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.

Enjoy the ride…

1929 Brough Superior OHV 680

1929 Brough Superior OHV 680

VIN # H854
The smaller brother to the Brough SS100 the OHV 680 was introduced in 1926 and continued the rakish lines of its sibling. Our bike left the factory on March 5th 1929. An optional Bentley & Draper sprung frame was available and was specified for this bike. The frame was of advanced design and alters the appearance very little due to its triangular rear sub frame with springs under the seat. With the Castle forks that closely follow the Harley-Davidson design of the period an excellent ride is achieved. Engine is well mannered and the bike is easy to ride with its hand operated clutch and 3 speed hand operated gear change Sturmey Archer gearbox.

The original English license plate UL2608 is still affixed despite it spending sometime in Japan and now residing in Australia. A total of 547 OHV 680’s were built from 1926 to 1936.

Enjoy the ride…

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:

Enjoy the ride…

1927 Harley-Davidson FHA “8Valve”

‘The Harley Eight Valve’

Harley-Davidson was considered late comers to the racing scene particularly in the USA. It wasn’t until 1915 that Harley produced a model for racing but in 1916 they certainly made up for that slow start. Racing engineer Bill Ottoway and Bill Harley leaned on aeronautical knowledge to design a hemispherical OHV combustion chamber with 4 valves per cylinder of one piece design to go straight on to their regular type crankcase assembly. Using the normal for the period countershaft drive with no clutch, transmission or brakes the 230 pound racer looked like 100 mph standing still. Success was immediate with Irving Janke winning the prestigious Dodge City 300 mile race at an average speed of just under 80 mph and a time of 3 hours 45 minutes. Durability must have been excellent when one considers the temperature was 110 degrees.

Racing at this time was considered a major ingredient to a manufactures marketing program and Harley was quick to capitalise on this success and put together a team of riders that were to dominate American racing both board and dirt for the next 7 years. Other notable results for the Eight Valve were Otto Walker winning a 25 mile race at Beverley Hills on April 24th 1921 at an average speed of nearly 105 mph. Ralph Hepburn was to win the final Dodge City 300 miler on the 4th of July 1921 at an average speed of 85:69 mph. This result again confirmed the durability of these machines.

In 1922 Harley withdrew its fully sponsored racing team but continued development of racing models for support to individual riders and also to send to its many export markets including Australia England Germany Italy and New Zealand. It would be these countries that would write the next chapter of Harley racing history. The Eight Valve had been updated in 1919 to a second version cylinder featuring refinements on the 1916 version as well as a two cam arrangement in the gear case permitted higher engine revolutions. In 1923 the third version of cylinder with extra-large exhaust ports cast into the still one piece, cylinder construction. These were coupled to a new two cam gear case arrangement that had direct drive to roller tappets that enhanced high speed running even further. These machines to this time had been completed with the short countershaft type racing frame, direct drive and no brakes. They were generally exported in this form also. This configuration was not appropriate in several markets where clutches, transmissions and brake were all components required for various types of road racing in particular.

This situation saw many of the Eight Valves exported removed from these frames and fitted modified Harley road bike frames with the regular 3 speed transmission and clutch. Harley built their last batch of countershaft Eight Valve racers in 1927. By then circuit racing in the USA and been confined to machines of 350cc and hill climbers to 750cc. The Harley racing department was to build machines that would dominate these classes in time to come. The final 1927 Eight Valves were put into storage to be given to favoured overseas dealers in the early 1930’s where positive results were still forth coming.

Where did they go?

The first eight valves Harley produced went to factory team members where they were particularly successfully specially at the Dodge City 300 mile race but also wins were recorded in 1916 at Sheepshead Bay New York, Le Grande Oregon and Detroit Michigan.

As was the pattern in following years all Eight Valves in the USA were raced by factory riders. When they were plain worn out they went to the scrapheap. There are no records or evidence of any US Eight Valves being sold to anyone. Export markets were a different situation. It is documented that Jones brothers in New Zealand received one of early single cam versions. By the early 1920’s Australia, England, Italy, Germany and New Zealand were all to receive the newer two cam variants. Percy Coleman was to win consecutive New Zealand Grass Track championships in 1922, 1923 and 1924. In Australia the engines were popular for sidecar racers.

By later in the twenties with the factory still controlling domestic race bikes the last of the Eight Valve Two Cams went to export markets as late as 1932. Scandinavia was a fertile area for Eight Valves with many victories and speed records.

Where are they now?

Because of the Eight Valves great performance record and purebred appearance they have been sought after by collectors for many decades. This has led to about 20 replicas being built with various degrees of accuracy. Any authentic machines or parts of had to be sourced of course from the various export markets that Harley sent these bikes too. To date no single cam bikes are known to exist but one cylinder was found in New Zealand. An almost complete engine a frame and forks were found in New Zealand and shipped to the USA in the late eighties. In Australia an indirect action two cam version was discovered and restored by Bill McNamara. This bike is now in the USA. Both a Banjo Two Cam and another indirect action reside in Italy. They are in modified road frames with transmissions. Maybe the best known the Banjo version that went to England and was successfully raced by Freddie Dixon. It was immediately fitted into a road frame with transmission. In the early seventies it was purchased by Californian John Cameron who used the bike regularly on club events. It went on to be owned by collector Danial Statnekov who sold it to Harley who have as a feature display in there Milwaukee Museum.

The latest find was our feature bike 27FHA81 which arrived in Melbourne during 1932. After long term custodianship by Bob Bennell (His father Robert raced the bike as late as 1941 at Aspendale where he was placed third) the bike went to auction in 2015. It resides in the Harley City Collection. This bike has its original factory racing components. Engine, short track countershaft frame, forks, large racing tanks and wheels.

