Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Private Owner Downunder - Part 1

Since 2002 I have published regular stories in the VOCA magazine, Fishtail Downunder. These columns, titled "A Red in the Shed", described the progress with building and then racing a 1939 MAC Velocette in Historic Road Racing Events here in Western Australia and at Winton Victoria (2004 National Titles).

The following is the first of a series of articles about "Li'l Speedy".


First a Little History

Project MAC racer: - After several prompts from past editor Warwick Nicholson, I have decided to provide some details of project MAC racer. It’s quite a long story as it’s been quite a long project.

Slow but steady – that’s the status report after 20 years of inactivity and only 4 months of earnest progress towards a goal – HCMC Tuning Day, Wanneroo Raceway, September 9 2001. That is also my birthday, so it will be a double celebration.

First a little history. MAC 5426 started life in 1939. We (Dad and I) found it as a collection of parts in a farm paddock in Kangaroo Valley, NSW in 1978. The engine and gearbox had been removed and tuned for use in a midget speedway car. The gearbox had suffered terminal failure. The cycle parts were cast aside, but a surprisingly high proportion of parts from the original machine were gathered up when the deal was done.

Allparts in Sydney proved a fruitful source for some of the missing / replacement for broken bits in exchange for a 1935 MSS frame and gearbox. Joe even loaned me a parts book to copy so at last I could quantify what was missing. During 1979/80 the bigend was renewed, the barrel sleeved and a new high comp piston was acquired. Many gearbox parts were gathered but a frustrating number of small parts were still missing.

During 1980 my father passed away. The early part of that year produced many happy-sad times, as it was also the time of my graduation and my marriage to Diana. He clung doggedly to life long enough to enjoy both of those events and a silver wedding anniversary of his own. But after his death project MAC was put aside for a few years, during which time project VMT457 mechanical rebuild was completed and the first Good Companions Rally at Bundanoon was organised and run. At about this time, in preparation for the MAC’s eventual debut on the racetrack, I commissioned Harold Johnson, of Johno’s Leathers, to produce a set of two piece race leathers. He did a great job and after 19 years of use, only on the road, they are nicely worn in – fortunately my weight has been stable over a long period! Unfortunately Harold has long since passed on but his legacy in leather lives on.

Just when it looked as though project MAC could be placed firmly on the front burner again, our life took on a nomadic flavour, which lasted from 1985 to 1991. When number two child Susannah was five years old, we realised she was about to live in her sixth house! It’s not surprising that MAC stayed in tea chests through these years, as most of our time was spent churning out interminable address change notifications and organising removalists.

During 1992 and 1993, when we thought we’d settled in central Victoria, project MAC came out of the tea chests and some progress was made. Wheels were dismantled and new rims were purchased. Hubs were powder coated. Many of the necessary parts were picked up over the course of a couple of Bendigo Swap Meets. But progress was hardly spectacular. There was no clear goal, just an occasional step forward as time allowed. Then in 1994 we moved to Perth – so much for settling in Central Victoria. So it was back into the tea chests for MAC 5426.

My shed in Bendigo measured 30 ft x 20 ft. My new shed in Perth measured 15 ft x 10 ft, (ie one quarter the area) was unlit and unpowered. Definitely not conducive to re-starting a re-build, so project MAC stayed in tea chests for several more years. Then shed Mk II arrived, along with some second story additions to the home. Once the dust had settled, thoughts turned once again to project MAC. But it wasn’t until local Velofellows Paul Barfoot and Mick Tesser purchased a pair of rigid Velo racers (Paul’s MOV a 70% complete project, and Mick’s MAC a 95% complete machine) that my MAC project gained impetus. Paul already had an alloy engined rigid MAC racer which had often provided entertaining race long duels with Ken Vincent’s near standard MAC racer. The prospect of turning that into a five way battle during 2001, with the possible emergence of MAC 5426 and a younger rider aboard one of the Barfoot machines led to the New Years resolution to extract the digit and set a firm goal for completion. Bendigo Velofellow Allan Strahan (who has also been seen punting a rigid MAC around Winton Raceway) told me that he once restored a basket case Velo in only 6 months. According to Allan, the secret was to ensure that you did something to progress the project EVERY DAY.

So with these words of advice firmly in mind, project MAC racer was resurrected in late January 2001. After arranging the vast collection of parts and sub assemblies in shelving, rather than in tea chests, the motorcycle work stand was placed in the middle of the shed (sorry – that should read workshop, so I’ve been told. My mate Al reckons if you call it a shed, wives are inclined to take liberties with the available storage space. Calling it a workshop helps to keep household junk out. That’s the theory, anyway.) The frame was placed on the work stand and various big bits like forks, engine plates, fuel tank, oil tank, the partly assembled gearbox and the rear guard were roughly fitted in place. I find that it helps to get a clear ‘before’ picture in your mind, because the final goal is to see the ‘after’ picture in the flesh, not just in your imagination. Starting point and end point juxtaposed.

MAC racer’s track debut

Sunday 13 March 2002 - nearly 23 years since the bones of MAC5426 were dragged from a paddock in Kangaroo Valley, NSW. And it was a perfect autumn day in Perth for the HCMC season opener, a Tuning Day at Wanneroo.

Unloading at the pits was uneventful, followed by a quick inspection and transfer of methanol from a 20 litre drum to the fuel tank – half a tank should do. Plug out and push around in second gear to distribute some oil to the vital areas. Then plug in and the first unsuccessful attempts at a bump start. There was life, but on the wrong stroke (not my doing, but I should have checked). Half an hour later with plenty of eager and experienced Velo hands to help, we check the new setting and confirm 39o BTDC on the compression stroke. Near enough – we were aiming for 38.

This time the engine fired up immediately and ran sweetly at a fast idle. I found neutral, stopped astride and watched the clear insert in the rocker oil feed for signs of circulation and removed the oil tank cap for signs of oil return. Difficult to tell but it seemed to be pumping to the valve gear, but where is that return feed to the tank? Just as I became concerned enough to consider shutting down for a re-prime and try again, a fountain of golden brown appeared, confirming that the pump was indeed sucking oil and not air.

