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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Category: Garage Updates

The RT Legacy

Classic Velocity


There are some lessons that I cannot seem to learn. There are many instances on these pages of the CV garage returning over and over again to the same vehicle. My beloved 2002 is a repeat offender, the early 911 is a repeat offender, the BMW GS is a repeat offender, Norton Commandos are repeat offenders, and the BMW RT may be the most offensive of the offenders. 2 R100RTs, an R80RT (still here), 2 R1150RTs, and now a 2nd R1200RT. The only reason that the R1100RT has not made an appearance, is that it is the one RT that I do not care for aesthetically. I like the RT a lot. At least the R bike versions ;-)

Part of the appeal is the mile-munching capability. They are reknown for racking up mileages in the hundreds of thousands. Few cars can say that, and even fewer bikes. Second, they are reliable. which permits the first point. Occasional valve adjustments and quality oil are the primary requirements. Not that they have not had recalls and other issues in the modern era, but few compared to other marques. Third, they are comfortable, which also permits the first. Fourth, they are sporty enough. There are others in the segment that are sportier, but better riders than me have yet to know the limits of a modern RT on a twisty road. They handle well. Fifth, is storage capacity. You have to move to a true luxo-barge like the Goldwing or the K1600 to get any more storage. Sixth is weather protection. A generous fairing protects lower body. The hands are protected by the mirrors which have excellent visibility. They always had a large windshield, but the adjustable ones in the modern area can shield your upper body to the point of staying mostly dry in light rain. Seventh are the electronics. They are more and more sophisticated, but even on my R80RT, the alternator and the accessory plugs were intended to allow the rider to use heated gear and to power radios and auxiliary lights.  In position 8 is the headlight. In my opinion, he RT has always had a good enough headlight to leave the machine stock. My R80RT has a pretty good headlight for a 35 year old machine. The R1200RT has a really good headlight, stock. Ninth are passenger accommodations. Once again, true to its roots, the RT shines with a wide comfy passenger seat and rubberized pegs. The top box doubles as backrest. Last at number 10, is suspension. Between reasonable weight that disappears once underway, paralever, and good suspension when loaded with passenger and luggage, the RT never feels unbalanced. In fact, my R1150RT seemed to feel better two-up!

So there you have it. Ten reasons the RT is a fantastic motorcycle from any generation, and the reason that it remains in, and returns to, the Classic Velocity garage.

The $800 CV Boot Revisited

Classic Velocity


Some summer recycling here with a post from 2010 made relevant again due to a current S mall repair that turned into a much bigger bill. It also points out how prices have changed ;-)

The project started innocently enough. One of the CV boots on the Porsche 911T was torn and had sent grease all over the heat exchanger and everything else. Like many ailments to the early 911, a keen sense of smell is critical to early detection. With the pre-war VW heating system in these cars, you tend to develop a sense of what your engine smells like under normal circumstances. This is useful because by the time you actually see the flames shooting through the grill on the rear decklid, it is often too late. I detected burning grease, and shut things down. Satisfied that it was the boot, I nursed the car home.

Someday, I hope to hear a satisfactory explanation for this design, which is common to so many different vehicles from this era and well beyond. A complex and expensive flexible joint which has high speed rotating parts, which is under the car exposed to dirt rocks, etc, and which must remain lubricated, is protected by a $6 (probably 50 cents back then) rubber boot fastened by metal or hard plastic hose clamps. Anyone?……anyone?…..Bueller?…

The next day, I ordered some boots. A CV boot for an early Porsche 911 costs about $6, and I had ordered 4 just to be safe, and to get to the $20 free shipping limit. $6 and a few hours should have me back on the road. The next weekend I launched my assault. I got the rear of the car up on jackstands, and spent a good while cleaning up the mess. I had boots, tools, a can of grease to repack the axle, and I was all set. Except, I wasn’t. While cleaning up I discover that the driver's side heat exchanger has several holes and the outer housing is basically detached from the exhaust header. This would explain the rattling sound heard on occasion. Although work continues on the cv joints, thoughts have already shifted to heat exchangers.


I do want to maintain heat in this car, so headers are eliminated. The next day, I search the forums, Ebay, and Pelican. I find a pair of heat exchangers in good shape from a fellow owner about 130 miles away. I decide that the budget will not withstand new SSI units, to I drive a few hours and come back fairly pleased with the parts, and fairly displeased with the magnitude of the unplanned expenditure. I also remember that I have a pair of heater control valves form the prior year’s Hershey swap meet. Better tackle them now as well.

During the following week, I remove the heat exchangers, and notice that one of the oil tubes is leaking. Well, with the heat exchangers out, now is the time to address them, and since we are tackling oil leaks, I need a pair of valve cover gaskets as well. So I order the items to arrive before the weekend. That weekend I dig in again. I quickly discover that a couple of the heater control valve nuts are rusty and seized. I leave them soaking overnight in penetrant. Of course, these two nuts are in the most inaccessible locations, so the next day it takes heat and a couple hours of contortionist positioning to finally get them off. I celebrate like I won the lottery.

During the next week, I finally get things back together. $800 and almost 3 weeks later, the $6 cv boot with 2 hours of labor is successfully replaced. Saturday afternoon I go for a drive. The glorious aroma of hot metal and a little paint seeps into the cabin when I open the heater control valve. Having your engine smell just right as you fly down a country road…..priceless. 

To Fuel or Not to Fuel

Classic Velocity


Periodically in the life of a vintage iron enthusiast, you will face trials and tribulations. Vexing and perplexing situations that defy logic and leave you in an exhausted state on the edge of putting the thing on Craigslist for a few hundred bucks. This is one of those sagas. For another, see To Spark or Not to Spark from the main blog. 

This machine was not running. It cranked, but would not fire. The previous owner (PO) had tried various things and had been generally mucking about with the Throttle Position Sensor (TPS). The evidence is that he gave me 2 others in the box of assorted parts. Hhhmmmm. The first suspect is the HES. There are many stories on the forums about the strange results that can be produced by the deterioration of the HES wiring. Just like in the crime drama wher the bank heist takes place, and a just-released-from-prison serial bank robber is living nearby, it is natural to suspect the HES. It is a serial interrupter of spark. I decided to bring the HES in for questioning, but first I always check the basics. You never know, you may get lucky.

The sidestand cutoff switch was ok, the Motronic fuse was good, the engine cutoff switch was good. I swapped the horn relay and the fuel pump relay. Suddenly the fuel pump energized with the key. AHA ! Could it really be that simple ? It now cranked and cranked, but would not start. It did produce a deceptively encouraging sputter once in a while, but that was it. I checked the injectors, and both produced pulsing sprays when it cranked. So we have fuel. I checked the plugs. Both produced a spark.  At this point, I ran out of time and ordered an HES from Euromotoelectric. Great folks and they sent it out overnight for very reasonable money.


Early the next morning, I checked the valves while the bike was cold. I found two intake and one exhaust loose, but not enough that it would not run. I changes the oil while I was at it as well just because I always do on a new-to-me machine. I did notice that there was crumbling protective sheathing over a few of the wiring bundles. I would have suspected fire/heat damage if all the sheathing was similar, but it was not. I thought it was strange that other bundles right beside them were fine. This of course was the reason cited for the HES failures, not the sensor, but the harness attached to it failing due to heat, water, etc. I replaced a few sections with some of my universal flex sheathing. This should have been a BMW recall.  

I dismantled everything, and removed the old HES.  I did have to improvise a flywheel TDC lock by bending a piece of roundbar I had laying around, but other than that no worries. The old unit had sketchy looking wiring at the senor end, and even some very small slivers of copper wiring exposed. It was dry and brittle as well. The sheathing was crumbling just like the rest that I had seen. This made sense, as it was the end getting all of the engine heat.  Under the glare of interrogation lights, I asked the HES some probing questions. Where were you when the engine was turning over and attempting to fire? Have you ever failed to fire at top dead center? How do you account for this crumbling sheathing and wiring that is attached to you? The HES refused to answer. Online forums had suggested cutting the rest of the sheathing where you would be sure to find more problems, but I saw no point as the replacement was arriving. I sentenced the old one to the parts bin, as it was not yet fully convicted.


