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Against All Odds

Classic Velocity

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The following are excerpts from Kevin Cameron's article King of the Boomers, which appeared in Cycle magazine in 1979. It was sent to me by friend and enthusiast Todd Trumbore, and then we added some links to round out the full story. The excerpts and the links tell one of those behind the scenes stories that often get overshadowed even at the time, and fade from memory unless they are retold...

 

"In a class dominated, at least on paper, by four-cylinder bikes and six figure budgets, the BMW of Udo Gietl and Todd Schuster almost bagged the Superbike Championship with a two-cylinder bike and hardly any budget at all."

"BMW is the most remarkable and vigorous dinosaur in motorcycling, with fifty years of history behind its boxer twin layout and drive shaft. Precisely made, well-mannered and durable, the BMW has always been valued as the finest of touring machines, but might not be your first choice for the hard world of AMA Superbike racing."

"Their $150,000 was money well spent. The race shop lights burned twenty-four hours a day, the dyno engines fired every evening at five, and an unending stream of refinements poured forth into the three team bikes. BMW dominated Superbike racing in 1976."

"That was that. The company sold the dyno, the flow bench, and the bikes. They would not be tempted further. For them, the decision may have been a wise one. For Udo, however, the decision was a catastrophe he could not accept. After ten years' work he could not just stop his emotional commitment as the company had terminated its program. It was inevitable that he would continue. In his notes and in his head were all the tests, everything that had worked and why."

Now, take some time to read the full story via the following links :

King of the Boomers

The Last of Udo Gietl's AMA Racers 

An Expat's Finest Hour 

Das Motorrad Vintage Fescht 2012

Classic Velocity

A Guest Post by Todd Trumbore
Sixth Annual
Das Motorrad Vintage Fescht 2012
Unfavorable weather conditions found us rescheduling this event for the first time. Unfortunately, the new date conflicted with Barber's Festival. Noted BMW vintage restorer, Ron Rohner, collector and curator Tony Karas, R90S aficionado Mac Kirkpatrick and vintage enthusiast/motto blogger par excellence http://www.classicvelocity.com/ all had reservations and decided to leave us behind and head south to leeds, Alabama. Their smiling faces and energetic personalities were missed. As, the saying goes, "Good things come to those who wait". Thankfully, we were greeted with much more accommodating skies and moderating temperatures on our second attempt. Terrific. Game on!
 
Twenty-eight vintage motorrad enthusiasts from the surrounding countryside, rose early, dressed in appropriate riding attire and then quietly walked into their garages whispering adoring words to their aging and sometimes temperamental motorbikes in hopes that they would be rewarded with a smooth start-up procedure and NOT one requiring removing the helmet and leathers time and again with sweat pouring off their faces. 

Veteran riders with an appreciation of an era long passed, when machinery was far less complicated, yet styling never more elegant, gathered in the quaint and cozy Village of Skippack, Pennsylvania for this annual ritual which includes a three hour scenic tour of the neighboring hills, valleys, lakes and streams and concludes with a Bavarian feast and an abundance of tall tales. 

Around 9:00 am, riders sporting crusty, cracked and sweat stained leather jackets and oil saturated boots would start to appear from all directions, mounted on iron relics that pre-dated the Industrial Revolution. Yes, twenty-eight proud owners slowly rolled in, one by one, heads held high, circling the group before landing a spot for all to view and admire. Pleasantries and compliments would be exchanged, coffee consumed and friends reunited while waiting for the last to arrive. 
 

This year's rolling works of art were the achievements of manufacturers from five nations. Germany's BMW lead the list as the most represented marque. Not too surprising, as the horizontally opposed air-cooled twin has won over the hearts and minds of riders around the globe for almost a century. Notable examples from this years entrants came from Dave Zillhardt's R60/2, Stoney Read's R69US, Todd Trice's Monza Blue Metallic R75/5 "toaster" with color matched Avonaire fairing, Horst Oberst's Henna Red R65LS, John Langsford's R80 and Joel Jackson's one of a kind, custom R75/5 from the late Karl Duffner's highly acclaimed and much publicized collection. Andy Anderson was performing some preventative maintenance on his sparkling Daytona Orange R90S which. prevented him from riding it this year.

