Sunday, 3 April 2011

Early US Shooting Star and Road Rocket pics

I have a lot of BSA material lying around my hard drive that's badly filed so gets overlooked and forgotten about.  In that category are some dealer photos of a very early US spec Road Rocket and Shooting Star that I recently re-discovered.  These are interesting for several reasons so I thought I'd post them.

First of all, I haven't seen these anywhere else - which was the reason for getting them in the first place.

Second, they show - if the photos are to be believed - that early models had a couple of features that are specific to US models or that were dropped later in the first year.

For example, both models are fitted with Fat Girlings. I think the first BSAs these were fitted to were some of the earliest CB Gold Stars shipped in late 1953 - they had certainly stopped fitting them to bikes shipped in 1954.

Another feature is the wing-nut type oil tank filler cap. Until I had seen these I thought these were only fitted to very early CB Gold Stars shipped in 1953.

Finally, the standout feature on the Road Rocket of course is the alloy Road Rocket sculpture on the front mudguard.

 Road Rockets were only available in the US for the first two years of manufacture and were only fitted with the 'rocket in the US - were UK enthusiasts sick with jealousy!  BSA used different finishes and different cycle parts on some US models but something as unique and needless as this - there has to be an interesting story behind this. It's so un-characteristically BSA.

Since both photos use BSA's Daytona win as a promotional aid, this dates them as being not earlier than March 1954 though the bikes used for the photos would have produced earlier. Since the photographer credited is Moss Photo of NY, it's reasonable to assume that these were produced at the request-of or for use by the Eastern Distributor Rich Childs. I'm not aware of any difference in finish between East and West coast models as is the case with other BSAs around the same time - the Super Flash for example - but it makes me inclined to take a look at the despatch records some time - another blog, for another day

.If the photos are to be believed. What I mean by this is that the photos follow usual BSA practice of being at best, a touched-up version of an original photo or worse, a fairly creative rendition or imagining of the actual bike. The most creative ones that I've seen are of competition models not generally available to the public like the Daytona models, something that didn't help when researching these for restoration (add link).

Heavily re-touched BSA promotional photo of a 1954 Daytona Shooting Star. Many features are incorrect so this may have used a photo of an early prototype of the Daytona bike.

The picture above shows what is described a Daytona Shooting Start but the bike appears to be a mish-mash of parts from 1953 (e.g. megaphones, mudguards) and 1954 Daytona twins. I have seen original photos of the Daytona bikes in prototype stage with variations like these so this may have it's origins in a prototype also.
These 'artist impression' photos are at their least creative for over-the-counter models and of necessity - picture the scene at the dealer as the customer complains that the bike he bought doesn't look like the one in the photo that made him buy the bike in the first place!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Klamfoth restoration part #1 - a twin amongst the singles, a swinger amongst the rigids

Previously  I wrote about my involvement in Project Daytona that involved a team of researchers in Florida and Scotland restoring a 1954 BSA Daytona Gold Star and Shooting Start in-time for the 2004 50th anniversary of BSA’s historic first five places sweep-up in the 1954 Daytona 200 mile race.

The most obvious and defining characteristic of these bikes was that they were rigid framed, at a time when BSA had just introduced swing-arm frames. The research element alone for this project took years and was difficult enough at time to feel more like archaeologiy than restoration but we managed to tie-up most of the loose ends, or enough to make us happy enough to parade the bikes in 2004.

We also decided to build a replica (or a restoration if we ever find more original parts) of Dick Klamfoth’s 2nd place bike but if the specification of the rigid bikes had been a big puzzle to solve, then Dick’s bike was an even bigger one because it alone amongst BSA’s works team was fitted with a swing arm. 

We had only a few poor photos to work from but reckoned that an incorrectly captioned photo in the Bert Hopwood book ‘Whatever Happened to the British Motorcycle Industry? was the same bike or at least the bike in prototype form.  This blog entry explains why we think so.

Obviously, the first thing we did was ask Dick -  but he wasn’t sure.  Dick remembered that BSA thought that amongst the riders he would be best suited for a swing arm because he had ridden a plunger Manx Norton in the previous 2 Daytonas until a regulation change made them ineligible. Dick also thought that the bike was a lash-up from spare parts that BSA had when the bike he was first given went bad in practice. Other riders Gene Thiessen and Kenny Eggers (see link) seemed to remember this too, but Kenny Eggers also thought that it had been put together using a spare Daytona engine and the rolling chassis from a roadster swing-arm Shooting Star that had been sent by BSA for dealers to evaluate before these were officially launched in the UK.  More doubt was spread when we saw what appeared to be a spare or wrecked rigid frame in a photo of Thiessen't trailer as he was preparing to drive home to Oregon after Daytona.

Post race photo taken around Gene Thiessen's car - with the 'spare' frame. Left to right are BSA engineer Cyril Halliburn, kneeling Bobby Hill, standing Kenny Eggers, kneeling Dick Klamfoth, unknown standing in white, Gene Thiessen and Al Gunter.

