1941 Harley-Davidson WRTT

1941 Harley-Davidson WRTT

In the USA during 1932 Class C racing was established to take the emphasis away from exclusive and expensive factory racers to machines that had to be purchased off the showroom floor in full road trim. This worked well initially with racers buying a Harley RL 750 or an Indian Scout off the dealer floor and modifying to make suitable for either the dirt ovals or TT tracks which were becoming popular at the time. In 1935 Harley decided there was merit in incorporating engine modifications to a standard road model and offering it to dealers that were known to support established racing stars. These bikes left the factory in full road trim. Designated the RLDR, 29 were built in 1935 and 79 in 1936. With the introduction of the W Series in 1937 Harley continued the same formula with the WLDR with engine modifications becoming a bit more aggressive each year. The WLDR’s that won at Daytona Beach in 1938, 1939 and 1940 bore modifications that left them with not too much in common with their showroom siblings.

Although it appears that there had been no relaxation in Class C rules, maybe with the threat of British high performance singles (supplied with full road trim) or that Harley had enough clout to do as it pleased it introduced the purpose built WR and WRTT models for 1941. These were supplied in full race trim and specification included ball bearing camshafts, slipper cam followers, modified valve angles, magneto ignition and racing carburettor. 36 were built with the handful of WRTT’s having brakes (not allowed on dirt ovals) and various other factory options that could include cast aluminium frame mounted oil tanks and up to 5 gallon gas tanks to greatly increase fuel range for races such as the Daytona Beach 200 miler.

The Daytona 200 was the most prestigious race in the US and ironically the WR was destined to never win it. Not to underplay Harleys success in the event in 1941 while Bill Mathews on a Norton won there were no less than 16 Harleys in the top 20 placegetters a testimony to the Milwaukee brands durability in long distance races.

It is believed no more than 10 1941 WR’s exist so to find one and to find one in original condition would indeed be a tall order. Eric Mathieu’s Beauty of Speed website has a very informative register on WLDR and WR models and includes a photo of a blue WRTT named the Beast. Imagine our surprise in 2012 when browsing the dreaded EBay one cool winters evening in Melbourne there it is the ‘Beast” up for auction. The description told of its Daytona race history and how the owner when it’s racing career was over put ‘The Beast” was put into storage until 1975 when a friend of the vendor purchased it and promptly put it into storage for another 25 years? The vendor had purchased it in 2000 and had considered commencing the restoration process but fortunately never got around to it. Yes he left it in storage. We left a bid on it (higher than any sane person would leave we were sure) and went to bed. Turn the computer on next morning to find we have won (ironical that expression) and the bike is available for pick up only south of Los Angeles! Fortunately our good friend Joe Koopersmith was duly despatched from Oregon to go and make the pickup for us. Thanks Joe. 

Eventually “the Beast” arrived in Melbourne. Certainly time had taken its toll on various finishes, tyres were rotted, seat was missing and gas caps had been borrowed many moons ago. What did we do after its arrival? Along with its 3 previous owners put it into storage! Come 2017 we decided it was time for 1941 WRTT 1 of a handful to get some well-deserved attention. The entire bike was given a dunking of Kroil. Those familiar with this wonder liquid are usually entranced by the magical way it gives rusty components a wonderful sheen wiping away what is often years of neglect. New Dunlop K70 tyres our tyre of default for such projects were fitted and the seat was borrowed from our restored WRTT. Its patina matched perfectly. Rear fender was reinstalled and engine was given a rigorous spin over. How does it run? Well that is a story for another day. Stay tuned.

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1928 Harley-Davidson FHAD

1928 Harley-Davidson FHAD

Hillclimbing was a popular sport in the 1920’s and like every other form of competition Harley-Davidson built a machine specifically for it. This 1928 FHAD is a factory built hillclimber based on the 61-in. Two-Cam racing motor, designed to compete with similar motorcycles from Excelsior and Indian. The chained rear tyre is typical for hillclimbers of the era – knobby tyres were still a generation away.