Fedex arrived and I eagerly put the shiny new HES in place. I also replaced the crank-pulley/alternator belt, even though the old one looked fine. With everything replaced, I reconnected the battery and paused before turning the key to offer a prayer to the appropriate deity for restarting an engine after repairs. There was an immediate stutter, then cranks but no firing. The next attempt was even more sputtering, and then about the sixth try, the engine actually fired and settled into a lumpy idle. I did the DAD (Deity Appreciation Dance) which looks a lot like an older guy mangling a dance that went out of style in the nineties, but I digress. And then it died. I did the NSF (Not So Fast), which looks a lot like the shuffling droopy walk of the crestfallen. Then it started immediately, and I was back to the DAD. However, it would not rev beyond about 2K, and would usually die just off idle.

OK, this was progress. I eyed the collection of TPS units suspiciously. I took the unit on the bike in for questioning. Can you attest to the fact that your potentiometers are functioning properly?  Are you actually a new OEM unit? The TPS refused to answer. I grabbed my lie detector (some call it a multimeter) and it seemed to suggest the TPS might be innocent, even if not new. Hhhmmmm. I had air, fuel, and fire. What could it be? When in doubt, go back to the basics. The airbox was open, so I had plenty of air. Both plugs now had a healthy spark. In fact, I managed to give myself a nice little jolt to clear my thinking. Both injectors pulsed fuel. Hhhhmmmmm. I decided that the only thing I could not guarantee was that enough fuel was making it to the cylinders under load. I pulled the tank and took out the pump and filter. Now for another digression. Why in the world did anyone decide that it was a good idea to put an electrical pump and a filter inside a fuel tank? They had been external forever with o particular issues that modern engineering could not solve! Logically, it does not sound sensible to cool an electrical pump by immersing it in combustible fuel. It also adds a ton of time to the simple act of changing a pump or a filter. And why require everything to get doused in gasoline to get the job done? This is a dealer's dream and a home mechanic's nightmare where he drops a spanner and blows up his home. End rant.


I tested the pump and it was in good working order. The hoses looked good as well. I inspected everything, changed the filter, and put everything back together. Instant start, revs to 3K, DAD, but then has a huge flat spot, NSF. I replace the plugs more out of a change of focus than process of elimination. No change. I run out of time, and decide that the next day I will take it into the one place that I trust to work on my machines.  I hate this step because it is either know when to say when, or admitting defeat. I also hate it because I will pay going labor rates for more diagnostics. However, they have the diagnostic tool, and a really good technician that I have known for decades. 

The next day I drop off the bike and they say they hope to get to it the next week. I go home and cleanup the garage in order to shift attention to the R26 which coincidentally has a fuel issue. Leaky petcock. What the heck, I might as well continue to bathe in fuel. Suddenly the phone rings and it is the service manager. These are never good calls. He tells me the bike is done. Done, I ask? Yes, work is complete and you can pick it up. What? Yes, it was a fuel hose. They went on to explain that the diagnostic tool said fuel pressure, and once they put the pump and filter under pressure, the hose connecting them sprayed fuel everywhere due to a leak. The hoses looked good, but were far from it. ethanol and the machine sitting for some time were probably culprits. They replaced both hoses in the assembly, put things back together, and problem solved. 

There was a definite mixture of emotions. Elation at a problem solved, gratitude that they jumped on it so soon, and disappointment that I was so close to the complete solution but missed it. In hindsight of course, it all makes sense. The HES being a big part of the issue, but the hose combining with it to create a more complex mystery. I can't help but go back to my rant on placing this whole aparatus inside the fuel tank. A faulty hose between pump and filter would have been diagnosed in 5 seconds. In addition, there is a thick rubber hose (the one that was leaking) that has to make a 180 degree bend in a very short distance between pump and filter. I am sure that this is purely due to the need to package everything inside the tank, yet be able to get it out. However, I did re-learn somethings. First, don't assume that you are looking for a single problem that matches all of the symptoms. You may have more than one issue.  Second, don't assume a good looking component is good. Test it. Third, there is no substitute for the right tools, including the diagnostic ones. You can burn a lot of time and effort without them. 

Barely Bleeding Brakes

Classic Velocity


Few experiences are more terrifying than that of having your brake pedal suddenly go to the floor. In my experience, there have been two versions of the situation. The first is that the pedal goes almost to the floor and then there is some mild resistance. The second is having the pedal go immediately to the floor without any resistance. Both produce a sphincter-tightening reflex response of pumping the pedal, downshift, and, depending on urgency, a reach for the handbrake!

When you suddenly lose brakes on an old car, your first thought is not necessarily air in the lines. It is usually something more catastrophic like a master cylinder failure or a brake line failure. In the old old days, it would have been a rod or a cable breaking, but hydraulics have been the norm for a long time now. Most of the time, the brakes get soft or spongy or just less effective, providing some level of warning. The remedy is often simple; bleed the brakes. 

And so it was that I recently needed to bleed the brakes on the tii. You can do this without removing the wheels, but it is a pain. Starting with the wheel farthest away from the master cylinder, I recruited my son as assistant, and pumped and held and opened the nipple and pumped and held and opened the nipple, and......What you want to see, what you hope to hear, is the popping of air as you open the nipple, the rise of bubbles in the jar. This bad news is just what you want. It means that you have found air in the system, and have located the source of your braking woes. I had no such luck on wheel number one. I tightened the nipple glad that it had opened and closed without issue. 


In the past, I have found these corroded beyond recognition, and on my former Porsche 356, one had been broken off right right below the flat wrench surfaces. That was no fun whatsoever. On another, I gouged a knuckle and produced more blood than brake fluid. On yet another, I soaked a corroded bleed nipple overnight, heated it, soaked it in something else, meditated, offered some Ancient Druid chantings, drank a shot of a third soaking mixture, and attempted a Native American ceremonial dance. It loosened, leaving me wondering which element had done the trick. As a result, I have been forced to do all of these things for any rusty bolt. Oh and another thing, brake fluid is incredibly corrosive itself. There are warnings about getting it in the same postal code as paint. It must be handled with gloves. It should probably be carried using tongs and poured from a metallic flask by a guy wearing nuclear protective gear. But I digress.

Wheel #2 seemed to have no air either. Wheel #3 snapped, crackled, and popped like a box of Rice Krispies. I was elated. My son was properly amused at such joy over finding a problem. Wheel #4 was pure fluid. I have always been puzzled  by the way in which a single system could have air in just one place. Why doesn't it all rise to the highest point ? In any case, with the brakes properly bled, I went for a test drive. The brakes were excellent. Back to their former uuhhhhmm glory. I locked up the fronts and generally tried to confuse and surprise the pedal. It was not fooled. The problem is that although I could not surprise the pedal, it reserves the right to surprise me at any point in the future.

To Spark, Or Not To Spark

Classic Velocity

Given enough time working on classic vehicles, you will encounter all kinds of experiences. There are long journeys through some aspect of a rebuild. There are endless components of a restoration due to the search for parts. There are surprisingly quick and easy solutions. There are rewarding outcomes for hard work. There are low-cost solutions that work flawlessly, and there are expensive solutions that do not. There is the joy of victory, and the agony of defeat. And then there are the mysteries. ah yes, the mysteries. There are some puzzles and riddles that take inordinate amounts of time and effort to solve, but the mysteries are different. The particular issue at hand can be remedied, but they are either never solved or solved a very long time later. A few have been chronicled in this blog (see on getting grounded), but a recent mystery is again worthy of sharing.

