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Historic Husqvarna 400-Cross

All photos courtesy Matt Stone.

Rob Phillips got lucky when he came across this 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross off-road motorcycle.

What is so exciting about this vintage motocross machine? Well, if you happen to worship Steve McQueen, the racer has some interesting history.

It was ridden by Steve McQueen in the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix racing scenes in the iconic 1971 Bruce Brown film On Any Sunday.

When Phillips bought the Husqvarna, neither he nor the seller realized the motorcycle previously had a rather famous owner. It was not until almost a year after he made the purchase that the McQueen connection was even discovered.

In 2006, Phillips began collecting Husqvarna off-road motorcycles, and in 2008 discovered one for sale in California. He purchased the bike, sight unseen, for $1,500 and stored it in his daughter’s San Diego garage.

Enter Don Ince of Vintage Viking. Ince holds all of the documents of Edison Dye, the man responsible for importing Husqvarnas into the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Founded in Sweden in 1903, Husqvarna became part of BMW in 2007, and the company continues to make off-road machines, and has also recently returned to manufacturing road-going motorcycles. Bow Ridge Sports in Cochrane is the local Husqvarna dealer.

Digging through Dye’s paperwork, Ince discovered the invoice and Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO) for Phillips’ acquisition.

 Rob Phiilips created the McQueen period-appropriate helmet by making his own decals.

“I was in San Diego at the time when Ince phoned, and he said ‘Go check the frame and engine numbers on the Husky’,” Phillips said from his New York office, where he runs Advanced Racing Technologies and Husky Restorations. “I checked the numbers, and it turned out to be a McQueen bike.”

Dated Feb. 9, 1970, the MSO complete with engine and frame numbers indicates Phillips’ Husqvarna was sold to McQueen’s company, Solar Productions.

After using the motorcycle, Phillips’ thinks McQueen returned it to a local California dealer, where it was sold to an owner in 1972 who raced it for a few years. He kept it until 2008 before selling it to another owner, who promptly sold it again. It was from the fourth owner that Phillips bought the motorcycle. Nothing was known about the Husqvarna until Ince searched his records and discovered who first owned the historic racer.

As a Husqvarna restorer, Phillips most often completely refinishes a machine from top to bottom. With McQueen’s 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross, he sympathetically cleaned it, but did not restore the motorcycle.

“There’s a fine line between (deciding when to do) a restoration or not,” Phillips says. “Especially with the provenance of this bike, and it was in very good shape.

“I call it a soap and water restoration.”

Phillips replaced a couple of cables, and freshened up the engine internals so it would run properly. However, he did not refinish any other components. When the engine was removed from the frame, an uncirculated 1960 Lincoln head penny in a protective plastic case was discovered in a frame cavity.

“Steve McQueen was very superstitious, and I suspect he might have placed the penny there as a good luck charm,” Phillips says. McQueen’s son, Chad, was born in 1960.

Phillips currently has McQueen’s Husqvarna on display in the San Diego Automotive Museum, and it was invited to participate at the Greystone Mansion Concours d’Elegance in 2012. The Husqvarna has also been displayed at the Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show, a fundraiser for the Boys Republic in Chino Hills, Calif., where McQueen spent time in 1946.

Datsun Matsuri in Kelowna — a festival for vintage Datsun fanatics

First published in the Calgary Herald May 11, 2012. All images courtesy David Myers.

Datsuns at the 2011 Alberta Meet in Red Deer.

David Myers is fast becoming known as Mr. Datsun.

The Edmonton man appreciates all old Datsuns, from Roadsters to 510s, and everything in between.

To share his enthusiasm, Myers hosted the Alberta All Datsun Meet in Red Deer last year.

“We had really bad weather on June 4,” Myers said. “It was cold, and there had actually been a couple of snowflakes in the air. But, we still had about 25 or 30 cars, which is a respectable turnout.”

Those Datsuns came from Calgary and Edmonton, and from points further afield.

But this year, Myers is going a step further, organizing Datsun Matsuri 2012 to run on the May long weekend. Matsuri is Japanese for festival, and Myers is piggybacking his show with a long-established event in Kelowna, B.C. – the Turner Volkswagen 55th Annual Knox Mountain Hill Climb.

By hosting the event in B.C.’s interior, Myers hopes to attract more fans of the Datsun/Nissan brand from western Canada and the northwestern United States.

“I graduated from high school in Kelowna, and I was aware of the Knox Mountain race,” Myers said. “I drove through there last year, and I got to thinking about drawing people to the event by hosting a Datsun show during their event.”

Datsun 510 at the start of the Knox Mountain Hill Climb, 2009.

The hill climb is held on Knox Mountain Park Road, in the City of Kelowna. At 3.5 km in length, Knox Mountain Park Road is paved, but is narrow with off-camber turns and steep grades, and climbs some 245 metres in elevation for an average grade of 6.7 per cent.

No other paved road hill climb in North America has run as long as the Knox Mountain event, attracting drivers from several provinces and states. During the run, cars race up the hill one at a time; the one with the quickest time wins.

There are several classes, from open wheeled to GT cars, and of course, there are often Datsun 510s and Z-cars taking part.

“When I spoke to the organizers about the Datsun show, they said ‘the more the merrier’,” Myers said. “There is a car show that is part of the Knox Mountain Hilll Climb, and ours is really going to be a show within a show.

“Entry to the car show is free for car and driver and is managed by the hill climb organization – we’re just joining in.  The hill climb (also) organizes a people’s choice award for the car show, and participation in that is optional.”

