I do. I really do. I think we’re going to take it easy. The bike’s a little bit of an unknown quantity, because I know more about its history from when it lived in England than America. But I’ve been in touch with some of the people who worked on it back in England for the preparation of its more recent sale, along with my riding partner and the man who will be doing most of the preparation — who is certainly a capable mechanic — and we’ll be bringing the right spares and hoping to make it all the way through this time. It’s a strong bike.
Q: Will it be a challenge for the mechanics?
A: It’s so unpredictable. Some of the other folks who really didn’t have many problems in the past on the run have spent years developing these motorcycles. We’re basically taking an old motorcycle. It’s pretty much as it is — which may seem foolish in light of previous experience (more laughter) but, you know, we’ll just see how it goes. It really is the only luxury motorcycle intact in the event and definitely the only Brough.
Q: What's special about this model?
A: This was considered the most robust of the Broughs. It was used a lot by police forces in England, Canada, and in South America. It was actually a surprisingly fast sidevalve that would do 100 mph, but it was always intended as more of a sports tourer and not like a full house racing machine. Interestingly, it was also George Brough’s favorite motorcycle back in the 1930s. This was probably due in large part to the point he was at in his life.
Q: Any weaknesses or drawbacks?
A: Weaknesses of the bike include the timing side bush on the crankshaft, which drives the dyno. That bush is known to be slightly weak, so we’ll need to keep an eye on that. But otherwise the frame, the forks, the wheels, and the brakes are good. The gearboxes are standard. It’s basically the same gearbox as on a Norton Commando. It’s a good, strong bike. Broughs aren’t exactly known for their handling (limited cornering clearance), but it’s just a matter of getting used to it. It’s nothing dangerous.
Q: Speaking of brakes on old bikes, have you ridden this on any steep grades or inclines yet?
A: Actually, I haven’t been on this particular bike yet.
Q: Seriously?
A: Yes.
Q: I can only assume you’ll be remedying that soon . . .
A: Oh, absolutely. I just haven’t gotten round to it yet because it’s currently in Austin and I’m looking at a May deadline on my last book, but I’m not too worried about it. I’m going to be going to Austin probably during the summer to hang out with it.
Q: Who’s your team comprised of?
A: Bryan Bossier, the very generous owner of the bike I’ll be riding who lives in Baton Rouge, LA, should be along at some point; Alan Stulberg of Revival Cycles in Austin, TX, who is my riding partner and who will be bringing his No. 1 mechanic along; and Susan McLaughlin, who is my photography and life partner. I want to express my extreme gratitude to all of them, especially Bryan for the loan of the motorcycle. It’s pretty amazing when you think of it.
Besides being a rider with a need for speed and a self-professed flea market junkie, Paul’s also into tintype photography, as mentioned earlier. The tintype process was patented by Hamilton L. Smith back in 1856. A cheap process used mainly by beach photographers and other itinerant lensmen, it was also commonly used during the Civil War by photographers following the military encampments and early Western explorers. He was introduced to it two years ago by his paramour, Susan McLaughlin, who is an alternative process photographer, and he’s been smitten with both ever since.
Much like old bikes, the thing Paul loves about tintype is he doesn’t feel like it’s an obsolete process. He considers it a photo process that has a lot of character; it takes a lot of attention and the same kind of interest and dedication and love that it takes to get the best out of an old motorcycle. It’s a very natural relationship for him because, as he says, he’s already got something very much like that in his life with his strong connection to old bikes. The process is very unpredictable, which is surely akin to riding antique motorcycles, and a real draw for him.
This year, as in 2012, they’ll be using a mobile darkroom on the road with all kinds of temperature and altitude variants beyond their immediate control, which makes it all the more exciting in his view. If you’re not familiar with tintype, check out Paul and Susan’s latest joint endeavor at MotoTintype.com where you can visit several galleries consisting of their amazing work. Though all of the galleries are visually arresting and capture the viewer’s imagination, the Cannonball and Bonneville pix will be of particular interest to riders in this event. The love and enthusiasm brought to these intriguing images can only be matched by Paul’s love and enthusiasm for living life full speed ahead. We wish him and his entire team the best of luck in 2014."