The British Invasion was lead by Eric Heiveil's award winning '52 Vincent Black Shadow, Digger O'Dell's '68 Triumph Bonneville and Brian Nolan's' 78 Bonneville. Rick Kramer was planning on bringing his BSA Spitfire until his tank sprung a leak two days prior. It seems that today's highly regulated, environmentally friendly toxic brew they call gasoline is not compatible with fiberglass fuel tanks..even though this one was professionally treated with a special well regarded protective liner. Rick wasn't too concerned as he has a plentiful selection of old iron to choose from and decided to join the others and bring his trophy winning '66 Bonneville.

The Italians are known for their flamboyant styling, flashy colors and high performance in the areas of output, handling and braking. Perfect examples of this were Dave D'Imperio's Moto Guzzi Sport 1100 and Roland Schwagerl's Ducati 900ss. David Dilworth chose a more conservative format.his '75 Moto Guzzi V1000 Convert. This particular model is equipped with an automatic transmission. David, sensing my fascination, tossed me the keys and let me experience the feeling first hand. In my 45 years as a rider, I never once rode an automatic. I must say, it was very strange not having to shift, but I was impressed.

The Roman God Bacchus was known to be drawn in chariots, by exotic beasts such as lions or tigers and was seen as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and thus symbolizes everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected. In an exclusive interview around 1400 BC, Bacchus was quoted as saying, if he was to own only one motorbike, it would have to be a Moto Guzzi V750 Ambassador. When I read that quote as a young boy, I knew someday I would have to acquire my own Ambassador. So, yes this year I decided to break out my '70 Moto Guzzi Ambassador LAPD Bike complete with bells, whistles, friction "squirrel gage" siren and 360 degree flashing lamp. Legend has it that this may have been the very machine Officer Erik "Ponch" Estrada rode in the popular TV series CHiPs. Ancestry.com could not confirm this rumor. Further research seems to show that Ponch actually rode the Kawasaki version of the LAPD bike. My, my. how disappointing! 
 
Filling out the rest of the field representing the Asian marque, we had Dave Harris aboard his Honda CX 500 Turbo and Tom Kramer on his SR500 single. Sadly, only one motorbike in this year's event was of American origin, but what a beauty it was. Leigh Bleam rode his recently restored '62 Turtle Tank Sportster, orange and black of course. Maybe next year Doug Raymond will have his '41 Indian Scout road ready.

It's was almost time to depart, when I notice Horst Oberst pacing back and forth. So, I asked him if everything was all right. Horst replied, "Yes, but you know I'm 82 years old and if we don't leave soon, I may not be around to finish the ride".

So, with that in mind, I quickly made some brief announcements before we departed on the group ride. No one would dare forget to top-off their fuel and check their oil without suffering the consequences. I witnessed Leigh Bleam shaking and squeezing the hose to extract every last molecule of petrol into his peanut sized tank. With jackets zipped, helmets strapped and all engines firing, we were ready to roll.

Down the road we went over hillsides and valleys, through forests and farm fields, along streams and lakes, one sweeper after another, leaving a gentle roar in our wake. Multi-colored autumn leaves were making a gentle descent from the maple, hickory and oak trees above, until they crossed our paths. Then they would start to spin and whirl rapidly until finding a resting spot with all the other leaves along the side of the road.

All was going well right up to the midway point where we had scheduled a break. We suddenly took notice that a third of the riders were no longer with us. As it turns out, Bill Zane was having some difficulty keeping up with the group. Bill was riding his '68 R60/2 BMW complete with sidecar and a Heinrich "Barn Door" fairing. A beautiful and nicely appointed rig, but due to all that extra weight and surface area, his coefficient of drag was off the charts. Riders behind him took notice that Bill's net average speed climbing the hills was actually a minus 7 mph. On top of this, Bill threatened to run anyone off the road who dared to try to pass him. So those riders became trapped behind his rig.
 