Myers has planned three days of events, including an informal meet and greet on the Friday evening. He and several Edmonton-area Datsun owners plan to drive out in convoy, and Myers said plans are afoot for Calgary owners to do the same.

Saturday is the hill climb and car show, with Myers giving out goodie bags to all registered Datsun participants. There are opportunities to win draw prizes from several sponsors, including a 1:18 scale model Kyosho BRE (Brock Racing Enterprises) Datsun 240Z die-cast car numbered and signed by Peter Brock.

Brock Racing Enterprises fielded a Datsun 510 in the Sports Car Club of America’s 1971 Trans Am 2.5 series with driver John Morton behind the wheel. Morton won the season. For 1972, BRE prepared three Datsun 510s and had a repeat performance.

Other sponsors providing prizes include Sports Imports from Surrey, B.C. Sports Imports specializes in the Datsun Roadster, and fabricates metal body repair panels that quite simply are not available anywhere else.

Wolf Creek Racing is the national distributor of Mikuni automotive sidedraft carburetors and parts, and also manufactures CV axle kits for Datsun 510s and Z-cars. Wolf Creek Racing has supplied a Triple Mikuni Master Rebuild Kit and Manual.

And, Z Therapy remanufactures the popular SU carburetors. They are up for giving away a set of SU carbs – prepared to a fit a vehicle of the winner’s choice.

On Sunday, Myers has routes laid out for what he has dubbed the Twisties Tour. Drivers can take part in a shorter, 141 km loop around the northern part of Lake Okanagan, or go further, driving a 216 km loop that includes the lake plus a farm loop.

If interested in attending Datsun Matsuri 2012, visit to register. Spectators are welcome.

Calgary’s Spring Thaw and Terry Murphy’s 1949 Ford

Spring Thaw is Calgary’s first car show of the season, and this story first ran in the Calgary Herald Driving section on April 27 to help promote the event. Terry Murphy’s car was featured, and what a ride it is. Photos by Christina Ryan.

Car crazy Calgarians are revving up.

This Sunday, the 27th edition of Spring Thaw ushers in car cruising season.

“Our show has become one of the rites of spring,” says John Moore. “It’s generally the first car show of the season, and it’s all about getting the cars out, gassed and oiled up, and cruising.”

The Nifty Fifty’s Ford Club of Calgary hosts Spring Thaw, and Moore says since the show’s inception in 1986, the intention has been to bring many of the city’s different car clubs together in one location.

Both clubs and individuals embraced the concept, flocking to Spring Thaw as it has moved to various locations around Calgary. Currently, the show seems to have found a semi-permanent home at Deerfoot Mall.

Capacity in the northeast parking lot is 500 cars, and Moore says if the weather is good, they often end up having to turn away vehicles.

Moore, in his second year as president of the Nifty Fifty’s Ford Club of Calgary, says he is just putting the finishing touches on his 1956 Thunderbird as he readies the car for Sunday’s show.

His T-bird is mostly original, but Moore has rebuilt the engine and transmission, and this year was working on the interior, having had the seats reupholstered.

“These cars are never finished, one always seems to be working on something,” Moore says.

Terry Murphy would agree.

Murphy bought his 1949 Ford Business Coupe five years ago, fresh from a farmer’s field near Three Hills, Alberta. The car was a rolling shell, sans interior and most of the engine.

Surprisingly, though, the body was in good condition and all of the factory glass was intact.

“It was my intention to keep the car fairly original,” Murphy says, and he restored the Ford’s running gear including brakes, suspension and steering. He left the paint alone.

Bert Curtiss of Competition Services in Crossfield built a 1950 Mercury Flathead V-8 for Murphy, and this he mated to the original three-speed Ford transmission.

Murphy was inspired to build his Ford as a ‘rat rod’ after he tagged along to help his designer/photographer son Chad of Lucky U Dezine shoot Viva Las Vegas, a rockabilly weekend in Sin City. Part of the festivities includes a car show, and the homebuilt hot rods captured his imagination.

The rat rod is itself an art form, as counter culture builders routinely thumb their noses at big-dollar painted and chromed up rides. There are no rules to the build, and it is completely up to the individual creating the car just what direction they go.

“It’s summed up by a saying I saw on a t-shirt down there – ‘I Do It Because It’s Wrong’,” Murphy says, and adds, “It’s all regardless of what the mainstream is doing.”

He continues:  “I was looking at these ‘underdone’ cars, and how they tie into rockabilly fashion,” Murphy says. “And the whole scene just energized me – the art of it all and how these mostly young guys are so passionate about what they are creating.”

So, for Murphy, the ’49 Ford became a canvas that he transformed into rolling art, adding pinstripes, stickers and paintings at his whim. Stylized Frankenstein interior door panels, for example, are the work of his son, Chad.

But he took the car to another level this past winter as he had the body stripped and painted matte black.

Murphy then had artisans from airbrushers to pinstripers showcase their talents on the outside of the Ford.

Calgary airbrush artist Ryan Vaness of Bloodshot Airbrushing created the rats on the doors, and although painted freehand, are almost exact duplicates.

And Bruce Ander, one of Calgary’s best-kept secrets, according to Murphy, pulled the pinstripes on the trunk lid. “That’s a spectacular piece of art,” he says.

One of Murphy’s friends calls him the ‘doo-dad king’, thanks to what would seem to be a hodge-podge of unique parts he’s added to the car’s interior. Pieces include an altimeter and a bomb drop stopwatch from a B-52 bomber that actually flew combat missions.

