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Calgary Herald, Calgary Motorcycle Show and Jason Britton interview, by Greg Williams


Story first published in the Calgary Herald’s Driving section, Friday Jan. 8, 2010.

January is a difficult time of year for motorcyclists.
The machines have been serviced and tucked away for their long winter’s nap and riders suffer serious withdrawal symptoms.
But there is something of a cure. It’s called the Calgary Motorcycle Show at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park. Starting today at noon doses of the medicine will be dispensed for $13 – adult admission.
Every major brand from BMW to Yamaha will have models on display, together with custom and vintage machines. It’s safe to say, if it features two wheels, it will be featured at the show. Returning to the Canadian market after more than a decade is Royal Enfield, and Indian is also back in action – both will be on display.
New this year as part of the Motor Madness Thrill Show is Jason Britton – accomplished motorcycle extreme stunt rider and host of Speed TV’s SuperBikes. The Thrill Show features Britton stunting on the cement floor in the Corral and high-flying motocrossers, the FMX Freestyle Team, getting airborne with their aerial acrobatics.
We recently caught up with Britton at his No Limit Motorsports shop in Los Angeles. As air tools chattered in the background Britton chatted on his cell phone about his passion for motorcycles and his unique extreme stunting techniques.

Q: Your website says you were riding at age two – do you remember the experience?
A: I remember it very clearly. My dad sat me on a motorcycle (a small semi-automatic Honda Trail 50), and his intention was to scare me – he started it and revved it up, and it was the most exhilarating experience of my life; it was the beginning. I was already able to ride a bicycle, and my dad thought he’d put the bike in gear and roll me down the driveway. I just rolled on the throttle and rode it around my uncle’s land until it ran out of gas and then I cried like the baby I was.
I’d been on bikes and ATVs with my uncle, and I had enough knowledge to know you twist the throttle and go.

Q: Who is Jason Britton?
A: Just a regular guy with a passion for motorcycling and the motorcycle industry – it’s a joy of bikes, really. It’s either in your heart and it’s a passion or it’s not. Motorcycling is not something I feel I’d want to be without.

Q: From BMX and motocross to street riding – was the stunt profession a natural fit?
A: I rode anything I could get my hands on, and I rode it on the edge of my skill level and the bike’s limitations, always pushing the envelope. It was a pretty simple progression, as I would quickly find my way to the bike’s limits.
I took my stunt riding skills from all aspects of two-wheeled sports, BMX, motocross and roadracing. I combined all of the skill sets and brought them into stunt riding. Acrobatics, wheelies, stoppies, burnouts, drifting – it takes a lot of different skill sets to master.

Q: What is your role with the TV show SuperBikes?
A: I’m the host of SuperBikes on Speed TV and I travel the world exploring the sport bike culture and lifestyle. There are so many different types of people who ride motorcycles, and no matter where you go it’s all two wheels and one love. There’s an enthusiast niche scene just about everywhere – it’s an international language, motorcycling is.

Q: Do you have a favourite episode of SuperBikes?
A: My favourite is the neck and back surgery episode (Britton required extensive surgery to rectify spinal cord issues that were leading to paralysis). That episode really opened my eyes to the reality of it all and helped me to step back and look at my family and see what they go through when I’m on the bike. Crashes over time had taken a toll, and my vertebrae were pushing into my spinal cord. I did have some paralysis on my left side, and my doctor said I was one step away…

Q: You also executive edit 2Wheel Tuner magazine – what kinds of stories do you feel are important to share with readers?
A: The ones that stress the reality and the dangers of motorcycling if you aren’t aware of your surroundings, and the fact that safety gear can save a life.

Q: How safe is stunt riding, and do you feel a responsibility in promoting safety?
A: I feel a responsibility because I have an influence over a large number of people. Stunt riding is dangerous but in the proper setting it’s not too bad. Most of the stunts we do are performed at slow speeds. Obviously, you shouldn’t be stunting on the street. I encourage riders to find a location where they can ride and not be hassled, and not destroy the environment where they are riding.

