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Classic Velocity Blog

Hershey 2017

Classic Velocity

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The weather forecast was not helpful. Not that this is unusual for an April event in Pennsylvania. We have attended this event in snow flurries, hail, 80+ degree heat, and torrential downpours (see Hounds of the Basketweave or Hooked on Hershey). However, as the value of the cars rise, the willingness to drive them in less than perfect conditions plummets. A shame really for arguably the best handling machines of the 20th century, and even the beginnings of the 21st. The weather also seems to have impacted the swap meet vendors. There were noticeable gaps in the rows and rows of vendor spots. Were they just no-shows on this gray day, or did less people actually sign up?

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In any case, none of this stops the die-hards. Hershey is an annual gathering of friends not seen since before the winter, or since the last Hershey. It means that spring is here in the mid-Atlantic region, and cars are back on the road. It was great to see members of the crew out and about, shopping, searching, browsing. As shocking as it is, it was great to see that the hobby supports $2800 tool kits and a $1200 seat that needed a complete refinishing. On the other hand bargains were still to be found on a nice 944 for $5000, and an early 911 deck lid for $200. This is the magic of Hershey, friends, bargains, non-bargains, and French fries.  

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And then there are the cars. Despite lower than usual turnout, there were great examples of the marque from its' earliest models, to the latest. Between the show field and the Porsche-only parking area, you could find whatever you loved. A Reuter-bodied 356 Coupe, to a few weeks old GT3. As always, you could find many examples of any given year and model. 968, 912, 928, 993, etc. If you like the vintage models, this is still the place to be in April, although there is increasingly more for the newer cars. We were reminded that 911SCs, and 944s, and even 928s are now 30 years old. 20 year old $80k supercars with reasonable mileage are now under $30k. Time marches on, old classics remain timeless, new classics are emerging, but the place to see it all is still Hershey Pennsylvania in April.  

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A Fuel's Errand

Classic Velocity

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Simplicity is good. Few moving parts, a basic electrical layout, black paint, no frills. This could be a description of the Ford model T, but it is not. It is a description of our BMW R26. A 1956 single cylinder, single carb, 6V standard motorcycle. It does not get much simpler, no matter how far you go back. The motto of the Airheads (of which we are members) is "Simple by Choice", and this machine beautifully embodies that motto. It is a beautiful machine built for a purpose, at a time when quality efficient transportation was key. It even has points for sidecar attachment, despite having just 15hp at its' disposal. If you have ever been dragged along the ground by 15 horses at a gallop, you will know that it is more than adequate power.  So with such a simple and well-built machine, what tale do you have to tell ? Glad you asked.

It started with the smell of fuel n the garage. It took a while to trace it to the R26, but there was definitely a more pronounced smell around that machine.  There was no visible stain or wet spot, just a lingering smell of fuel. The usual suspect on machines like this is the float bowl of the carb being faulty, and failing to shut off the fuel supply leading to a leak. The bottom of the float bowl was suspiciously moist, and the engine casing below it was suspiciously clean, so it seemed like an open and shut case. Upon examination, the float had trapped some moisture, and so a new one was sourced (ridiculously expensive for a brass float compared to plastic, but this bike is nice enough to warrant original). A new float bowl gasket was ordered as well. Once received and installed, I went for a test ride and all seemed well. 

Next morning, faint smell of fuel. there was a droplet of fuel forming at the same spot on the bottom of the float bowl. At this point, I began to see if there was a route to the bottom of the float bowl coming from some other part of the carb or the fuel hoses. There was nothing obvious, although at one of the fuel hose connection points, the fabric-covered fuel hose was definitely damp from fuel. Since this motorcycle is just gravity-fed for fuel, there were no clips on any of the connection points. Despite not liking the look, hose clamps went onto every connection point. There was no other place where fuel was evident, so I took a brief test ride and checked. And then I checked again an hour later. The problem looked solved.