“The pilot had them sitting on his mantle, and I bought them from his estate,” Murphy says. There’s also a compass from a military Jeep.

“It’s got items in it that by themselves could be a story, and I can ramble on to people who have the patience to listen about each piece,” Murphy says.

“Some people say it’s too busy, while others love it. But there’s something in there that will help create a memory for someone, and that’s why my wife Jan and I built it.”

Murphy is looking forward to showing off his rolling canvas this Sunday at Spring Thaw.

“The car show is free fun for all ages, and I really enjoy the fun of watching the reaction of kids and newcomers (as they take in) all of the cars, because they’re truly art on wheels,” Murphy says, and adds, “After all, the future of this car crazy passion depends on the next generation; and we were all the next generation at one time. Experiencing the sounds, paint and chrome can ignite that passion and build life-long memories.”

Off the bookshelf …

On the bookshelf of J.B. Nichoslon, author of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics, was found this amusing little book: Motor-Cycling Personalities Past and Present.

The book is filled with caricatures drawn by Sallon of the Daily Mirror, and was published by Shell-Mex and B.P. Ltd. in May, 1957. The book was printed as a tribute to the greats of the motorcycle industry.

A brief Foreword states: “Last October we published a book containing caricatures of well known motor racing drivers, past and present, to mark the 60th anniversary of the British Motor Industry. This was so popular with motor racing enthusiasts that we have decided to follow it with a companion volume of famous motor cycle personalities.

“This year happens to be a double jubilee, since it is not only the 50th anniversary of the Isle of Man T.T. Races, but the 25th anniversary of the existence of Shell-Mex and B.P. Ltd, who have throughout the years supported the T.T. races by providing petrol and motor oil to suit the exacting demands made upon racing motor cycle engines.

“All the caricatures which are once again drawn by Sallon of the ‘Daily Mirror’ are of motor cyclists who are still living. The only exception to this is Joe Craig, well known to all motor cycling enthusiasts as ‘the Professor’. We learnt with great regret of his death after the original caricatures had been made.”

Drawings of Alec Bennett, Joe Craig, John Surtees and Stanley Woods are just four examples of the 54 caricatures found in the book — what a gem!

Hotrodding legend Don Siewert: a eulogy of sorts

Don Siewert with a 1950 Mercury, a car he built in 1957. The picture was taken in 1959. All photos courtesy the Siewert family. Story and images first published in the Calgary Herald Driving section 3 Feb. 2012.

With the passing of Don Siewert Calgary has lost a legend.

Siewert spent his life restoring and hotrodding cars, and motivating and inspiring a younger generation. He was 76 when he died on January 11; Siewert will be remembered by many in the Calgary car community, and especially by former students he taught at public high schools during the last decade of his life.

Siewert was born in 1935 on a farm just north of Drumheller. At 17 he wanted to drop out of school but his parents insisted he get an education. After graduating he enrolled at SAIT in what was then called the Farm Construction program. This course related to the care and maintenance of the sundry machines — from tractors to stationary engines — found on a working farm.

At much the same time Siewert was looking for a set of wheels. He was 18 or 19 when the first car he owned, a 1933 Chev coupe, blew its motor. A 1935 Ford truck was his next vehicle. He replaced the original 60 horsepower, 136 cubic-inch Ford motor with a 110 h.p. 255 cubic-inch Mercury engine.

In 2009 Siewert was inducted into the Canadian Street Rodding Hall of Fame, and at the time in an interview with me, said: “I had a hotrod.” He laughed, and added, “That little Ford truck was the indoctrination.”

The Farm Construction program gave Siewert time towards his apprenticeship, and at 20 he left SAIT with his journeyman ticket as a licensed mechanic. That led him to a job at Currie Barracks, where he could quickly grind a set of valves on a Bren gun carrier – not an easy task.

From servicing engines Siewert moved on to autobody work, and he eventually received his ticket in that field as well. He then worked for the City of Calgary as a vehicle painter for two years. Next, he became an insurance damage appraiser, and then he worked again as a painter, but this time he finished wooden desks and furniture.

“That kind of rounded out my trade career,” Siewert had said.

Siewert rented a garage in Sunalta where he worked on his own projects, constructing hotrods and lead sleds. Later, he had his own double garage, where he built cars, and also restored a number of vehicles, from Ford Model Ts and As to Mustangs and Thunderbirds.

“I’ve always had the hotrodder instinct, but I like my old original stuff, too,” Siewert explained. “I’m not content with buying pieces and putting them on a car, I’m (more) content handcrafting pieces that are made to fit, and there’s a lot to be said about that. I like to have my signature on a car in the parts that I build.”

Don Siewert at Bonneville, where he drove with the North of 49 race team.

He took this love of building cars to Calgary high school auto shops, including Jack James, Henry Wise Wood and finally Lord Shaughnessy.

“Dad would take his cars into the shop and let his students crawl all over them,” his son Mike said. “He wanted them to see how the technology had changed from the early days, and how it had progressed into the cars of today.

“He was amazing when it came to showing kids how to do something, rather than just telling them how to do it. Dad always felt you had to get your hands dirty.”

Siewert had such a following that several of his former students, one of whom purchased an old Model A from his instructor, arrived at the memorial service. Many of them also held an informal wake of their own to honour their mentor.

At the time of his death, Siewert was still working on cars. In fact, his last project was a Ford Model T Roadster pickup truck equipped with a 331 cubic inch DeSoto hemi engine. Mike said his dad was building it up to resemble an early open wheel Indy racecar.