The Mercedes 280SE was running beautifully. I had been out for about 45 minutes just cruising around the sparsely populated country roads. The interior smelled like only 40-year-old leatherette from Germany can smell. The acceleration was steady and sweet. That is, if you accept a liberal definition of acceleration. Rather like a locomotive, the 280SE builds speed in a way that does not disturb the occupants. But I digress. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and all was right with the world. And then, five minutes from home, the engine lost all power and I coasted to the shoulder of the road. The car simply would not restart. It cranked over fine but would not fire. Eventually the battery began to get a little weak, and I accepted the inevitable. I was able to walk back easily from that location (once again proving the wisdom of the Concentric Circle theory). The 280SE is a tank, and it would have taken four adults to push it any reasonable distance. It occurred to me that there is something particularly embarrassing about needing to walk back to the garage from a half a mile away as opposed to getting towed from 100 miles away. It is equally embarrassing to tow-rope a car home from that short distance away, because it would be even more embarrassing to get a trailer for that distance, and it would be mortifying to call the flatbed service from the insurance company. 

Back at the garage, I was hoping for something heat related, like a coil or perhaps some kind of vapor lock. Well let's get to work checking the obvious, since all you need is fuel, air, and fire. It was soon apparent that there was no spark. That might have supported the coil theory or even just a bad condenser as had happened to me along time ago. I grab the multimeter and measure ohms across the coil. Not a complete fail, but suspect. A few hours rummaging through the old parts bins did not result in me producing a new condenser or a new coil, although I had plenty of used and suspect versions of each (see Hoarding for Gearheads). Calling and visiting the few parts places that were still open resulted in smiles and chuckles. I tried one of the used coils and used condensers from my parts stash. No spark. I headed for the computer to track down some parts....


Days later, I had a new coil and new condenser. I also had a new set of points and a new cap and rotor which I needed to do anyway. they all got installed in a few minutes. No spark. I look through the manual and find no help there. It seems that there were three systems in use on the early electronic ignition cars, and my car looked perfectly original, but was none of the above. I checked a few forums and a couple of posts matched the symptoms; bad resistor(s), and bad CDI module. Of course I went the resistor route first. A week later they arrive and I get them installed. No spark. "Ssssunnuvva....". It is at moments like these that you start to get creative in your thinking. I remember that I have a Pertronix unit new in the box along with a coil to match it. I look up the correct unit for the six cylinder that is in the 280SE and it is a match since the unit was intended for my long gone 230SL straight six. Surely this is a good omen. I wire everything up, bypass my lovely new resistors, and triple check all of the connections. There is juice at the coil, and everything looks good. No spark. I head to the computer to locate a CDI unit....

A week later, I have a new CDI unit on the work bench. The old one is an absolute pain to remove as it is located down near the bottom of the radiator and has bolts that are difficult to access. I get the new one in and connected. No spark. Now we are a few hundred dollars into this issue, and about 3 weeks between parts and ability to work on the car. I take the Pertronix out and go back to stock. No spark. I try a few condenser and coil combos. No spark. I walk away. Days later, a forum post suggests a different wiring configuration to bypass a harness issue. I try it. No spark.

A few days later, I decide to get professional help. I am always reluctant to do this until I have done everything I can, but I was clearly not making progress. I trailered the car over to a shop that I knew, and simply told Rolf (not his real name) that I had no spark. Rolf is a former certified Mercedes mechanic who trained on these cars when they were new. It was in good hands. A few days after dropping it off I called to see how they were progressing. "I haven't gotten to it yet, but by the end of the week...". At the end of the week we got a massive dumping of snow. And then another 10 inches 4 days later. And then another. For two weeks no progress was made. When they finally got to it, they were stumped by the Pertronix and the shiny new CDI. "You know, ze original from za factory iz alvays best", said Rolf. They did not want to touch it. I suggested they put it back to stock, but they were unsure how since it matched none of the electrical diagrams. Another week passed, and they simply  replaced the cap and rotor. No spark.


Finally, I went over one day and worked in their shop to get the car back to stock points and condenser and coil. I told Rolf that I would charge him his own shop rate for the work. He laughed. Then we combined forces. Juice was clearly not making it to the positive terminal of the coil. We by-passed the resistors and got 11.6 volts at the new non-resistor coil. Clearly something going on somewhere in that small section of harness. We opened the points and got a circuit. Great. We got excited and cranked the car over. No spark. Rolf scratched his head and declared this a mystery that required more strong coffee. I was actually pleased, as the problem was stumping the Pros as well. After a while of testing and cranking, I discovered that we lost the circuit whenever we cranked the car. But why ? Rolf returned and suggested that we remove the ground from the negative terminal of the coil. "Why ?" I asked. That connection from the chassis to the coil was stock, and solid. "Why do ve need za coil to be grounded?" asked Rolf. "It has always been grounded" I said. "Just try it, what do we have to lose?". "How about this car and your shop set on fire?" I retorted. "Nonsense, i vill pay you if zis happens" said Rolf, and he removed the ground. I reluctantly returned to driver's seat, and paused taking a deep breath. I cranked it, and cheers and laughter erupted from the front of the car. Spark.

I reinstalled the spark plug that had now been out of its hole for a month. I let the car run for a while, and looked for smoke and felt the coil. Everything seemed fine. I shut it off, and started it again. It fired right up. I went around the block, returned, and let it idle some more. Everything was fine. Miles later, all remains well. You would think that I am happy the mystery is solved, and I am, but with a certain uneasiness. Mystery #1 has just been replaced by a greater mystery. How did it ever run in the first place ?

On Getting Grounded

Classic Velocity


The theme in the garage this week has definitely been grounding. Thematic story number one took place when I found myself locked out of my house but in the garage, and without a vehicle to leave the premises. It was cold outside, but I had a gas heater. The garage doors were blocked by a vehicle outside. A vehicle to which I did not currently have the keys, so I was effectively grounded and sent to my room. It took me a minute to realize that this grounding was not such a bad sentence. I had tools, adult beverages, and a long list of chores to do in the space to which I was confined. I also had several hours until I could get in the house unless I called a locksmith. Hell, I had been actively trying for some time to engineer this kind of quality time. Brilliant.

Thematic story number two involves the turn signals on the CB360. They came on solid, and would not blink. Same, both sides. Common causes of this condition include mismatched bulb wattages, the flasher itself going bad, and a weak battery. I connected the charger to the battery and got normal flashing. Aha, I thought,  weak battery confirmed. However, once it was fully charged, I got slow flashing and then no flashing. Hmmm. I went and found another thermal relay, and witnessed the same slow flashing and non flashing behavior. Could I have 2 bad flashers? Possible, given my inventory habits (see hoarding for Gearheads), but not likely. I began tracing the ground from the flasher and along the way I encountered a major grounding point on the frame spine. I removed all five grounds, sanded them and the frame, and put everything back together. I was acting based on past experience with a Norton. Although this ground had no direct connection to the flasher, and did not appear corroded, my turn signals immediately worked fine. I went looking for other grounds and did the same cleanup just on principle.


Thematic story number three involves the fog lights on the GMC Sierra. They had been mounted for a while, but not connected. This is a pretty simple job of routing the wires, mounting a relay, and then a light switch. The kit that came with the lights seemed more than adequate. After running all of the wiring and flipping the switch, nothing....Then as if by delay, the right one came on ten seconds or so later. No left. I flipped the switch a few times, and the delay went away, but still no left. I went over all of the connections with the test light, and juice was getting to all the right places. Direct leads to a battery made the left light up, so I knew it was good. Just as I was about to conclude that I had some kind of funky relay, I accidentally bridged the ground connection to the frame, and voila, left light. I dismounted the lights, scuffed up the lower bumper connection points and remounted. Perfect left and right lights every time ! 

Strangely, all three of these events happened within a three day period, and did not involve any rusty British vehicles. I am left to wonder how many times over the years I have failed to properly diagnose a ground fault. Best not to know really...However, there should be some universal cure for bad grounds other than rewiring the vehicle. I think that you should be able to sink a 50 ft steel pole into the ground and attach it to any point on the frame of the vehicle. That act should immediately cause all grounds to become good. All except positive ground vehicles, which should have the frame connected to a nearby high tension wire.

