Friday, October 26, 2012

Bob Oswald - Old time machinist making modern components.

I recently had the opportunity to stop by Bob Oswalds machine shop in Parkesburg Pennsylvania which despite being just a few miles from my house, I've never visited before. Oswald, or Ozzie as he's know by his friends, is a master machinist and owner of Quiet Power Drive - the moniker for his proprietary line of primaries and electric start kits for Triumph, BSA and Norton. Ozzie's been in the game a long time and his reputation for quality is second to none. All his clutch baskets are set up to run a Norton style diaphragm clutch - a huge upgrade from the three spring pressure plate that comes stock. I knew Ozzie made everything in-house, but what I didn't know is that he makes all his parts the old fashioned way - with a lathe and a Bridgeport mill! Old craftsmanship at it's finest.

piles of baskets, centers and pulleys are stacked everywhere in Bobs 2 car garage.
We ended up chatting for 2 hours about his racing days. Turns out Ozzie got his start with motorcycles in the middle of the last century wrenching for his good friend and future AMA Hall of Famer, Ed Fisher and racing quarter mile drags on his own pre unit rigid framed Triumph Trophy. "I used a close ratio gear box and i started out in second gear so i only had to shift once into third.". Just one shift... apparently it worked well, because Ozzie took the East Coast championship in 1958.

Ozzie got into making belt drives in the 70's. So successful were his systems, that Triumph Motorcycles invited him to Meriden England to show the top brass the primary side electric starter as a possibility for factory production. Unfortunately, the weaker timing-side starters were already in place, and Triumph went under before they could upgrade. Far superior to the stock electric starter systems, which are prone to stripping gears, Bob continued to manufacture his own system for those who wanted improved reliability for their old Brit iron.

The Mill where Bob Oswald spends most of his day
Most days, Bob Oswald is out in his shop, cranking out belt drive sprockets for customers all over the world. It takes him about 3 hours to do all the cuts and every one of his systems is tested out on one of his bikes before it ships. Ozzie is a stickler for quality. If he puts his name on something, he wants to make sure it's solid.

Bob shows me the electric start on this 1973 Commando

Assorted collets.

In his 80's, Bob shows no sign of slowing down!
You just don't find that many skilled people like this anymore. Someone who see's a way to improve something, follows through with their vision and stands behind the product for nearly 4 decades. We salute you Mr Oswald!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dave Kings Jawa Manx-replica.

The best thing about Barber Vintage Festival is not found in the swap meet, the auction house or the concours - it's the eclectic eccentric and passionate people that come out of the woodwork and the stories they share.

Dave King, the man pitted right next to us, turned out to be one hell of an interesting guy. Born and raised in South East London, Dave got into motorcycle racing in the 50's during the height of the post war British singles. He started out on a Velocette 250 before graduating to a Norton Manx. His knowledge for these bikes runs deep as exhibited when he helped us pull a Magneto on the Manx belonging to John Lawless in our pit-area.

After lending a hand to help our mag issue (helping a fellow racer in need is one of the greatest things in vintage motorcycle racing) we got to chatting about his days racing in England. Dave pulled out a folder he keeps in his camper. In it was an old photo of him racing as well as a program from Brands Hatch showing the starting grid with Dave right there in the line up with Mike Hailwood and Derek Minter!

Daves job as a machinist brought him to Canada in 1969 where he continued his love of two wheeled competition in the Enduro world. In 2000 he decided he wanted to try vintage racing and set out looking for a Manx like the one he used to race all the way up until 1967. The prices of this highly collectable bike floored him. "you couldn't give those bikes away in the later part of the 60's" he recalled "The Japanese multi cylinders were beginning to make everything else completely irrelevant. I sold mine when it still had a little bit of value, I saw the writing on the wall". Still his desire to be on a big single persisted and he decided to build his own. He collected a bunch of parts from various friends. A 1960 Jawa type 890 speedway motor for power. A 1960 Norton Atlas chassis and transmission. Triumph conical hubs and forks. The gas is pulled through a massive Amal GP carburetor. Standard issue Manx Gas and oil tank completed the look. The big 500cc engine was designed to run on alcohol (14:1 compression!) so to compensate Dave added another spark plug on the other side of the head to improve combustion. An external oil pump from an Atlas improved the flow from the sump and a boyer electronic ignition with total loss battery replaced the magneto.

The bike is ever changing. Scars from old welds show previous trial-and-error-engineering. Its not a show bike, it's a workhorse built in the same scrappy manner that Burt Munroe built his Indian and Velocette - with whatever was available to make it work better. You can tell it's hand made, but you can also tell it's well thought out with one goal in mind: Speed! Dave is a true racer, engineer and above all, a sportsman. These are the things that keep me coming back for more.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Royal Enfield that could.

The trailer for "The Badger: Made in Trenton" featuring Leon Stanley and his relentless Royal Enfield.

Monday, October 1, 2012

ECTA Land Speed Racing at the Ohio Mile

Mmmm, the smell of high octane racing fuel and nitrous - the sound of straight pipes and spinning tires - the sight of 175 vehicles line up to do one thing: go as fast as as possible without blowing up. Land Speed Racing brings out all the gear heads who want to see exactly what the limitations of their motors are. Sometimes records are set while other times motors give up the ghost.  Either way, the determination to get just little more horse power only builds.

I was presented with an incredible opportunity this fall. Leon Stanley from Badger Corse invited yours truly to pilot his Royal Enfield down the runway at the East Coast Timing Association event in Wilmington Ohio. LSR is something I've dreamed of doing ever since I was a kid and saw that picture of Rollie Free riding his Vincent at Bonneville. Leons Enfield is a heavily worked 500cc single that has  campaigned in road racing, flat tracking and most recently, speed trials. Best of all, when it's not in one of it's various race forms, the "badger" as leon calls his bike, serves as a daily rider. I am thrilled to be apart of this project - but I can't give too much away as there will be a video online soon, documenting the bikes journey. In the mean time, here are some visuals from the race.

Altered and partially stream lined.

The "Badger"

one mile to get to the speed trap.

Harley side valve. Look closely...

Formula 1

Hot Rod that once competed at La Carrera 

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Matt from Big Sids working on his Rapide
It's easy to see how this hobby can become an obsession. Every record is there for the taking - if you can figure out a way to get just a few more RPM's...That is until someone else gets a few more on you. Then it starts all over again. Vicious cycle, see?