“My brother (Rob) and I will eventually finish that project in memory of my dad,” Mike said.

Don’s son, Mike, at the memorial service in his dad’s 1930 Ford Roadster powered by a 1957 Ford flathead V-8. The car was driven when it was -36 C with the windchill — true hotrodding.

Derek Pauletto: The man behind Trillion Industries

After writing the story about Derek Pauletto’s CB650 (which first ran in Motorcycle Classics magazine) it seems there’s a bit of momentum behind the builder. His work was featured on Pipeburn’s blog, and I thought it might be appropriate to post a recent Q&A with the man who operates Trillion Industries. Pauletto’s Trillion Industries is based in Calgary, Alberta, and the Q&A was written for the Calgary Herald’s Driving section as an introduction to the 2012 Calgary Motorcycle Show.

Derek P. of Trillion Industries with his 1979 Honda CB650. All photos courtesy Spindrift Photography.

Q: Did you grow up in Calgary? Was there a point when you realized you were interested in working with your hands?

A: Yes, we moved to Calgary in 1978, when I was five years old. We lived in Marlborough Park, in the city’s northeast. I was born in North York, Ontario but work brought my family west, and I’ve been here ever since.

My parents have Super 8 movies of me when I was four years old using a wood saw. My dad was in construction, and I loved to work with wood. I built my own toys, Star Wars Snow Walkers, airplanes, but mostly things with wheels. I was never satisfied with things unless they were perfect, and when I built with Lego, the most fun was building. I’d usually take it apart right after putting it together.

Q: What do you remember as a pivotal creative event in your life?

A: Shop class in junior high school. Our garage consisted of minimal tools — a vice, a hammer and a saw. Then I came to a place where I could release all of my ideas. Having access to tools was pivotal, without tools you can’t do much. You can use a rock as a hammer, but that only gets you so far.

Q:. What encouraged you to trade wood saws for a welder, and how old were you when you did that?

A: I took my first year apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker through high school, but when I turned 18, I just started to chill out with my buddies and kind of slacked off for a couple of years. I think I was sick of woodworking, as I’d been doing it since I was five. Also, wood had been a hobby, and I was probably thinking now I have to work with wood for a living.

I was working in an auto upholstery shop when I was trying to find myself, and they had a little welding machine. They told me I couldn’t use it, so I took a SAIT night course in welding. That opened my eyes. After that, I was allowed to use the welder in the shop. Then, I crashed my motorcycle and a friend told about a specialty welding shop where I could take the aluminum parts to get them fixed. I took the parts and also gave them my resume. That was on a Thursday, and was hired on the Saturday.

Q: When did you get your first motorcycle, and what kind was it?

A: I was 18, and I bought a 1988 Suzuki 600 Katana. Previously, motorcycles figured a bit in my life, but I was getting into muscle cars with a 1968 Cougar. Friends had motorcycles, and it was in high school when I twigged to bikes.

1979 Honda CB650. Trillion bar-end signals, Kawasaki ZX-636 inverted forks with custom machined triple clamp.

Q: What was the first motorcycle that you customized? Was it done out of necessity (was the bike missing parts that you had to make)?

A: Probably my 1988 Honda Hawk GT. I bought it from a friend, and it was in pieces in three boxes. I had to make my radiator from a Honda CRX car rad. It was $500 for a new one and I’m making $8 an hour, the math didn’t add up. I repaired the tank, and made my own fork components. This was in 1995 and 1996, working at my new job.

Custom-built v-twin project, Rovad.

Q: You built Rovad (a complete, frame up project) for a local client right after you branched out on your own with Trillion Industries; how important was it to have as much freedom as you did on that project?

A: I was grateful for that freedom. The customer had some pictures, and he wanted a big rear tire, a big engine, and he wanted it black. He didn’t want a chopper, but something a little more sporty. I literally drew up some rough sketches, and he said go with it. He encouraged me to just do it. I really was lucky for the opportunity to do what I wanted. Most of Rovad’s components are ideas of mine that, over the years, I could never do. For example, the billet rear swingarm.

Rovad swingarm, designed and built by Trillion Industries.

Previously, I had been in a phase where everything was welded, but I was learning that you can bolt things together and still be a welder. There was more to it than just being a welder, there are all kinds of ways to fasten stuff together. Welds are nice, but in certain places welds look kind of chunky.

Rovad allowed me to combine the machining world with the welding world, and I learned the possibilities are endless.

Q: You’ve moved on to build custom British-based machines; isn’t that ancient technology, or is that motorcycle history important to you?

A: Calgary’s Bob Klassen was a big influence, as I was working on his British motorcycle stuff. I just got a twitch, the technology was just so simple and everything I was doing was more complicated. I built a supercharged Triumph custom, and created my own rear frame and front girder fork. It was simpler technology, and I got to chill out a bit.

It’s getting harder and harder to do something completely different; there are a lot of paths, and I just took a different one.

Q: How much riding do you get to do? Or, is the actual construction process what you enjoy the most?

A: I definitely enjoy the construction process. This year, I didn’t get to ride very much at all. Work is just busy, and being a family man, I’m not there enough for my wife and kids as it is. I do want to slow down a little more, and I’ve got some projects finished now that I can ride anytime. I don’t ride enough because I’m building my own bikes. Work comes first, and then the personal stuff gets fit in. Leading up to the motorcycle show, I’ve been working seven days a week for more than a month.