This should not have mattered as the course was marked, but instead of following the yellow dots, Bill decided to use some old fashioned intuition along with his limited edition "Lewis & Clark" floating compass. We found out that every 50 miles, Bill was taking a compass reading and charting a course for the next leg. Bill's group was about to board a ferry crossing the Mississippi river heading toward the Northwest Passage when modern technology caught up to him. An electronic signal dancing across 46 consecutive cell towers finally found its destination and had Bill's wayward travelers heading back to the tiny town of Topton, PA where the rest of us were patiently waiting. or not so patiently.

Trying not to waste any of this free time, Karl Myers reached into his saddlebag, grabbed his lab coat and gave an impromptu tech session. He had John Melchor rebuilding the transmission on his R90S, Dave Harris giving his turbo a boost, Larry Suglia installing a big bore kit on his R65LS, Rocky Chung replacing his Bings with a set of Dellortos on his R90/6 and John Chay stripping and painting his R80/7 BMW. Tom Swan rode the first half of the ride 8 more times and Digger O'Dell flew to Frankfurt, had lunch with his fiancé, and flew back. Dick Bregstein was involved in a high stakes poker game with the remaining riders and did quite well, I was told.

Once reunited, we were quickly zigging and zagging, singing and humming our way through hill and dale. The second half of the ride went much smoother as one, not to be named, unidentified rider, (Andy Anderson) poured 4 gallons of octane booster into Bill's rig and inflated his tires to 75 psi while Bill went behind the building to water the lemon tree. Well, before long, we were on the home stretch and making our approach into Upper Salford Park where crews of busy beavers have been preparing for the Bavarian Feast for the last several hours at the pavilion. As we were kicking more tires and lining up the bikes for a photo session, Horst Konrader was warming up the band. they looked very sharp in their Oktoberfest Lederhosen. 

While we loaded up our plates and sat down for a nice, enjoyable BBQ, I handed over the microphone to Eric Heilveil so he could speak to the group about "the good, the bad and the ugly" of searching, buying and restoring his '52 Vincent Black Shadow. Eric is a very enthusiastic and passionate rider who spent the better part of three years tearing apart and rebuilding this machine. I know it had to be agonizing at times, but he didn't seem to have any regrets even though he had to sacrifice his first born and re-mortgage his home four more times. The bike looks wonderful and he said it is running well. What more can you ask for. He will have the rest of his life to admire and enjoy the results of his hard efforts.

Conspicuous only through his absence was Jack Riepe. I tried to get Jack to join us for some story telling and a book signing session, but Jack had a deadline to meet and was busy pounding the keyboard editing and re-editing his latest book "Conversations with a Motorcycle". The book is now complete, I'm half way through it, and highly recommend you pick up a copy. You can reach Jack throughhttp://jackriepe.blogspot.com/ .

Joel Samick proprietor of Retro Tours, Kennett Square, PA was also planning on joining our group this year. Our rescheduling was in conflict with his plans to guide a group of riders to Barbers vintage event. Joel created a very unique business, where he supplies vintage motorbikes to riders, then guides them on a variety of tours of their choice through the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond. As he likes to say "Ride a piece of the past on the path less taken". Joel hopes to be around next year to join us for the ride and to tell us about his business. Until then you can reach Joel at www.retrotours.com . 

I want to thank all of the riders for participating in this year's event and I really appreciate those who helped to offset some of the costs through their donations. I also want to thank the love of my life, Laura, her mother Roseann, my mother Joy and Dave and Susan Wood. I want to give an extra hearty thank you to Master Chef Alphons Schuhbeck, who sacrificed much of his time and hard work to make this possible. I could never pull this off without ALL their efforts.
More Pics from the event

Ride 'em, Don't Hide 'em.
Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
Todd Trumbore

Karl Duffner - Man, Myth, Legend

Classic Velocity

The following is a guest post by Todd Trumbore who has been mentioned a few times as the organizer of the Guiness Book attempt for BMW motorcycles (Record Wreckers), and the fall vintage event (Vintage Proving Grounds). This is a tribute by Todd to Karl Duffner who introduced him to BMWs, inspired many, and who contributed greatly to an entire community of enthusiasts in the region.