I rolled forward, engaged first (slight clutch drag) and moved off down behind the pits to get the feel of the little beast on the move. The lightweight Webbs moved freely and the engine was smooth. It felt good, but the idle speed was too high and no amount of backing off the carb mounted stop would help and the in-line adjuster of the throttle cable was already at minimum length. So it was decided to make suitable adjustments to the setup until we were happy the throttle slide could snap shut as it should. When blipping the throttle we also discovered a leak at the head joint so the head was retensioned. This completed, another short test ride with the first change into second gear proved successful with both of the minor problems cured. So it was off to scrutineering and ready for the first Historics practice session. Fortunately the scrutineer didn’t score the paint job as this was something deliberately left unfinished until I was 100% happy with the mechanicals and the ergonomics. There’s a 6 week break between the first and second rounds of the State Championships so the plan was to use as is for the first round, then dismantle, complete the cosmetics to a respectable standard and then be back, proven and pretty for the second round.

The first lap was completed and the only problem was that it slipped out of top gear once. I let it run free and easy without labouring the willing engine, spending most of the lap in 3rd gear. Five more laps were completed before the flag came out signalling the end of the session. Into the pits and a check over revealed only a slight oil leak from the primary chaincase to gearbox joint. I had put 70 mls of oil in the primary (an early screw up style case) in preference to a spray lube, as I didn’t expect any major problem keeping the oil in.

The family arrived with luncheon provisions just before the second session began. I was pleased that Li’l Speedy (as the kids had christened it) bump started readily without external assistance, so it was out onto the track again for more careful breaking in. On the second lap I began to relax and enjoy the ride without too much concern for the bike. Then I felt a miss and an unwillingness to rev out as we pulled up the hill out of the basin. I looked down and my right boot was covered in oil and the header pipe was smoking. So it was into the pits next time around, where it stalled on the entry leaving me with a long roll down to the Velofellows’ garage. I wiped the timing case down and discovered that the bung in the hole where the valve lifter used to live had blown out – why didn’t I put a grubscrew in it? Oil had blown back all over the engine and oil tank and a good deal had been sucked into the carb, judging by the well lubricated slide. We made a secure expansion plug out of a short piece of neat fitting rubber hose and a short ¼” bolt. A 2BA screw borrowed from the top of the primary chaincase was used as a grub screw to ensure the temporary expansion plug would stay put.

This time it fired up but wouldn’t run cleanly, so off with the float bowl cover and main jet holder. We drained, flushed and wiped out as much of the oil residue as possible and fired up yet again. It felt good enough to get out in the next session, but this only lasted one lap as there was erratic running and an unwillingness to rev out. As the sessions nearing the end I decided to pack up for the day and return after further work.

After the initial outing, engine builder Don Chesson offered to check things over to be certain that an oil ring hadn’t cracked, as there was some concern as to why the crankcase pressure was so high that a tight fitting bung would blow out. The exhaust remained smoky each time it was run so this fuelled suspicions.

Before taking the bike to Don’s I had already fitted a breather to the front of the crankcase and stripped and cleaned the carburettor. After this it fired up and ran crisply so I was optimistic that there wasn’t too much amiss. The engine was stripped down and all was found to be in order, except that the top of the barrel spigot had an area of corrosion that needed machining to ensure no leakage at the head joint. Then a copper gasket had to be fitted to avoid the c.r. going sky high. The piston was modified below the oil ring to improve removal of excess oil from the barrel. Timing was reset to 37o and on the afternoon that I picked it up a short test ride revealed no sign of the earlier smokiness and a crisp throttle response.

With the first race meeting due in 2 weeks time a chance phone call from VOC racer Derek Wooding gave the opportunity to get an hour’s private track practice with Derek on his ’56 Viper racer. Derek had made some gearbox mods to eliminate a gear engagement problem and wanted to test it before the race meet. So we arrived at Wanneroo on Friday afternoon and prepared for an hour’s running around without a lot of other traffic. By this time I also had a tacho that actually worked and so set out to maintain a 5000 rpm running in limit. Part way during the first lap I was surprised to glance down as we accelerated out of a corner at what felt like a reasonable time to change from 2nd to 3rd and saw the tacho needle hovering around 5500 rpm! This little engine sure revs freely!

As the laps ticked by the only thing I noticed was the big gap between 3rd and 4th gear. Not being in a position to rev out in 3rd exacerbates the problem of running a standard gear cluster. Don had warned of this during the gearbox assembly stage last year, but at this point the search for a 17T sleeve gear had proved fruitless. On about lap 8 when entering the uphill left hander I stayed back on the seat for a little longer than on previous laps and as we tipped into the turn the front end started to oscillate to a point which prompted me to slide forward and take control before it became a major concern. I’d heard Mick Tesser comment on this after some flighty behaviour from his rigid MAC racer, and found that his cure of keeping weight forward had an immediate stabilising effect on my little beast as well.

Whilst top speeds were necessarily limited there was no such problem with corner speeds and I was very pleased with the adhesion offered by the Dunlop K81 ‘GP’ compounds fitted front and rear. At the end of the session they had scrubbed in nicely, exhibiting a molten appearance on the tread. After a plug change to something one grade colder I went back out for some more laps but found that a misfire developed in the midrange after the second lap. I persevered for one more lap and then as I came into the pit area the engine cut out completely – out of fuel! Since there was only 5 minutes of our time left I parked it and waited for Derek to come in.

With one week to go before race day I vowed to check every aspect of the bike’s setup thoroughly before the meeting, as there is no substitute for thorough preparation. Or is it possible that that you can over prepare in your eagerness to leave no nut unturned?

That’s What it’s all About

Many moments stand out in my Velocette memory bank which dates back over 30 years.

The first sighting of a black and gold, humpy tailed Velocette at the Shell service station in Nowra, NSW in l970. This turned out to be Charlie Brown’s Thruxton, now owned by Adelaide Velofellow, Pud Freeman.

Another dates from July 1975, the first time I heard VMT457 fire into life after a short push down Crinan St. Dulwich Hill, as the desperate-for-cash seller demonstrated that it at least ran, even if it wouldn’t start on the kickstarter.