Q: One of your current projects is the construction of a fuel-injected Triumph motorcycle to compete on the Bonneville Salt Flats – can you provide some details on that machine?

A: It’s a 1970 Triumph 650 engine, with a 1971 Bonneville head. I had a scrap 1970 Triumph frame that was butchered pretty bad, and I will modify the front hoop, build a hardtail, and run a conventional Triumph front end. The bike will be lower, sitting 3.5” off the ground.

I’ve always had (going to Bonneville) in the back of my mind. Ten years ago I’d heard about it from mostly car guys (for whom) I helped make parts. And then, Roger Goldammer built a land speed racer on an episode of Biker Build-Off, and I thought that was pretty cool. We went to Wendover, Nevada in April, 2011, and took a Bonneville Salt Flats tour, and then we went down to see BUB Speed Week in August. We watched the races for a couple of days, and I asked all kinds of questions. We plan to enter the Modified 650 Pushrod Supercharged class.

Q: What inspires you to get up each morning?

A: Coming to work and starting on projects gets me excited. And I get excited about learning. I get to see my family every morning, and I’m always looking forward to holidays. Every day is one step, and always one step forward.

Honda CB650, above and below.

Trillion Industries and a wild custom CB650

This story about Calgary’s Derek Pauletto and Trillion Industries was first published in Motorcycle Classics magazine. All photos courtesy Kurtis Kristianson and Spindrift Photography.

There’s a trend emerging in the motorcycling community, one that sees relatively unloved classic machines transformed into something the original maker would never have imagined. Many online forums and blogs showcase cleverly designed choppers, bob jobs and café racers, and plenty of them are based on motorcycles of the late 1970s and early 1980s that originally didn’t have much grace. Take the humble Honda CB650, a four-cylinder model sold in North America from 1979 to 1982. Honda produced thousands of these motorcycles, yet how many of us remember them? Honda’s CB650 didn’t have the charm of the smaller CB550, or the power of the larger CB750. No, the CB650 just isn’t considered an important motorcycle.

That’s not to say it isn’t a good motorcycle, though. Calgary, Alberta welder and fabricator Derek Pauletto learned just how reliable his 1979 Honda CB650 could be after he bought it for $300 from a co-worker’s older brother. The first time he laid eyes on the CB650 the machine was outside, leaning up against a garage. Covered in leaves, the Honda had obviously been exposed to the elements for a few months, but it had brand new tires – hence the $300 asking price.

“I wasn’t attracted to it, and it wasn’t my style,” Derek says. At the time, Derek was interested in more modern, streamlined equipment, but adds: “I thought I might be able to get the thing running, and I didn’t have a complete bike to ride at the time,” It took him only a few short days to sort out the carbs on the CB650 before it roared to life, and Derek began using it to commute to his last year of welding classes at tech school, and to his job at a local welding and fabrication shop. While at this shop Derek became known by vintage motorcyclists for his skill with a TIG welder, and his ability to bring back from the dead almost any cracked or otherwise destroyed piece of aluminum, including British motorcycle engine cases and primary covers. Derek now runs his own shop, Trillion Industries, and he continues to be a go-to guy for alloy welding repairs.

But for those two years the CB650 proved to be dead reliable, always starting on the button and never protesting. It was easy on gas, and cheap to run, but when Derek finished putting together a 1988 Honda Hawk GT project for himself he was prepared to sell the CB650. So he stuck a $500 price tag on it, and waited for a buyer. None ever arrived. Neither did they at $400, or even $300.

“Friends were laughing at me that I wanted that much money for it, and were telling me I was wasting my time trying to sell a motorcycle like that,” Derek says. “But that CB650, it had gotten me from A to B, and I had ridden it for two years. As ugly as at was, it was a good bike, and I felt insulted. So, I said ‘screw it’, and decided to take it under my wing and fix it up.”

By fixing it up, Derek was obviously not talking about restoring the CB650 with paint and some shiny chrome plating. When Derek began contemplating just what he’d do to the CB650 it was during the heyday of stuffing very fat rubber into the back ends of American-made v-twin motorcycles. On a bit of a lark, Derek wondered when someone would create a fat-tired sport bike. That line of thinking sent him off to do some research, and he became familiar with café racers. It was then he began to appreciate the 1960s and early 1970s period of custom ‘sport bike’ motorcycles – café racers. Derek’s plan was to take his old CB650, an unloved classic, and use the machine as a platform for his unusual vision of the café style.

First on his agenda was widening the original Comstar mag wheels. While unliked by some, Derek appreciates the five-spoke pattern of the Comstar wheel. Plus, some of his motorcycling friends told him widening a Comstar simply couldn’t be done. Wrong thing to say to Derek. “At the time, I really liked to go against the grain, and I don’t think anybody else was using Comstar wheels on their customs,” Derek says. “And then when people told me it couldn’t be done, well, it became a challenge to widen the Comstar rims.” A visit to local bike wrecker TJ’s Cycle yielded a second set of rims, a matching 19” front and a larger 18” rear as opposed to the stock 17”.

Derek cut the flanges off each side of the rear rim before rolling out two 3” x 3/16” flat aluminum strips. These hoops were then welded to each side of the rim, and the flanges welded back on, increasing the width from 2.5” to 8.5” to accept a 250 series rear tire. Easier said than done. Looking back on the project, Derek says widening the rims was the hardest part of the entire build – and that’s because the rim flanges are hollow, and not solid aluminum, making them very delicate to weld. His perseverance and dedication to building custom Comstar rims never flagged, but the CB650 project stalled after completing the widening chore.