We wondered what kind of accident would be bad enough to need the whole frame and a spare engine to be used, and if it had been that bad you'd wonder why they didn't need a spare rider as well.  The testimony was confusing and uncertain but on the basis that neither you nor I will remember much about this blog in 50 years time, we couldn’t be too hard on the guys to remember much about the bikes they last saw 50 years ago.

So we decided to look for evidence elsewhere and went first to the BSA dispatch records. Did BSA send a Daytona bike with a swing-arm frame? Was there an early dealer evaluation swing-arm Shooting Star? Service sheets and the the despatch records show that BSA did, and produced a couple of spares engine for UK dealer Fron Purslow but I couldn't find any record of a Shooting Star being shipped either with the Daytona bikes or before.

Detail taken from a BSA service sheet

Where next?  I had looked at the pic in the Hopwood book in the past before I was ever involved in Project Daytona and regarded it as a bit of a curiosity, but didn’t think about it much more. Now I looked at it again but this time with the benefit of the research we had done to determine the specification of the rigid Daytona bikes, I saw things I hadn’t before.  For example, the Daytona barrels, the Vokes filter, the Daytona front mudguard, stays and reversed front brake lever were all fitted only to the Daytona bikes but what we had to do was date the Hopwood bike to late 1953, or very early 1954.And there are two features that let us do that.

Image used on dealer promotional poster after the race shows the Daytona pattern front mudguard, pipes and megaphones
First, we knew that the alloy front mudguard was only fitted to the 1954 bikes, in 1955 this was changed to the standard roadster arrangement to placate the AMA’s regulations for homologation after they questioned some of the special used by BSA in 1954 and threatened to ban them. This was only averted at the 11th hour by the counter threat of an injunction from BSA West Coast distributor Hap Alzina that might have prevented the race taking place at all. The AMA capitualted.

Klamfoth's bike in '55. Also a swing-arm bike but shown here to show use of standard mudguards to keep the AMA happy.

Second, the fat girlings fitted to the Hopwood bike were only used very briefly between late 1953 and early 1954 – slimmer Girlings were fitted from late spring onwards.So we had a photo of a bike that was made around the same time as the Daytona bikes and was fitted with all the Daytona specific features.

We also knew that a swing arm bike was made and shipped to Daytona. Unless this was a pic of the bike sent to Fron Purslow, we couldn’t think of any reasons why this bike would be anything other than Klamfoth’s bike or perhaps the prototype of it – and decided to use this as research material for the planned bike build. Now as a quality check, we decided to take the Daytona film we had and blow-up some freeze frames of Klamfoth going round the South turn.As you can see, quality is lamentable, though it does allow us to confirm the front pipe and megaphone location and dimensions.

Still from the '54 film showing the arrangement of pipes, megaphone and number plates
What it also shows, though is a different seat. On the Hopwood pic there is an example of one of the Feridax –like (in 1955 they used actual Feridax seats) racing seats BSA made in-house for the 1954 bikes. In the blow-up pic, a completely different seat has been fitted with what appear to be rivets round the edge of the seat base. Until we know better, we’re assuming that this was a piece of ‘localisation’ applied to Klamfoth’s bike, either because the original was damaged (perhaps the accident Thiessen and Eggers mentioned?) or replaced to satisfy rider preference.

Still from '54 film showing the seat rivets
 We do know that the others bikes had changes made to them once they had arrived in the US to suit the rider’s preference and the most obvious example being the rear brake lever on Egger’s twin which was mounted over the top of the brake plate, rather than underslung.

There are still some details we can only guess at, like the brackets and positioning of the float bowls for which we really need a good close-up shot from either side. But otherwise, we have enough of a blueprint to start work on the bike. In the next feature, I’ll pay attention to some of the Daytona specific parts and how we worked-out dimensions and specification, managed to find them or in one case – persuaded a manufacturer to resume production again just for us.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Project Daytona, August 2003 – Technical Challenges

As mentioned in the previous update, bikes raced at Daytona had to comply with AMA class ‘C’ regulations - basically production bikes with a few permitted modifications.

These rules did allow for some special parts, as long as they were deemed to be modifications that were within the scope of owner-modification or had been made by BSA in quantities of 100 or more for homologation purposes.

Within these restrictions the 1954 bikes were prepared in the BSA competition shop under the guidance of Roland Pike. Given the green-light to proceed by Bert Hopwood in the Summer of 1953 he prototyped a Daytona special Gold Star using one of the Bill Nicholson designed rigid trials frames but fitted with lightweight cycle parts that could be fitted to either a twin or Gold Star.

The class ‘C’ regulations meant Pike had to use existing parts as much as possible – something that made our restoration task easier. For example, the low-slung triangular oil tank is actually two pre-unit toolbox halves welded together. The shrouds around the rear wheel to protect it from sand are simply alloy sheets pop-riveted to an alloy mudguard blade.