Q: What is involved in making one of your extreme videos?
A: At this point we have so many different locations where we’ve ridden, and the videos are compiled from different shoots. There was a time when we used to shoot in traffic and unsafe areas – but I saw it was a dead end and shifted gears and started performing in a more professional form, where people could enjoy watching from the sidelines as opposed to in traffic.
I wouldn’t even consider stunting in traffic now, but I know there are those who do and they have no regard for public safety or their own safety. At one point I saw that as something that was okay to do, but I figured I’d rather shift the influence and set a better example.

Q: What does ‘extreme’ mean?
A: We use that term to describe something that’s over the top and not the ordinary – not in the ordinary scope (of riding a motorcycle).

Q: Do you have a favourite ride or road that you like to experience?
A: I hop on the bike to run back and forth to the shop, and I like the Pacific Coast Highway – the road’s calm and soothing with some twisty turns but it’s not like a racetrack.
If I want to shake the cobwebs I’ll go to a track and take my time getting up to speed. The Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond would be my favourite track.

Q: What’s next for Jason Britton?
I’ve opened a motorcycle shop and I’d like to open a few more. We do parts and accessories and service – we’re your friendly neighbourhood motorcycle store. We’ll do anything from sport bikes to cruisers.
I’m becoming more and more involved in car stuff, four wheel motorsports. I’m not thinking of crossing over, but I’m not sure where that might lead.

Britton is looking forward to performing in Calgary. He was here last January but wasn’t able to perform due to his surgeries. But he did check out the Corral, and of the location he says: “It’s a pretty slick indoor venue.”
Check for more show details. The Calgary Motorcycle Show runs today noon to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $13 for adults, $9.50 juniors (9 – 15), free for children under six when accompanied by an adult and $35 for a family pass (two adult and two junior).

Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter book signing this weekend

I’m pleased to announce that I will be signing copies of my book, Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter, this weekend at the Calgary Motorcycle Show at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park. I’ll be at the vintage motorcycle display Friday, Jan. 8 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and again on Saturday, Jan. 9 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The book is $20 per copy, and the companion DVD, Motorcycle Memories in Motion, is $10.

See you there!

Prairie Dust, Motorcycles

Inside Motorcycles, Norton’s Rocketship, by Greg Williams

1968 Norton Atlas a dependable missile

This story first published in Inside Motorcycles, Issue 1206

All photographs by Amee Reehal


The slogans ‘The Unapproachable Norton’ and ‘The World’s Best Road Holder’ defined one of the most fabled British motorcycle builders. Founded in 1898 by James Lansdowne Norton, or Pa, as he was commonly known, Norton brought to the motorcycling masses several technological advancements. Not the least of these developments was the featherbed frame as designed by the McCandless brothers.

Since the early 1940s the brothers had been working on advanced frame designs, labouring at improving the handling of their own motorcycle – a Triumph. But the McCandless brothers came to the attention of Norton and they were persuaded to design a frame for the Birmingham, England motorcycle company. The featherbed was the result – an all welded duplex tube frame with swingarm rear suspension. The design of the frame was such that the centre of gravity was lowered, and the fuel tank placed further back from the steering head to help centralize weight

Their featherbed motorcycle chassis, introduced to Norton in 1949 and used in the 1950 Isle of Man TT races, revolutionized how Norton motorcycles handled. There are a couple of stories about how the name featherbed was coined. The most popular is that in 1950, when Norton racer Harold Daniell first rode a 500cc single-cylinder equipped McCandless frame he was so impressed with the handling that he equated it to “riding on a featherbed.” The name stuck.