After completing the wheels, Derek branched out to open Trillion Industries. While known for his aluminum welding repairs he also took on some serious one-off fabrication jobs, including constructing a helicopter and a frame-up custom v-twin motorcycle. As he focused on getting the business running, the CB650 sat from March 2005 to November 2006 before Derek got back to the build, completely stripping the CB650 down to the frame. To accommodate both the widened Comstar front rim and the beefy twin radial brake calipers Derek fit a complete – including handlebar and controls — 2003 Kawasak ZX636 inverted fork, machining new triple clamps from billet aluminum to expand the fork by 1.5”.

Fitting the 8.5” wide wheel in the rear involved Derek lopping off the chain adjusters from the original swingarm, using them to build a completely new unit extended by 2.75” and widened by 6”. “I bent and welded up the tubes, and definitely made up a swingarm that is far more robust than what that engine is ever going to put out,” Derek laughs. He widened the CB650’s frame on the left hand (chain) side and cut away all extra brackets.

Derek redid all of the frame welds after an old timer at a local bike show – where the frame in the rough was on display – said: “Kid, I don’t know about these welds,” Derek says. “I was worried for a minute until I saw he was pointing at a factory Honda weld!”

Giving the CB650 its café racer credibility is a fiberglass CR750 replica fuel tank and rear tail section, ordered from Airtech Streamlining in Vista, California. These pieces were for a CB750, but Derek cut them and re-glassed them to fit, and also frenched in the rear taillight. Up front a light sourced from the Harley-Davidson V-rod parts bin gave Derek the modern flair he was looking for, yet the lamp wasn’t so radical it no longer looked like a headlight. Bar end signal lights are pieces Derek made, and the rear units are Watson’s Designs LEDs, set into the swingarm near the lower mounts for the Kawasaki ZRX rear shocks.

Derek rebuilt the CB650 engine top to bottom, starting with new valves in the shaved head – something he did to slightly increase the compression ratio. New rings were fitted to the standard pistons and all new bearings and seals were used in the overhaul. The four carbs are stock 26mm Keihin piston valve units, but Derek has plans to upgrade to flat slide 26 mm instruments. He’s not after horsepower. “It’s a 30 year-old 650, why try to chase after the horsepower rabbit?” Derek says. “You couldn’t take it anywhere near what a modern 600 will do now.”

To get power from the narrow engine to the wide rear wheel Derek simply welded a 1.75” tube between two output sprockets, supporting the outer portion of the device in a bearing that’s actually caged to the frame. The foot pegs would be recognizable to riders of dirt bikes, as the Fastway stainless steel pads are from the world of motocross, and these are fitted to Derek’s own brackets and controls.

Now, that unusual exhaust. It’s made up of Suzuki GSX-R titanium headers that were being scrapped. Derek used as much of the tubing and fittings as he could, and manipulated them to dump into a Yoshimura canister. The bike is actually very quiet, and isn’t obnoxious at all when running. In homage to Honda racers of the 1960s, Derek’s friend Donny Klukas painted the machine red and striped it in yellow and silver.

“This is my interpretation of a modern café racer,” Derek says, and of his CB650 he adds: “I didn’t buy the project bike from Elvis. It was mainly because people made fun of my baby — people get attached to things, even ugly duckling motorcycles. I guess it became more of an exercise about what could be done to an unloved 30-year old motorcycle, and it just got carried away. It doesn’t make much more power than it did, and it wasn’t ever about the power, but more about the looks and how things can be transformed.”



Engine: 627cc SOHC, four stroke air-cooled inline 4 cylinder, 59.8 x 55.8 mm bore/stroke, est. about 55 hp @9000 RPM

Top Speed: yet to be determined

Carburetion: 4 Keihin piston valve 26 mm

Transmission: 5 speed constant mesh, chain drive

Electrics: CDI, 12V 9ah battery

Frame/Wheelbase: modified steel tube duplex frame, 56″ wheelbase

Suspension: ‘03 Kawasaki inverted front forks, lengthened swingarm (2.75”) and widened (6”), twin ‘04 Showa reservoir rear suspension shocks

Brakes: Dual 320mm radial disc front and 200mm single disc rear

Wheels/tires: original Comstars widened 3.50×19 front-120/70/19 Avon Cobra, 8.5”x18 rear- 250/40/18 Avon Cobra

Weight: 415 lbs. (189 kg) wet

Seat height: 34.0”

Fuel capacity:  4.0 gal. (15.1L)

Northwest Cycle & Motor Co. Winnipeg, Manitoba

From Larry Zglobicki of Winnipeg come these great shots of Northwest Cycle & Motor Co., circa the mid-1930s, at 551 Logan Ave. The shop opened in 1912, and while it started out carrying Harley-Davidson, over the years they imported and sold just about every brand of motorcycle and scooter, including Ducati, Lambretta and Vincent. It stayed in its Logan Ave. location until 1978, when H-D Winnipeg bought out the company.

(Click on an image to enlarge)

There are some great looking girder fork machines in the collection, from Ariel to Sunbeam.

Below is a shot of Larry’s dad, Frank (third from right), who was in the 10th Dragoons – Polish 1st Armored Division. He was in North Africa, France, Battle of Britain & Atlantic, Norway, Italy, Normandy, Netherlands and Belgium. Thanks for sharing the images, Larry. If anyone’s got Northwest Cycle & Motor Co. tales to tell, please leave a comment.