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

THE 1929 TT EX-WORKS SCOTTS

WX179, the '29 TT Scott I found 10 years ago (and featured on TheVintagent.com in 2007), as photographed by the factory before the Isle of Man TT that year...
Ten years ago, while following up an ad for a c.1926 Sprint Sunbeam, I found the 'Beam had gone, but the vendor had the remains of a 1929 ex-Factory racing Scott TT machine, which still bore its original registration from the race - 'WX179'.  As one isn't offered the chance to buy a Vintage-era TT motorcycle very often, I jumped at the chance, and had the bike shipped to a Scott expert in, where else, Scotland.  That the bike was never restored and eventually sold on is another story, but I did a little research on Scott's racing efforts of the period; the Yorkshire factory made significant efforts to win the TT long after their initial victories back in 1912 / '13, when its water-cooled two-stroke twin-cylinder 2-speeders were about the most advanced racer on the track.  Scott's greatest weakness was cooling; even with a capacious radiator, the lack of a water pump meant sustained high speed work was tough on the 'deflector' piston engines, and in fact Scott was the one 'important' British factory which never captured a Gold Star for a 100mph lap at Brooklands.
The Real Deal; a completely original condition, ex-Factory TT Scott, as owned and ridden by Phil Vare, for sale at Bonhams Stafford, April 27th.  A few unique details of the '29 TT bikes; two oil tanks! One for the engine oil, another for the chains (the small tank seen above, behind the larger oil tank...road-going Scotts don't use a separate oil tank; normally they have an oil compartment in the fuel tank.  Note also the 8" diameter drum brake up front, and the girder/telescopic front forks, which were also used on the TT Replica models...
Still, a Vintage TT Scott is a remarkable machine, with peerless handling and an excellent turn of speed.  To find one in completely original condition, with only 3 owners from new (including the man who raced it at the TT, Phil Vare), is wholly remarkable.  Bonhams has this 1929 ex-Phil Vare factory TT Scott coming at for its April 27th Stafford auction, and I'll rely on their account to describe the machine itself:
Phil Vare rounding a hairpin on the Isle of Man TT course in 1929
"Yorkshire's Scott concern had a long and honourable history in both the Isle of Man TT races and on shorter circuits. Their TT participation started in 1909, in the era when two-strokes were held to have a power advantage over other machines, the ACU insisting that two-strokes were rated at 1.25 of a four-stroke's cylinder capacity and water-cooled ones - there was only the Scott - at 1.32! This rule was dropped in 1911 and in 1912 and 1913 Scott won, having, by 1914, made fastest lap in the first four 'mountain' races. 
Vare passing through town during the '29 TT
In 1929, Scott fielded six riders on completely re-worked racers with distinctive frames and running-gear and much more powerful engines. Owing to the late arrival of the machines, the Scott riders had to practise on earlier bikes or their own machines. P A E (Phil) Vare qualified on his own 1928 'TT Replica' Scott, with only brief rides on a Works machine before the race. All six started, but five went out, Vare being the last to go on the final lap. After a fall at Quarter Bridge damaged his twist grip he used the cut-out button when changing gear. This caused the holed piston that forced his retirement. Only Tommy Hatch finished, coming thirteenth in the race. 
The other side of the very special factory racing Scott; note 'TT side' oil filler with quick-action cap
What makes '7M' so unique a works Scott is that, after the race, Phil Vare negotiated a deal with the cash-strapped factory, in which his 'Replica' Scott was part-exchanged for the repaired '7M', which, when taken home to Norwich, was registered as VF 6543. Riding again for Scott in 1930, Vare rode the Senior TT on a spare '29 machine - retiring again with piston trouble - the supplied 'works' bikes being the 'vertical' Scott twins, described by him as 'un-rideable' 
Yes, a two-stroke with an oil pump!  Scotts don't use premix, but have a measured drip feed to the big ends.  Note drilled lower frame forging, and 'TT3' engine number
Phil Vare kept VF 6543 for some years, riding it at short-circuit events until selling it on when he was a Scott agent. Amazingly, it has had only three owners, the third, the vendor, acquiring it in the early '60s from the second owner Mr J F H Roberts (of Brentwood, Essex). Very commendably, and fully realising what a unique Scott he had, the vendor resisted the temptation to do a cosmetic restoration, restricting work to mechanical reconditioning, or the careful replacement of missing parts with period replacements, such as the '600' cylinder block now fitted ( a contemporary blind-head '500' block and pistons are amongst the spares offered with the lot). The engine has never run, nor has the machine been ridden in his ownership and thus re-commissioning will be required. 
The modified Velocette gearbox, as used by Scotts for years, here marked 'TT8'
Trophy winner at the 2012 Scott Abbotsholme Rally, and most emphatically not a racer 'reconstructed from parts' but an arguably unique, original and beautiful reminder of that pre-war era, VF 6543 comes with not only a V5 and old style continuation log-book but many papers relating to its history and copies of period photographs as well as detailed autographed letters from the late Phil Vare containing important details of this racer's - and Scott's - TT history."
A smiling Phil Vare in what look like Lewis Leathers racing kit, on his factory racing Scott.
I'm often asked what motorcycles are the most collectible, and I'd say this machine ticks almost all the boxes...except it isn't a big V-twin.  It will take a little more imagination to appreciate how truly exceptional it is to find an original-paint 1920s racer with full documentation and history from new; you simply can't do better.