In 1951 Norton’s Model 7 500cc twin-cylinder engine slid into the featherbed frame, and that was the Model 88 Dominator. Over the years Norton used the featherbed frame for many of its motorcycles, including its more pedestrian 350cc and 500cc single-cylinder machines. It was the twin-cylinder Dominator Model 99 that grew to 600cc in 1956, and in 1960 the machine’s top frame rails were pinched together (this made the Slimline frame), thus decreasing the width to better accommodate a rider’s knees. In 1961 the first 650cc Norton was an export only Manxman, and in in 1962, the company introduced the  650SS with the Slimline frame.

Then came Norton’s 750cc Atlas. Introduced in 1962, the Atlas was initially intended to be something of a sport-touring machine, often sold with a single Amal carb. (The 1961 Manxman and 650ss were twin carb bikes with 9:1 compression were much more comparable to the Triumph Bonneville. The Model 99 did have the option of twin carbs, high compression and polished ports as far back as 1958.) In 1964 the Atlas was fitted with 12-volt electrics and a second AMAL carburetor. The Atlas was produced until 1968, when the Isolastic-framed Commando was introduced.

Calgary motorcycle enthusiast Bob Klassen has been nuts for bikes ever since his first – a 175cc Harley-Davidson Scat. He got into old British motorcycles in 1985 when he bought a 1970 Triumph Bonneville, literally as an offshoot to his English car hobby. He does, however, have some Italian and American motorcycles in his collection of eight machines. Klassen discovered this featured 1968 Norton Atlas on eBay in 2005, and encouraged a friend to purchase the motorcycle.

“He’d had a British bike in his younger days, and I was always trying to convince him to get back onto a British machine,” Klassen said. “This Norton was in the northwest U.S., and it appeared to be in stock condition. I got my friend interested and he bought the bike.”


After he got the bike home to Calgary, though, his interest waned, and he had trouble getting the Norton started. It languished for three years until the spring of 2008, and that’s when Klassen got a phone call. “He said ‘Come pick up the bike, and do what you need to do to get it running’,” Klassen recalled. After Klassen picked up the Norton it took him a day or two to sort through some wiring and the points ignition system – difficult to access thanks to their location behind the cylinders and underneath the carburetors — before ho got it fired up. But after it started, the Atlas seemed to run and idle fine, so he strapped on his helmet, zipped up his jacket and pulled on his gloves and went for a ride. “I had the thing seize up 20 miles later,” Klassen said. “I got the truck and brought the bike back home and took the motor apart. That’s where this very pretty and stock looking Atlas came off the rails.”

Inside the motor there was a bent connecting rod, and it appeared the cause was from a seriously ham-fisted rebuild job. “The rods were installed backwards,” Klassen explained, and this shortened the life of the rod shell bearings and the rods. His friend didn’t want to get this far involved with the Atlas, and at this point offered to sell it to Klassen – and Klassen couldn’t refuse.

NortonBike-4“Finding the engine in such poor condition was a shock, and it was such a shock because it was in total contrast to what the rest of the bike looked like. Everything was there – even the enameled brass Norton insignias and Road Holder fork badges. I suspect the tank has been repainted, but the frame and everything else, including the fasteners, are original.”

(Note: Reader Benjamin Gradler added this comment: The Atlas in the photos is not 100 per cent original. It has a Commando front fender and two-leading-shoe front brake plate, it has a much older rear tail light as used in the early ’60s, and after 1963 Norton did not use the riveted on Roadholder badges on the forks anymore, they switched to a decal, so someone added those to this later bike too.)

Over the course of two months Klassen completely rebuilt the Atlas motor. In the bottom end he had the crank reground, installed new main bearings, rods and big end shells. After the cylinder was bored .020 over new pistons were installed. The cylinder head was completely refurbished with new guides, valves and springs. The twin 30mm AMAL Concentric carburetors are showing some signs of slide wear but were cleaned and bolted to the intake manifold. With the motor back in the frame it took Klassen little time to tune the carbs and get the Norton running. After that, all that was required for the Norton to pass inspection was a new rear tire. With the Atlas back on the road and more than 850 miles on the rebuild Klassen has nothing but praise for the machine.

