1949 Harley-Davidson EL Hydra Glide
• 13678 original miles
• Metalic Congo Green original paint
• First year Hydra Glide
Our 1938 Crocker has been undergoing a little freshen up in Christchurch over the last few months and now it’s running sweet as ever. Back on the road, we’ve given it a few blasts around the block and thought we’d give the guys at Smash Palace a thrill at their Thursday Bike Night last night. For those of you unfamiliar with Smash Palace it’s an eclectic open air bar and burger joint that spawned from the 2011 earthquake in downtown Christchurch, New Zealand. They run a regular Thursday Bike Night, which has become somewhat of an institution and draws all sorts of bikes from every era. Here’s some pics from last night
It is 6.00am on a late summer morning in Jindabyne. Temperature is ten degrees still dark with mist off the lake casting its shadow around the lamp posts at The Station Resort, starting point for the 2012 Great Race. Because of my low race number I have an early start 7.30am. It takes a full 80 minutes for the field to get away at two bikes per minute. Time to get a good breakfast washed down with plenty of black coffee. I am riding a 1928 Harley Two Cam. Note the wording Two Cam and not Twin Cam that refers to Harley’s current offering of that engine architecture. My bike was purchased new by Sam Oppie a member of the famed Seattle Cossacks a stunt and drill riding team. Sam was known for modifying Two Cams cutting down the frame to give a lower seat height and shortening the gas tanks to suit. In all there was about a dozen Oppie cutdowns 3 of which are still known to exist. My bike has been maintained but still is essentially as Sam would have rode it 1931. I don’t believe anyone has done a better job of setting up a Harley Two Cam.
As the clock counts down we start to ready ourselves for the adventure ahead. Dawn is making an appearance as I give the bike 3 hearty primer kicks after which it usually starts first kick but of course this morning it wants to play hard ball but after 20 lunges on the kick pedal it burst into life. Now I can put my knee socket back together. Sam’s camshafts make anything under 2000rpm wishful thinking so the warm up provides a static blast from the open pipe into the surrounding valley. 7.30 has arrived and we have 1 minute to be on our way. Thoughts race through ones head mixed with that wonder fuel adrenalin. Will I make the first fuel stop? Will my 84 year old engine fly apart at any given moment? Will the charging system keep working? Ripping around the Lake Jindabyne a lone photographer plies his trade shoots snaps of us as we burst out of the mist. The fog is keeping the visibility to 200 metres watch out for those kangaroos. There is the signpost to Adaminaby so far so good. The sun is making a welcome appearance. Its only 9.00am and we are fuelling up at Adaminaby. No checkpoint so we press on. 20 kilometres later sweeping around a left hander and there is our checkpoint the first of the day. They check that our horns are working and down the Snowy Mountain Highway it is then left towards our lunch stop of Tooma. To get there we have a steep descent which tests the 1928 braking system to the max, so much so that smoke is bellowing from my rear brake close to bursting into flames. Now we are climbing again and brakes cool down as quickly as they heated up. We hear later that down the same hill riding a 1916 Indian Power Plus John Straw wore the soles of his boots out! No it wasn’t from stomping on the brake pedal!
We make Tooma with plenty of time to spare. We must checkout 6.00 hours after our departure time at Jindabyne so we have time to clean the bikes replenish the oil tank (we have a total loss oiling system) and top up with fuel. The Tooma Hotels kitchen does an excellent job of catering for 210 people when it would normally serving a dozen locals.
For our afternoon stint the bike starts according to the prescription and we are off on a timed leg where we must average 52 kph to an undefined checkpoint. Stop for fuel at Khancoban and then it’s up the mountain towards Thredbo. The Two Cam is in its element on the tight twisting climb with its light weight of 155 kgs good ground clearance and a beefy 1200cc V Twin engine so we make great progress. Of some concern is a competing Harley coming towards us obviously going in the wrong direction! Suddenly we are at Thredbo and yes there is a checkpoint sign one many are to miss. Our average speed should be pretty close. We don’t have the luxury of a speedo which was an option in 1928.
Now it is a 25 mile ride back to Jindabyne which we make without incident and then the bikes get prepped ready for the following morning. We have covered 354 kms for the first day and my bike has performed faultlessly! At the evenings dinner the rumor circulates that Harley is narrowly ahead. Now for sweet dreams indeed.