Friday, April 04, 2014

'WHAT MAKES A MOTORCYCLE COLLECTIBLE?"

Motoring journalist Christopher Head recently interviewed me on the subject of the mysterious factors which really bumps a motorcycle's value on the auction circuit.  It's been published all over the Internet; below is the article as found on Astaire.com:
Still the most expensive motorcycle sold at auction: this 1915 Cyclone bitsa fetched $520k at a MidAmerica Auction in 2008
"What Really Makes a Motorbike Collectible?
by Christoper Head 2014

Vintage motorcycle connoisseur Paul d’Orléans talks about what really makes a classic bike desirable, how the Steve McQueen factor influences auction prices, and his fear that demand and prices for collectable bikes could be about to rocket thanks to growing interest from speculators priced out of the classic car market.
This 1939 BMW RS255 Kompressor sold for $480k at the Bonhams Las Vegas sale in 2013
Paul d’Orléans laughs at the suggestion that because a bike’s old or rare it is going to be collectable or desirable: “No! That’s never enough. Just because a painting is old doesn’t mean it’s valuable,” begins the author, journalist, Bonhams auction house consultant and all-round classic motorcycle expert. Indeed, just like their classic four-wheel counterparts, what gets collectors falling over themselves and pushes auctions into bidding frenzies is legacy and luxury.
“If a particular model did something at the racetrack in any one of many kinds of races that motorcycles do — grand prix racing, road racing, flat track, dirt, speedway, whatever — if a bike was considered an important, successful racer that makes it valuable,” he explains.
The famous Brough Superior sprinter 'Old Bill' was used by George Brough himself to win 51 out of 52 races entered - and Old Bill crossed that 52nd finish line ahead of rival George Dance on his Sunbeam, but George wasn't on it at the time!  Sold by H+H in 2012 for $469,800
As for the second criterion, luxury, if a bike was the epitome of premium in its day, so not just refined, but exotic and desirable too, then it will be even more so today. But then there’s the noise it makes too, by which d’Orléans isn’t referring to engines or exhaust systems. “Probably the biggest factor of all is the buzz,” he says. “If it is something that has a lot of press and a lot of folklore or mythology around it, or popular songs, or has been seen in movies or television shows or with movie stars that definitely does something. And that can be a huge factor.”
This 1929 Brough Superior SS100 sold for $465,000 at H+H in 2010
That’s why the top 20 and indeed top 30 lists of the most expensive bikes ever sold at auction features more Brough Superiors than any other make of motorcycle. Considered by many as the Holy Grail, the British brand, which produced bikes for just 21 years between 1919 and 1940 was known as the Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles in its day and with an asking price greater than the average British home at the time, they were similarly priced.
This fantastic 1926 Brough SS100 with JAP KTOR engine sold for $453,000 at the RM Battersea auction in 2012
Fast forward 70 years and it’s common for an SS100 model to go for upwards of £200,000 ($330,000) at auction and its less powerful SS80 sibling for £100,000 ($165,000) or more.
The demand for the Brough Superior has also been helped by the fact that it was the transport of choice for a number of celebrities of the day, including T.E. Lawrence and if a bike is associated with one famous name in particular, it can go from being interesting to desirable to threatening to set a new auction record.
The fame factor: this Von Dutch-painted, ex-Steve McQueen 1926 Scott sold for a phenomenal $276,000 in 2009, at an Antiquorum watch sale!
“The Steve McQueen factor can be a real wildcard. You know it can bump something up by ten times its normal price. There’s no rationality to it with McQueen, it’s all about desire,” says d’Orléans.
The Pope's 2013 Harley-Davidson Dyna sold for $327,000 at the Bonhams Paris auction this year
But does that make him unique among automotive collecting circles? “I don’t think anyone would care about a Bruce Willis or Peter Fonda or Arnold Schwarzenegger bike,” d’Orléans responds, “But the Pope! That was a big one!”
Crocker big twins occupy 25% of my Top 20 Auction Price slots...
The current Pontiff’s 2013 Harley Davidson Dyna Super Glide is the 14th most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction. It went under the hammer in Paris this February for a scarcely believable $327,000. As such, it is one of only three bikes built in the 21st century to make it into the all-time top 30 list. The other two were incredibly rare, genuine factory racing Ducatis.
The sale of the Pope’s two-wheeler underlines that “It’s like any marketplace, whether wittingly or unwittingly, if desire is generated then you have price bumps,” says d’Orléans, who thinks that perhaps the only other living celebrity or sportsman that could add such a huge premium to a modern bike would be Valentino Rossi. If a bike that he had actually ridden to one of his nine MotoGP World Championships came up for sale, it could make the list. “A real Rossi world championship bike would go way up. But that hasn’t happened yet,” he says.
The 2010 Ducatis GP2 CS1 which sold for $320,000 in 2012 at RM Monaco
Unlike the classic car market, where the record price paid for a vehicle at auction stands at $29.65 million (€22.7 million) for Fangio’s 1954 F1 race-winning Mercedes-Benz, a lot at a classic bike sale is yet to come close to $1 million. The record is currently held by a 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer which fetched $520,000 at auction in July 2008 in Monterey or $551,200 when adjusted for 2014.
This 1907 Harley-Davidson 'Strap Tank' single sold for $352,000 at a Gooding sale in 2006
Nevertheless, there are fears that as speculators and investors are priced out of the car market that they will all decamp, en masse, to the closest bike show and start driving prices up. As d’Orléans explains: “When you consider what a really nice classic Ferrari is costing now, you can pick up the equivalent motorcycle in terms of historical scale of importance in its genre for a pittance in comparison. You could spend $100,000 to $200,000 this year and pick up what anyone would consider one of the top 100 motorcycles of all time.”
This spectacular, original-paint ex-Daytona BMW 1938 R51RS sold for $132,000 at the Bonhams Las Vegas sale in 2010.
And if someone were to switch allegiance from four wheels to two, would they be able to ride it on a daily basis or would it have to be mothballed indefinitely to protect its value?
“I don’t think too many people use them as daily riders, but for pleasure, why not? You wouldn’t want to commute in downtown New York or LA but I know lots of people that use them for rallies and small tours. I’m riding a Brough Superior in this year’s [Motorcycle] Cannonball which is from Daytona Florida to Tacoma, Washington,” d’Orléans answers with a laugh that signals he’s aware of what he might be letting himself in for; that the course is over 4150 miles (6678 km) and will take 16 days to complete on a bike that uses technology that dates back to the 1930s and has no suspension other than a sprung seat."

©

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

ROYAL ENFIELD BUYS VINCENT!