“I’ve never owned a Norton and I’d never ridden a Norton until this Atlas,” Klassen said. “The Atlas is a heavier feeling bike, and it’s not as quick feeling as my Bonneville. It’s got a firm, pointed where you want to go feel to it. The engine, being a 750cc, has a very pliant torque characteristic. I love it.”


Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and Typewriter: The story of Bernie Nicholson and Modern Motorcycle Mechanics

UPDATE: Dec. 23, 2009 — Now that the book Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter has launched, the title plus other Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles goodies can be purchased at

I’m happy to announce the upcoming launch of my self-published book Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter: The story of Bernie Nicholson and Modern Motorcycle Mechanics.

Nicholson, of Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles (est. 1933) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was more than just a prairie motorcycle dealer. In 1942 at the age of 25 Nicholson wrote and self-published the first edition of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics, a book that sold so well, he was encouraged to write six more editions, the last in 1974. Over the years more than 100,000 copies of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics have sold worldwide — no small feat for any Canadian author. In fact, 35 years after the last edition was published, there is still a demand for the volume from motorcyclists restoring vintage American, British and Japanese machines. (See for more information.)

Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter takes an in-depth look at how two young brothers imported their first British motorcycle to the dusty Canadian prairies in 1932 during the height of the Depression, and how they went on to run one of the most well-known dealerships and motorcycle mail-order parts houses in North America. Not to mention Nicholson’s writing of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics.

Also available at the launch will be Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles t-shirts, and a DVD that features vignettes of Saskatoon motorcycle hill climbs, military motorcycle training in Barriefield, Ontario and a look at the Daytona Beach races in 1954 and 1955 plus much more.

Mark the calendar, and hope to see you there. Please share this news.


Calgary Herald, Smart: Small Car, Big Deal book review, by Greg Williams


Smart: Small Car, Big Deal makes for smart reading.

Whether you have an interest in the Smart car or not this book proves fascinating as it details the many different facets of how a new automobile –especially in this day and age – enters into production.

Smart retells the history of the little car, from conception through design to final product. It also highlights the company’s environmental responsibility as the cars are produced at the green ‘Smartville’ factory in Hambach, France.

The book was originally published in Germany in 2007 as Smartism. With the arrival of the Smart car in the U.S., publisher Motorbooks renamed and printed the work (ISBN-13: 978-0-7603-3521-5, softcover, 180 pages, 300 colour photos, $32.95,

Smart is part art book with its many colour photos of the cars, the people who drive them, and images of the Smartville factory. Also included are several colourful examples of Smart’s advertising and design sketches.

However, the words written by authors Willi Diez and Jurgen Zollter are as illustrative as the photographs. The stories these two writers tell help peel away the many layers of the Smart story.

Divided into three sections – History & Technology, Analysis & Prognosis and The New One: 451 – Smart takes readers back to 1972. We’re told how Mercedes-Benz created a concept for a small car that the company thought would meet driver demands in the year 2000. While the designs might now look a little naïve, as originally sketched the concept car had dimensions similar to today’s Smart car. To prove the mini-car’s viability test mules of the 2.5-metre long two-seater were constructed.

The project was held back due to safety concerns. It wasn’t clear how such a small car could be constructed and live up to the safety requirements for which Mercedes-Benz as a brand was famous. But the company didn’t give up. In 1981, Mercedes-Benz developed a concept vehicle dubbed NAFA, the “Nahverkehrsfahrzeug”, or Local Traffic Vehicle. A prototype was made, but again, the project was put on the back burner. While the NAFA took into consideration safety with rigid side impact protection and ‘controlled deformation body components’ there just wasn’t a ready and willing market for a micro car.

Then in the late 1980s the California Clean Air Act was announced. The act stipulated that by 2002 at least 10 per cent of every major automaker’s cars sold in the state would have to be Zero Emissions Vehicles.