The ride from Camden to Bundanoon for that first Velocette Enthusiasts Rally in September 1982, after a major mechanical rebuild. The time involved in dealing with many other major events in my life at that time led to VMT457 being off the road for most of the previous 7 years, so that was a very special ride.

Riding VMT457 from Melbourne to Bundanoon with the “Melbourne boys” in October 1987 was a road trip par excellence. This was the first time I really got to know Ivan Lowe, Leigh McCracken, Richard Fanning, Roley Doussett, Doug Hepburn and Les Noble. And the lead up to this trip was the first time I really got to know VMT457, as I rode her to work in Melbourne nearly every day in preparation, to ensure reliability. Many detailed settings crucial to ease of starting and reliable running were refined during this period and have not been varied since.

Another highlight was riding the late Bob Richmond’s VMT173 to Cabramurra, the highest town in Australia, in 1995. This was after our move to WA, which meant that VMT457 was no longer available for the annual Good Companions Rallies.

That first international rally, the Great Volcanoes Tour, in 1997, aboard Californian Mick Felder’s VMT849. The ride to the top of Mt St Helens, Oregon and the snow bound high country of Mt Rainier, Washington will always be stand out memories.

Riding the D’Orleans Viper across the Golden Gate Bridge on a foggy San Francisco summer morn in July 2000 and then seeing a shaft of sunlight pierce through to highlight our approach to the gargantuan northern pillars of that structural masterpiece.

And again in July 2001 riding the D’Orleans Thruxton to the top of Mt Evans Colorado. At 14 500 ft the Velo could still breathe but I didn’t fare so well in that rarefied atmosphere.

And now another moment is inscribed indelibly in that Velocette memory bank – Round 2 of the WA Historic Racing Championship, Sunday 7 July 2002 at Barbagallo Raceway, Wanneroo. The long awaited ’39 MAC racer project had reached a critical stage. The bike first fired up in anger at a Tuning Day earlier in the year and was promptly christened “Speedy” by the kids, in memory of their grandfather, who for many years ran a business called “Speedy Taxi Trucks” and later added “Speedy Removals” when more trucks arrived. He was therefore known around town by that nickname, and our kids refer to him by that name as well, although they know him only by photos and family legends. He was the original Velofellow and together we had started work on the MAC in 1978, two years before his death. Then the project lay dormant for two decades. So this could be a very important day, if only the gremlins would stay at bay for 6 consecutive laps at race speed.

During earlier visits to the track, which included Speedy’s first race entry in April, various teething problems prevented a satisfactory result. Round 1 was a disastrous day at the track. The mechanical gremlins which afflicted Speedy included a terminal fuel blockage (don’t ever use Loctite anywhere near a carburettor!) followed by a continuation of the high speed miss which appeared whenever the engine was hot. We lined up for race 1 on the back of the grid under a hot autumn sun, having missed the entire practice session while I drove to Derek Wooding’s place to pick up a spare Monobloc from which to scavenge parts. On the second lap of Race 1 the miss reappeared, so we retired. Then there were delays due to accidents. And then the meet was cancelled due to the very sad death of the rider of a beautifully prepared 750 BSA.

Determined to avoid any of the frustrations of Round 1, I used the break between Rounds 1 and 2 to make a couple of improvements. The magneto was sent off for a complete and thorough check up by magneto man Les McKiterick. I also decided it was time to fit the close ratio sleeve gear and close the gap between third and fourth gear. However when the gearbox oil came out gleaming with bronze I decided that all was not well, so it was off to Don Chesson for some experienced analysis of the problem. The culprit turned out to be the new double sliding gear (made in Sydney by Longco many decades ago) that wasn’t running true. This was placing lateral forces on both second and third layshaft gears, causing their bronze bushes to grind away on the face of the raised portion in the middle of the layshaft. I had a spare but it was well worn in the dogs – not good to fit up with a brand new sleevegear. So it was Mick Tesser to the rescue, with a good second hand double gear. Last year I donated a conrod to his MAC, so what goes around comes around, especially in racing.

Round 2 included four races for ‘Classic & pre-55 solos’. Three of them were scratch races scoring points towards the 2002 Championship, with the fourth race a handicap start with the slowest machines off the front row and the fastest being held for long enough to produce some last lap excitement. All I hoped for in Round 2 was to complete our first race.

Our son Phillip was helping in the Velo pits, which included Paul Barfoot (alloy rigid MAC on methanol), Ken Vincent (Alloy rigid MAC on petrol), Derek Wooding (Viper on methanol) and Terry Fell (NSU Sportmax). Terry used to race a Mk8 back in the UK so we grant him honorary entry! Mick Tesser’s 36 Mac was absent with the gearbox gremlins not fixed in time for this meet. And local Velofellows David Barfoot, Morris Vincent, Syd East, Kelvin Climo and Keith Jiggins were all there, assisting with flag marshalling and other official duties.

Rain was forecast but the first Practice Session was completed under cool, dry conditions. After fuelling up and bumping into life, Speedy ran perfectly for the whole session, while I came to grips with braking point for the turn onto the ‘short circuit’ and bedded in the new gears and bushes. At least we had a practice time and a grid position. Soon after our return to the pits, Don Chesson rode in on his trusty Venom. Don had built the engine and gearbox and done most of the engineering on the racer project, so he was keen to see how things were progressing.

Later in the morning as the day warmed up, we were called for the final Practice Session. Things started off well but on the third lap that dreaded misfire returned. So it was straight into the pits for some head scratching. A plug reading showed that we could use more fuel, although it is notoriously difficult to tell with methanol and I hadn’t done a plug chop, so the true reading was masked by the slow ride in. We raised the needle a notch and fired up in the pits in preparation for the first race. All seemed well.