It would appear the historic Vincent-HRD marque is hurtling towards India!
In shocking news today, it appears Eicher Motors Limited, owners of the Royal Enfield brand, have claimed Vincent-HRD as their own, and plan to manufacture new Vincents in one year.  A bit of back story: Matt Holder of Birmingham purchased the names and rights of the Royal Enfield, Velocette, Scott, and Vincent-HRD marques at their bankruptcy sales, over the decades-long decay of the British motorcycle industry from the 1950s-70s.  The Holder family, with their HQ in a former Triumph warehouse in Meriden (the last Triumph factory building still standing), have kept these machines on the road by their continued manufacture and distribution of spares. When Enfield India, which had been selling 'Enfields' since it licensed the Bullet design in the 1950s, decided it would prefer it's 'Royal' back in 1994, they snookered the Holder family out of the right to the Royal Enfield name, using a team of lawyers to argue, successfully, that the Holders weren't actually trading under the Royal Enfield name.  Hence, Royal Enfields are now made in India: read the court decision here.
The latest model Bullet from Royal Enfield, the 2015 'Sideburner', co-designed with Gary Inman of Sideburn magazine, and Nico Sclater of Ornamental Conifer, who is rumored to have already moved to Madras to head up Cosmetics at Eicher Motors Ltd.
Now, the ever-growing Madras factory, owned by Eicher Motors Ltd, has reached across the waters to Birmingham once again, claiming the name 'Vincent-HRD' as its own, and announcing its intentions to produce a new V-Twin to rival all others.
Siddhartha Lal, MD of Eicher Motors Ltd, and now the Vincent marque
Siddhartha Lal, the Managing Director of Eicher Motors Ltd, explained, "the only reason to revive the Vincent marque, with all its amazing history and legendary riders like Rollie Free, is to make the fastest motorcycle in the world, once again.  We have the money, the design talent, and the facilities to do just that.  Our in-house industrial designers got their degrees at MIT and Cal Tech, and have come up with the latest generation of engines and chassis, which we will reveal in one year; April 1st, 2015, and the all-new the Vincent Black Rapier."
In a Vintagent.com exclusive, I can reveal that the new Vincent Black Rapier will be based on the remarkable Bernard Li design of 1994, using a supercharged engine co-designed by Lamborghini.
(thanks to the Egli-Vincent.com for alerting me to this startling news)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

WELCOME TO THE MACHINE


Readers of BikeExif and other custom bike blogs are already familiar with the name 'Matt Machine'; his Moto Guzzi LeMans Mk1 was voted a 'Top 5 Moto Guzzi Custom' by that blog, and the work from his shop 3 hours south of Sydney earned him a spot in the global custom bike survery 'The Ride', which I co-authored with Chris Hunter, Gary Inman, and David Edwards.  In his former life, Matt was a popular architect in Sydney, but the lure of working with his hands was strong, so he set up shop on motorcycles, earning a worldwide reputation quickly, and lots of attention to his blog, Machine Shed.
My text for File #001 of The Machine Files, with ultra-clear layout and super hi-res photographs
Clearly a man with a restless mind, Matt contacted me late last year to explain his next project; a magazine which focussed on only one motorcycle per issue.  To be called The Machine Files, Matt's concept is to counter our developing iCulture of constant image-skimming, and dive deep in one spot, using excellent photography and writing, clear technical talk, and a straightforward format.  I was honored that he chose me to write the editorial text for Issue #1 of The Machine Files, which has just gone live, and can be accessed here.  It's not free, because Matt reached into his pocket to put the magazine together, and there are no advertisements.  It's not expensive though - $9/year for a very high quality quarterly publication.  At the moment, The Machine Files are only online, but that will change if he finds 'proof of concept' - that real motorcycle enthusiasts will appreciate this unique effort, and go deep with the experts on exceptional machines.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