But there were some parts that were more difficult to replace, some whose purpose were difficult to understand… and some we had difficulty even seeing,

DificuIt to replace the Vokes filter challenge.
The Daytona bikes were fitted with Vokes oil filters. In their day, these were fitted to everything from GP Triumphs to racing Ferraris, diesel trains and anti-aircraft guns. So you’d think finding one would be easy, but no! We even resorted to calling round MOD quartermasters but no luck. On a whim we called Vokes who are still in business and by a stroke of luck spoke to a man who restores old cars. He looked around, couldn’t find any filters and decided to make us a batch from scratch after rescuing the original drawings from a periodic clearout – as simple as that. It became a restoration project in itself and required making tools, jigs and short-run alloy casting. But a year and a half later – victory!!

Difficult to understand – the slim barrel challenge
We were mystified by the barrels on our ex- Al Gunter twin since they looked like the slimmer profile type fitted to earlier twins – why would BSA do that? They also had a smaller number of fins and we wondered BSA had secretly deployed a short-stroke engine since they had experimented with these at the time? All was resolved in a conversation with Dick Mann who asked if we had the special thick flange barrels on our twin. We had overlooked the important difference - a thicker, stronger base flange.

Difficult to see - the Gold Star engine challenge
Our ex- McDermott Gold Star has a BB type engine but some of the internals are not BB type. By late 53 BSA already had the later big fin CB type engine ready but as was usual at BSA, didn’t plan to have this ready until the TT. We wondered if our engine was a BB with CB internals (where the scrutineer couldn’t see them) but looking at the parts we had, this didn’t stack-up.

So, back to the project archive and Roland Pike’s unpublished biography (which you can read on our web site) and here we found the answers. Pike made some heads for 1954 Daytona models using 350 castings machined to suit 500cc. He found these gave more power than the normal 500 heads due to better down-draft. He also used oval flywheels, a short 350 con-rod necessitating shorter push rods, larger valves and a timed breather. So basically, the Daytona Gold Star engines were Roland Pike specials.

The Great Cosmic Motorcycling Force
It’s been quite a journey so far - and we’re not finished yet! We’ve learned a lot on the way but two things are worth presenting.First, we learned not to discriminate when collecting information. If it didn’t seem relevant at first it often turned out to be so later - sometimes you don’t see the treasure until you’re looking for it.

Second, we’ve had some things that stumped us but each time we got lucky and an answer fell out of the sky just in time. The moral of the tale - the Great Cosmic Motorcycling Force provides for those who are truly in need.

Project Daytona, June 2003 – “More like archaeology than restoration…”

Up until the early 70’s almost all bike racing in the US had to comply with AMA class ‘C’ regulations - basically production bikes with a few permitted modifications. So you’d think that would make restoring our Daytona bikes easy – they would be bog-standard catalogue bikes with a few permitted modifications, right?

Wrong! Apart from the special rigid frames used at Daytona that were the most visible identifier of a Daytona bike we found many other differences that made the research phase of the project long and difficult. It was in one of many late-night phone sessions to the US that team member Don Bradley remarked that as restorations go, this had been more like archaeology so far. Let me give you some examples.

In any research you go first to existing books, articles, documentation and records. But we have chosen a subject and period that is almost entirely absent from these. Forget the 70’s – this is the real ‘forgotten era’ of racing. If we suspected we might have a hill to climb this was confirmed when Gold Star technical authority John Gardner admitted he’d be learning from us, not the other way around.

We were drawing blanks all round so decided to find any BSA competition shop staff still alive – there aren’t many. A bit of detective work found Arthur Lupton, better known under his pseudonym ‘A. Golland’ as the author of the red ‘Goldie’ book published in the 1970’s. Arthur was a stalwart at BSA for many, many years who worked with competition shop staff. We were very fortunate to correspond at length with Arthur over a period of 2 years before he died.

The real star find would be Roland Pike who was in charge of developing the Daytona bikes in ‘54. We knew he lived in the US but had been suffering from Altzheimer’s disease in the last few years. We almost made it - he died 2 weeks before we got in touch with his daughter. However she gave us a copy of an unpublished autobiography from his BSA years that not only helped with the Daytona bikes but also provided a goldmine of information about other interesting BSA projects and working in Small Heath at the time.

There were also mysteries about the riders. The surviving works riders have been supporting us since the project started but there was one we couldn’t trace – Cliff Caswell. Last month we found him using one of those dodgy ‘we can find any person’ websites in the US!Recording and keeping track of all this information would be difficult in any circumstances. We were additionally handicapped by having a restoration team composed of people in both the US and Scotland.

The answer was an online web-based archive and project management tool. Documents, discussions, notes, images, details – all were stored on a web site so that team members could access it anywhere, anytime. Access was restricted to the project team or people who were helping us – we could do without the more militant Gold Star owners misinterpreting our speculations as gospel and taking us to task over them. But at the same time a public access section of the website was developed that would be used to publicise the project and provide information for BSA enthusiasts. This part of the site was launched at Daytona 2003 and can be found at

Beezagent's Note:- this website was replaced in 2006 by

Project Daytona, April 2003 – 1 year to go

Last month I wrote about the project to restore and parade the 1954 Daytona winning BSAs at Daytona speed week in 2004 as part of a 50 th anniversary event. Daytona 2003 has just finished and we now have one year to prepare the bikes and organise the event itself. Let me tell you a bit more about both.