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The year was 1978 and I had just started a new job.  It wasn’t long before a co-worker, Dorothy Kulp, took notice that a riding jacket and helmet accompanied me to work every morning.  A few more weeks go by and she tells me that there is someone I think you should meet.  She escorts me to the far end of the machine shop where a very intent and determined looking fellow was operating Bridgeport and Cincinnati milling machines.  I could tell by his demeanor that he was all business.

Dorothy introduces me to Karl Duffner and tells me he is also a rider and has quite a collection of motorbikes.  Well, Karl and I talked quite a bit that day about our riding experiences.  I thought I was a rider until I listened to some of his riding adventures.  I have lots of interests and hobbies, but riding motorbikes is what really makes my gears spin… I was all ears.  Karl’s stories really peaked my interest and I quickly realized how passionate he was when it comes to motorbikes.  I was fascinated with his knowledge, experience and enthusiasm for the sport. As he was operating his milling machines, we chatted right up to the end of his shift.

Karl cleaned up and punched his time card.  I followed him out the rear door to the parking lot and starring me in the face was this stunning silver smoke 1974 BMW R90S with lots of bells and whistles.  I had never seen anything like it before. The single dominating focal area was the 13 gallon Heinrich fuel tank.  It was massive and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it!  Karl likes to personalize his motorbikes with aftermarket accessories, rare factory options or parts he machined himself.  When it came to his bikes, he spared no expense whatsoever!  This is why he worked a second machinist job for a good portion of his life.  If there was something he wanted for his bikes, he just bought it, no debating.

I soon found myself escaping from my desk job and migrating to the machine shop on a daily basis.  We quickly connected with one another and became very good friends, I couldn’t wait for a chance to get together and do some riding with Karl.  It wasn’t long before that opportunity came to be. 

Karl invited me to join him and a couple of friends to the BMW rally in Cass, WV during the Memorial Day weekend.  I told him I didn’t own a BMW.  He said not to worry, just ride what you have.  Now up until this time, my previous riding experiences were limited to a hundred mile radius, mostly afternoon rides trying to get lost on scenic country roads.  This was all about to change quickly.

  

Karl became my mentor and taught me the ropes of long distant sport touring.  He broadened my horizons and opened up a new world for me.  With his advice, I soon acquired a 1979 BMW R100S and fell in love with that machine which I still own today.  What an improvement over the bikes I had been riding the past ten years.

That trip to Cass, WV made me a believer in the Bavarian opposed twins and I was hooked forever.  To this day, I can still remember the thrill and emotions following Karl as we carved our way through the switchbacks on those mountain passes on Route 250.   I could not get enough of those twisties. My heart was pounding as the bike tossed right to left and left to right, my knees nearly touching the asphalt on every hairpin turn.  It was an experience never felt before and one I will never forget.

What I liked about the rally was the camaraderie of like minded folks who really enjoyed riding and sharing their experiences with friends and fellow riders. Karl could tell a pretty good story and he had many riding adventures which supplied him with an endless amount of material.  When Karl spoke, people listened to what he had to say.

Little did I know at the time, I was being taken under the wing of one of the most talented, experienced and passionate riders this area has ever known.  Karl had already reached legendary status in some circles. Being 12 years my senior, he had already clocked a couple hundred thousand miles on a superb collection of bikes. Plus, he made three separate trips to the Isle of Man, transporting his ’62 Sportster on the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth.  He was fortunate enough to spend a week hanging out with Mike “The Bike” Hailwood and his crew on one occasion. In later years he stored the ’62 Sportster with friends in Germany.  So every summer,  he would try to spend two or three weeks touring Bavaria, Black Forest and Tyrolean regions.