1000 WORDS WORTH: BONNEVILLE 1953

It's true there's an essay in every photo, but the story's always better when the image is packed with exceptional machinery and good clues to the date..  The 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible in the background was brand new when this shot was taken at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the Vincent Black Lightning (#9) in the photo is a famous machine which changed configuration dramatically by 1954... so I'm fairly certain we're gazing from the top of a ladder through a magic window onto September 4th, 1953.
Marty Dickerson aboard his Rapide, the 'Blue Bike', at Bonneville
Marty Dickerson is being push-started at the head of the line, on his infamous 'Blue Bike'; he is about to break the magic 150mph barrier for a 'Class C' production machine on one run, while his record average was 147mph...all the more impressive as the rules limited machines to 90 octane pump fuel and an 8:1compression ratio.  Dickerson's record stood from this day in 1953 until 1973, when a Kawasaki Z1 broke it (at 155mph).  Dickerson is being pushed by an SCTA official with a walkie-talkie on his Hawaiian shirt; the SCTA organized the Bonneville events then, and still does with Speed Week.  The flag-man on the far right has already waved green, signaling the all-clear on the track. Bonneville isn't a drag race, as miles of salt are required to build up speed for even the quickest bikes, so there's no histrionic flag-waving at the start. Dickerson's 1948 Series B Touring Rapide was significantly developed by this date, and bears little resemblance to the small-wheeled and heavy-fendered machine he purchased as a lad of 18. He thought the Vincent was ugly when he purchased it, but he wanted the speed it promised, and campaigned his Rapide from 1948 onwards, first making the rounds of the Southwestern states, challenging locals to drag-races while in the employment of Burbank Vincent importer 'Mickey' Martin.  Read all about it here.
Joe Simpson's Lightning in '52
Another shot of Simpson in '52