This spurred Mercedes-Benz to work on the MCC, or Micro Compact Car, and the company set up a design studio in Irvine, Calif. The design team worked in the community as well as in the studio, studying urban mobility issues as they attempted to sketch a pleasing design for the two-seater. Prototypes – the Eco Sprinter and Eco Speedster — were built in 1993.

Enter Nicolas G. Hayek, the man responsible for the Swatch watch. He wanted to revolutionize the auto industry with a car fit for an urban market, and Hayek figured he could apply his Swatch watch making concepts to car manufacturing.

In 1994 Micro Compact Car AG was established as a joint venture between Daimler-Benz AG (51 per cent share) and the Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watch Making Industries Ltd. (49 per cent share). The car needed a name, and it was derived from Swatch Mercedes Art – or Smart.

Propulsion was an issue, and electric, hybrid, gas and diesel power were all considered. In the end, gas/diesel variants won out, and the Smart car was shown at numerous venues in 1995 and 1996. In 1997, Daimler-Benz bought out Hayek’s shares of MCC, and the Smart car was shown at the Frankfurt International Automobile Show.

The Smart measured in at 2.5 m long, 1.51 m wide and 1.52 m tall. A three-cylinder gas engine sat in the back of the car, and safety was assured through the Tridion safety cell together with front and rear crush zones and modern restraint systems. The body consisted, and still consists, of dyed thermoplastic panels, including a front and rear clip and doors.

The first Smart cars were sold in Europe in October 1998. In 1999 a direct-injection diesel engine found its way into the vehicle – and this was the engine powering the Smart when it debuted in Canada in 2004.

Smart – the book – takes a look at the turbulent times felt by parent company DaimlerChrysler in the mid-2000s, and how Smart the brand almost became a footnote in automotive history. With some restructuring and paring of jobs Smart weathered the storm, and the cars – now in their second generation with the new model 451 coupes and cabriolets — continue to be some of the most economic and climate-friendly vehicles in mass production.

Check – at the time of this writing Smart: Small Car, Big Deal was listed as available and priced at $20.78.

Award winner…

It’s always nice to be recognized for your work, and I’m fortunate to receive this recognition. Thanks. Photographer Amee Reehal was also recognized this year as a runner-up in the Pirelli Photography award. Amee and I contribute feature motorcycle stories to Inside Motorcycles. Amee, shoots, I write. Congrats, Amee.

BRIDGESTONE CANADA INC.                               NEWS RELEASE
Contact:   Jeremy Smith

Paul Vaillancourt
Torchia Communications
514 996-6224


Greg Williams Winner Of 2009 Julie Wilkinson Motorsports Award For Excellence In Journalism

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONTARIO (Oct. 29, 2009) – The story of a special performance driving school’s annual ladies-only day at Race City in Alberta has earned journalist Greg Williams the 2009 Julie Wilkinson Motorsports Award presented by Bridgestone Canada Inc. (BSCA). The prize, which comes with a $500 cheque, was awarded at Wednesday’s annual dinner held by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

The Calgary-based writer’s winning entry detailed the events of a special October day when the BMW Clubs of Alberta turned over their Advanced Driving School to a group of 25 women because, as Registrar Patti Duddridge Riegert said, “there are more women buying powerful cars and they quite simply don’t know what their cars are capable of doing.” The winning story recounted the classroom and track lessons and exercises that put the ladies and their cars through their paces on a heavy information day.

“After taking the course, you will be safer on the roads because you will have learned the limits of your own car, and yourself,” she said, an opinion shared by the students of the day. Williams is a columnist for the Calgary Herald.

Bob English’s runner-up story, “A million-dollar tribute to a racing legend” – or how spotting a vintage Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR Stirling Moss edition at the Detroit auto show, prompted a trip down memory lane to vividly recount the 1955 edition of Italy’s fabled Mille Miglia. “Moss ran absolutely flat out in one of the fastest open cockpit sports cars of the day – hitting 274 km/h at times – on a 1,500 km open road course that twisted around a great loop from Brescia to Rome and back through the countryside, villages and towns of mid-50s Italy, averaging 157.65 km/h for ten solid hours. Heroic doesn’t begin to describe it.”