One year, Karl asked me to join him on a trip to Europe to enjoy Oktoberfest. I didn’t realize this at the time, but each village or region celebrates Oktoberfest on a different week. We decided to help the Munchen’s celebrate…...that was a good time!!

Karl became my guide as we toured all through the Bavarian Alpine region.  We visited auto and motorrad museums, the Harro Leather facility, took a cable car to the top of Zugspitze (Germany’s highest mountain), rode Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (High Alpine Road) on our way to Italy.  On our way to Switzerland we rode up The Stelvio Pass otherwise known as Passo dello Stelvio or as the Germans call it, Stilfser Joch. Some have named it the world’s greatest roadway as it requires you to navigate 48 challenging switchback turns to reach the mountain peak.

We spent the next day wondering around and visiting the village of Zermatt……now that’s an alpine village if I ever saw one!  I got to meet some of Karl’s old friends and we went to a Pforzheim motorrad club meeting at one of the local watering holes.  Another highlight of this trip was that I actually got to meet Karl Heinrich at his home.  Heinrich is famous for designing and manufacturing the custom large touring tanks for the aircooled BMW’s and other brands. At one time Karl was importing quite a few of these fuel tanks for himself and friends, so he got to know Heinrich pretty well.  

Karl told me when he spotted his first motorbike as a young boy walking the streets of Pforzheim, Germany; he instantly knew that someday he would have to have one of his own. This wish came true at the age of 15 and living in the United States, he purchased a Schwinn Whizzer.  That was just enough to wet his appetite.  The next year he wasted no time and was ready to move right up to a 1000cc Ariel Square Four.  His father didn’t seem to mind as long as Karl kept up on the insurance.  As the years went by, Karl would buy a ’54 BMW R68 from his friend’s father, then a ‘60 BSA Gold Star DBD34, ’51 BMW R51/3, ’62 HD XLCH, ’70 BMW R75/5, ’74 BMW R90S, ’59 HD FL DUO GLIDE and a couple brand X models for parts runners and lady friends.

Every year Karl would go through his calendar and circle the dates of the major cycling events. He was determined not to miss anyone of them, come hell or high water. High on his list were:  Daytona Bike Week, Laconia Bike Week and The Finger Lakes, NY, BMW Rally.  He rarely missed any of those.  Next level of priority were Cass, WV BMW Rally, Dutch Country Rally, BMW MOA and RA Rallies, Mid-Ohio Vintage Days, several BSA/Triumph/Norton meets/shows, Germantown, MD Vintage event and becoming one of our favorites was the Barber Vintage Fest, in Birmingham, AL.

The first event of the year and the biggest for Karl was of course Daytona Bike Week.  In fifty-two years I believe he may have missed this event three times.  Karl did not want to squander five vacation days all at once, so early in the year.  Many times we would ride down to Daytona for the weekend. Now, keep in mind we live in Pennsylvania, Daytona is roughly a thousand miles away and it  takes place during our winter.  

On one trip to Daytona we got pulled over by one of North Carolina’s finest. I downplayed our excessive speeding stating we were just trying to do our best from not getting run over by the big rigs.  He must have heard that one before.  Later, as he is reading our registrations, he shouts out, “B___M___W”, I never knew they made motor scooters.  “Since 1923” I replied.  He gladly took our credit cards, ran them through his card reader and told us to be careful. A week later Karl installed another radar detector in his seat cowl pointing rearward.

I remember one year returning from Daytona, the whole eastern seaboard was under an intense low pressure zone, so we had to ride a thousand miles in a hard downpour.  Not too pleasant at the time, but when you reflect on the really warm sunny day that preceeded, it wasn’t so bad.  We got to enjoy a beautiful summer day in the middle of winter!