Next behind Dickerson is the 1949 Vincent Black Lightning of Joe Simpson, the first Lightning imported to the USA.  Simpson was also out for a record that day, and succeeded, averaging , before it evolved into the blown monster you can see today in the Solvang Museum.  Note the interesting black fairing above the front wheel of the Lightning...it almost looks like the hood of a Ford!  If this photo was taken in 1953, Simpson's Lightning is running on methanol, and producing about 90hp @6000rpm, and he recorded 160.69mph, taking the American record away from Rollie Free's 1950 Vincent record of 156.71mph (the only time a Vincent held the World Speed Record was Russell Wright's 184.83mph run in New Zealand in 1955).
Marty Dickerson wheel-starts the supercharged Lightning with Matchless power, from the looks of it a c. 1952 G9 twin with a single-sided front brake hub.  Rollie Free observes in the plaid shirt, while the owner of the Lightning, Joe Simpson, stands right in the t-shirt
Simpson felt he'd reached the limit of development with a normally aspirated, pushrod motor, and decided to fit a Shorrock supercharger the next year, following the lead of the Reg Dearden Vincent (featured on The Vintagent many years ago), and in fact following the layout of the Dearden machine closely.  By 1955 his blown machine was back at the salt, but nobody would ride it, with an estimated 190mph top speed - only Marty Dickerson was brave enough, and recorded a 177mph average that year, although he saw 196mph on one run with a following wind.  Given the utter lack of safety gear for the riders as seen above, its no wonder at all why riders shied from such speeds...the salt is incredibly abrasive, and nobody had ridden a bike at that sort of speed on the notoriously bumpy and greasy-feeling salt lake surface.
Marty Dickerson aboard the supercharged Lightning ca.1955; he was the only rider brave enough!  Note the protective racing leathers and heavy boots - saving his skin
Simpson had just installed a set of Vincent factory racing cylinder heads with extra-large inlet ports (1 7/16") and matching oversize Amal TT racing carbs, and oversize intake/exhaust valves and exhaust pipe (the same as supplied to Rollie Free), but the bike wouldn't exceed 155mph during his tests.  Marty Dickerson examined the machine and suggested the valves were not sealing properly. Shockingly, the racers had come all the way to Bonneville with few tools, or at least not valve-grinding equipment, and the nearest town (Wendover) had none, so Marty 'made do' with a power drill and a file as an impromptu lathe!  His work was good enough for Simpson to average 160.69mph the next day.  Simpson is one of 3 men who really established the Vincent legend in the USA, and the world, right beside Dickerson and Rollie Free.
The Indian Brave was a product of England!  In 1950, Brockhouse Engineering bought a bankrupt Indian, and began badging its own 250cc sidevalve lightweight as an Indian, while still producing the Chief and vertical twins.  It was built through 1953, when Indian went bankrupt again, and Floyd Clymer bought the name... Here is the Del Branson Brave in Bonneville guise in an Indian ad from 1953.
Between the two big-gun Vincents in the photo sits a pop-gun of a record-breaker; a Brockhouse-built Indian 'Brave' with a 250cc sidevalve engine, which would have struggled to reach the top speed of the Vincents' first gear!  Its rider, Delbert Branson, looks pleased enough to participate in the day, and set a 250cc record in 1952 on a Brockhouse Indian at 80.62mph,  which is pretty fast in Bonneville's thin air (4200' above sea level).  A stock Brave was tested by Cycle magazine that year with a top speed of 68mph, but Branson managed a highest speed of 87mph on one run. The Indian Brave was a product of England; in 1950, Brockhouse Engineering bought the bankrupt Indian company, and badged its own 250cc sidevalve lightweight as an Indian, while still producing the Chief and vertical twins.  The enterprise lasted until 1953, when Indian again went bankrupt, and Floyd Clymer bought the name...carrying on through a succession of hands for decades. 