We lined up for Race 1 and completed 2½ laps before I opened the throttle against the stop and the misfire returned. So it was back into the pits – it would run fine at low throttle openings but wouldn’t run at ¾ to full throttle. So we looked at the plug again and decided more fuel was in order and fitted a bigger main jet. Fired it up and it ran fine so sat back and waited for the second race. For good measure I changed plugs, just in case, breaking the golden rule of tuning, but things were getting desperate. Why would it run perfectly at all throttle openings for a few laps and then misbehave. Is it fuel or electrical? Why is it temperature related?

We lined up for Race 2 with the same result – the misfire returned after 2½ laps. So back into the pits feeling almost defeated. A shower of rain came over while we were considering the options and I almost decided to pack it up, as a misbehaving bike on a wet track held no appeal. But with some persistence on Don’s part we made a few more changes. Perhaps not enough fuel to the float chamber, so we removed the in line filter, leaving only the gauze inside the banjo as protection. At full throttle, the end of the needle can still partially obstruct the main jet so we raised the needle again – any more and we’ll be filing our own notches lower down the shank! I decided to apply a bit more head to the fuel supply system, so put half a tank of methanol in, rather than then usual “bit in the bottom”. And for good measure I changed plugs again – this time using a genuine NGK racing plug. It was a cast off from the NSU, which although brand new, just wouldn’t run successfully in Terry’s bike. And so it was that we lined up for Race 3.

We got off the line from near the back of the grid and motored around the first 2½ laps without incident. Then came the spot where we exit a slow corner and start the downhill run towards the main straight and go wide open in second, then third, then brake hard for Novus corner and then on down the main straight. Hang on; something’s different – it’s still running sweetly! The fourth and fifth laps slip by without trouble and I can see Ken and Paul dicing up ahead so with a few more revs in the intermediates we put in a scorcher on the final lap and finish only 3 seconds behind Paul. What a great feeling – the first race finish nearly 25 years since the remains of this 1939 MAC were retrieved from a paddock in Kangaroo Valley, NSW. To add to the pleasure, unofficial timekeeper Phil informed me that our time on the last lap was 2 seconds faster than the normal 1:12.5, which put us right up with the fastest times Ken and Paul had recorded on the day. Later, the official record showed that the three MAC’s were within 0.3 seconds on their fastest laps – between 1:10.3 and 1:10.6, so there is some close racing to be had in the near future.

The final race for our machines was a handicap start competing against pre ‘62 500’s and 650’s. Paul and Ken opted out but Derek and I lined up on the front row along with a 1950 BSA 630 and a 1962 Ducati 250. On completion of the warm up lap, as we waited for the grid to fill, a large dark cloud rolled over and the first drops of rain fell. To add to the worries this was my first time at a handicap start, and I mistakenly thought each machine would be waved off individually. It was only when the other three on the front row took off as one when the flag dropped and the grid marshall moved to the second row that I realised I should have gone with them. As we entered the esses for the first time I rounded up the Viper and slipped by, then the Ducati 250 had a big moment and took a grassy detour, fortunately without falling. So we tucked into second place and concentrated on the level of grip available as the rain began to fall in earnest. At the start of lap 2 we were 4 seconds behind the leading BSA and the track was now definitely wet, so it was flat out along the straights, early on the brakes and careful round the corners. At the end of lap 2 the gap to the leader had closed to only 1.4 seconds, so we kept up the pace until the tight second gear right hander which leads onto the short circuit. Here the BSA ran wide and left the inside line wide open allowing us to slip into the lead. At the end of lap 3 there was a 0.7 second gap back to the BSA and I had no idea what the rest of the field was doing – presumably closing fast! The rain began to ease and stopped completely before the end of lap 4 so we were able to pull a second off the previous lap time. But the BSA responded, closing to within 0.6 seconds, so the challenge was on. Amazingly, a drying line started to appear during lap 5 and the level of grip this afforded allowed the lap time to drop by another 0.5 seconds – this included a confusing time where I saw a bike ahead, closed rapidly and managed to pass on the left hand kink before diving hard right onto the main circuit and peaking out in second, then third, down the hill towards Novus corner and the main straight once again. How many bikes were there on the front row, I wondered? I later found out that we were actually lapping one of the scratch riders on a 500 Triumph!

As we began the final lap I took a glance behind, expecting to see a brace of Manxes and 650 Triumphs about to engulf the little MAC. But there was no such view – the only bikes visible were the machine we’d just passed and the second placed BSA, which had now dropped back to over 2 seconds in arrears. With the racing line drying nicely and knowing that the fast bikes would now be able to put power to the ground, I kept head down and tail up and raced on, carving another 2 seconds off the previous lap time. At last, we entered the main straight for the final time and just as the willing little engine peaked out in 3rd and I grabbed top gear for the last time, the chequered flag came out for the mighty MAC. This was followed by a feeling of immense relief and elation. We’d done it – not only had we finished two races on the day but we’d come away with a trophy as well – most unexpected but welcome none the less.

On the slow down lap the flag marshals clapped as we rode by and the reception from the riders and crews in the pits as we returned to our bay was equally warm. I wasn’t to know that the commentators had turned the race into their version of a David and Goliath struggle, noting many times that the oldest machine entered on the day, and only a 350 to boot, was beating the big guns. As it turned out, under the prevailing conditions, little Speedy was able to put in lap times that were consistently 3rd fastest of any machine in the race. So even if it had been a scratch start, we would have achieved a podium position. It was good to know that the Velocette flag had again been waved high and proud. All too often the commentators ignore the 350’s as we carry on our “race within a race” towards the rear of the mixed fields. But this time, the Velocette name was spoken loud and often, reminding spectators and competitors alike of a proud racing heritage. And that’s what its all about.

Success in the Rain

Round 3 – 4 August 2002
The weather forecast was a horror - rain and squalls with hail. At 7am as I was loading things up it was blowing 30 knots with horizontal rain. Got to the track and through scrutineering without getting wet then out for the first practice on a wet track, between showers. A little drier for second practice then check grid positions - 4th row behind a couple of Velos and with a few other 350’s behind me. Dumped the primary case oil between practice sessions as it was blowing out of the case onto the left hand side of the rear tyre and felt uneasy on the left hander - relied on spray lube for the rest of the day.