The following morning has gentler start time of 9.00am Weather promises to be kind as we head into a region that only last week was threatened by devastating floods. My Two Cammer starts on cue today and we head through Jindabyne and out towards the Eucumbene Dam. Todays’ navigating is more complex as we negotiate a series of back roads. Finally a checkpoint appears and it is another tick in the box. Road damage from the recent rains is apparent as I continue to navigate my 84 year old steed across the Cooma Plains. Next there is a stutter and silence as I run out of fuel. A speedy top up from a jerry can, another checkpoint, another tick and finally after 130 kilometres a fuel station. After filling to our 2 gallon tanks brim it is a straight run to Dalgety for lunch. (apart from being catapulted airbourne by a bridge onramp that was 12 inches lower that it should be)
Another sumptuous lunch of local produce fuels us for the last section of the event. Reports drift in of several terminal break downs in the course of this morning’s run. A terminal breakdown heavily impacts on a team’s score. We checkout from the Dalgety Hotel and not far down the road, at the top of a hill another checkpoint. This is to be the start of the rolling race where you turn your engine off and roll down the hill as far as you can. It is an exhilarating feeling coasting at speeds up to 100 kph. It is said that the heavier your bike and the higher your tyre pressure the further you will travel. Counts us out. Dugal James and John Straw on their later model Indian Chiefs have proven to be the past masters of this section of the event. This year line line honours go to Straw. Back to the task at hand which is to complete the 2012 Great Race. The Two Cam engine continues to run strong. After a loop through Cooma it is back to Dalgety a checkpoint and then a big climb back to The Station Resort.
The mission is completed. One exhaust nut to tighten and the Oppie Special can go back in the trailer for a well earned rest ready to fight another day. 654 Kilometres have been travelled over Australia’s best mountain roads in two days. And which team won? By the narrowest of margins the honours went to Indian Team. I suppose there is always next year. To the Sam Oppie Special I have nothing but the greatest of respect.
Epilogue. This was about as much fun as there gets!
April the 1st turned out to be a very memorable day for any motorcycle enthusiast who happened to be in Braidwood NSW. The inaugural Machine Show, an event for motorcycles at least 30 years old, was being held in the quaint NSW town some 90 kilometres southeast of Canberra. Weather was what one always hopes for in early autumn, cool evenings with clear blue skies and plenty of 24 degree sunshine. The local showground was the fitting backdrop for an eclectic collection of some 350 motorcycles.
Organiser Matt Machine from The Machine Files had certainly put much effort to having the show well organised with security, a well-stocked bar and various food outlets with excellent local produce infused food. Judges had their work cut out choosing the various class winners.
British, Italian, German, American and Russian machines were on display. Standouts were a couple of round case GT Ducati’s, a Black Shadow Vincent, many very tastefully bobbed and chopped Triumphs (brings back memories), Peter Arundel’s 1916 8 valve Indian, a very original Honda CB450 K3 and some seriously chopped Harleys that were ridden to the event.
From The Harley City Collection we took our 1929 FDH, the 1929 Two Cam Tidwell Bobber and our bobbed 1939 Knucklehead. All in a very enjoyable weekend and can’t wait for next
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.
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.
Little was known of the DAR until accumulative research from enthusiasts in the USA, Germany and Australia was amalgamated about 15 years making a reconstruction of such a machine possible. At least four DAR’s were built in mid-1929 based on Harley’s alcohol burning 750cc OHV DAH Hill climber. A return oil system was added to make the bikes more suitable for the City to City races popular in Europe at the time. None of the originals are known to exist.
German Harley dealer and well respected racer Paul Weyres (right) is documented and photographed picking up his DAR in Milwaukee in late 1929. On this machine Weyres was to run second in the International Klausen Pass Race in Switzerland on 10th August 1930.
Riding our DAR is a blast. With the engine still tight from its superb Michael Lange rebuild we open the throttle barrel Schebler carby give it a squirt of ether then pull back on compression, a push (downhill helps) release the clutch and on first revolution the blat blat rasping exhaust note through the 4 exhaust pipes is instantaneous.
Unique clutch pedal is a delight to use and typical Harley 3 speeder changes like a knife through butter. Light weight makes handling responsive to any inputs. Gearing is tall with large diameter wheels and 40 tooth rear sprocket. Throttle response is excellent and brakes will only improve. One can only attempt to imagine what it would be like to take delivery of a machine of this pace and grace 87 years ago!
Words: David Reidie
Photos: Ben McIntyre
Enjoy the ride…