Next morning, faint smell of fuel. I laughed the kind of laugh that pokes fun at oneself, but which really indicates that the situation is not really funny anymore. Upon examination this time, there was no longer a droplet at the bottom of the float bowl, but there was a clean spot on the engine case right below where one of the hose clamps now lived.  Well I was planning to do a carb rebuild anyway, and so I did. Then, climbing a diagnostic ladder toward the fuel tank, I encountered a moist area right at the petcock lever. Aha ! A notorious spot for problems due to the disintegration of the o-ring gasket. Not content to stop there, I also ordered the petcock gasket for the attachment to the tank. Parts arrived a week later, and took only a few minutes to install. I sat watching the petcok with the fuel turned on, and the machine off. No detectable leakage. I waited an hour and checked again. No detectable leakage. I took a test ride. No detectable leakage. I waited 2 hours and looked again. The petcock was moist with fuel. 

From what I could tell, the fuel began right where the petcock threaded on to the tank. But it had a new gasket that I had just installed! I drained and removed the tank and concentrated my attention on the petcock flange. Nothing detectable. I put the petcock on it, plugged the cross connection, and threw in a little fuel. Nothing detectable. I then put the tank in its normal position, and taped some paper towel to the tank encircling the petcock flange. I let it sit. An hour later, Bingo ! The paper towel was moist with fuel. Not much, but certainly enough to form a drip over many hours. I repeated the experiment. Same result, a small fuel leak from the tank itself.

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I emptied the tank and began to lightly sand the area around the flange. It was built up with solder, so someone had been here before. I could not find the specific point of the leak, but there were a few suspect areas once the paint was removed. After some days of drying, and then work with a wire wheel and dremmel tool, most of the solder was removed, revealing a hairline crack. It was clear then, that vibration was probably the key ingredient to making it leak and find its way through the solder patch job. Once cleaned up, it was properly welded, and the the paper towel test was repeated. Bone dry. 

So what did we learn? A repeated lesson shared before in To Fuel or not to Fuel, and in On Getting Grounded and in To Spark or Not to Spark. Obvious solutions, and the usual suspects sometimes mask the culprit. I did not go to the tank first, because carbs and petcock are notorious for fuel leaks, and I thought I found the problem with the float bowl (which did have an issue, just not the main one). In this case, the simplicity of the machine contributed to a sense that the solution must also be simple. It was, that is once I found the root cause....

Weekend Warriors

Classic Velocity

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Being in the midst of building a street car that can go to the track and pass tech inspection, I am struck by the contrast of what this process was like when I last did it 20+ years ago, and what it was like 20 years before that. First a few obvious contrasts, so that you know this is not just another luddite diatribe about how much better things were back then... 

Racing is safer today. Despite having fewer tracks today, there are probably many more track miles driven per year, and with far fewer injuries and deaths per mile driven. Cars are better today. Even in the arena of vintage racing where my interest lies, we are running better tires, better brakes, and better lubricants than the original cars ever did. Tracks are better today. I ran the new Watkins Glen, and the new Lime Rock Park in recent years, and the historic sharp edges of those tracks have been removed. It is very hard to run into a stand of trees these days, or hit Armco barriers that have no energy absorption. The new tracks such as Thunderbolt in NJ are designed so that Indy cars are safe, much less your 1969 BMW 1600. That is not to say that vintage racing is completely sanitized. There are accidents every season, and there was an unfortunate fatality at Lime Rock in the last 2 years. Things are better on all fronts, but this remains a sport with risks. 

In order to participate in this safer arena for a few weekends per year, the current project car has to have some significant modifications. It must have a roll cage of specified thickness, which rises above head height, and which has an inspection port so that the thickness can be validated at tech inspection. It must have a cutoff switch and a fire extinguisher. It must have no leaks of any kind, a multi-point safety harness, and must have catchment bottles, etc, etc. In order to be competitive at the sharp end of the field, the car would have to be made virtually unusable as a street car.

There was a time, in the heyday of sports car racing, when you could drive your street car to the track, and race it after doing little more than placing a taped "X" over the headlights. Certainly a low barrier to entry, and the sport grew tremendously. The SCCA general competition rule (GCR) book for 2017 is 986 pages, up from 963 pages in 2016, and it is updated monthly! In 1985 it was 786 pages. Thankfully, vintage is only 542 pages today, up from 533 in 2012, but this covers machines which were last produced 40 years ago! Time marches on, and the SCCA is just one of many organizations that are in a constant battle to close loopholes, and improve safety, while not killing the racing. Not an enviable balance to strike at all. 