We got a mediocre start in race 1, but rounded up two or three through the esses then got onto the tail of the fastest 350's by the end of lap 1, in 10th place outright in a field of 17. We slipped past the leading Velo going into turn 1 at the end of the main straight then around the outside of the leading 350, a full faired NSU Sportmax 305, through the up hill left hander. Fortunately it was misfiring in the midrange so was down on its normal devastating speed (revs safely to 10,000 - not fair!)

We finished lap 2 with a 6 second break on this pair, in 8th outright. On lap 3 we rounded up another two in one dive up the inside at turn 1 again, right in front of all the spectators. The track was damp but there was a drying line by this stage. This put us into 6th outright and I could see a 500 Manx and a rigid Triumph 650 having a ding donger a few seconds ahead. We closed on them through the esses and got a good run through the uphill left then seized an opportunity to ride around the outside of both of them at the right hand kink at Skyline before diving down into the basin with its tight right hander in the sag of the gully. It didn't stick this time as they both took umbrage at seeing this cheeky 350 poke a wheel in front, so they both gassed it up the hill out of the basin and left me flat on the tank wishing for another 20 bhp. But on the last lap we got by both of them again and finished 4th overall, winning the 350 class by 22 seconds! A great feeling again.

We also won the 350 class in race 2 and finished second in class in race 3 (the NSU got sorted - bugger!!) so picked up the 350 trophy for the day on the strength of it. We can't mix it with the 500's and 650’s so well on a dry track, naturally, so finished 7th and 8th outright in those last two races in dry conditions.

During the day several people came to our pit to check out this unlikely looking giant killer, resplendent in red lead primer and bare metal (saves weight, y'know mate). Nice to be recognised just the same.

By the way, these notes are not reconstructed from memory alone. They are based on a post race analysis of the lap times for each bike, which allows one to work out who did what to whom and when. I'm afraid that when we come in after a few races, I haven't a clue what happened when - I just concentrate on the track, ride as quickly safe as I can and if I catch another bike I try to pass it. It is only later with lap time analyses to hand that I can put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together and match it up with flashes of memory.

The races to date have been devoid of scary moments, even in pelting rain. I simply ride as I always do - get in the groove as soon as possible with a healthy dose of self preservation, focus on going quickly-safe and press on. Hopefully my 8/10ths is the next bloke's 10/10ths, and I have found over the years that most riders aren't prepared to push that hard. So there have been no "moments" and the handful of bikes we have managed to overtake during the racing thus far were just there one moment and gone the next - not a great deal of forward planning from what I can remember - simply seized safe opportunities to push up the inside, brake a little later, then get on the tank and watch that little tacho buzz to 6500 before grabbing the next gear or reaching the next braking area, whichever arrived first. We certainly didn't want those pukka 500's rounding us up again after we’d done all the legwork through the gnarly bits!

The Decider

Into the final round of the Club Championship with the NSU (156 points) ahead of Ken Vincent’s MAC Velo (129 points) followed by Derek Wooding’s Viper (90 points) and Li’l Speedy on 81 points.

Round 4 – 22 September 2002
It was back to the short circuit for Round 4, with the weather forecast again looking doubtful. I threw in the Kett oversuit and waterproof mitts just in case, due to my strong dislike of wet leather - I prefer to keep it dry rather than have to dry it out. Practice sessions were a little damp but the rain saved itself for Race 1, which actually suited us in view of Li’l Speedy’s wet weather results in the previous 2 rounds. We gridded up on the third row, behind Dave Bunnet’s quick 350 BSA and next to Keith Calder on the dustbin faired 305 NSU Sportmax. It was raining steadily.

We got a reasonable start, tucking in behind the NSU as the leading pack of 650’s and 500’s stormed off the line and headed gingerly into turn one. Through the esses and around the left hander I could hear the NSU misfiring in the midrange and could see its back wheel twitching. However on full throttle it ran sweetly so Keith was quick down the straights but was having a torrid time with it through the slow corners. At the end of lap 1 we were 1.8 seconds behind the leading 350 and just over 1 second behind the NSU with a 6 second lead on the next 350, Ken Vincent’s MAC. As the race unfolded I found it easier to tuck in behind the NSU even though our corner speeds were quite conservative compared to the previous wet races we’d run, so at the end of lap 2 we were 1.4 seconds adrift, closing to 0.3 seconds at the end of lap 3 and back out to 0.6 seconds at lap 4. We lost some time on lap 5 which left a 1.3 second deficit to the NSU in second place. The leading 350 had cleared out by nearly 9 seconds and the 4th placed 350 was now over 30 seconds behind.

So it was down to the last lap – what could we do? The pattern around the back of the circuit was as it had been for the first 5 laps, with the NSU misfiring and Li’l Speedy now closed right up onto its rear wheel. Out of the right hander and down the hill to the last corner we kept in touch but due to the NSU’s fantastic brakes we were unable to do anything but follow. However our opportunity came as we exited Novus corner, flat on the tank and heading for the chequered flag. The NSU continued to misfire at a place where it had previously cleared its throat and run sweetly, so I held third gear for as long as I dared, ran up onto the back wheel then out of the slipstream and got a wheel in front as we crossed the line. The official record showed the Bunnet BSA winning by 7.4 seconds, then a 0.2 second gap from Li’l Speedy in 2nd place to the NSU in 3rd. I was elated, having almost conceded that the nose to tail procession would continue to the finish. Later it was 4th place man Ken Vincent who would be elated.

Races 2 and 3 were both dry and we finished second to the BSA in both of those, giving a tidy points haul for the day. However they were lonely affairs with no-one to dice with in our part of the field. The NSU stopped completely during the second race and then retired before the last race of the Club Championship. Ken finished 3rd in the last two races of the series.

When the final points were tallied Ken’s MAC Velo had won the 350 Club Championship by 2 points from the NSU (174 points to 172 points) with Li’l Speedy 3rd on 141 points. So the 4 points we stole from the NSU on the finish line in race 1 actually won the championship for Velocette – great teamwork although totally unplanned.

