Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Vintage Engine Pornography

So here I am minding my own business and from the same seller pops up another vintage engine that is so lovely I just want to bang my head on the wall.  Yes I know that is over the edge and deep into pathetic.

I don’t know what it is but there is something unique, basic, primal and beautiful about the early single cylinder racing engines.  They are perfect expressions of form follows function.  They were built by men and not designed by computer or committee.  Yes I know I’m writing all this on a computer.

So this is the latest offering.  See it here if you dare.  Buy it now is $175,000.00.

This is what he has to say about the engine.

Offered for sale is a very rare and unique piece of history.  This Excelsior engine,  built by the famous Joe Petrali and Gene Rhyne,  long time friends and motorcycle racers,  is a one off circa 1931 Excelsior Over Head Valve racing  21.35 cubic inch single.  It features a Schebler barrel valve racing carburetor and a German Bosch magneto ignition.  It won the 1931 one mile dirt track class National Championship at El Centro, California.  That was its first and only race.  The rider was Joe Petrali.

Joe Petrali worked at Excelsior from 1926 to 1931 when the company closed because of the Great Depression.  According to his Excelsior contract, Joe rode a 45" Twin Super X in hill climbs and board track races.  Petrali had been racing and winning on Excelsior's factory race team since 1925.  Excelsior did not make a racing machine for dirt track racing where engines were restricted to 21.35" or 350cc.  At the direction of Ignatz Schwinn, the owner of Excelsior, Joe began developing a 21.35 " OHV racing single of his own design  to qualify for the dirt track class.  His life long friend and fellow racer, Gene Rhyne, former racing department engineer for indian, teamed up with Joe at Excelsior to build the 21.35" dirt track racer.  The first and only 21" racing machine was assembled with this 21.35" OHV dual port single racing engine by Joe and Gene at the Excelsior plant in Chicago.

When finished, the machine was prepped by Joe and Gene and taken by them to El Centro, CA. for race testing in April, 1931.  On the way they received a telegram from Mr. Schwinn informing them their services were no longer needed as Schwinn was out of the motorcycle business.  They were NOT to race the machine but to immediately demolish it.  Joe and Gene had come a long way from designing  and scratch building the racer only to have their hopes dashed of proving it on the race track.  They ignored the telegram and went on to race successfully at El Centro.  Joe not only won the race, but set a new speed record for the 21.35" motor class for one mile dirt track solo for the 1931 National Championship.  Documented published proof of the engine's existence and race history can be found in "American Racer, 1900-1940" by Stephen Wright on page 195 which shows the winners of the National Championships for 1931.  The one mile dirt track solo for 21:35 cu. in. motors was won by Joe Petrali with this Excelsior engine on April 5, 1931.

Gene Rhyne went to work for Al Crocker in Los Angeles building all the Crocker motorcycle engines; singles and twins.  Joe Petrali was hired back at Harley Davidson and went on to build more racers and set more records.  In 1938 Joe retired from racing and returned to Los Angeles where he landed a job at Hughes Aircraft.  His engineering experience was rewarded with the flight engineer's chair beside Howard Hughes at the controls of the "Spruce Goose" when it lifted off for its maiden flight in 1947 at Long Beach Harbor, CA.

Gene Rhyne and Pete Smiley, a noted racing personality,  rebuilt this Excelsior engine in the late 1970's.  The engine has not run since the rebuild.  Engine turns over and has good compression.  This one off engine could be used for display or be rebuilt into a dirt track racing machine.  It may require some cosmetics, inspection, and tuning.

Well I just figured out what the value of one of my kidneys is! 

But if I push back the lust and focus my attention by quieting the internal dialog I remember that I have this in the Kiotee Garage.  Well actually I have two like this.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


It's no secret I’m a JAP engine addict.  In fact I belong to a Facebook group which is dedicated to the JAP engine.  And as such members will post photos and info and just general goings on regarding JAP.  And of course notes regarding JAP engines that pop up from time to time being for sale.  Well I saw this 1936 JAP engine for auction and was a bit stunned to see a buy it now price of $17,900.00.  That price makes my race engine seem cheap in comparison.  But as of now there had been no sale.  We shall see what happens.  It is a fine engine which is supposed to be complete and rebuilt 30 years ago.

This is the history part.  The same guy that is selling the JAP also is selling a Harley Davidson 500 cc single race engine which is one of the prototype engine built to run against the JAP.  The buy it now price is $199,000.00.  Yes I read and typed that correctly.  This is what the seller says about the engine.
Circa 1933 one-off Harley Davidson Over Head Valve 500cc, 30.50 cubic inch single cylinder racing engine.  This experimental engine is the predecessor of the Harley Davidson CAC 500cc Speedway single racers.  This engine is a virtual copy of the J.A. Prestwich, also known as J.A.P. Speedway 500cc, 4 stud racing engine manufactured in Tottenham, England from the teens to the 1960's.  The J.A.P. Speedway machines were beating all comers including Harley Speedway racers.  The Harley racing department decided it was time to even the score.  A brand new J.A.P. 4 stud Speedway machine was purchased by the Harley race department.  Their express purpose was to dismantle and reverse engineer the OHV J.A.P. engine to improve Harley's raing performance by incorporating some of the J.A.P. designs.
William Harley and Joe Petrali, scratch built this one-off Harley Speedway engine copying a J.A.P. single in the Harley race department.  William Harley told Petrali to discard the J.A.P. parts. but soon realized they could reuse the carburetor and magneto off the J.A.P. engine.  He asked Joe what became of the carb and mag?  Joe replied he threw them in the trash as instructed.  Harley told him to go retrieve them, which he did.  The original Amal racing carburetor and the Lucas racing magneto were found and installed on this Harley one-off racing engine.  They remain in use on it today.
The Harley Davidson engine turns over and has  good compression.  This is the original untouched engine as given to Joe Petrali by William Harley at the end of their project.  At the base of the cylinder, "EX 1320" is cast indicating it is an experimental item.  The brand name, "Harley Davidson"  is in bas relief on the rocker box cover similar to where the J.A.P. engine has J.A.P. in bas relief.  Other than "EX 1320" cast on the cylinder and "Harley Davidson" in bas relief on the cover, there are no VIN , line bore, or date code numbers.  The engine case castings are rough and crude where reinforced around the crankpin.  The compensating sprocket is on the sprocket shaft.  Use as a show engine or build a truly one of a kind Speedway racing machine.

I have always read bits and pieces which suggested that Crocker, Indian and Harley copied the JAP with apparently no shame at all from the looks of it.  But what I don’t understand is for how simple the JAP really is and if Crocker, Indian and Harley used in hand examples of the JAP to copy why couldn’t they beat the JAP engines?  Or at least build an engine as good as the JAP?  That may be a mystery of the universe questions I’m thinking.
Be that as it may, if I had some big lotto winnings in my pocket I would have the Harley engine winging it’s way to the Kiotee Garage along with a Crocker single and an Indian if I could prey one out of somebody’s fingers.

Memory refresher for all and a bit of engine porn tossed in for good measure.
                                                    1928 Indian

                                          500 OHV Crocker

So I guess nothing left to do but go out to the Kiotee Garage and fondle my superior JAP race engines.

Trying to Get Back Up to Speed

This close to the equinox and Montana is having probably a false spring.  Moderate temperatures and no snow on the ground but still we have high winds at times.  The wind is only noteworthy because I have started riding the Proteus to work again.  And it seems that my old 1/3 HP engine gets very tired pedaling against the wind, both ways.  Some progress has been made with welding and getting close to being ready to lace up the front hub to the rim.  I hope soonm to have a photo of the bike trailer project.