The Bikes The Daytona 200 was the most important race US calendar - equivalent to the TT. At that time the race was run on a large oval circuit that had one straight on sand, one on tarmac. In 1954 BSA sent both Gold Stars and Shooting Stars to Daytona. Both were fitted with rigid frames as it was felt that the reduced weight was of greater benefit on sand than swinging-arm suspension. We are restoring examples of both machines for 2004 - Tommy McDermotts Gold Star and Al Gunters Shooting Star.

Although US regulations of the time required these to be production bikes in a future update Ill tell you about some of the very non-production (!) details we found while working on these and the difficulty we’’ve had researching them before restoration work started.

The Event Our event is intended to celebrate BSAs win in 1954, the original riders and BSA in general. It is actually a series of activities that will be held within the larger Daytona speed week, a motorcycling party that eclipses the TT in both scale and scope. Our smaller ‘party will consist of::-

Friday, Saturday & Sunday - Antique Motorcycle Club of America Concours event spotlight on BSA at Eustis
Monday and Tuesday – Parade lap with restored bikes and riders at Daytona Speedway
Thursday – Concours display and ride-out to Jerry Woods action and swap meet at Deland
Thursday evening – Banquet and ‘meet the riders event at Stetson University.

The project team, the surviving riders and other BSA luminaries such as Jeff Smith, John Gardner and Dick Mann will attend the banquet to talk about the race and answer questions. Others have been approached and are still to be confirmed – watch this space

Project Daytona, February 2003

This was originally posted as a blog style entry on a website, documenting the progress of Project Daytona through research and restoration of two BSA Daytona racers in 2004 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of BSA's historic win in 1954.

In March 1954 BSA won the 200 mile expert race at Daytona Beach, Florida. Bobby Hill won on a Shooting Star, heading a field of 107 riders to complete the 200 mile race in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 22.70 seconds at an average speed of 94.24mph.

The next 4 places were also BSAs, with the nearest American bike being Don Hutchinson's Harley in 10th place.This was the most important event in the US racing calendar, comparable with the TT.

Although this was one of BSA's greatest sporting achievements the event passed largely uncelebrated at the time and has been barely mentioned in books and magazines since.In March 2004 a multinational group of BSA restorers hope to rectify this injustice by celebrating the 50th anniversary of the win at Daytona 2004. Restored bikes - a Gold Star and Shooting Star - will be paraded by the original BSA riders, Bobby Hill, Kenny Eggers, Dick Klamfoth, Gene Thiessen and Tommy McDermott.

The event will be supported by the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association, will be attended by various luminaries in the classic bike scene and the intention is to make this a big event with lots of press! While I'm sure this news will interest the BSA nuts, club members might also be interested to know that the Scottish member of the restoration team is club member Myles Raymond.

Myles and his buddies in the US have been working on this project for the last 2 years on an epic journey that has at times been more like archaeology than restoration but is now.Myles will be posting progress reports in the newsletter as the project moves into the last 12 months before the big event in March 2004

Project Daytona, February 2003 – In The Beginning

This was originally posted as a blog style entry on a website, documenting the progress of Project Daytona through research and restoration of two BSA Daytona racers in 2004 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of BSA's historic win in 1954.

Why are some people who have never met and who live in different continents restoring bikes via the internet?

The story starts in the 1990s when some BSA enthusiasts in Florida wonder if it would be possible to find and restore a Daytona BSA, a bike that has always fascinated them. But there are two problems - they can't find a bike and can't find anyone who knows anything about them.

Although they don't know it at the time, another BSA enthusiast in Scotland is researching twin carburettor kits sold for BSA pre-unit twins in the USA. His research also touches on the Daytona twins, as these were fitted with twin carburettors. He puts the result of his research on a web site.
One of the Florida guys, Don Bradley sees the reference to Daytona bikes on the site and emails the Scottish BSA guy Myles Raymond asking for any information he has about these bikes. Myles doesn't have much so asks what Don has. Neither has much but both agree that this is important information and that they should keep in touch and share whatever they find.

Myles Raymond - research and website, Scotland
A year later they get in touch again - things have moved on. Don has unearthed more parts, more information and has decided to restore the bikes in time for the 50th anniversary of BSA's 1954 in 2004. He wants this to be a big event and plans a celebration attended by the original BSA riders. By this time Myles has more information too, has some leads on UK contacts who may know even more about the bikes' history and is planning to create an online archive for the information.

Things have now reached a critical mass. Myles offers to help the project any way he can but thinks that because he is in the UK, he is best placed to find information or ex- BSA staff who might help. Don will head-up the restoration partly because he has the bits of bike that have been found so far and partly because Myles is by his own admission is a poorer mechanic than Don.

They decide that the only practical way to share this information is to keep it all on a website where it will be available to anyone regardless of location or timezone. Myles will build the website partly because he's done one already and partly because Don is by his own admission, a poor typist.

Don Bradley, Bob Birdsall - BikeRestorations, Florida

So a website is built and used as an online archive and project management tool. Early in the research stage while the team is still uncertain about the specification of the bikes the web site contains much information that is speculative. To protect against the more militant BSA enthusiasts who might interpret the web site contents as gospel and take issue a decision is made to keep the site private. The URL is only circulated among the project team members or trusted individuals who are helping.