Built on a “Keystone” frame, where the engine is held in by plates for rigidity, the FHAD was a single-purpose machine. Its gas tank held only ¾ gallon, its footboards were sloped forward for frontal weight distribution, its chains and sprockets we quite narrow, its fork was raked for uphill acceleration and only one gear (high), and only one brake (rear) were available.

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1934 Harley-Davidson VLD

1934 Harley-Davidson VLD

This was the first year Harley used the airflow fenders which really pulled the styling into a complete package giving the motorcycle a most handsome stance. The TNT, Y manifold engine was introduced on the 1933 VLD only and for 1934 was introduced across the VL range.

Our bike was purchased in 2006 at Davenport where previously it had been a long term resident in the State of Ohio. It was a well-equipped Special Sport Solo with 100 mph speedo, luggage rack and spark arrestor all useful accessories in the Australian bush. It was finished in a correct colour option of Olive Green and Black. We recommissioned it and used it in the 2007 Great-Race. Then a more ambitious trip was planning to ride across the Western Australian Kimberley. Richard Nicholls of Redgrave Motorcycles was commissioned for an engine overhaul. Richards work on antique Harley engines is legendary.

The 2400km trip was accompanied with Peter Arundel on his 1936 Indian Chief. From Broome to Darwin the journey included the 700km dirt Gibb River Road which includes several river crossings (no bridges) and the 70km dirt road to the infamous Bullo River Station. (That’s a long driveway!) Both bikes completed the ride without fuss.

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1938 Harley-Davidson RH

RH750 Hill Climber Circa 1938

When one goes to document one of the collections racers there are many resources for information available to us. Original documents, factory archives, similar examples in museums and publications featuring articles on the particular model. However on our spaghetti framed side valve 750 ‘RH’, little is available to us.

We know that the model RH exists (we have a crankcase with factory numbers 33RH502. Deciphering Harley numbering systems indicate that number to represent a 750 competition bike from 1933. There are at least a handful of other 750 engine spaghetti framed hill climbers that were known to exist. Documented CAC Speedway racers were using the spaghetti frame type albeit with castings not tube as with our example. Chrome moly tubing and improved welding technology enable this type of construction. Our DAH 33DAH501 has a similar frame of micro diameter tubing. It was built be Harley Dealer in Los Angles Bill Graves.

Albeit our bike be a factory or home-built the component list is certainly an interesting one. Matching belly numbered, unstamped 1936 RL crankcases are mated to a WR styled top end with a forward mounted Splitdorf magneto and Schebler throttle barrel carby. Transmission is a 1936/37 slant top. Front forks the 350 OHV type commonly used by Harley on there later factory hill climbers. Tied together in the afore mentioned spaghetti frame.

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Mt Tarrengower Historic Hill Climb 2017

Mt Tarrengower Historic Hill Climb

A smooth winding ribbon of single lane tarmac stretches from the starting line to the top of Mt Tarrengower. The adrenaline-fueled dash lasts little more, or less, than a minute, taking all the pilot’s effort to muscle their pre-1970’s machine through the course against the clock. Although a well-known event, this was our first outing at the long-standing Mt Tarrengower Historic Hill Climb.

David entered on our 1928 Harley-Davidson JDH “Sam Oppie” cut-down, a particularly special machine, alongside comrade Chris Wells on his bobbed 1947 Harley-Davidson FL. An interesting note here that this is the same motorcycle Chris recently rode over 3000km from Cairns to the top of the Cape York Peninsula.

It was amazing to see such an eclectic mix of cars and motorcycles flying up the hill. So you can get an idea, there were little 360cc Honda N360s, hulking touring cars, two stroke race bikes, an aircraft engined 6.2 litre GN Special, Tritons, open wheeled Formula Vee cars, and very sweet Alpine A110. However, the one that really topped off the field was a purposeful, yet graceful, 1926 Talbot Darracq Grand Prix. I honestly had not expected to see such variety, and pushed so hard. This is what these machines were built for, to be used, and it is encouraging to see people doing it very well.