American Velocette importer Lou Branch placed this ad touting Lloyd Bulmer's accomplishments with his KSS Velo in the Dec.1952 issue of Cycle magazine
Immediately behind the Indian is a 1948 Velocette KSS Mk2 with Dowty air forks, and a dramatically lengthened inlet tract. This is Lloyd Bulmer's Velocette record-breaker, which was featured in plenty of US Velo advertising in the early 50s, as it was the fastest anyone had taken a 350cc Velocette on the USA to date.  In 1952, Bulmer's two-way average was 119.87mph, the fastest 350cc bike that year and an AMA record. In our top photo, Lloyd sits his Velo, with his wife(?) beside him.  The previous year, he'd only managed 106mph on the KSS, but he'd found considerable extra urge in the intervening year, and learned how to 'do the Free' for minimum drag (as seen in the ad above).  In fact, looking at various bikes in our Bonneville photo, 3 are equipped with planks instead of seats for a fully stretched-out riding position, which is now illegal for record-breaking.  As is the total lack of skin protection (ie, racing leathers) and decent boots (most riders are wearing hi-top sneakers or boxing shoes).
 I couldn't find a better photo of the Bonneville Triumph with reversed heads, but they're fairly common in drag/sprint racing.  This machine - Mirage - is pictured in a 1968 Alf Hagon parts catalog
The last motorcycle in our power quintet is a ca. 1952 Triumph Tiger 100 with reversed cylinder heads!  A shield to keep grit out of the carbs is attached to the frame downtube, while a remote fuel float peeks just outside the shield, and the big megaphone exhaust shoots straight out the back.  This is a trick used occasionally in sprint/drag racing, but I'm not familiar with this machine, and my luck in researching this photo ran out with the most 'common' machine in the bunch!  Any info or guesses are welcome. It's interesting to note the total lack of protective clothing, the cool variety of protective eyewear, and the 100% saturation of riders with Cycle magazine t-shirts... this particular run may have been sponsored by Cycle magazine itself, as (at least) four of the 5 motorcycles pictured took the top speed in their class that year.

Somer Hooker who forwarded this photo, adds this about the Lakester cars:


"This is a pretty iconic shot. It reflects on the days when the Salt Flats was casual and not a 'profiling' event.  The coupe on the far right is a 33 or 34 Ford 3 window coupe. It has what is known as a 'lakes chop'. The top was chopped and made to slant back to increase the aerodynamics. They later had to incorporate a rule about how far you could go with this. Note the white 1936 Ford five window coupe has also been chopped in the same manner. The white roadster in the LH side is a modified 1927 Ford roadster. It was a popular body because of its aerodynamics. This one has the engine in the front but quite often, they moved it to the rear and the driver sat in front. Black coupe behind Simpson bike (#9) may be a Chevy? There is a DeSoto grille which was a popular modification. Note the Triumph in lower LH corner has a board on back. This is where the rider would put his body for high speed."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