Laconia Bike Week is held in the middle of June.  This 10 hour ride was truly a treat and was one of the highlights for the year.  We didn’t come for the racing so much as we did for the riding and tire kicking with friends. New England has such charm and beauty and an architectural style that is very appealing.  On Karl’s “things to do” list was the obligatory ride through Franconia Notch to see “The Old Man in the Mountain”, if you haven’t yet seen this yet, well……………it’s too late.  The Old Man left us.  The Auto Road to the top of Mt. Washington was a must.  This year they celebrate their 150thAnniversary.  You never know what to expect and the weather can be very severe at the top.  I remember leaving the base on a 74 degree sunny day only to find it 28 degrees and snowing at the top.  You want to pack extra warm clothes for this trip. Returning on the Kancamagus Highway was also a popular route for us. As the weekend wound down to one final night, we had to celebrate with a Sunday dinner at Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant in Meredith, NH. This meal alone would make the trip worthwhile.

July brings us the BMW MOA rally and Mid-Ohio Vintage Motorbike Days, Karl and I did our best to attend these events. The Finger Lakes Rally in Watkins Glen, NY is held on Labor Day Weekend.  This is one fine motoring event which often attracts 1000 or more riders.  Karl attended all but two or three of the 35 years that this event was held. This is a great location, with wonderful scenery and something for everyone to enjoy.  Karl was so well known there, that he couldn’t walk five steps without running into an old friend.

Late one year I told Karl that I still had one week of vacation left and I wanted to ride to the Gator Rally in FL, then continue on to visit a friend in San Antonio, TX and then ride on to see other friends in San Luis Obispo, CA before heading back to PA.  Karl didn’t have that much vacation time left, but he said he would ride to the Gator Rally with me. 

We left Philadelphia on Friday morning in October and arrived at the rally in central Florida that evening.  We enjoyed ourselves Saturday at the rally and on Sunday morning we rose early.  I was heading west and Karl was heading north, back home to PA.  While fueling our bikes, I couldn’t help but notice that Karl filled a one gallon jug in addition to his 13 gallon Heinrich tank.  I thought that was strange, when I questioned him, he said he was tired of getting badgered about the need for such an extraordinary large tank.  Many riders would mock him saying, he would have to stop two or three times before running THAT tank dry.   That day he proved them wrong.   Some 600 plus miles later, Karl finally ran the tank and both reserves dry without stopping once.   He said he almost passed out and was blue in the face, but he just had to do it one time.

On another occasion, Karl was leading a group of riders returning from a hill climb event in Freemansburg, PA.  One of the riders was a young muscular fellow who had just purchased his first bike, a new Sportster.   He thought he had riding mastered in only a short couple of weeks. He started to challenge Karl like he was trying to prove something to him.  The fellow was hanging right on his rear tire and kept pressing on.  This was fine until the road started to twist and wind around up and down.  Karl had enough realizing a disaster was in the making, so he quickly accelerated and took off.  Not long afterwards, Karl noticed nobody was anywhere in sight.  He circled back only to find the new Sportster twelve feet in the air, embedded backwards and upside down into the side of a farmer’s barn.   The young rider had a couple of busted bones, but he was alright.  He learned a valuable lesson that day!

By the time Karl passed on Thanksgiving Day 2010, he accumulated nearly 700,000 miles on his wonderful collection of bikes. He gave those bikes a workout, but they always looked showroom fresh. Karl was always ready to lend a hand to a rider in need.  He was the best friend and riding partner I could ever have hoped for.  He taught me much about riding, wrenching and long distance touring, but he also taught me much about life. Nobody will be able to fill his shoes as Karl was a very unique individual.  I miss him dearly and only hope to be reunited someday as we have some unfinished business to take care of. 

You left us far too soon but will never be forgotten.  Rest in peace my good friend.