So ended the first taste of classic racing at Club level. The only events left on the 2002 calendar are the October fun day and the November State Championships, run over two races with some interstate entries expected. We were looking forward to this especially with time to try a couple of ideas to further improve our dry weather lap times.

More Speed for Li’l Speedy

Sandwiched between the final round of the Club Championships and the State Championships was a fun day, with machines grouped by lap times rather than class. This threw up some interesting matches, with our field including everything from slow 500 classics to fast Moriwaki 80’s to a novice D grader on a modern Supersports machine. It was a fine October day and we were on the long circuit.

Since this was the first totally dry day with some reasonable track temperatures it was an opportunity to explore the possibilities of improved lap times. My target for competitive class lap times at the start of the season was 1’27” and so far we had clocked only one lap in the high 27’s. Practice was uneventful, with the times used to establish the grid groupings for the day. Race 1 started with a bunch of fast “buckets” and Moriwakis off at the front. We tucked into the middle of the pack and completed the first lap. Half way down the main straight at the start of lap 2 I was shocked to be almost blown off the track by a Suzuki GSX600 travelling at least 40 mph faster than Li’l Speedy’s modest 90 odd mph. However the GSX rider was on the brakes early into turn 1 and slow through the esses, allowing us to close at the entry to the left hander. His corner speed was so slow that we eased to the outside and rode around him before the exit and held him off through the right hand kink over skyline and through the basin. However, as we pulled up the long hill out of the basin, the GSX zapped by at almost supersonic speed. Over the crest and down to Novus, I was surprised to find us closing as the early braking / slow corner speed technique of the GSX rider continued. Out of Novus and down the main straight the GSX opened the gap but again we closed through the esses and repeated the outside pass around the right hander. This pattern continued until the final lap. We approached Novus corner for the last time with the GSX in front. To my surprise, as we exited Novus and headed for the finish line the Suzuki pulled to the outside and slowed so Li’l Speedy could pass, allowing us to win the race (for 6th place). A gentlemanly gesture from the rider of a much younger and faster machine.

Back at the pits a pleasant Englishman approached with a smile, and said “OK, now you can really embarrass me by telling me how old that thing is!” When he heard that it was of 1939 vintage he was humble but explained his background. He was a chap who had always wanted to road race but until recently didn’t have the funds. Now in his early 50’s he had raised the money through his work in the searing hot minefields near Mt Keith WA. For 6 months before this meeting he had owned this former State Champion Supersports Suzuki, but had only ridden it illegally on public roads in the barren north west of the State. And in these parts, there are few corners – in fact he admitted there was only one! So his racecraft had only progressed to the point of fast straight line speed and he had no confidence at all on corners. To make matters worse he had been taken out by a fallen rider trying to slip up the inside during Practice, so his meagre confidence levels had been further diminished. We chatted for a while and I assured him that he had ridden safely, causing no danger as we passed around the outside on four occasions during the race, and promised to look out for him in the next couple of races. As it turned out his corner speeds improved race by race and so we had lonely rides for the rest of the day.

The one thing that pleased me as we headed home was the knowledge that our fastest lap on the long circuit was now 1’25.9”, so we had beaten the target I had set at the start of the season by 2 seconds. Roll on State Titles in a few weeks time.

In preparation for the States I replaced yet another primary chain, this time with an O ring chain that only just cleared the chaincases. Chain life over the season had averaged less than 2 meetings per chain, whether running oil bath or the best spray lube money could buy, so I was getting desperate. While inside the primary side I decided to fit the 21 tooth gearbox sprocket, in the hope of being able to hold third gear all the way from the Basin to the top of the hill on the back straight. This is an important part of the track as the downhill run to the braking area at Novus is the fastest part of the track, and to change into 4th gear before the top of the hill (as happens with the smaller 19 and 20 tooth sprockets) reduces the achievable maximum speed. I was concerned that it might have a down side through the slow corners, as I had become comfortable to use only 3rd and 4th gears around the long track since fitting the close ratio sleeve gear. And I didn’t want to be forced to use second gear, in deference to the age and relative fragility of the lightweight Velo box.

A few interstate entries made for a greater variety of machines during practice for the States, again a sunny spring day, but not too hot. I wandered down to the race office after our two practice sessions. I had so far determined that I would not need to refit the 20 tooth sprocket, as Li’l Speedy still pulled strongly out of the slow corners in 3rd gear – one of the benefits of running a straight pipe and a moderate sized carb (1 1/16”). And the taller third allowed us to hit the top of the hill at 6500 rpm in 3rd, then grab top and rocket down into the dip before the braking area for Novus corner. With the revs achieved in top just before the braking point, the gearing charts showed we were now approaching a top speed of 95 mph. The proof was in the pudding, as they say – routine laps of 1’22.5” were recorded throughout the two morning practice sessions, and I was very pleased to see that these were within 0.5” of interstate visitor Ken Lucas on a ’59 model 7R.

The first race of the day was a Scratch Race which didn’t score points for the State Titles, so a couple of the Velofellows suggested we put on a show, with some close dicing for the crowd. However after nearly being blown off the track by the leading 500 as I toured around over the back of the circuit on the third lap whilst waiting for the others, I decided that it was safer to race at my own pace. I had kept to the inside of the back straight, only a metre from the edge, so I was astounded when this 500 rider (who has a reputation for indifference to the safety of others) squeezed through on the inside, almost taking my right elbow with him, rather than using the 5 metres of open track to my left. It also meant that we only got 4 of the 5 laps in, having been lapped by the first few 500’s.

Race 2 was a different story, and although I was further back on the grid as a result of my folly in Race 1, we got off the line well and settled into a comfortable race rhythm. It was a lonely ride however, as lap by lap the dicing Triumph Daytona (ridden by Sydneysider Bob Blythe) and the fast Bunnet BSA 350 moved further from our grasp. But still we scored points for a 3rd in class, with the Lucas 7R winning, having found a couple of seconds per lap since morning practice.