In practice the website works spectacularly well, bridging the difference in distance and time and the restoration proceeds.

There are still problems to solve and questions to answer but by April 2003 the team is confident enough that they can complete the bikes to the original specification and the website finally goes public in April 2003.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Project Daytona’s un-fulfilled 2004 promise

Throughout the year before the Project Daytona 50th anniversary event I wrote about work to restore the bikes and prepare for the events in and around the track at Daytona in February 2004.

After a series of accidents and lack of care on my part (even more embarrassing since I work in IT) I was unable to keep updating the website after 2005, then didn’t have the time to completely re-write the website from scratch. When I adopted a blog format to talk BSA to the world in 2009 I did so because it was easier than building a website from scratch again. I also promised myself that I would transfer material from my old BSA website (you can still look at this at ) to my blog. I just haven’t known where to start until now.

In January 2004, literally just before the 50th event we came across some film of the 1954 Daytona event. Very bad quality, clearly a copy of a copy of a copy but good enough to watch and more importantly provided a few more clues about the fascinating swing-arm twin that Dick Klamfoth rode to 2nd place (see blog entry "Whatever happened...").

I wanted to share the film with the world but was hamstrung by lack of an easy way to do this – but was before YouTube had been invented.

Looking back over my old site deciding what to transfer to my blog first, this seemed like the best candidate – after all, I did make a promise.

So now, I present the original website entry, literally the last one I posted before I got on a plane from Scotland to Florida with only a couple of explanatory notes added but more importantly, now with the film. And as an extra treat, film of BSA's other big Daytona win in 1971 when Dick Mann took a BSA Rocket 3 to victory.

February 2004 – Daytona film found
How lucky can a restoration project be?

We thought we were doing well when ex- BSA employee Colin Washbourne got in touch and offered us works photos of the twins.

We thought we were doing really well when we were offered colour slides from the beach in 1954.

So when we were offered some film from the 1954 200 miler we could hardly contain ourselves!
In January 2004 BSA owner Skip Kologski read about the Daytona Project on our website. He was pleased to see people keeping the BSA name alive and remembered he had a VHS tape of vintage races that included some footage of the 54 race.

He wondered if we might be interested and contacted team member Don Bradley in Florida. Don was immediately enthusiastic so Skip said he would send a copy.

Now at this point Don called me and to be honest, we worried that this might all turn out too good to be true and we'd never hear from Skip again. But Skip was as good as his word and a couple of days later a tape popped into Don's mail box.

And there is film from Daytona in ‘54... and ‘52... and 71! There is also footage from the 64 Jack Pine, 50's Laconia and others too.

At time of writing we're still going through the film trying to work out exactly what is on the tape and where it originally came from. Quality is variable, we believe the originals are a mixture of 8mm and 16mm but all are very watchable and some are great!

Some of the film appears to be promotional material filmed by or for Triumph, so copyright issues may apply. But the Daytona footage is not and we're currently trying to figure out how we can edit and convert this into downloadable MPEG files or streaming video that we hope to put on the website. If this is possible it won't happen until after Daytona 2004 - we're too busy with bike restoration and event planning.

But we do plan to take a copy along to Daytona so your best chance of seeing the film will be at the Project Daytona Banquet on the evening of Thursday 4th March at the Edmonds Centre, Stetson University.

This very special will be the climax of our 50th anniversary celebrations and will be attended by the BSA riders from '54 and other BSA 'guest stars' like Dick Mann, Jeff Smith, Norm Smith and Bill Tuman.

They will be YOUR guests for the evening with awards, talks and a Q&A session - we hope to see you there!

Daytona 1954 film

Daytona 1971 film

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Whatever happened to British Motorcycle picture credits?

"Whatever happened to the British Motorcycle Industry?" is a book about the rise and demise of the British motorcycle industry written by Bert Hopwood who served as a development engineer and ultimately director with BSA.

It was written by Bert Hopwood and has been staple reading (it's been re-printed several time since first published in 1981)for BSA, Norton and Triumph enthusiasts ever since. As with any account of history it should be treated as one version of events and in Hopwood's case sometimes reads more like a biography than an account but I'm sure that savvy, litereate people will know this and take a balanced view. You may be interested to read ex- BSA development engineer Roland Pike's views on some of the same people and events elsewhere in my blog (add link)and form your own opinions. As with all personal accounts, personal aspirations, vanity and ego all contribute to the final product.

However, none of what I've written in any way detracts from the contribution both men made to the British motorcycle industry in general and BSA in particular in whose firmament they are amongst the brightest stars.

But the subject of this blog is not about the people, it's about the pictures.

"Whatever..." is a great read but it's shame the picture quality isn't better. It's not a coffee-table book so we just have to accept and forgive the limitations of small-volume publishing. What's harder to forgive are the picture captions (and I have a specific interest in one, more of which later) which are in some cases frustratingly not as descriptive as you'd like and in some cases just plain wrong.

