Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Last night Lucky Brand Jeans hosted a press reception for the upcoming Legends of the Motorcycle Concours (May 5th), and a few of us rode our bikes to display out front for the evening. These are two of Dave's pix (I forgot my camera!); the lower photo shows a '27 Excelsior which will be up for auction at the event. Bonham's will have an auction on the show grounds in the evening, with quite a few interesting bikes up for sale. The catalog should come out this week with a full description.

Lucky has licensed the entire Johnson's Motors image file and is making some nice retro shirts and jackets with their old logos (Johnson's imported Triumphs, BSA's, etc, in the 40's-70's). They have also licensed the Steve McQueen image file, and had some great blowups of him riding a dirt bike and posing with a helmet.

Present in the top pic are Paul Zell's mkVIII Velo KTT, Red Fred's immaculate blue Indian Cheif, Don Danmeier's beautiful Royal Enfield twin, and John Goldman's little Ducati 175 Sport. My Sunbeam is way in the back. About twenty motorcyclists were present to mix with the journalists, paparazzi, and young hotties (who were likely connected to Lucky). Ed Gilberson (Pebble Beach Concours cheif judge) and Mert Lawill (AMA #1 from the 70's) were also present to add gravity to the event, otherwise the margaritas would have sent us all floating away happily.

The most interesting bike in Lucky was an 1898 Werner-MMC, reputed to be the oldest English motorcycle in the world. I'll scare up a pic - someone was taking photos! It was fascinating in its simplicity, and took me a while to sort out what was ignition, what was carburation, as they were all tubes with taps! The front 'fender' was actually an acetylene gas tank, which had a rubber hose to a brass box on the side of the engine (which sat over the front wheel, btw, and drove the front wheel via a long rubber o-ring). On opening the brass box cover, all was revealed; the rubber hose led to a burner nozzle much like a propane torch, which pointed at a brass rod which presumably went straight into the combustion chamber. Hot tube ignition - first time I had seen one up close. There is no ignition timing per se, but when the fuel/air mixture is compressed enough by the rising piston, the hot tube will explode the mix.

The carburator sat in a cylinder on the front of the gas tank, which must have held a felt wick or fine wire mesh, which, when soaked in gasoline, would have wafted fuel vapor to the engine. The rubber tube from the carb travelled a foot to the top of the handlebars, where it met a 'T' junction in nickel plated brass. The far side of the T held a long lever and butterfly valve on the open end, about 5/8" in diameter, which made for a crude throttle. The center line of the T travelled another 6 inches to the engine, where crankcase depression/vacuum when the piston fell, sucks the mixture through all that convoluted tubing, and passed by an automatic inlet valve (no positive control, just a weak spring holding the valve closed; crankase suction opens the valve to let the fuel mixture into the engine). The exhaust valve was positively moved by an eccentric cam outside the crankcase, connected to the valve by a heavy nickel arm.

I would imagine that this machine would as likely catch fire as actually start, and would be just a devil to get running at all. Still, exciting stuff for 1896.