Soul Wrenching

Classic Velocity


The realm of vintage iron encompasses a wide spectrum of interests. On one end the ownership and presentation of near perfect examples at Concours and museum exhibits brings a sense of pride and achievement. At the other end is the same level of pride and achievement derived from just hoarding rusty parts of old vehicles with no intent to show anyone anything. In between there is owning and operating a vintage machine, survivor custodianship, restoration where the thrill is gone once the machine is complete, vintage racing, daily drivers, hot rods, social clubs, etc. Thank goodness we don't all like the same thing. While this blog covers a good part of that spectrum, this entry focuses on wrenching.

How can you spend an entire day in the garage with just parts of a vehicle, and some tools, and end that day dirty and tired but with a rewarding glow of satisfaction? Here is one way to do it.....

First, get a few vehicles that need work. In this case, a 1974 Honda CB360,   a 1971 Mercedes 280SE, and a 1973 BMW R75/5. The Mercedes had not been running for about a year and a half due to a bad fuel pump and plugs. The fuel pump had been acquired via eBay in the winter of 2012, and I had planned to get it installed by spring....the Honda had been awaiting attention as well, as it needed a petcock, air filters, plugs, exhausts, battery, and some electrical work. All the parts were in the garage, but available time had eluded me.....The R75 needed the rusty luggage rack I had sitting in the basement to be installed, and the sticky throttle to be addressed....

7am     There is something magical about having a good cup of coffee in an unseasonably cool perfectly silent garage containing old cars and bikes. The rising garage door reveals the rising sun and they bring a work day that I am looking forward to. Packages waiting to be opened, parts waiting to be installed, and tools waiting to be utilized, join the sun in the promise of a good day.


 9am     The R75 luggage rack is sanded down, and is just sprayed chrome silver to protect the bare metal. Anyone who has sanded down such an item by hand, knows that it is most beautiful in bare metal. I agonized over painting it, or chroming it, or powder coating it. In the end, I opted for the instant gratification of a rattle can, and left it hanging by a coat hanger.  I removed the remainder of the hoses from the new-to-me fuel pump for the big Merc. I needed the help of the vice to do it as one hoses (the last one of course) was reluctant to leave its longtime home. The tank was off the Honda, and i had removed the headlight to get to the wiring in the bucket. Surface corrosion on the grounds, hhhmmmmm......

11am     Second coat of paint on the luggage rack, and it is drying. The R75 throttle cable is disconnected at the handlebar, awaiting some lubricant down its sheath. The old fuel pump is off the car, and the new one is in position. Note: there is a surprising amount of fuel in the line on a big car!  The decision is made to do a mild cafe racer treatment on the Honda. All of the old auxiliary lighting wiring is removed, the headlight nacelle is painted silver chrome and now hangs beside the BMWs luggage rack. Ground terminals are lightly sanded. In the run position, I now have turn signals!

1pm     Cleaned and painted the fuel pump carrier black. The pump itself produces a satisfying whirring when the key is in the ignition position. Points on the Merc are gapped, a new cap and rotor are on, and park plugs are ready for install. The tail light and turn signals are unbolted so that the rack can be installed on the R75. For those that have done this, you know that there is a way to do this without removing all of the wiring, but it involves precision gymnastics with the rack and light assembly. The slightly corroded Honda handlebar is hanging limply, and the new petcock is installed.

3pm     The Mercedes is running! It fired up immediately, and is sitting idling outside. It is amazing how well internal combustion engines work once they have fuel and fire. The wiring is pulled back through the handlebar on the Honda and it now hangs along with the switchgear. This was a slow process so as not to stress 40 year old wires. The sheath was a lot more supple when they installed it in Japan back then. The R75 rack is on the bike, the seat is back on, and the rear lights all work.

5pm     5 gallons of ethanol free fuel is in the Mercedes and it has completed a 5 mile loop (see the Theory of Concentric Circles). No issues.....well other than the speedo issue, no horn, only right side turn signals, etc, but those were not on the menu for today.  The R75 throttle cable is back in its normal position and throttle now moves much more freely. A brief test ride confirms that I now have just-off-idle control. The rack looks pretty good. The Honda is now more apart. Old rusty exhausts are off, seat is off, handlebar is off, tank is off, front turn signals off, etc. the headlight bucket has a dry second coat of silver. A bottle of Amstel is open.

7pm     The Mercedes has full turn signals, but still no horn and an erratic speedo. The Honda is completely apart, now missing both wheels, and the airbox in addition to everything else. The R75 needs nothing. Everything is back in the garage, and it is quiet again. The sun descends at the same rate as the garage door.....there is something magical about a good beer on an unseasonably cool evening in a perfectly silent garage containing old cars and bikes.


Runs Great, Needs Pistons

Classic Velocity


Classic Velocity Rule #43: Whether you pamper and store your vintage vehicle, or use it regularly, you will spend the same amount of time and money maintaining it.

Sometimes we forget that vintage iron was mostly designed to be used regularly. Perhaps even in anger on the Autobahn or on sparsely populated country roads. The irony of our current usage is that they are often restored to better than factory specifications, and then used seldom and leisurely. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that we spend a good bit of time wrenching. We have violated the spirit and ethos of the machine. Said wrenching is not always convenient. Take for example a certain BMW R60 motorcycle circa 1958. It is equipped with a system of slingers which use centrifugal forces to separate contaminants and heavier items in general from your oil. A brilliant idea (or so it seemed at the time) which was used in lieu of various other oil filtration systems. These slingers are attached to the crankshaft, and are inaccessible without taking the engine apart. I don't know about you, but I find routine engine disassembly highly inconvenient.

But therein lies the rub. The slinger system needed attention every 50,000km (35,000 miles). In the 1950s, that was a more significant number of miles than it is today. Particularly for a motorcycle. In addition, it was a time when labor was cheap and parts were reasonable. Now neither is true, so any system which is labor intensive is viewed as a poor design. Thirdly, skilled labor was readily available. Fourthly, a large percentage of the population was not afraid of tools and work. Certainly, motorcycle owners were in that camp. The end result was that this system was really not the impediment to sales or ownership that it would probably be today. If it had been, the successful BMW /2 series would have failed.


The bad thing about the design was that there was (and is) no real way to inspect the slingers to see whether they needed attention. And if the slingers were full, oil passages for the main bearings closed up, and your engine seized. Highly inconvenient, and very expensive. There is also no real warning of what is to come. The bike may run perfectly right up until it does not. Which brings me back to the R60. It is not often that a story usually reserved for the garage section of this site jumps to the front page of the blog, but this one has earned it.

It was running better than ever on this late spring day, and I was reveling in how well it performed. Truly the best performing R60 I had ever owned or ridden, including /2s and a couple of /5 machines. As a reward I decided to treat it to an oil change, even though it had been relatively few miles, and not much time. This is the part in the movie when the more dramatic music begins, the clouds roll in, and the dark mysterious figure appears. First, the oil was pretty dark and mysterious for the milleage. Second, the magnetic drain plug had pieces of metal attached to it. Not good. Let me pause here to recommend Dimple magnetic drain plugs. It probably saved this engine by dragging metal down to one end of the sump, and not allowing it to circulate. I immediately dropped the sump, and there were more little bits clustered around the drain plug. A couple of the pieces looked like ring lands. Very not good.

In contrast to the slingers, the beautiful thing about the BMW R engine is that you can have a piston in your hand in 20 minutes. You don't even have to remove the heads. Just unbolt the entire head and cylinder from the case. The right side revealed that the piston's skirt had failed and broken off in pieces in the crankcase. A few more larger pieces were lying around at the bottom of said crankcase. I removed them and trolled around with a magnet to see if I could find anything else. I looked at the bores and fortunately they look great. The connecting rods, wrist pins and rings all looked good as well. No loose wristpin bushings, no discernible tolerances out of whack. The piston even looked good other than the indignity of losing its skirt. The left side was perfect with no damage of any kind. Hhhmmmm. I went to the Internet to see what that fountain of wisdom would reveal. It did not take long to discover noted restorer Duane Ausherman's article on this very phenomenon afflicting pre /2 machines like mine. Piston design changes followed by the time they got to the /2 machines in 1960.