An example of "just plain wrong..." can be found on page 108 there is a photo of a single-cylinder NSU Sportsmax described as a Rennmax - which is a twin.

An example of "frustrating..." can be found on page 120 where what is described as a 650 Golden Flash is actually a 650 Super Flash and there's a great story attached to this attempt to sell the Super Flash to the French Police which would have been good to read in the book and which I may write about in another blog.

Another example of "frustrating... " can be found on page 116 where what is described as a Gold Star in a rigid frame is actually something much more special than that as it is one of the Gold Stars prepared for the 1955 Daytona 200 mile race on the old beach circuit.

There may be others too but I'll leave you to play 'spot the mistake' if you like.

Now - back to the picture in which I have a specific interest.

On page 116 there is another photo of a bike described as a racing version of the 500cc BSA Shooting Star twin from the mid 1950's. It is, but I think it's much more than that. I think it's the bike that Dick Klamfoth rode to 2nd place at Daytona in 1954.

This is the racing 500 twin in "Whatever happened..."

The bike in the Hopwood photo shows modifications and features that were only used on bikes prepared for Daytona. For example, the modified fuel tank with filler moved to the side. The Vokes oil filter. Twin TT carburettors. The special thick-flange Daytona barrels. The racing seat made by BSA that looks like a Feridax seat but isn't.

In 1954 BSA achieved their big-win at Daytona winning the first 5 places with a team of specially prepared Gold Stars and Shooting Stars. These bikes have fascinated me since I was 17 and my interest and work to find out more then ultimately get involved in the restoration of examples of both can be read about at

My motivation to do this was driven by a frustration that there was so little documented about them in published histories and what was published was often inaccurate.

These bikes were hand-made by a team in BSA put together for just this purpose and special in many ways but with the most obvious and defining characteristic being that they were rigid- framed so they would be lighter and so they could be used in US flat-track events after Daytona. However,the bike that Dick Klamfoth rode to 2nd place was different because it wore a swing-arm frame - why?

This is Dick Klamfoth on his swing-arm twin at Daytona in 1954

The work to research the rigid Gold Star and Shooting Star restored in 1954 took longer than the actual restoration itself and I described it at times as being "more like archaeology than restoration". If the history and specification of the rigid bikes was a big puzzle to solve, then Dick Klamfoth's swing-arm twin has been an even bigger one.

This will be the first in a series of blogs that will explain the research done that led me to believe that the Hopwood pic is Klamfoth's 1954 bike. And since I'm now restoring that bike too, it will provide an occasional update on the work.

More later...

You can read a book review here
You can read more about Daytona BSAs and my involvement in the project to restore a 1954 Gold Star and Shooting Star here

Saturday, 1 January 2011

... another door opens - Thad Wolff

Few people make motorcycle history. Fewer still do it twice in one year. To do so twice in two different events on two bikes that couldn't be as different from each other on two completely different circuits, one off-road one on... well that's got to be very special - right?

So - let me introduce Thad Wolff.

Since most of the people reading my blogs are BSA enthusiasts, if Thad hasn't previously come to your attention then you should know that he's a pro- bike racer living in California who has ridden both superbikes and vintage bikes.

His first historic achievement was in October 2010 when he became the first person ever race an electric motorcycle against petrol powered bikes in a governing body sanctioned race. This happened at Barber in Birmingham, Alabama in October 2010 and you can read about it here.

If Thad has gone electric and won you can bet your boots you'll soon see other people trying and probably Thad again too but this is another blog topic altogether.

Now then, his second historic achievement was to win the premiere open twins expert class in the revived Catalina GP in December 2010. Tou can read about it here and here and here.

Catalina is not just a name used for a US market Gold Star and a flying boat. It's a small, rocky island lying about 22 miles West of Los Angeles. In 1919 chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr loved the island so much he bought it with a view to promoting it as a tourist destination. William Wrigley is long gone and doesn't own hte island anymore but left his mark there in the form of an imposing art-deco casino, and his mark on the pavements of the rest of the world ever since.

I went to Catalina in 1998, accompanying my wife to LA on a business trip. A boat trip to Catalina was available and knowing that there used to be a bike race there I wanted to take a look. Catalina is rocky, fairly bare and the original race run mostly on small roads and dirt tracks around the island - more like an enduro than a road race - but was very popular until it stopped. I don't know if it was a growing environmental awareness that stopped the race but when I visited I thought that a far more active environmental lobby now would make sure it never ran again... then in 2010 it did!

I don't know much about the people who managed to pull of this coup but hats off to them. For this blog entry I'm concentrating on Thad Wolff.

Although Thad is no stranger to vintage bikes, he's a recent convert to BSA and thanks my buddy Don Bradley for his help and advice about BSA. For his 'Catalina Scrambler' he took a fairly standard Super Rocket, upgraded the suspension and hubs front and rear, took advantage of the hollow swing-arm spindle to move the gearshif to the left where he's more comfortable, modified a two-into-one exhaust to exit on the left and that's mostly it. The engine itself was not tuned beyond standard specification or meticulously rebuilt and blueprinted before the race, Thad pretty much "run what he brung" - way to go, Thad!