Race 3 looked as though it would be pretty much a repeat of Race 1. However on lap 2 I noticed that the Blythe Daytona hadn’t opened another second on us – in fact we were closing. As we came out of the Basin and pulled strongly up the hill on lap 3 the gap continued to close. As we crested the top of the hill, Li’l Speedy pulled up alongside the Daytona, but when we grabbed top and headed down towards Novus the Daytona shot ahead. But we were able to close in the braking area (another advantage of running a rigid, girder forked machine with feeble brakes!). So for the next 2 laps we played a game of cat and mouse, with Li’l Speedy able to show a wheel here and there but with the 500 always in control.

As we pulled out of the Basin for the last time I figured that a late braking / late apex strategy through Novus could see us get a run up the inside of the Daytona on the exit, with a slim chance that the long legged 3rd gear might just get us to the chequered flag in front. Over the crest and down the back straight, all went to plan. Into the braking area and the Daytona took the normal line, with Li’l Speedy swooping wide on the entry. With more corner speed, we closed the last few yards then pulled tight in to a late apex. Then just as we were at the point of slipping up the inside on the exit, the Daytona closed the door, forcing a dab of brakes and our opportunity was lost. So we tucked in behind for the run to the finish, content for another 3rd place and 3rd in the State Titles.

The last race of the day was a handicap race. We were off the front row with Mick Tesser on Paul Barfoot’s ’47 MAC. All the fast bikes were behind and I had no idea how well the handicapper had done his maths. Mick was quick off the line and through turn 1 forcing us to take a wide exit, which then gave us an inside line into the esses. We settled into the rhythm and into the second lap I decided we’d make it as hard as possible for the fast guys. This worked better than I planned, as all this thinking meant we missed the braking point into turn 1 at the end of the straight. A harder than normal grip on the front brake got us under control and around without drama, with the rest of this lap continuing this unprecedented momentum. Laps 3, 4 and 5 ticked by with no sign of the fast guys so we managed a race win to close the season.

On the way to the presentation I called into the race office to get a copy of the lap times for the last race. I was astounded to see that the best lap in the Handicap race (not surprisingly, Lap2) was a 1’20.2”. So, will 2003 hold the prospect of a sub 1’20” lap? Or will we consolidate the first year’s experiences and remain content to be near the front and score points in as many races as possible? Time will tell.

A Race Strategy Fatally Flawed

The best made plans for Li’l Speedy at end of season ‘02 were largely over ridden by the need to have Kamahl the Clubman ready for visiting North American Cape to Cape Rally entrant, Paul D’Orleans, by the end of March. With this deadline being only one week after Round 1 of the season ’03 opener, something had to give, so it was that many of the jobs on Li’l Speedy’s wish list remained just that - wishes. Mind you, the tank got a coat of black paint and a couple of Velo transfers and the guards and stays were treated to a lick of lustrous silver in parallel with the same treatment during Kamahl’s minimalist cosmetic upgrade.

On checking my notes I find that a few other jobs did disappear off the wish list. The seat orifice in the Monobloc float chamber was bored again to allow the maximum amount of methanol in while only just preventing the float needle from sliding straight through! This was because the starvation problem I thought we’d licked in the middle part of last year was still lurking about. I’d also fitted a magneto end cover with integral cutout and a trail bike kill switch, in order to comply with a new MA regulation introduced quietly during the off season. The original pre-war timing cover and steady plate were refitted so Kamahl’s late model items could be returned. To make this change back to original, the pre-war cover was machined to take the tacho drive gearbox and an extra oil outlet was soldered in place above the cam spindle, the tacho drive coupling was shortened (since the offset to face of cover is less than it is for the post-war plain timing cover) and the steady plate was fitted with a cam oil jet to match the new oil outlet. Kamahl’s M17/8 cams were left in the racer as I had in mind to try less sporty cams in Kamahl so as to be better prepared for possible two up road use.

So it was that a slightly more presentable Li’l Speedy rolled off the trailer at a wet racetrack early on Sunday 28 March. This being the week before the Cape to Cape bash, my old mate Kitey was with me, having flown in from Sydney a few days before, and I was on holidays for a fortnight from the moment his plane touched down. We also hoped to see UK entrants (and iron MAC hillclimb specialists) Dave Carter and Roy Venard as they had arrived in Perth the previous evening and hoped to use a day at the track as a jet lag tonic.

After scrutineering, fuelling up and rolling down to the designated warm up area the first problem was terminal flooding of the carb. I’d checked it at home when the rebored part was first refitted and it was fine. However since then I’d dismantled and cleaned all parts to make sure there were no crusty white methanol deposits inside. Kitey produced a screwdriver and within 2 minutes the problem was solved – someone had reassembled it with the float in upside down – easily done with a Monobloc. I paddled off and did a couple of loops of the warm up area in first gear but when I went for second gear the shift lever was stubborn. It was also difficult to find neutral so I headed back to where Kitey was standing and killed the engine. Hmmm, wasn’t like this last outing and haven’t touched the gearbox (other than an oil level check) so what could be wrong? Then it occurred to me that we’d run a spanner over every bolt yesterday (or nearly every bolt, as I later discovered), including the gearbox end cover bolts. And there’s this one short bolt that can touch the edge of the selector pawl. So with Kitey to the rescue with an appropriate sized spanner, we back that bolt off a fraction of a turn and voila, we have cured another problem. Memo to self: shorten subject bolt by one more thread.

The morning’s practice sessions are wet, so it’s out with the wet weather big guns - the aging Kett oversuit and Belstaff over mitts. Kitey wonders how the hell I’m going to feel anything but having raced in this kit several times last year I know that it’s not as bad as it looks. At anything above “tippy toe” speed through the uphill left hander during the first practice session, things feel decidedly slippery at the rear, so lap times are slow. After draining what I assume to be the residues of wet sumping from the primary drive, which is now run dry for racing, the feel is back to normal during session two and times come down into the 1’33” bracket. This is respectable enough to get us into the Combined Group 2 scratch race, where machines compete based on lap times rather than class. All the fast guys are in Group 1 and the rest are in Group 3. The Club is trying this format for season 2003 instead of having a Handicap start race for each class, as used in previous years. The rest of the meet comprises a Scratch race (by class - no points scored) followed by two point scoring legs of the Club Championship.