The perception that even the most basic form of amateur racing is expensive and complicated may not be entirely true, but a 1000 page rule book, and a paddock full of trailers doesn't help dispel that perception. In a litigious society, it is probably a pipe dream to expect cheap, easy, and legal competition, but it sure would be nice to have an option of driving to the track with just a roll of electrical tape, a helmet, and a 1 page disclaimer....

On Being Far Away

Classic Velocity

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Joshua Tree National Park is thousands of miles from home. It does not look like home.  It does not smell like home. It is dry and dusty brown and filled with scrub brush. But then, it has spectacular small rocks and massive geologic formations that burst with colors and form fantastic sculptures against a brilliant azure sky. What kind of strange and wondrous place is this that spawns such giant structures out of nothing ? You have certainly left the shire Frodo Baggins.

Traveling solo on two wheels in the western USA, you get a very visceral understanding of space. Endless prairies and deserts go on for hours.  Mountains and canyons  take miles to ascend or descend.  Towns and cities seem to appear and disappear leaving little trace. Highways fade into the distance. You do not have a sense that you are always close to civilization. Great well-paved deserted roads snake through the desert, connecting nothing to nothing, leaving you to wonder why they even exist, but leaving you eternally grateful that they do. The average campground is spectacular in setting, if not in amenities, but that is as it should be. Who would want to be shuttered in a motel with a night sky like this ? The tent seems the right abode, and open flame, the right heat.

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These roads, these places, force you to contemplate big things, big questions. You can see time in these places in a way that is difficult in lush green places where perhaps a few hundred years is evident. Here, thousands of years are visible in rock formations, and cave paintings, and even in the brilliant simplicity of the homes of native peoples. You can see in canyons stretching for miles, how you are riding on what was once the bottom of an ocean. You can see how water has carved rock, how wind has shaped the mesa.

Riding and camping through these places implants the experience in a unique manner. You have to smell the air and get the dirt first on, and then under your skin. Slowly, over a few days, with nothing familiar around, it sinks in. This is why we should all go far away periodically. Physically, and mentally, you need to abandon the familiar for a time. You need to gain or refresh another perspective, to disturb a comfort zone that is probably deceiving you into thinking that you have figured something out. Your idea of far away may not be anything like mine, but I can only hope that it is as powerful as a motorcycle, a tent, and a few days in the southwest.

Ponton Production

Classic Velocity

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Mercedes had been slowly rebuilding its manufacturing capacity after the war, but in July 1953 they really regained that capacity with the production of the "Ponton" cars. These cars were so named because of the external body styling which resembled pontoons. They were really the first true postwar vehicle from Mercedes, as machines such as the 170D were really just postwar versions of prewar cars. The cars and the styling are thought to be the work of Freidrich Geiger who was later responsible for the 300SL. First up were the 4 cylinder W120 sedans, which were dubbed the 180 models. The following year a 180D model was introduced to provide a diesel model, and the legendary straight 6 was introduced to create the 220a sedan. 

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1955 introduced the 190SL coupe and then the roadster, and a year after that, new versions of the 6 cylinder were introduced dubbed models 219 and the 220S. There were also new versions of the 4 cylinder cars, the W180 II. A handsome cabriolet was introduced to round out the Pontons. Finally, 1958 saw the introduction of the 220SE, and production fuel injection. In 1959, a third and final generation of the Pontons went into production, which technically lasted until 1962. Overall, there were over 580,000 Ponton cars produced, firmly returning Mercedes to high volume production, and putting them in position to attempt a purchase of BMW in the late 1950s. But that is another story....