Now over to Thad to tell the story himself.

"Now, my story starts when I was born 1 year later in L.A. I grew up riding, then racing dirt bikes about 1 hour northwest of the city where I grew up. I became an AMA roadracer, and even raced the ABC Carlsbad Superbiker event in the early 80’s, which was the start of the on and off road super motoracing of today. I guess I consider myself a versatile and well-rounded motorcyclist and racer. I’ve also built all kinds of bikes, but never anything English. So, always learning more and more about that Catalina race, I decided to build a BSA 650 Catalina Scrambler “Twin Special”. I found a 1958 Super Rocket early this year with the original black and yellow plate. I thought it would make a cool street bike that would look the part with the chrome upswept straight pipes, big knobbies, and of course, that neat Catalina Scrambler logo on the tank! The bike was almost finished, when lo and behold, race promoter, “Vinnie”, announced that he was bringing back the races to the island. Was this meant to be, or what? Ok, straight to the garage, strip the lights off, longer travel, Honda forks with Race Tech innards, Works Performance shocks, 21” wheel, Dunlop knobs, 58 tooth sprocket, and number plates. All of a sudden, I have an Open Premiere Twins Catalina racer! Oh yeah, and one thing all of you Brit purists will cringe at: I used the rear brake crossover shaft to bring the shifter over to the left side of the bike. I’ve spent my whole life shifting on that side and this old dog doesn’t want to learn that new trick.

The race date was getting closer and closer. All sorts of rumors were flying around about the race and nobody knew if it was really going to happen or not. Everyone that had the foresight to pre-enter on-time, had their fingers crossed, and everyone else started to think they missed the boat by not entering on time, and they were going to be left standing on the side of the track watching everyone else race their way back into history. Things started to look promising when I showed up at the dock in Long Beach to load the bike into the container to ship it to the island. The helper kids took one look at the vintage BSA, with its beautiful chrome gas tank, and asked me if I could load my own bike. I did, but I have to admit, that I was a bit worried about walking away from my racer when I looked back and it looked like a sardine in a can with all the other bikes. So, now I have 3 days to wait before getting reunited with my bike at the impound lot (pits) that was just outside the town of Avalon.

Part of my race training is riding my mountain bike. I can leave my house and after 45 minutes of riding over the mountain range, I’m at the beach, and am looking out across the water at that now mythical space in my mind, called Santa Catalina Island.

I’m telling you, I can’t think of anything else for those 3 days, so I kept busy riding my different bikes. I knew most of the course was going to be fire roads, so I rode near my house on trails that I figured were going to be similar. I’ve been riding these same fire roads for over 40 years, and when someone asked me if I was any good at fireroadin’, I replied, “I better be!” Come to think of it, my race training program is a lot of fun.

The last afternoon at home, my wife, Jody, and I rode down to the beach. We sat at one of our special spots on the sand to relax and gaze across the water at the island. We’ve seen it thousands of times, of course, but this time was different. The thought of racing my bike on that island, in what could be a very historic race, gave my stomach a small case of the butterflies.

The whole Catalina experience really started to ramp up when we boarded the Catalina Express alongside hundreds of other racers and spectators. Everyone was so excited. I knew a lot of people on the boat and it was neat to meet new friends and just check out everyone’s choice of apparel. I was wearing a vintage Castrol jacket, a Bud Ekins t-shirt, and a BSA, I Love You hat. I was representing the vintage thing and it was fun to tell people I was going to race a ’58 BSA. The outline of the island and then Avalon’s famous casino magically appeared out of the fog, and within seconds everyone had their cameras and cell phones out to start taking the first of many pictures. I would like to know how many pictures were taken on that weekend. It must have been millions.

After checking into the hotel, we walked up to the impound area. There was a sea of bikes (over 800), all grouped in one spot. What a sight, all the variety of classic racebikes. Alright, there’s the Beezer parked next to John Hateley’s Triumph and there’s a crowd around them taking pictures. We walked up and I was proud to be able to answer their questions with the statement, “Yep, that’s my bike!”

The next thing on my mind was the track. We hiked up the way to the starting line where there was a flurry of activity. Tractors at work, a water truck, volunteers putting up ribbons and hay bales lining the track, people walking and mountain biking the track, Red Bull and other sponsors hanging banners, flags, and all kinds of colorful race stuff. Wow! I can’t wait for tomorrow morning.

The morning of the race is finally here. The alarm clock says 3:46. It’s set for 5:30 and my eyes are wide open. There is no possible way I’m getting back to sleep. It’s still pitch black, and while walking the streets, the only sound I hear is the squeak that my hand squeezer is making. I know my forearms are going to be hating it about 3 hours from now. As it starts to get light, I figured it would be a good idea to scope out the beginning of the race course. There is no practice and I thought I would at least look at the 1st few corners. The rest of the track is going to be a surprise. Hey, check out this steep downhill with a tight right, left, then straight back up to a steep uphill. I don’t know if my start line position will be the first row or last, but if its last, there could be a huge bottle-neck, pile up there. Who knows, I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

It’s time to put helmets on, and with a good luck, I love you kiss from Jody, the sound of the kickstarters and sweet sounding vintage motors get louder and louder. Hateley’s Triumph lights up. I respond with the sound of the BSA’s straight pipes. You could see everyone saying, “Man, those British twins sound sooo good!” I think such a big part of the Vintage Bike races is the sound. I couldn’t help but think of being at places like Ascot. Aldana’s BSA, Romero’s Triumph, Nixon vs. Lawwill.