English, of Foxboro, Ont., is a previous winner (2006) of the Julie Wilkinson Award, and a regular contributor to the MSN Autos Canada web site, The Globe & Mail Automotive Section and the quarterly Luxury Vehicles Magazine, among other media.

The 2009 submissions were judged by Patrick Carpentier, veteran Canadian ChampCar, IRL and NASCAR driver, Cindy Hackelberg, managing consultant of Global Services, and Charles-André Marchand, sports journalist and the “voice” of the F1 Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal. The evaluation criteria included writing style, success at educating, passion imparted and entertainment value.

The 2009 AJAC writing competition drew submissions from automotive writers from across Canada, and 15 were flagged for the judging panel. Their subjects ranged from an annual Rite of Spring, the Sebring 12 hours in Florida, the emotions felt by Jack Buxstrom in his return to Mosport some 47 years later in the same Lotus Mk 9 he raced there in the 1962 Player’s 200, to that special event known familiarly as the Targa Newfoundland Rally, a 1960s-style “drag” at Shannonville Speedway with souped up ’71 Buicks and ’66 Chevys going at each other again, as well as comparison test drives of old and new cars, including the Targa and WRC versions of the Subaru Impreza and, finally, because this is 2009, a look at the future of “green” eco-friendly autosports events.

“The scope of motorsports and a love for cars of all kinds, driving and racing, is what makes these stories so special as a body of work,” said Marvin Teixeira, Manager, Purchase Resale Canada for BFCA. “This contest is a way for Bridgestone Canada to showcase top quality motorsports journalism across Canada, and I am proud to see how many people across this great country share our devotion to the road.”

The Julie Wilkinson Motorsports Award, which BSCA began sponsoring a decade ago in 1999, is presented each year in memory of Julie Wilkinson, the Vancouver Croft House School graduate who undertook a distinguished career as a driver in several series and, later, was an automotive journalist who traveled internationally writing about motorsports.

About Bridgestone Canada Inc.:
Bridgestone Canada Inc. (BSCA) is a member of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) and a direct subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas, Inc. (BSAM), whose parent company, Bridgestone Corporation, is the world’s largest tire and rubber company. BSCA and BATO
develop, manufacture and market Bridgestone, Firestone and associate brand tires. They are focused on retail, wholesale and original equipment markets, supplying passenger, light truck, commercial vehicle, off road, agricultural and other tires to their customers in Canada and the United States, respectively. In addition, through its Bridgestone Bandag Tire Solutions Canada unit, retreading customers have access to industry-leading research and development, manufacturing, marketing and sales expertise, providing them with a total tire solution.


Henderson Fours — where are they now?

Searching through some archival photographs yielded these photos of a 1922 Henderson 4 (possibly the Deluxe) and a 1931 Henderson 4. Both machines have been modified by the owner, but perhaps the words on the backs of the photos best tell the story.



Have just learned from the AMCA forum that the machine above is currently owned by Doug Strange. Click here to read the story. This photograph does fill in a couple of the details. (Sept. 26, 2009)

Calgary Herald, 100 years of Morgan, by Greg Williams


All images courtesy the Morgan Motor Company

Story first published in the Calgary Herald section.

Turning 100 is always a milestone, and British automaker Morgan reached this iconic moment this year.

Calgarian Bob Algar wanted to be on hand to witness the birthday bash.

He and his wife Joyce took their very first trip to England in late July and early August with several other couples from the Morgan Owners Group Northwest. The club exists for Morgan owners in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, B.C. and Alberta.

In Malvern and Cheltenham England the Algars became steeped in Morgan history.

“There were 3,200 Morgans on display at Cheltenham Race Track,” Algar says. “And those 3,200 Morgans represented 10 per cent of the surviving cars (produced by Morgan).”