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Modern Classics 2017

Classic Velocity

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Here in the wintry northeast USA, we have invented a number of great ways to break the grip of winter on our 2-wheeled hearts. Among them are trips to warmer climes, maintenance and restoration, researching the next great ride, winter riding, and shows. This last one, shows, is welcome, but cruel. To walk around amongst fine classic motorcycles, any of which you would love to ride today, makes it painful to leave and confront salty icy roads. But such is the pain inflicted by The Modern Classics show in Boyertown, PA. I have ridden to this show in past years, but not this time. There were only 2 bikes in the parking lot, and with temperatures below 30 degrees, their riders were made of strong stuff.  

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The show always manages to find interesting examples of machines from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. European, Japanese, and American brands are most prevalent. The theme of the show is modern classics, so you would expect to see the more iconic and popular models rather than the obscure.  With that said, it is great to see a nice unmolested example of a Kawasaki 1100 Eddie Lawson replica, or a Vincent Black Lightning, or a rotary-engined Suzuki RE5, or an MV Augusta or a BMW R100RT. All indoors, all a few feet away from each other.  

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There is a people's choice award, so in addition to admiring the machines, you get to vote for your favorite. It is always hard to single out just one machine in this show. If you choose according to rarity, then it has to be the Rex, even more than the beautiful Munch on display. For artistic jewelry, you would have to pick the Ducati 175. For value, the Vincent. For oddity, the MV Agusta monocycle. However, my ultimate choice was the Bultaco Sherpa almost overlooked on the fringe of the display area. It captured the essence of the machines of the era. It was simple, light, well-designed, good looking, and performed well. Simple fame, simple engine, simple everything. There was absolutely nothing on it that was not functional, and it was ironically, in a room full of desirable machines, the one I most wanted to jump on and ride. Of course, starting it would have filled the room with 2-smoke and killed all the attendees. 

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Almost Eight

Classic Velocity

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At the dawn of the 1970s, as the Porsche 914 was in production in both 4 and 6 cylinder variations, Ferdinand Piech ordered the development of a 914/8. Yes, as if the well-balanced lightweight chassis of the 914 was not enough in 4 and 6 cylinder configurations, a flat 8 cylinder car was commissioned to see if it would be viable for production. Piech, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, was responsible for the 914 platform at the time, but was also responsible for Porsche's racing program which was very successful, and which was on the eve of an outright win at Le Mans. 

Just 2 of the 8 cylinder cars were built. The first was predominantly a test mule, used to prove the concept. It used the 3 liter racing engine from the Porsche 908. At 300+ hp, it must have been a challenge to drive. The second was a 60th birthday present for Ferry Porsche. The cars featured modified wheel arches, a front mounted oil cooler, and dual headlights to differentiate them from the regular 914s. Reportedly, Ferry was not impressed by the car, and it never made it to production. Instead one sits in the Porsche museum.

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The Era Error

Classic Velocity

The Classic Velocity crew considers the postwar period from the late 1940s to the late 1970s to be an era. Why? Because it is a time when the engineers and the stylists often triumphed over sales and marketing, when the engineer's stopwatch beat the accountant's calculator....

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Vintage Dirt

Classic Velocity

There is no denying that the bike show part of this event gets more impressive each year.  It is also commendable that the PVR manages to find a different crop of excellent machines each year. While the focus is clearly on vintage dirt or enduro machines, there were some cool street bikes as well. Among them a brilliant green BSA cafe racer, and a rarely seen BMW R80ST, along with a nice Guzzi, an NSU Supermax, and a classically faired Triumph road racer.......

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An Unexpected Stop

Classic Velocity

The side door was wide open, and I stuck my head in and yelled hello. No response. I ventured a few feet inside the dimly lit space, to gaze upon a super beetle and what looked like a barn find early beetle next to each other....

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NYC IMS 2016

Classic Velocity

Max BMW had an impressive trio of restored BMWs including an immaculate R80 G/S that started the whole adventure craze. Speaking of adventure, KTM had the new big adventure bikes on display, the 1290 Super Adventure, and the 1050 adventure R...

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Clash of the Marques

Classic Velocity

However, as the normal flow of O Gruppe machines rolled in, several cars from another German marque intertwined themselves amongst the others. A beautiful 3.0CS, a 2002, and a 2800CS. These invaders were almost as strong in force as the Porsches...

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