Man, the atmosphere was absolutely electric! Fifty-two years earlier they were lining up in town and ripping down the streets before going out into the mountains, but with lawyers and lawsuits these days, all we got to do was a parade lap down to the boardwalk and back up to the start area. That turned out to be so much fun. There were thousands of people waving and clapping, hooting and hollering. Most with cameras and cell phones capturing this special moment. The bikes are finally back on the island! All of a sudden, a guy with a homemade cardboard sign saying “Go Lupo!” jumps out of the crowd right at me! It’s my old racin’ buddy, Richard Chambers. When we were in Italy, they nicknamed me “Lupo” (that’s “wolf” in Italian). I give him a big high five as I go by and howl like a wolf. I didn’t want that parade lap to end, but off to the start line we go. I end up on the 4th row. I’m at the tail end of the expert riders on the largest, oldest bikes. Premiere Open Twins Expert was my class with the newer vintage bikes in front, like early 80’s CR’S and YZ’s. Those guys have got almost twice the suspension travel and about half the weight. I sure am glad to have a bandana over my face because that CZ in front of me is running way too rich.

Row by row takes off with a roost of fresh loam spittin’ off new knobbies. I’m going to totally roost my buddy from town, Andy Reid. I can’t believe he lines up right behind me. Hey, he’s a funny guy. Maybe he wants the Old Beezer to pelt him. Everyone starts with their left hand on the rear fender and when the green flag flies I get the killer hole shot! Now can you just imagine the sound those straight pipes made going through the gears up that start straight? I’ve got nobody close behind me and my sights are set to catch the guys up ahead when I come into the motocross section. I don’t know the track and I want to hit this first jump at speed, but I slow and don’t fly too far but it’s a double jump and I’m looking down knowing when I hit the face of the next jump on this 355 lb. bike, I’m going to bottom out big time. Thank God for Works Performance and Race Tech but my race prep didn’t look too good when my bars slipped all the way down! I yanked them back up and told myself it’s going to be a long race. I don’t know if any of you have raced with loose bars before, but it’s not good. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now. We get up on those fire roads and the bike handles great. It’s the same frame as the legendary Gold Star and it slides bitchin’. Now, I’m catching and passing people. I can tell what they’re thinking when they hear the sound of that bike coming right up on ‘em. Maybe it would be a good idea to kind of get out of the way. On the second lap I started feeling real good on the fast, smooth stuff. There was one corner where no spectators were allowed. The turn was marked with arrows, skulls, and crossbones, and there was one guy standing there with a camera. I guess when you get rider and photographer together, sometimes the rider goes a little faster. Do you know what I mean? I came in there too hot and all sideways, but I figure it’ll be ok after I hit the little berm on the outside that is supposed to keep people from going over the cliff. Only problem was right where my back tire was going to hit, there was a little open spot where water runs off. That’s right where the back of the bike went off and I went down. The handlebars did too, but I looked back at the guy and waved, yelling “HELP”! Luckily, we got it back out of there and after finding neutral, we started pushing. I hopped on sidesaddle and the bike just barely started. Now I’m running along side the bike, bars still all the way down, levers pointing straight up and I almost crashed trying to hop back on. That could have been very bad. Anyway, I’m back in the race and now I’m trying to think of how I can come up with enough energy to yank these bars back up. It took all my might that I could possibly ever come up with to pull them up without falling right off the back of that bike. Ok, it’s time to settle down and bring her on home. I did, and was surprised to see on my timing sheets later that the last lap was my fastest. As a matter of fact, there were only 9 guys in the whole race that had a faster lap time than me. There’s the checkered flag. It happened…1st place! What a relief, and now the post race fun starts! I could go on and on about that. Dan Gurney was there to watch his son Justin race. He told me I was going pretty good out there with an emphasis on good. That sure made me feel good. Hey, lets all gather around for more pictures!

Well, that’s my race report. The rest of the races went off without a hitch. All the city folk loved us being there and you can only imagine the town wants us back next year. Who knows if it will happen or not?

As Jody and I relax on the boat ride back to Long Beach with the big old 1st place trophy in the seat next to us, we contemplated just how this weekend will go down in the history books. Only time will tell, but it sure felt good to know that we are part of quite possibly a very significant event in motorcycle racing history.

The Catalina Grand Prix is BACK!!"

I'm delighted to to have another welcome BSA owner keeping BSA winning in 2010 and hopefully beyond.

One comment to signoff with. You'll have noticed that Thad is wearing an Indian t-shirt in some of his pics? Don't panic - I sent him a BSA Team Daytona t-shirt.

Welcome to the gang, Thad.