How could this motorcycle have been running so well? How could a failure like that happen without me noticing? The collective wisdom is that pistons, particularly on a twin, and even more particularly on a horizontally opposed twin, need to be matched and balanced. Weight differences of a few grams or unmatched pistons have been blamed for rough idling and other performance maladies. My pistons might as well have been from two different make/model machines. However, my motorcycle started on the first or second kick, idled perfectly, and ran like a scalded rump dog! Could it be that I have unwittingly unlocked some performance secret?

Just like some of my previous garage adventures (see the $800 CV boot or Getting the shaft and other Blessings ), the experience imparts wisdom. The moral of this story of course, is to change your oil and examine it critically whether you have a newly rebuilt motor with few miles, or a much used workhorse. Thanks also to the Duane Aushermans of the world who take the time to document and explain phenomenon from long ago that would otherwise have us scratching heads, interpreting dried chicken bones, and wondering what we did wrong. However, you can look out for the Classic Velocity performance kit for pre /2 machines. Don't be alarmed when you see two completely different pistons in the kit. It's the secret sauce.

The Accidental Purchase

Classic Velocity


I didn't mean to do it. Honest. Purchasing another vehicle was not in the plans. What's that, you don't believe me? Well I understand. If you are a regular reader, then you know that an unplanned purchase is not exactly a strange and foreign occurrence. However, in my defense, the vehicle purchased was one that was on the watch list. The opportunity presented itself, and a vehicle long desired, or perhaps desired again, came home. The main facilitator was usually a great financial deal. Who can resist a deal on something you are looking for?

I have read about completely unexpected vehicles in magazines and even from fellow gearheads, but they sounded strange to me. "I was looking for a Maserati, but I ended up with a Citreon DS" or "I really wanted an MGB, but I ended up with a Miata". In each case, there is a common thread between what was sought and what was ultimately purchased, but it can be a very twisty and tenuous thread. A thread which puzzles your gearhead friends, and may even sound kind of defensive. "Well it has the same headliner material, so it's practically the same."


So there I was, not looking for anything, when a conversation at work uncovered something sitting in someone's garage for a long time. Someone should save it for the small amount of money it would take. It was a sports car of some kind, and had an engine in the back. Volkswagen maybe. The ears perked up, like the proverbial antelope at the watering hole. "Did someone just say Volkswagen?" Five days later, I pushed a car off the trailer and into the garage. A car I was not looking for, and had only come across a couple times before in decades of roaming around shows and swap meets. A car not from Germany. A convertible. A car that was not running. Wrong in so many ways (at least for me). A car not from the 1950s or 1960s, or early 1970s. A Puma.

In many ways it is ludicrous to try to justify an old, non-running vehicle that is not going to be your daily driver, but I find myself (defensively) saying, "Well, it has a Volkswagen chassis and motor, so it is actually German."

Starting Engine

Classic Velocity

As much as I would like to say that it was some fantastic German engine that started my fascination with the engine bay, it was in fact a British engine. The Lotus Twin Cam engine to be specific. At the time, I had already driven in a number of garden variety British Fords: Cortina, Escort, Anglia, Consul. Many of them looked sporty with mag wheels and fog lights, and a few had Webers installed, so they could handle the narrow twisty roads and short straights with aplomb. However, I was more concerned with the sound and the look at that point, and was under the distinct impression that when it came to the engine compartment (and the badging), 3 litres were better than 2, etc. The other absolute indication of power was the number of exhaust pipes. The Jaguar E-Type won those discussions, but I digress. Then, an uncle came to visit one day. You could hear the car coming from a half a mile away, and when it got to our driveway, it burbled along at about 15 MPH with the throatiest dull roar I had ever heard. My uncle had to blip the throttle, because (as I would later learn), the thing would not idle below 2000 RPM. The sound was the most potent audible evidence of power I had ever heard. My brothers and I went racing down the driveway and ran alongside it laughing and shouting with glee.

The car was a refrigerator white Ford Escort with a Rally car stance and what seemed like massive flared fenders. Except for the paint and fog lights, it was similar to the Roger Clark Matchbox car that I had. Once my uncle went inside, we crawled over every inch of the car, and when he returned, I begged him to show me the engine. I was hoping for a massive brute that filled every inch of the compartment. What I saw instead was a faded signature blue twin cam cover on a pretty small powerplant. There was plenty of room around it, and it seemed out of place in the snorting beast that I heard earlier. "How many litres ?" I asked with obvious disapointment. "Don't worry about the litres", my uncle said. "How many exhaust pipes?" I said looking under the car. "Just one, but we will go for a ride one day soon, and then you will see that one is enough". "Why not now?" I wanted to understand the magic transformation. "Not now", was the static reply. We ran alongside as he left and heard him gun it down the gravel road as he sped away. We listened until you could no longer hear it. I needed one of those engines (despite not having a prayer of even owning a car at the time), and began to find out everything I could from old magazines. That lead me to Colin Chapman, and a whole new world.

A few weeks later I finally got to ride in the car. My uncle swore me to secrecy as my parents had clearly told him not to allow the kids near the thing. It was a short ride of about 8 miles, and I was in the back seat, which had no seat belts. This was back in the pre-safety era, when it was better to be thrown clear ;-) It was simply one of the most scary and exciting rides in a car that I have ever had. There was a gaping hole where the speedometer would be in the dashboard, so there was just the tachometer and I have no idea how fast we were going. Supersonic, I think. In between being thrown around the cabin, pinned against the seat, and projected into the back of the front seats, I was laughing and praying. The magic transformation was indeed real, and the engine with the little blue cam cover was now a monster of unknown but gargantuan displacement. The sound was glorious, and the smell of hot oil on the headers wafted into the spartan cabin. This bore no earthly resemblance to the (now) plodding Escort I had driven in previously. Surely there was no faster car than this on earth.

When we returned, I asked to see the motor again. surprisingly, it was the same one I had seen weeks earlier.  I could not comprehend it. It was smaller than the motor in my Father's Cortina. I concluded that this was like the light in the refrigerator. You were told it went off, but you never could tell what happened once you closed the door. Magic. Perhaps that is why my uncle stuck with refrigerator white.

On Being Cited for DWI

Classic Velocity

Many of you have been there. The point where you have adjusted, aligned, realigned, and generally mucked about with something so much that you have no idea where you are from the starting point or reference point. You know that at that point, you should just return all the settings back to some factory reference point and then begin anew, but you don't because you are sick of looking at it, and you know some things are ok. There are actually a couple of good options at this point. The first is to just walk away, leave it alone, and come back with a fresh perspective after some period of time. But be careful, this is one reason that repairs and restorations can take years. The other option is to walk away, leave it alone, and let somebody else with a fresh perspective look at it. Preferably someone with expertise. But be careful, this is one reason that repairs and restorations can deplete retirement funds.

The R60 was running as well as any /2 that I had ever owned or ridden, but it had a bad stumble close to wide-open throttle. This is not a big problem on a bike that does not generally spend a lot of time at wide open throttle. With new jets and adjustments to the carbs, I was convinced that they were no longer the issue. Besides, as the old adage goes, 95% of carburetor problems are electrical. I installed new plugs and began by rechecking the valve timing. Then I moved on to points and ignition timing. Only minor adjustments were made, but the end result was that the bike would no longer start on the first or second kick. The stumble at wide-open throttle was gone, but the bike would not run as well. So I went back to the timing and fiddled some more figuring that I was on the right track. Several hours later, I was clearly on the wrong track as the bike would not start at all. There was clearly spark and air and fuel, but they were not coming together in the right timing to produce a running motorcycle. a sputter now and then was all I got. OK, what could have happened? I made no radical adjustments, just some incremental changes and some revalidation of settings. A large rum and coke beckoned. Time to walk away for a bit.