As the afternoon’s racing begins the sky looks a little less threatening but the track remains damp in places. We go out for the Group 2 race and circulate with a couple of Moriwaki 80’s towards the rear of the field throughout the 5 laps. If we were playing for bigger stakes Li’l Speedy could have got past these two, with superior pulling power up the long drag out of the Basin, but down into the braking area at Novus these fully faired well braked lightweights had a definite edge. So we were content to put in a slightly quicker last lap and cross the line nose to stern, with less than 0.7 seconds covering the three of us.

Next is the Scratch race and we are in our own class this time. We get the usual mediocre start and follow Ken Vincent, Paul Barfoot and Nick Chesson for the first lap. Through the esses on lap 2 we slip by Nick and tag onto Paul’s tail through the left hander. Carrying a little more corner speed and a tighter line over Skyline we pull up alongside Paul as we head down into the braking area for the Basin. Ken is ahead and on a wider line as we reach the braking area. But instead of holding the inside line and passing both, I find Paul has braked later, slipped inside Ken and ahead of me to take back the racing line. But his lead is short lived, as Li’l Speedy’s 21T sprocket and close ratio 3rd gear comes into play and we pull alongside Paul’s MAC on the climb out of the Basin, grab top gear just past the crest and settle into a rhythm for the next couple of laps. But then on lap 4 as our place seems secure I see a blue flag waving as we come down into the Basin. Could it be Paul putting in a quick one and hoping to repeat the scene from Lap 2? I hold the line and don’t glance back until climbing out of the Basin and see that it’s not Paul but Dave Bunnet on the fast BSA 350, recovering from a very poor start from the back of the grid. I know he’s 2 to 3 seconds a lap quicker when all is well, but I still push that little harder over the crest and down into Novus. He slips by before the braking area and then the thing I’d come to dread in the early part of season ’02 reappears unexpectedly, as Li’l Speedy fails to respond to the throttle on the downchange to third. As we pass the apex of Novus I reopen the throttle, praying there’ll be noise from down below, but nothing. So we signal left, pull to the outside of the track and coast to the pit entry with the engine reluctant to run at anything more than a faltering fast idle. As we approach the rise off the track it dies completely so it’s a long push back to our Pit Area. After a thorough check over, we find no obvious problem. There’s fuel in the tank, the filter inside the banjo is clean, there’s a healthy spark and no obvious signs of distress on the plug. So we try a bump start and it fires up and runs as though nothing has happened. So I seek permission to do just a warm up lap behind the field for the next race to allow a decision as to whether to run in the first point scoring race of the day shortly thereafter. We do another check on return to the pit then Kitey and I confer and decide to give it a go.

Li’l Speedy performs well although feels a little down on power. Lap times are around 2 seconds slower than the first race of the day, but that’s enough to safeguard a comfortable second place, which we hold from the end of Lap 2 to the finish.

We line up for the final race of the day with 20 points in the bag. The same pattern emerges, but on lap 2 I see a “Number 74 15 second penalty” sign held out for us. With Paul Barfoot having retired his MAC for the day halfway through the previous race and Nick Chesson having a gentle ‘off’ at the end of the main straight, I look behind and see Ken Vincent a few seconds behind. Decision time! Do we nurse home 2nd across the line but 3rd after adjusting for the jump start penalty, or try to extend to a 15+ second gap by the end of lap 5 to secure second on adjusted time as well as across the line. Since the former seems achievable we put in a couple of quicker laps and get the last lap board with a healthy gap back to Ken in 3rd. But as we head over Skyline down into the Basin for the last time, the exhaust note goes fluffy and I know something major has gone wrong. Only half a response as we blip for the downchange and then little power as we head back up the hill. I pull to the inside praying for a slight recovery to get us over the crest with enough momentum to coast down the hill, around Novus and cross the finish line. But there is little power as I shuffle down through the gears in a vain attempt to get to the crest. Li’l Speedy expires completely 20 metres before the top of the hill. I pull off and wave to Ken when he comes by. Bugger! Would we have made it if I’d backed off a second or two and been content with third place points? I’ll never know, but the thought nags at me and it’s another racing lesson learned.

Ironically a check of the lap times at end of the second last lap shows we had a 16 second break on Ken! The battle plan was working but contained a fatal flaw.

Back home, Kitey and I unpack the trailer, park Li’l Speedy in the corner of the shed and then turn our attention to the Mk2 Clubman which sits on the work stand unfinished but needing to be registered and insured by the end of the week, as the entrants for the Cape to Cape Rally will continue to roll into town over the next 5 days.

On the following Wednesday, Roy and Dave, now fully recovered from Sunday’s jet lag, walked down from Roy’s brother’s place (would you believe they were staying in the same street in the same suburb?) and joined us for morning tea. We chatted about the coming rally and last Sunday’s race meet, where they saw Li’l Speedy run well but left before the last race, with its premature termination with less than half a lap to go. We continued to chat as lunchtime approached. However Kitey and I needed to continue to work on the Clubman and then spend some time on VMT457, who also needed a check over. So I suggested that if Roy and Dave were free for the afternoon perhaps they could roll their sleeves up and help. Roy declined, joking that they were only qualified to work on rigid Velos, at which point I pulled the cover off Li’l Speedy, pointed to the toolkit and filled them in on the sad end to Sunday’s racing. Why did it stop? I didn’t know but suspected a hole in the piston. So I made some space for them, pointed them in the direction of the tools and some metal trays then disappeared inside to make a lunch of gourmet sandwiches for four.

By the time I returned to the shed, the rocker box was off and the head was about to be lifted. Four heads peered at the dark joint between head and barrel as Roy lifted it clear, inquisitive to know which of the theories was correct. Hole in piston and not much else, although when the piston was removed for closer examination, we saw a crack running across the crown and down both sides of the timing side gudgeon. Only one inch of metal below the gudgeon remained uncracked, so it was extremely lucky that it held on, otherwise there would have been a hell of a mess. Time for a rebuild, but not right now, as it’s 6 weeks to the next Round and preparations for the Cape to Cape Rally are far more pressing.

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