Recommissioning 27FHA81

When 27FHA81 came into our possession it had been in storage for some 70 years. The bike had spent most of its racing life on the rough country tracks of Warrigal, Werribee and at Melbourne’s Aspendale Speedway. The Smith Brothers, Rothie and Diggar, as well as their brother in-law Robert Bennell all piloted or ran passenger at the various meetings, maybe the last being at Aspendale in 1941. Robert Bennell kept the bike in storage from that date on passing custodianship on to his son Robert Junior.

This meant that we were recommissioning a machine that had been retired while it had been still running and we wanted to conserve and preserve in running condition without total restoration. Firstly we removed the wheels and used a hacksaw to cut of tyres that were rock hard. With new tyres and tubes fitted inflated to the regulation 50 psi we had a machine that was now easy to move about. We then gave the complete motorcycle inside and out a thorough dunking in Kroil a rust inhibitor and lubricator as well as a general detailer all in one can. The engine appeared to be seized but after much effort we were able to gradually free it and eventually were able to turn it over at a reasonable rate.

The spark had long left our magneto so removal meant the cam cover had to be parted from crankcases it had been joined to for 75 years. Inspection of the gear case showed cams and followers in excellent condition. With magneto rebuilt and the engine reassembled attention was given to the carburettor and control cables. New chains were installed. Carburettor was removed, cleaned; a new float and float needle were fitted. Then it was time to see if we were to receive reward for our labour. Reward we certainly received with a healthy bark from the open exhaust ports as well as 18 inch blue flames putting on a superb light show. Mission accomplished.

Period photos of 27FHA81

Here are some period photos of 27FHA81 that we have discovered

David Reidie

Ben McIntyre (body)
TBA (header)
Period photos unknown

1928 Harley-Davidson SA 350cc “Peashooter”

In 1926 as sales of large capacity motorcycles started to decline Harley-Davidson released a series of side valve and overhead valve 350cc single cylinder machines with an eye to the export market in particular England, Australia and New Zealand.<!–more–> Almost 8000 were produced in this year out of a total Harley production of 22,275. The majority were fairly pedestrian side valves but of interest to this story are the considerably more spritely OHV models. In particular with event of speedway tracks which had started in the Antipodes Harley were to introduce a purpose built racer to be nicknamed the Peashooter due to its somewhat unusual exhaust note. These early versions had a weight of 85kg, 8 to 1 compression ratio a short stubby open exhaust and Bosch Magneto, they produced nearly 30BHP. Some 45 of these machines were built in 1926 with at least 6 coming to Australia.

Oval track racing in Australia was becoming very popular with spectators, with major tracks being Maroubra in Sydney and The Motordrome in Melbourne as well as other suburban tracks throughout the country. The success of speedway was not lost on Harley-Davidson who sent out factory rider Eddie Brinck to do battle for the Milwaukee brand. Eddie was to win the golden helmet at Maroubra Speedway in 1926 on his 350cc Peashooter against many 500cc machines. Crowds of up to 15,000 would watch what were to become household names Frank Arthur, Tommy Benstead, Reg Hay, Vic Huxley and Frank Duckett all score victories on the Peashooter.

During 1927 the cylinder head was changed to a two exhaust port type which had become popular for racing machines during this period. The frame was changed to resemble the road going versions although shorter with a counter shaft rather than the 3 speed transmission used in the road bikes. Schebler AM throttle barrel carburettors were used allowing a fuel of cocktail of 75% wood alcohol and 25% benzol to be used. This not only allowed the compression ratio to be further increased but made the engines run much cooler. Power output was now quoted as 35BHP and before the model was to cease production in the mid-thirties it was to reach 40 BHP. Joe Petrali was responsible for much of the development during the later period.

In 1928 the Peashooters main competition was to come from the English Douglas flat twin. Fay Taylour who was England’s lady dirt track champion was to tour Australia at this time with her Douglas. She was to give Billy Lamont, Paddy Dean and Tommy Benstead the hurry up at the Sydney Showground in front of almost 100,000 fans. Speedway had really arrived. From 1928 Australian stars were to go to England and win both fame and fortune. Frank Arthur in particular was a great exponent of racing the Peashooter in England.

While most catalogue Peashooters were 350cc a special run of 500cc versions were made. Several of these were to come to Australia but were never quite as successful as their smaller siblings.

Our Peashooter shown here is number 28SA509 which decoded translates to a 1928 350cc Alcohol Peashooter with countershaft. The tenth competition bike built in 1928. No longer in its original racing chassis which has been replaced with a road going version of the same year.This frame varies in detail and has a slightly longer wheelbase than the original. The extreme vigour’s of racing saw only small numbers of original frames survive. A clutch has been added to make for ease of riding in confined areas. When the original countershaft was installed bikes were push started would then do a lap of the oval for a rolling start. To add to the riders challenges remember there is no brakes.

Looking at the Peashooter is to look at a rolling sculpture. The Harley Racing Department during this period were the ultimate masters of making a motorcycle look like it was doing 100 mph standing still and when one looks at the prices paid for paintings on a piece of canvas makes these bikes absolute bargains!

This bike was procured by Harley City about a decade ago from Queensland. Three years it went to Peter Leech’s establishment in Tasmania where it was given a cosmetic refurbishment by Peter and graphics master Peter Baker.

1929 Harley-Davidson FDH

1929 Harley-Davidson FDH

This Two Cam Magneto equipped model the all-round sport bike of the Harley range in 1929. (Short of an FHAC from the competition department.) This bike was delivered new in Buenos Aires in Argentina. In 1999 it was shipped to Germany where an attempt was made to restore it. In 2002 it came to Australia to join the Harley City Collection. Restoration was recommenced in collaboration with Peter Leech. At the time of being photographed it is fitted with engine 28JDH4992.