The next day, I went back to factory reference points and did not even get a sputter. An hour later I ran out of time, which is a good thing because blood pressure was close to pop-a-vein, and I had run out of english, swahili, and mandarin curse words ( I don't even speak swahili or mandarin). There is a real personal sense of defeat if you cannot get a motorcycle this simple to run. Particularly when you have previously assembled a /2 from a box of bits and a frame. You know it is one of only a few things, so it can be maddening not to be able to figure it out. I mean, how hard can it be? I knew it was time to step away again. The following day I called my friend Jeff and asked if he would take a look at it. There are very few people that I am comfortable working on my machines, but Jeff is one. It did not take long for him to suspect the condenser and/or the coil. We ordered the parts, they came in a few days, he adjusted timing, and the machine started first kick and ran like a top.

The lessons here are many. First, always check and recheck the basics. At some point, a suspect condenser and/or coil failed. I had seen spark early in the diagnostics, but from then on, I assumed it remained good. I am sure that I would have discovered that there was no spark if I had rechecked at some point. Second, resist the urge to overthink and look for the exotic problem. As a doctor once told a medical student, "Maybe they are just fatigued, did you ever consider that possibility?" Third, avoid getting frustrated and/or tired. You are probably not doing your best thinking at the point of frustration and fatigue. It can cause you to look right at the problem and not be able to see it. Fourth, a fresh perspective does not just mean that you are well rested and recovered from the drinking binge that the situation forced upon you. It means that you forget what you think you know, and begin again as if you just saw the vehicle for the first time. I was "sure" about a few things late on night one, and when I went to work on day two. Intoxicated by my own self-assuredness, and in need of a mental breathalizer. It turns out that due to my own assumptions, and perhaps a little of the red mist, I was clearly DWI (diagnosing while impaired).

When Comraderie and Consumption Collide

Classic Velocity


Not that this does not happen in lots of affinity groups, but guys and gals who are members of L.O.V.E. (lunatics on vintage equipment), and you know who you are, seem to have developed a particular fondness (hehe) for the combination of comraderie and consumption. Nowhere is this more evident than in the aficionados of vintage BMW air cooled motorcycles, affectionately referring to themselves as Airheads. The groups motto is "Simple by Choice", and I would highly recommend you visit their website to learn more about this strange and lovable group. Although any group that would allow me to be a member and then repeatedly renew that membership, is highly suspect to begin with. But I digress...


The Airheads have a concept called Tech Days, which take place across the USA, and have nothing to do with preparing your vehicle for the track. The concept is brilliant. A bunch of Airheads, usually including an Airhead Marshall, gather at some place which provides garage space, and tools, (airheads provide the knowledge), to allow other members to learn to work on their own machines. Some are elaborate multi-day affairs, but many are just a single day. Make no mistake, this is not a free alternative to your local shop or dealership, as you must do the work yourself. The member learns, onlookers learn, curmudgeons curmudgeon, and Gurus guru. Good stuff all around. I should note that it is best not to have motorized equipment within reach at a Tech Day, as it may get "fixed" by bored gurus. The tractor at this Tech Day was actually just a weed wacker and an old Model A Ford a few hours earlier. But wait, there's more...


There is rarely as much concentrated laughter and poking of fun in one place outside of a comedy club. When people who are enamored of an engine design relatively unchanged since 1923 get together, lookout. Wisecracks, jokes, humorous anecdotes, and friendly insults fly. Your bike, your physical condition, your weaknesses, and yo momma are all fair game. You might want to wear your thick skin under your armored jacket. Then they get to know you and it intensifies! But wait, there's more....


Food and drink have become signature features of Tech Days. They often start with breakfast and end with lunch. The host dreams up some traditional signature dish, or promises to redeem himself/herself following last year's coincidental outbreak of dysentery.  Barbecue was on the menu for this recent encounter, and it was good eating. Drinks are also special attractions ranging from sweet tea to long island iced tea. People travel to Tech Days far away as an excuse to ride, and for legendary victuals. It is rumored that one airhead simply travels to Tech Days, and has not had to pay for a meal in 17 years. But wait, there's more....


A bunch of bikes show up. Some lurch in spitting and belching only to leave later on as more civilized conveyances. Some arrive in the back of a truck, and leave under their own power. Some are there newly returned from far far away. Some are from a few miles away. Some are shiny and beautiful. Some are dirty and beautiful. Some are neither airhead nor BMW. All receive interest and attention. But wait, there's more....

Actually, there is not more. At some point, the host has to kick the freeloaders out and reclaim his property. Not to worry though, there is another Tech Day soon within a day's ride.

ps: Thanks Dave, and Happy Birthday !!

Jousting With Jetlag

Classic Velocity


It is my own fault of course. I could have been smitten with modern machines sporting fuel injection and even more modern techniques where the molecules of fuel are individually measured into a perfect chamber in a perfect mixture with air to form a perfect explosion. i hear that there is a system in develop that will just scare gasoline into energy directly taking all of the moving parts out of the equation. The drawback is that it causes fuel delivery trucks to vanish into a black hole outside the milky way. But I digress. The new fuel systems are incredibly more efficient and effective, but I am enamored of machines with these things called carburetors.

The basic premise of the carburetor is that you mix up the fuel and the air in this contraption, and then send the mixture into the combustion chamber where it meets electricity and goes bang. Sort of like a twisted dating game for chemistry and physics...

"Hey Gasser, wanna get together? I know a cool roller coaster ride we could try"

"I'm always up for a ride with you Ariel. Let's go."

"Cool, we can meet Sparky afterward, he's a blast."

The trouble with carburetors is that they are relatively imprecise. They slurp fuel and gulp air. In fact, part of the appeal of the carburetor is that you can hear it slurping and gulping. It is a glorious sound, particularly if you have open bellmouths on Webers. The more you open the throttle, the more menacing the sound, as butterfly valves open and a more voracious appetite is unleashed. But I digress.


The BMW /2 (slash two) series of motorcycles generally do not have open bellmouth carburetors, or a menacing growl from the intake. But they do have carburetors. Bing Carburetors. Bing does not sound like a menacing beast, but it can be just that. The Bings on the /2 are slide carburetors, which use a combination of fuel at the right level in a chamber, and air utilizing the venturi effect to create the right mixture. In order to perform this magic trick, they use jets. Jets come in all shapes and sizes, but the best example is the needle valve that you use to pump up a basketball or soccer ball. It is hollow, and allows a gas or liquid to pass through it in a controlled fashion.

Bings, like other carburetors, have a variety of jets in them to handle idling speed, air, fuel, etc. On the one hand, it is amazing that these devices still work at all 50 years later. On the other hand, small passages in jets are susceptible to even the smallest debris or chemical buildup. People muck about with them to get better performance or to fix other problems. Most old /2s pulled out of a barn will run with the jets out of kilter, but not well. Which brings me to how I spent two entire days getting two /2s to run right.


The R50 did not idle well, while the R60 did not like the throttle open more than about halfway. I suspected carbs needed a good cleaning. I took them apart, and removed the floats and jets. The floats looked new. I left the jets to soak in a chemical bath, and made myself a rum and coke...or perhaps I have that reversed. Next day, I blew everything out with the compressor, and declared them ready for service. Installed back in the bikes, the R50 now had a steady idle. I used the Twinmaster to check the balance of the carbs and all seemed well. I took it for a ride and it seemed to be the soothest that I had ever known it to be, but that could be more in my head that in the bike. I returned victorious.

The R60 was not so easy. The jets looked just as good, the floats were sound, but the wide open throttle issue remained. I ran out of time and decided to order new jets. The very good news is that the Bing Agency exists and you can get most of the parts for these ancient Bing carbs. A few days later they arrive and it seems wrong to pay so much for such a small package, but I wanted this factor off the table. I installed the jets, and it was obvious once the bike started that the problem was solved. To look at them, I had removed perfectly good jets that seemed to pass air through their passages, but the reality is that the new ones have transformed the bike. I have not installed the new idle jets as there is no issue with idle on the R60. Methinks tonight I will raise a chalice to Bing, God of Fuel Delivery, and joust with those jets on the morrow...