Algar went on a factory tour in Malvern, Worcestershire, where he says the staff was open and very welcoming of visitors. The Morgan factory or ‘works’ buildings are long, low brick structures, and as the car takes shape it is rolled by hand from one building to the next.

H.F.S. Morgan built his first car in 1909. Morgan operated a garage in Malvern, where he installed a Peugeot V-twin engine into a lightweight tubular chassis of his own design.

His car was a three-wheeler – two wheels out front and a single driven wheel out back. In Britain at the time it was less expensive to licence a three-wheeler because it was deemed a motorcycle. There wasn’t as much tax to pay on a motorcycle so three wheelers, or cyclecars as they were also know, became quite popular.

Public interest in Morgan’s three-wheeler proved overwhelming. He initially had no intent to produce a vehicle, but built two more and showed them in 1910 at the Olympia Motor Show.

These cyclecars were both single seat machines. After attending the show Morgan realized he would have to build two seat cars for the venture to have any merit.

Early Morgans were very competitive machines, capable of maintaining a high speed with great reliability and fuel economy. The cars were very light and had a favourable power to weight ratio.

Morgan moved to four wheels in 1936, and the car was called the Morgan Four Four – indicating a four-cylinder engine and four wheels.

A long association with three wheel cars ended in 1950 when Morgan stopped producing cyclecars due to waning demand – the company then focused solely on four wheelers.

Each Morgan was, and still is, built by hand. A steel chassis is topped off with a wood frame, to which all of the important body panels are affixed. While Morgan built the rolling chassis and body the engine was always purchased from an outside supplier. One of its most famous engines was the Triumph four-cylinder, which was used in the Plus 4 (more power) from 1954 to 1969.

When Triumph moved to inline six-cylinder engines Morgan had to find a new source of power because the inline six was too long for the Morgan. Rover’s 3.5-litre V8, surprisingly, wasn’t any longer than the old four-cylinder powerplant and this engine bolted into place. Morgan dubbed this car the Plus 8.

Plus 8 production ran from 1969 to 2004 and the car was replaced with the still-classic looking Roadster. Morgan has taken a decidedly modern approach with new vehicles such as the Aero and Aeromax, and its concept LIFEcar.


The Morgan Aeromax

Algar, who also sits on the executive of the Vintage Sports Car Club of Calgary, is impressed that Morgan is a third-generation family operated company.

“Morgan’s been family owned and controlled continuously for 100 years – how many companies can say that?” Algar says.

Algar has long appreciated the Morgan. Born and raised in B.C., Algar was at university in Vancouver in the 1960s when he became aware of Morgans.

“There was a Morgan dealer in Burnaby, and I can remember seeing them on the track at Westwood,” Algar says. “ That was my first exposure to them – I liked them but I couldn’t afford one.”

Algar bought a Triumph TR2 instead, and it wasn’t until 2000 that he started searching for a Morgan. It took him over a year, but he found a 1987 Morgan Plus 8 in Ontario. The car had just over 20,000 km on the odometer – however it was not well cared for.

“A lot of times people are enamoured by the looks and buy a Morgan,” Algard says. “But the cars are not particularly comfortable. They leak in the rain and they have very stiff suspension.

“There’s a saying about Morgans – ‘if you drive over a coin you can tell whether it’s heads or tails’.”

His car had not seen a lot of use, and Algar had to perform a bit of maintenance before his Plus 8 was completely roadworthy.

Now that it is, Algar and his wife Joyce will drive to Vancouver to take part in the All British Field Meet at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. The show is always held in May, and this year it was so cold heading into the mountains that the pair had to stop in Lake Louise. Here they purchased long underwear before continuing the trip.

“You can melt your feet but freeze the rest of your body – the air goes right through the car,” Algard admits. “But I have absolutely no hesitation in jumping in the car and driving to Vancouver – the car is meant to be enjoyed and it’s only fun if you’re driving it.”

Calgary Herald, Three wheels in motion, by Greg Williams


Photos courtesy Lance Boettcher

Story first published in the Calgary Herald Driving section Friday August 21.