…and, here’s a little bit more. This was published in the Antique Motorcycle Magazine, and was a part of my Pulp Non-Fiction column. In it, I took a look at a 1950 publication from Northwest Cycle & Motor Co. of Winnipeg, Manitoba. This is a hefty 64-page catalog chockfull of interesting motorcycles, parts and accessories. I had some help from AMCA president Ross Metcalfe in researching Northwest Cycle & Motor, as the city of Winnipeg is his hometown. He sent me an article written by Chuck Murray about the history of Harley-Davidson in Manitoba – and that history is intertwined with that of Northwest Cycle & Motor.


According to Murray’s research, it’s thought that August Buchoski started the business around 1912. In the Winnipeg Free Press archives, Murray discovered newspaper ads offering new 1912 Harley-Davidson motorcycles from Northwest Cycle & Motor, and by the end of the First World War the storefront was at 519 Logan Avenue. Around 1920, Buchoski sold Northwest Cycle to Minty Stonson who moved the store into an old bank building at 551 Logan Avenue and then became an official Harley-Davidson retailer, selling mainly H-D and Henderson until 1930, when Henderson became defunct.

In the 1930s, Stonson added British-made Triumph and Ariel machines to the sales roster, and this did not please the Harley-Davidson factory. As a result, Harley-Davidson opted to put in a second retailer, with Brown and Winters gaining a Winnipeg H-D sales agency.

“Brown and Winters made it quite clear that they were there to put Northwest Cycle out of business,” Murray writes in his article. “Minty (Stonson) let Harley-Davidson know that he was not happy about this. He made a deal that Harley-Davidson would take his stock back and he quit being a Harley-Davidson agency. In less than two years Brown and Winters went out of business.

“Minty bought them out for a song. Minty liked the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, naturally, as he had built up the business for them. Harley-Davidson realized their mistake and asked Northwest Cycle to take back the agency, which they did, agreeing to do so if no further attempts were made to put in another dealership in Winnipeg.”

Stonson retained ownership of Northwest Cycle until 1945, when Joe and Charlie Perkins purchased the store. While there wasn’t much inventory on the showroom floor immediately after the war, in just five short years the Perkins’ had turned Northwest Cycle & Motor Co. into a powerhouse retailer on the prairies. A glimpse at the “1950 Catalogue” here shows the storefront was still at 551 Logan Avenue, and Northwest Cycle had diversified its range to include Ariel, A.J.S., Harley-Davidson, Norton, Triumph, Vincent and Whizzer.

Inside the front cover, a letter reads, “Dear Riders and Prospective Customers:

“As the year 1950, marks the turning of the half century we can look back over the last 50 years with real pride and joy as we take stock of the miraculous changes in motorcycling during that period. Imagine driving the old belt drive Harley as compared to the new 74 O.H.V. model of today. And all the beautiful, newly designed, sturdy British jobs listed in this catalogue.”

Pages 32 and 33 showed examples of just a few of those ‘beautiful’ British jobs with the range of Vincent motorcycles, including the 998cc v-twin powered Black Shadow Series B and Black Shadow Series C, Rapide Series B and Rapide Series C and the 499cc Comet Series C.

“All Series C models have the Vincent Girdraulic front fork, as well as an hydraulic shock absorber mounted between the spring units of the rear suspension,” the catalog copywriters note. “The Series B machines have a girder type front fork and no rear hydraulic shock absorber.”

In regards to the Series B and Series C references, Northwest Cycle notes, “It has been the policy of the Vincent people to refer to their models in terms of series instead of the year of manufacture; thus their machines are not so easily “dated”, and any post-war model can be brought up-to-the-minute in its particular Series category.”

From the flashy Vincent to the utilitarian Whizzer, Northwest Cycle’s catalog first four pages were dedicated to the American-made motor that could be installed in a bicycle to make a motor-bike.

“The New Whizzer Bike Motor – Fits Any Man’s Balloon Tire Bike!” the text states. Features included: 1. Twist-grip controls, 2. 35 m.p.h., 125 miles per gallon, 3. Precision-buiollt 2-1/2 h.p., 4-cycle design, 4. Gleaming chrome trim, 5. A complete power package with all necessary attachments, 6. Steel cable core notched V-belt drive, 7. Made by world’s largest bike motor builder.

Given the twist grip controls, this would most likely have been the Whizzer J-series engine. Price for the Whizzer power unit package was $156 in Canadian funds, while a complete Schwinn bicycle model WZ507, ready for motor installation, could be purchased for $100. Also listed in the catalog is the complete Whizzer Sportsman for $365.

They enthusiastically wrote, “YES, IT’S HERE!!!…The NEWEST STAR of the lightweight field. COMPACT…RUGGED…DEPENDABLE, only a few of the many features of the SPORTSMAN. Truly, the year’s OUTSTANDING transportation value. Designed for ADULT riding, WHIZZER has combined POWER…PERFORMANCE…ROADABILITY in the GREATEST achievement in lightweight history. Economical, too.”

With another ownership change in 1969, Northwest Cycle carried on in business until 1985. That was the last year the firm sold Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and Harley-Davidson of Winnipeg bought all remaining parts and motorcycle inventory. In 2020, Harley-Davidson Winnipeg is still in business — without Vincent or Whizzer in the lineup, of course.


Ariel Motorcycles — from Square Four to Pixie

Another clipping from my Pulp Non-Fiction columns, as they appear in the Antique Motorcycle Club of America magazine, The Antique Motorcycle. This one is about Ariel, and the brochures I referenced started in 1936.

In that year Ariel offered eight models – all of them four stroke motorcycles, and not one of them less than 250cc.