Finding Fault

Classic Velocity


The older the motorcycle, the simpler its' electrical system. Pretty straightforward right? If you go back far enough, the electrical system was a spark generator, and a spark arrestor. Even when lighting first came along, it was acetylene and other gas varieties. The first horns were air bulbs, so no need for electricity there. It took the need for a brake light to really propel the need for an electrical system with wiring running fore and aft. Today of course there are miles of wiring in most motorcycles, and diagnosing the electrical system is beyond most of us DIY mechanics.

This, however, was not the case on my 1965 BMW R50/2. It has a magneto, headlight, tail light, horn, and two indicator lights for charge, and headlight/high beam. No turn signals, no heated seats, no beverage chiller. There is a single little circuit board in the headlight bucket to which all of the wiring runs. The wiring harness exits the headlight bucket, splits off a few wires for the horn button and high beam switch, and then runs the rest back for an aux socket, battery, brake switch, and tail light. That's about it. When my tail light began to work intermittently, it should have been a simple matter to find the problem and fix it, yes?


No. A 45 year old motorcycle with a 45 year old wiring harness is surprisingly resistant to quick fixes. This is what helps to make vintage vehicle ownership a thinking man's pursuit. first I replaced the tail light bulb. The light was brighter, but a short run that evening proved that the problem still existed. The light simply turned off about 15 minutes into the run. It then came back on a few minutes later, then off again, then on back at the garage. No obvious clues like hitting bumps, or under load, or after some consistent period of time. I got out the shop manual and looked over the wiring diagram. Yep, it was dead simple, and no obvious way that a suspect horn switch could cause the problem. I played with the switch anyway to see if I could produce the fault. All I succeeded in doing was sounding the horn 20 times, which brought the family running out to the garage with looks of concern first, and then irritation. I checked continuity and current. All was well according to the multimeter from the tail light, to the diode board. Of course, the problem only happened when running.


At this point, The smart play would have been to get a new harness, tackle the pesky horn/high beam switch, and maybe get a new diode board as well to ensure electrical system health for the next 45 years. But that would have resulted in a multiple-hundred dollar fix for a flaky tail light. I already had experience with such adventures (see The $800 CV Boot). Plus, what if this was simply a bad soldering connection? There was only one thing to do at this point; I unleashed the Classic Velocity Electrical Diagnostic Methodology (developed in conjunction with Dr Seuss):

I wiggled on switches

and jiggled on plugs

I unwrapped the harness

and gave it slight tugs

I soldered connections

and added protection

and made sure that all of

the ground points were snug

I uncovered nothing that hinted at the problem. I was hoping to uncover some aged brittle insulation or a chafed wire, but everything looked good. I went for a (hopeful) ride. The problem with an intermittent problem is that it is hard to know when you have it solved. The ride produced no sign of the fault, but it was only 30 minutes. I didn't ride this bike a lot at night with it's 1960s lighting system, so 30 minutes was about as long as I had ever gone. The other challenge is that you can't exactly monitor a tail light very well while riding. If it was flickering or going out briefly, I would not know. Despite this, I decided to declare success.

It was about 3 months later that I had a 45 minute ride home in the dark with the bike. The fault really appeared to be gone. Why? I don't know. Was it gone for good? I don't know. As an engineering type, this is not a satisfying conclusion. You want to find root cause and know that failure F1 lead to result R1 and was remedied by solution S1. Accordingly I am concluding that a faulty soldering joint and a slightly corroded ground conspired to interrupt the circuit due to harmonic vibrations when the motorcycle hit 49.6mph. Echoes of those harmonics persisted for a short period of time and then dissipated. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

How to Catch a Mermaid

Classic Velocity


These things start out innocently. I heard about a car that was for sale. If you are a gearhead, this happens a lot. In my experience, most turn out to be average deals or massive unwanted projects. This car was described as a 1990s BMW with unspecified "fairly low mileage". Sounded like a potential for co-worker (Rob) looking for a car (this also happens a lot..). However, work and life got busy and 3 weeks went by. Rob finally asked again if I had come across anything, and I in turn called my fellow gearhead contact, Ed. Ed called his contact Tom. A few days later, an answer. Yes, it was still available for what was perhaps an average price if it was in good shape (ie: decent paint, around 100k miles, and some service records). At this point, nobody I knew or trusted had even seen the car, and a car salesman at a dealership was the source of info. Hmmmmmmm....


I contacted my co-worker, and passed on the description of the car which was about 4th hand at this point. Could I go look at it and give him an opinion ? Sure (this happens a lot as well). I made a call and eventually I arranged to go look at the car via a contact of my contact at a local BMW dealership. Coordinating the meeting involved a nighttime meeting in a dark alley with the leader of the resistance, a Navajo code talker, an operative who crossed the border through the minefields, and smuggled a message over to their guy on the inside, who was the gardener for the Commandante, and could get close to the target. I was only missing the super model double agent, and my Aston Martin DB5. In the process, I discovered that the car was a 5 speed, which killed the deal for Rob. Great, I thought, my work here is done. However, at this point, I had this clandestine appointment, no buyer anymore, and a car that nobody knew anything about. I did what any gearhead would do, and decided to go see it anyway, since I would be nearby that day.


The owner of the car reportedly wanted to stay arms length from the buy/sell process. This was my first clue that something was strange. Tom described the owner as a doctor who purchased several cars from them and who just did not want any part of the process of selling a car. It was a 1991 525i. Neither rare, nor valuable. We went over to the dealership and walked in to see Tom who was the intermediary for this private sale. It was being sold by the original owner who had just reduced the price to get rid of it. Tom described the car as being in great shape. Yeah, right. The saleman says its a great deal (this happens a lot)! The owner had left the car at the dealership for us to see. We finally asked to go outside and look at it.


26k Miles !! It turns out that we had walked right past the car on the way in. The reason is because the car looked brand new. I mean brand new. Perfect slate grey paint, perfect looking interior. We had walked past it parked in amongst other new and late model certified Pre-owned cars without noticing. Armed with the key, I opened it up and the interior was as good as the exterior. Light grey leather (almost white), not a smudge anywhere, the mats looked new, and the car even smelled new. I was almost hesitant to sit in it with my stained jeans and mud-stained boots fresh from loading and towing another car (this happens a lot). Even the drivers seat really did not show much wear. We learned from Tom that nobody had ever ridden in the passenger or rear seat. It looked it. I started the car and it was similarly flawless. It purred like only the legendary inline 6 can. So smooth that you wonder if it is running. The odometer read 26,200 miles, but there was little evidence of even this low mileage. At this point, The price was already great at twice the mileage. I popped the hood, looked in the trunk, looked underneath, etc, and it was all flawless. Every bit of work on the car, which was nothing but annual state inspections, had been done by the dealership. Tom gave me the records. Everything I saw and heard and touched, validated the conclusion. This was a brand new car. It had only lasted a month because of the espionage-novel-worthy process of getting to see the car. Even so, I pondered why the dealership did not go after it.


For more pics see The GarageI did not ponder very long. The entire transaction including a visit to the notary for paperwork was done in a couple of hours. The owner gave me the original window sticker ($37k!), and assured me that the car was 100% garaged and only driven to and from work a few miles away. I could already see that. He appeared very eager to convince me of the great care the car had received while in his possession. As if the condition of the car was not enough. He finally took one last picture with the car, and appeared close to tears. Ed helped me jockey cars so that I could get it home. I then had to jockey things around to get it into the garage ahead of the impending snow storm the next day. All done, I looked at it in the garage. It was the stuff of gearhead lies told at the bar. It was the one that got away. It was a time capsule car. It was the suspect Craigslist/Ebay/Autotrader Ad that makes us all chuckle in disbelief: like new, 1 loving owner, immaculate, low miles, only driven in nice weather, must go, cheap, etc, etc. This is a mythical machine among gearheads, similar to the Loch Ness monster or a Mermaid.... reportedly seen by a few, but most doubt it's existence. I am here to say that it exists, and that in this case, I was the buyer (this does not happen a lot).