Todd Trumbore

A Spoke Too Soon

Classic Velocity

A Guest Post by Roy Chaleff

I’ll never forget the expression on the face of the woman in the car in the adjacent lane of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Unlike the admiring looks I usually get when driving in my Austin Healey, this woman’s features broadcast shock and terror.  She tried to shout something to me through her closed window, but, realizing that my lip reading skills would not meet her expectations, frantically gesticulated toward the front left of my car.  Then I felt it.  The nose of the car suddenly dropped and made loud unpleasant noises.  The distinctive smell of burning rubber filled the cockpit.  Surprisingly, the car did not veer out of control, but responded nicely as I guided it over to the shoulder.  Tractor-trailers continued to race by at 75 mph as I squeezed my car and myself as close as possible to the wall bordering the narrow shoulder.  Instructing my daughter to remain in the vehicle, I got out to inspect the damage.  The front left tire was pulverized.  The cause was immediately apparent: a spoke had broken loose and was thrust outward through the rim like a spear, puncturing the tube.  The broken spoke lay a few feet away, its twisted posture seeming to deny that such a small object could wreak such havoc.  We had been on our way to a regional Austin Healey gathering in Valley Forge and were only ten miles away, but it might as well have been a hundred.   I was certain we weren’t going to make it.

As my daughter was with me, my choice of expletives was constrained.  I tried to overcome this limitation by focusing on the fact that fortunately neither our bodies nor that of the car was damaged.  Receiving some solace from that reflection and lacking the imagination to do anything else, I retrieved the jack from the trunk and raised the front end of the car.  The damaged wheel rotated with difficulty and the bearings ground in agony.  Pondering the extent of the damage and what would be involved in the repair, I wondered if it were worth risking my life to the heavy traffic speeding by to mount the spare on a broken axle.Each spoke is a weapon of mass destruction

Two men in an AH Sprite on their way to the car show pulled over and offered to help.  I thanked them, but my face surely expressed the futility of their chivalrous gesture.  They looked at my car, at each other, at the perilously close and high speed truck traffic, and then got in their car and drove off.

Then God arrived.  Not with the unruly white hair and beard, as he is portrayed by Michelangelo, but in the form of a short burly man in a flat bed truck.  He descended from the cab, delivered a brief greeting, and inspected the damage.  I had no choice but to accept his offer to transport my car. “But how will you pull the car onto the truck bed when the front wheel doesn’t turn,” I meekly inquired. “Oh, I’ll get it up all right.”

This assurance failed to have the intended effect.  He attached chains to the front control arms and dragged our injured car without mishap onto the inclined bed.  Inside the cab of his truck, he asked if we were AAA members.  I pulled from my wallet a dog-eared membership card that I was certain had long since expired.  He phoned in the information and then declared,  “Yep, you’re OK.”

This second miracle – performed so effortlessly and in such a brief period of time - dispelled any remaining doubts as to his supernatural identity.  I gave him a generous tip, wondering if US currency is valid in heaven.

It is humiliating to arrive at a car show on the back of a flat bed trailer.  I don’t mean those trailers in which many of the more fanatic devotees tow their pristinely restored vehicles to protect them from the degradation of being driven or otherwise exposed to the environment.  No, I mean a blue flat bed with red and yellow flame decals and Bob’s Sunoco emblazoned on the size in large yellow letters.  The driver was discreet enough to drop off my car in a remote corner of the lot where I could lick my wounds and change my tire unseen.  And as if he had performed one last parting miracle, the noise from the bearings had disappeared and the replacement wheel rotated smoothly.  My daughter’s inquiries about the hotel swimming pool suggested that she was already recovering from the trauma.  What is a calamity at the moment afterward becomes an adventure.

 

Roy Chaleff is a scientist, author, fine craftsman, and British car enthusiast. None of which prevents him from being an all around good guy.

Healing the Healey

Classic Velocity

A Guest Post by Roy Chaleff

The Austin Healey 3000 is not a nimble car. With a big 3 liter straight six cast iron engine, a solid rear axle, rear leaf springs, a large diameter steering wheel close to your chest, and a long throw gearbox, it can feel more like a truck, especially when parallel parking where the heavy engine sitting over the front wheels without power assisted steering provides a strenuous workout.  But get it out on the road and it’s a joy to drive.  The six cylinder engine is smooth, puts out plenty of torque (158 ft lbs), and roars with a deep throaty tone.  The big Healey is a balanced blend of head turning good looks, simplicity, and brute strength.  It’s a poor man’s Jag.