Please enjoy the photos from the event. They were all shot on 35mm black and white to capture the mood in a little more ‘period correct’ style.

Also, to see the results CLICK HERE

Photo credit:

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1914 Harley-Davidson Model 10F

1914 Harley-Davidson Model 10F (978cc)

The Harley-Davidson V Twin was first introduced to the public for the 1909 model season. A mere 27 were produced before the model was withdrawn from the market place. It was then given a total redesign of the engine and re introduced in 1911. 1912 and 1913 saw more improvements. With the completion of their new factory in 1913 Harley was poised to start manufacturing serious number of their by now quality V Twin.

In 1914 the most popular model was the 10-F which incorporated the recently introduced rear chain drive, Harley had started with belt rear drive. Front forks were an improved version of their springer type. Engine was a 978cc inlet overhead and side exhaust valve air cooled V Twin which was to stay in production with various improvements for the next 15 years. Ignition is by Bosch ZEV magneto. This was the first year Harley was to introduce a transmission. Albeit a rather complex 2 speed affair situated in the rear hub. When one considers that the 1914’s sole brake, clutch and transmission were all situated in the rear hub indicates that it was no mean engineering accomplishment and a very busy area of the motorcycle. Frame was of the loop type by this time fitted with sprung centre post to allow the seat to pivot and enhance rider comfort! Auxiliary electrical lighting was not to come to Harley-Davidsons until the following year but our bike shown here has the optional acetylene gas cylinder and Solar headlamp, a genuine work of art in itself.

By 1914 new Harley-Davidsons were starting to trickle into Australia. Dealerships were appearing in the major centres and agents were available in the vast Australian outback. A handful of 1914 twins maybe still exist in Australia with our bike the only one known to be in regular use. This bike was discovered by the previous owner in a loft in the US State of Montana. In complete condition, it has received a mild restoration to the cosmetics probably in the 1950’s. It was given a thorough recommissioning and everything mechanical was brought to operating condition in 1999. In 2011 it was imported into Australia for the Harley City Collection. Given a complete check over and a few adjustments our, bike was ready for the road.

Riding the 1914 is a new experience. One must first familiarise one’s self with the controls; in particular the step starter first introduced for this year and deleted after 1915. Starting is easiest accomplished with the bike on the centre stand. The step pedals operate on both sides of the bike but do not rotate as in a pushbike or earlier Harleys. Yes push the pedals back and they will operate the rear brake. There is a conventional brake pedal as well. Retarding the timing with the left-hand grip also operates a decompression mechanism making the engine somewhat easier to turn over but requires much juggling to get in the correct position for firing the little beast up. Fuel valves are on top of the gas tank and oil tank is under the seat. Engine is gravity fed for lubrication. Clutch is operated in the conventional (well by early Harley standards anyway) left-hand foot pedal and is also fitted with an auxiliary hand lever. Gears are operated by a tiny bell crank on top of the gas tank. Selecting first on our bike is a bit of a challenge but once one is mobile the bike is light and nimble to ride with power being adequate for riding in metropolitan Melbourne. Handlebars, a curious bend at a first glance are surprisingly comfortable. The machine feels strong and dependable and maybe a Great-Race in the future can be testament to this.

Price in Country of Origin $285
Engine Displacement 60.34 cubic inch (978cc)
Top Speed 65 mph (104kph)
Weight 310 pounds (141 kgs)
Number Produced 7,956

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Byrd McKinney: 1932 Record

Byrd McKinney – October 16th 1932

Byrd McKinney (pictured above) set a new record for the fastest time at Weldon Canyon Hillclimb. He won the event with a time of 7.2 seconds.

Harley-Davidson also carried the third event of the day with Windy Lindstrom and Joe Petrali taking first and second respectively.

Image courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Archives