A Riveting Tale

Classic Velocity

If you have owned and restored more than one classic vehicle, then you have probably developed some system for organizing the pieces and parts associated with the projects. There are documents and receipts (that you never want to tally up), large parts such as wheels or sheet metal, and of course the small parts. In the Classic Velocity garage, the small parts end up in one of those stackable flip-top plastic bins. A bit of masking tape provides a label. So far so good.

And then a vehicle leaves and it does not always go with all of the parts. Eventually these orphaned parts get combined into a bin marked "MISC", or one with lots of vehicle names on it. Sometimes a homemade tool or a unique item gets included in the cascading process. At this point I have quite a few bins marks MISC, and a few with no label at all. The problem is that I have a great memory of what I have, and a dismal memory of when I got it or where I put it. Which brings us to today's tale.

I needed to change the small lock in the lid of the tank compartment on the R100GS. That lock is riveted into the lid. On a recent ride it came open at 65 mph, and while the compartment was empty, it was not a welcome surprise. So one bright morning I decide to remedy the situation with the replacement lock I acquired a week earlier. Very careful work with a drill got the old lock out in a few minutes. Then I went to my little plastic draw of rivets and grabbed two of the correct size. Then I went to get the rivet gun. It was missing from its' designated place in the toolbox. This is a problem. Some people keep organized by memory, and can maintain a seemingly chaotic environment because they know where everything is. I am not one of them. I rely on things having a place, and being in that place. I can be disorganized for a short time while actually working on something, but then I have to cleanup. So when the rivet gun was missing, it could have been anywhere in time and space.

I remembered seeing the rivet gun when it was last used. The red-handled tool was in the bottom of a bin or toolbox draw along with a packet of rivets. I went down to the stack of plastic bins in the basement and began searching. Each one labeled miscellaneous was pulled out and checked. I found a few things that I was glad to find (so that's where I put it), but no rivet gun. An hour later, still no gun. Then I had a revelation. It was in a toolbox draw I had not thought to check! I rushed back to the garage and opened the identified draw. Sure enough, there was the red-handled tool at the bottom, but it was a pair of hogging pliers, not the rivet gun. I checked other draws and no luck.

At this point, I was pissed. A rivet gun is only about $10, but when you already have a $20 gun somewhere within a few hundred feet, it is aggravating and wasteful to get another. I mean, this is one of the problems with the world right? Guys with 2 rivet guns and 3 tire pressure gauges and 4 half used tubes of blue loctite. I glanced at the tank compartment lid sitting there with the two rivets sticking up, and then at the helmet that I had optimistically taken out expecting to be underway in a few minutes.

I reattached the lid and headed off to the hardware store. A few minutes later I grabbed the $9.95 rivet gun rather than the $18.95 one with the swivel head just like the one I could not find. I blew off the anger with an hour on some great backroads and an ice cream cone. I never went fast enough to make the lid fly open so it wasn't an issue. The therapy of the road made me realize that I had blown an hour and a half of riding time over an issue that was not actually preventing being out on the road. Such are the workings of a diseased mind. Back in the garage, I riveted the new lock to the lid and adjusted the latch. Perfect. 3 hours later the 15 minute job was done.

The next day I cleaned up the garage, which is always a strangely satisfying job. Toward the end, I picked up the old lock and put it in the platic bag that the new one came in. I opened the plastic bin labeled GS Dakar, dropped it in, and there it was. The red-handled swivel head rivet gun lay on the bottom next to a packet of rivets. I had put the rivets there anticipating the replacement of the lid, and apparently put the rivet gun next to them for the same reason. Brilliant. I would never have looked in the bin for vehicle I needed the item for. The red-handled swivel-headed rivet gun looked calm and inanimate laying there in the bottom of the plastic bin just as I pictured it, but on an cosmic level, it was laughing it's ass off.

Getting the Shaft and Other Blessings

Classic Velocity

It is a rare occasion that an episode from the garage makes it into the main blog, however this is a worthy exception. It is a tale of good fortune, of divine intervention, and of impeccable timing. The tale begins with our intrepid hero in Frenchtown NJ, on the way back from the Norton Gathering, on a beautiful spring morning, on the relatively new-to-him R100GS. He noticed a slight vibration in the rear wheel between 60 and 65 MPH. It disappeared above or below that small range. The classic diagnosis is that one of the stick-on wheel weights had gained its freedom, or that the spoked wheel needed truing. No big deal. He continued home at a sedate pace enjoying the emerging greenery that is spring in the northeast.

Back at the bat cave, our hero got the bike on the centerstand and looked at the rear wheel. Running his hand around the spokes did not uncover loose or broken ones. The wheel did have an area with some old tape from wheel weights, but it was hard to tell if it was recently disturbed, due to dirt. His memory was of no help. He then grabbed the wheel and tested for vertical and horizontal play. Rock solid. Now if you know the BMW airheads, you know that the good news so far is not necessarily good news at all. A loose lug nut or a broken spoke would actually spell relief. The forums are littered with tales of final drive failures and universal joint failures at 30,000 to 40,000 miles. Mine had 46,000.

With the bike in gear, he rocked the wheel backward and forwards. There was certainly some play before the transmission engaged. Not good. Then he performed the acid test which spun the wheel backward in neutral. He could clearly hear the dreaded clicking sound that said driveshaft/u-joint failure....At this point, there are generally two options. The first is to sit down, mix a stiff drink, and weep openly. The second is to sit down, mix a stiff drink and celebrate the fact that it does not appear to be your transmission, then weep openly.

If you have no interest in the how-to section of this post, take the bypass as indicated below and join us later..


He began the teardown shortly afterward. The shaft drive of the BMW is a brilliant evolution of a 1920s design. It is sturdy, reliable, and has great benefits over a chain drive. However, the R100GS has gathered a reputation for being hard on u-joints. Some say it is the more acute angles of the shaft required for the GS, some say aftermarket shocks, some say sun spots. Regardless, they have a high failure rate on these bikes, and examination of the shaft every rear tire change is recommended. The front driveshaft u-joint looked fine only days before, so either he missed seeing a crack, or it went from good to no good during the ride.

With the driveshaft out of the swingarm, the level of his good fortune was obvious. This was the original shaft, and while the rear u-joint was fine, the front had two damaged pivots. The housing was broken, and needle bearings had escaped in every direction like some disturbed ants nest. The amount of play in the joint was excessive. He realized that he could not have been more than a few miles (or a few ft/lbs of torque) away from complete disintegration, or lockup, or some other less than desirable outcome. This was close. Really close. Inside the swingarm were the pieces of the housing and needle bearings. Without cleaning it out thoroughly, he would have been putting a new shaft in with lovely new grease and lots of little pieces of metal ! He grabbed a beverage, sat down, considered the bits of motorcycle all around him, and gave thanks.


A week later, he had a new shaft with circlip equipped u-joints so they are now replaceable. It also has grease nipples, so it is serviceable. Thanks to Bruno's in Canada for the new shaft. The installation was almost a breeze, just pay attention to a few caveats, and reverse the process. Torquing the front driveshaft bolts is a pain without the proper tool. Taking inspiration from online forums, our hero used a ring spanner with a socket stuffed in the other end and a torque wrench. A bit imprecise, and sure the BMW tool is perfect for the job, but he was determined not to buy another costly use-it-once-every-five-years BMW tool.

While the bike was laid up, he dropped the pan, and removed both petcocks to find both of the reserve tubes clogged ! That would have been a surprise discovered at the worst possible time and place. He gave thanks for that as well. In fact, this whole philosophy of being thankful for the discovery of problems and narrowly avoided disasters, seems well-suited to classic vehicles. Our hero may just get some robes and a pulpit, and turn the garage into the center for repair, intervention, and maintenance early (CRIME).