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.

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