The later model big Healeys (1965-67) boast 150 hp, which propel the car from 0-60 mph in just under 10 seconds; certainly not fast by today’s standards, but quite respectable for their day. These cars also have power assisted brakes (front disc, rear drum) that are very effective. Other refinements of the later years include a wooden dash and increased ground clearance, which although accomplished at some cost to the aerodynamic looks of the earlier models, greatly reduce the rate of loss of exhaust systems.

One of the major drawbacks of the big Healeys was its weak frame. Over bumps or railroad tracks, the car flexes noticeably and, when jacked up at one corner, pinching of the door openings renders the doors inoperable.  Apart from its effects on handling, the weak frame presents structural problems that should be a primary concern in purchasing and restoration.  Frames tended to rust from the top, where water and salt were trapped between the floor panels and frame, but where the damage wasn’t visible.  Sagging, which can be clearly seen as door gaps that are narrower at the top than at the bottom, provides the first warning of frame deterioration.  Flexing of the body panels, which follow the frame to which they are attached, produces ripples and eventually cracks from metal fatigue in the fenders and aluminum shroud.  Restoring the bodywork over a rotten frame is an expensive mistake that is made all too often.  Nor should bodywork be attempted with the engine out of the car, as deflection of the frame under the weight of the engine when it is installed will throw out the alignment of the panels.  Fortunately, stronger or reinforced replacement frames are available.  The ready availability of spare parts and of superior modern competition components (e.g., light alloy flywheels, cylinder heads, and engine mechanicals, more efficient carburetors, electronic ignition, alloy wheels, aluminum body panels, disc brake conversions, drilled rotors, and suspension modifications) makes it easy and affordable not only to maintain your car, but to upgrade it as well.  Thus, the Healey is a vintage car that can be enjoyed not only for its classic lines, but that also can be made into a reliable driver or a competitive rallye car.

I took the car out for a drive on a mid January afternoon. Conditions were favorable, as rain the day before had washed the salt from the roads and the temperature reached well into the 40’s. A task I keep putting off is adjustment of the choke cable.  So I reached beneath the dual carbs and lifted the choke levers manually while my wife (an essential asset for a classic car buff) turned over the engine. The engine started easily enough, but I wore grooves in my fingers holding up the choke levers until the engine was warm enough to run by itself on what little choke adjustment I had in the cable.  At the foot of the driveway, I pressed on the brakes and the car pulled sharply to the left.  The right brake piston was freezing again, a recurrent problem caused by infrequent use (despite changing the brake fluid annually).  I rebuilt the brake calipers a couple of years ago and replaced the standard pistons with ones made of stainless steel, but rust on the inside surface of the caliper bore alone seems sufficient to hang up the piston.  One can’t let these cars sit too long or seals dry out and parts rust due to lack of lubrication.  Hoping that it would free itself with use, I ventured out, accelerating and then stopping sharply to free the pistons.  Lurching along until the car finally stopped true, I wiped the remnants of my partially digested lunch off the windscreen and set off for a short, but enjoyable drive.

Healey engines tend to run hot and, therefore, prefer lower ambient temperatures.  The engine was running well and pulling smoothly, and the oil pressure was holding at about 50 lbs (another benefit of low outside temps).  I kept the top down and enjoyed the crisp afternoon air.  An innovation for which the big Healeys are not given just recognition is the heated front seat.  I use the singular here as I refer only to the driver’s side.  Despite the heat shield and the extra insulation I added during restoration, the routing of the exhaust system directly under the driver’s seat provides a sensation akin to sitting naked on a cooktop.  This source of heat is comforting on a cold day, but can become rather unpleasant in the summer.  But summer seems far away now and there are many cool days of pleasant motoring ahead.

 

Roy Chaleff is a scientist, author, fine craftsman, and British car enthusiast. None of which prevents him from being an all around good guy.