THE FUELIST: CHANGING THE GAME

The gearheads behind TheFuelist.com; Matt Hamilton, Dr.Thomas Rand-Nash, and Eric Maas, here with a Ducati 175 in their Berkeley warehouse/office
My old friend Matt Hamilton contacted me recently to reveal the 'web startup' he's been quietly working on the past 2 years, with Eric Maas and Dr.Thomas Rand-Nash (their chief data scientist).  Matt is one of the biggest gearheads I know, who collects vintage bikes and cars, and keeps the Alfa Romeo blog Giuliettas.com.  I recently visited the Berkeley headquarters of their new venture, TheFuelist.com, and if their website succeeds at what they're attempting, it's going to permanently change how people buy and sell vintage motorcycles and cars.
Home page of TheFuelist.com; the start of your data search, and possibly the loss of many minutes of your time!
The concept of The Fuelist is simple: track every public auction in the collector's vehicle market worldwide, break it down to year/make/model for every category and eventually, every option, and create informative, interactive graphs tracking prices over time.  Each graph point represents an actual sale, whether on eBay or another web-auction site, or from a live-auction house such as the various Bonhams, MidAmerica, or H+H sales worldwide, or the Las Vegas mega-sales.


Even at this early date, TheFuelist has nearly 1300 BSAs listed in their auction sales ranks over the past 10 years.
By clicking on a graph point, all the information and photos of that sale come up in a sidebar; the date and sale price, the location of the sale, the photos and details of the machine as provided in the auction. So, if you're looking for a late 1960s Triumph Bonneville, you'd click on 'motorcycles', then 'Triumph', then 'Bonneville', then set your target years in a date bracket, and voilá, you'll have every single public sale of that particular type of machine in a big graph, and you can set the search from a 6 month range to as far back as 10 years ago.  Click any point on the graph (which is a confirmed sale), and a sidebar shows a brief summary of the machine; clicking on the photo or the 'details' button sends you to a page with all the auction photos and detailed description of the machine
Here's a Fuelist comparison on 750cc Triples from the 1970s; BSA Rocket III, Triumph Trident, and Kawasaki H2 
You can actually compare prices on 5 different models in one graph, by clicking on the 'add item' button on the bottom of the screen.  On the example above, I compared 1970s 3-cylinder 750cc bikes - the BSA Rocket III, Triumph Trident, and Kawasaki H2; each model appears as a different colored dot on the graph.  Or, you can compare prices of Norton Commandos and BSA Rocket 3s, or Corvettes and Brough Superiors. This is potentially a massive amount of information, so it's best to keep your searches specific, unless you want general sales trends for thousands of old vehicles!  As of today (Mar.25 2014) they have 6000 motorcycles and 12,000 cars in their database, with about 100,000 more which are currently having their numbers crunched.  As The Fuelist fills its tank of information over the next few months, the details available will become even richer, such as breaking down bikes by color or region or options.  The boys at The Fuelist emphasize this isn't a price guide...but it sure acts like one.
TheFuelist.com office...gearheads one and all...with an Austin Healey 3000 keeping a Honda Super Hawk company
In the very near future, people like me will appear in guest blogs to interpret trends or make note of developments in the classic motorcycle and car market, and I think this feature will augment the site greatly, and become very popular.  An unlimited database is one thing, but an intelligent analysis of market trends using actual data is the real deal.  I've been an auction company consultant for years at Bonhams, and kept track of the highest-selling machines on The Vintagent's 'Top 20' Auction updates (now the 'Top 35' and growing; I don't delete previous sales), so working with The Fuelist seems like a natural extension.  It doesn't hurt that these guys already did the hard work of raising the money and writing the code!  The Fuelist is in 'beta' or testing mode right now, and they're still crunching data every hour, adding to their stock of information, but it's live, and you can check it out here.  Expect a mobile app and their full launch very soon.