Some people move to the beat of their own drummer.

Calgary’s Lance Boettcher would be a good example.

Since high school Boettcher has had a tendency to build trikes – not children’s toy trikes – but three-wheeled vehicles powered by automobile engines.

Generally, these trikes are pretty stable thanks to a lower centre of gravity, and they are lighter than an automobile. Car-based trikes follow a simple format, and many are built around the back half of a Volkswagen Beetle, including the engine and transaxle. A motorcycle front end complete with handlebars, wheel and controls is grafted to the machine, and some form of a seat is installed.

“I started my first trike project at James Fowler High School,” Boettcher, 43, said. “My shop teacher, Mr. McPhee, turned me loose with a welding torch and an old VW. I started that trike but never finished it – it was really pretty crude.”

But that didn’t stop Boettcher. After he graduated from high school he and a friend decided they would each build a VW-based trike and ride them to Los Angeles.

“When you’re young and foolish it seems like you can do anything,” Boettcher laughed. The pair spent the better part of a spring and summer assembling their vehicles, working on them together. “We used K-mart bar stools for seats, because it looked like they would work.”

The pair did make it to California and back on their homebuilt machines – not without their share of difficulties – but nothing serious really slowed them down.

“I liked trikes,” Boettcher said. “I thought they had merit, and the idea of the three-wheeler was gelled in my mind — but the VW-based ones were always light in the front end.”

Boettcher was formulating a plan to build a much more powerful V8-engine trike, and to that end he sold his VW machine. He now had the seed money to start building a V8 trike, a machine where the engine was up front and the centre of gravity was even lower. Many others have built V8 trikes, but Boettcher said most of them still feature a motorcycle fork at the front end.

“I wanted a low-profile front end, and something that would be up to the task of supporting a V8 engine,” he said.

He had the necessary skills. While not a ticketed welder he is adept at the art of joining metal. Machining small parts and pieces was a task his neighbour performed until Boettcher got his own metal lathe. Trained in the field of aerospace composites, Boettcher spent a good portion of his career working with Fiberglass and carbon fibre.

“I’m not an accredited engineer,” he said. “But I did design and build this”


Boettcher started building his trike in 1989, and he had it registered for the road by 1997. The vehicle is built around a Chevy small-block V8 engine and GM four-speed automatic transmission. He welded up the steel frame and built the body out of Fiberglass. The vehicle has seating for two in tandem, and he even constructed a removable roof and doors. The vehicle is equipped with heat, and air conditioning.

With a background in aerospace industry it would seem inevitable that Boettcher’s vehicle have an airplane-type look about it. Indeed, there are airplane parts used in its construction.

But the one aspect of the trike he’s most proud of is the leading link, semi-elliptic front leaf spring suspension and proprietary steering system. He’s not giving away any secrets about the steering mechanism, other than to say it is power assisted and even though the vehicle is rather long at 4,470 mm it does have a tight turning radius.

“It is steered through a steering wheel, which is unusual for a trike,” Boettcher said. “Most of these are steered with motorcycle-style handlebars.”

And it is the front suspension/steering system that he thinks has merit. He’d like to sell the technology to somebody looking to manufacture three wheel vehicles.

Historically, three-wheeled vehicles have been attempted. Perhaps the most famous is the Davis sedan, built by the Davis Motor Car Company of California. There were only 17 of these three-wheeled cars produced, and in 1948 company founder Gary Davis was being investigated for fraud.

Currently, there are much more modern three-wheelers, including the BRP Can-Am Spyder and the T-Rex.

Boettcher says if he were going to start over he’d look at trying to build an electric-powered three-wheeler. In his design, the battery packs would simply replace the engine, and the electric motors would be at the wheels.

“The V8 is a very dated idea,” he said. But he thinks the core principles of the trike – less rolling resistance of three wheels, good handling, stability, and lightweight — make it an ideal platform for a future low-emission automobile.

Contact Boettcher at