1936 Ariel front cover. Sex sells.

By 1936 Ariel had been producing motorcycles for 35 years, although the history of the company goes back further than 1901. It starts off in 1869 with James Starley, a talented engineer who was employed as a foreman with the Coventry Sewing Machine Company of Birmingham, England. According to the Ariel Motorcycle Club of North America, Starley thought there was a brighter future in wheeled transportation, namely high-wheel bicycles and their components. The company was re-branded – to use modern-day parlance – the Coventry Machinists Company.

In 1870 Starley found a partner in William Hillman and together they built the first Ariel high-wheeler. Ariel was a name borrowed from the pages of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. In the 1610 play Ariel is a spirit who is at the service of Prospero, and becomes his master’s information gatherer. Ariel is invisible to all but Prospero, and is also able to fly. It’s Ariel’s ability to fly that gave the name credence when applied to a bicycle.

Ariel – along with many other manufactures, both American and British – soon latched onto the idea of the safety bicycle. These were so-called because both front and rear wheels were roughly the same size as opposed to the high wheeler bikes of the day. It’s hard to determine just who exactly can claim the invention of the chain rear drive, but some say it was Starley’s nephew, John Kemp Starley. His Rover safety bicycle was released in 1885, although he came up with the notion for a chain drive several years before.

Charles Sangster joined the Ariel company in 1897 as managing director of cycle components, and it wasn’t long before a gasoline engine was placed in a frame. However, for Ariel, their first motorized products were tricycles and quadricycles. These machines proved their reliability and speed during trials in England, and Ariel continued with their development. Their first motorcycle, fitted with a 2.5 horsepower Minerva engine, appeared in 1901 but the machine wasn’t available for purchase until 1902.

And it was in 1902 that Sangster took control of Ariel. He moved the company from strength to strength, and introduced several remarkable models of the day, many of them powered by Kerry, Minerva or White & Poppe engines. Sangster’s son, Jack, took control of Ariel in 1918 and he broadened the firm’s position in the motorcycle industry as he developed larger, increasingly more powerful machines with help from designer Val Page.

In 1928 young Edward Turner, a manager of a motorcycle shop in Peckham, England, conceived the idea for a square four motorcycle engine. He drew up plans and shopped them around the industry, but it was only Sangster at Ariel who was interested. Sangster hired Turner, and the Ariel Square Four was released in 1931.

When drawing his four-cylinder engine Turner was aware of large and heavy inline four engines such as those produced by American maker Henderson, but he envisioned something much more compact. His design featured geared flywheels on two separate crankshafts. Each crankshaft supported two pistons, and the two pairs made up the ‘square’ four design. The pistons were arranged in a single block, topped with a chain-driven overhead cam. At first a 498cc engine, the capacity was increased in 1932 to 601cc. The model continued little changed for the next four years, right up to the time or our 1936 Ariel brochure.

The 1936 OHC 600cc Square Four.

“For 1936 we offer from Ariel’s Modern Factory a range of machines unequalled for appearance, performance and design,” stated the foreword to the 1936 brochure. “No drastic alterations have been found necessary although many important improvements have been incorporated, and all models are now equipped with every feature demanded by the practical Motor Cyclist.”

Red Hunter, one of Ariel’s most popular models. Love the upswept exhaust on these singles.

For that mid-Depression year Ariel offered a complete range of ‘cycles, including the Square Four, Red Hunter and O.H.V. De Luxe series. Both the Red Hunter and O.H.V. De Luxe machines came in 250cc, 350cc and 500cc capacities. There was also a S.V. De Luxe of 600cc.

All motorcycles featured a cradle-type tube frame. Steel girder forks were used across the range, as was a rubber-insulated tank-top instrument panel. Ignition and lighting was via Lucas 6-volt Magdyno equipment, and featured a large 8” headlamp. Every motorcycle in 1936 was finished in black enamel over a chrome base on the fuel tank with the exception of the Red Hunters; these were finished in red.

Ariel brought out a 1,000cc Square Four in 1937, and in that year marketed the larger machine together with the 600cc Square Four. In 1938, Ariel sold only the 1,000cc version. Ariel was sold to B.S.A. in the mid-1940s, and production of the Square Four continued together with the single-cylinder 350cc and 500cc machines and the 650cc Huntmaster and Hunter twins.

Ariel brochure cover for 1959, not quite as sexy as the one for 1936, but still a romantic piece of art.

In 1959 the Ariel range included the Square Four, 650cc Huntmaster twin, Red Hunters in 350cc and 500cc single-cylinder sizes, and the 200cc Colt. That same year Ariel unveiled the unique Leader model, powered by a twin-cylinder two-stroke engine suspended in a frame of pressed steel. In 1960, there were no four-stroke Ariel motorcycles, only the Leader and the new Arrow. The engine in the Leader was enclosed in pressed steel coverings, while the Arrow, with more of a sporting pretension, had its engine out in the open.

One of Ariel’s products for 1960, the Leader. To think the company that produced the lovely rigid-frame, high pipe Red Hunter with girder forks to this last machine — the Pixie. What progress?

Ariel built their last two-wheeled motorcycle in 1967, and the very last machine produced by this storied British company in 1970 was a 49cc trike, which turned out to be a commercial failure and the final nail in the coffin, as it were. However, the name Ariel does live on in the form of the Ariel Atom, a hot little bespoke sports car built by the Ariel Motor Company (U.K.). In 2001 this British engineering firm acquired the rights to the Ariel name.