First published in Inside Motorcycles, Issue 1209. Paul Shore runs Motorrad Performance in Calgary, Alberta — not only does he do some impressive custom work on modern machines, but he’s also got great t-shirts designed by Mark Dulmadge of Factory1969.com. Dulmadge did the design work for my Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles t-shirts. Read about Shore’s custom Buell, and then view the photos taken by Amee Reehal.
I penned this column about Airdrie, Alberta wild man Shawn Britton late in 2009. Britton had just returned from a journey across America aboard his stripped down Honda CM400 motorcycle, and I was intrigued. This ran in the January 2010 issue of Inside Motorcycles. All photos are courtesy of Shawn Britton. Click on the image below to make the text easier to read.
All photos courtesy Claude Giguere and the Manitoba Motorcycle Racing Facebook page.
This story first published in Inside Motorcycles, issue 1303, 2010.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Classmates.com have revolutionized life in the 21 st century. Whether they have made life better is certainly open to debate, but there’s no question about one thing. In less than a decade, these Internet-based mediums have also significantly impacted the world of motorcycles, and the very sport of motorcycling.
Claude Giguere, of Okotoks, Alberta is certainly aware of the power of Facebook. He recently joined, and has reconnected with plenty of his Manitoba motocross-racing friends. However, when he became aware of the site, he wasn’t so sure. “When I first heard about Facebook, I thought it was just a bunch of young kids yakking and updating their status every two minutes,” Giguere said. “But my kids were talking about Facebook, and I eventually got onto it. I found a few friends I went to school with, and some of my old racing buddies.”
One of those buddies was MX champ Kim Houde. He was tagged in a photo of a Thunder Bay, Ontario, race and that sent Giguere digging through other pictures. “I’m clicking through theses pictures, and I’m going, holy crap, that’s me!” Giguere says. He found himself in a few images posted by other motocross racers, and that got him started thinking about putting together a Facebook group – one dedicated to all of Manitoba’s motorcycle racers.
He wasn’t too daunted, as Giguere had experience putting together a website page where he’d uploaded several hundred pictures of his motocross racing days dating back to the mid-1970s.
In 1972 Giguere started riding a minibike, specifically a Keystone powered by a 3.5 horsepower Tecumseh engine. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, but lived on an acreage just outside the city’s Perimeter Highway. “I was the first guy to get a minibike, and then everybody started to get one – small Hondas or Rupps,” Giguere says. Life was good. Giguere and his group of friends got to ride around the acreages and on the gravel roads – he says nobody ever bothered them.
Giguere’s next bike was a 1974 Yamaha MX100, his first true ‘motocross’ machine. When school buddy Kim Houde found out he had a MX capable ‘cycle Houde immediately suggested the 16-year old Giguere get out on the track. “After he found out I had a motocross bike he kept bugging me because I was eligible for the Schoolboy class,” Giguere says.
So, Giguere and another friend loaded up their bikes and headed to Miami, Manitoba (70 minutes southwest of Winnipeg) where there was a motocross track built on top of an escarpment. Giguere recalls starting dead last because he didn’t want to be in anybody’s way in the first corner. But after a few laps he found himself in the lead – until his handlebars came loose and he had to pull off the track. He’d lost the crown nut for his forks, walked back out on the track and found the missing item, put it back together and went out for the second moto. He placed second in the race.
“After that, I was hooked,” he says. In 1975 Giguere bought a used Honda 125 Elsinore. He was able to afford his new passion because he always had a job, either helping his dad who was a beekeeper, or helping neighbours work their greenhouses. And that’s when he started to get a bit more serious about racing.
“A friend told me they’d put together a motocross track on a nearby old dairy farm,” Giguere recalls. “The farmer had front end loaders and helped build up a track.” Giguere would ride his Honda from his parent’s house to the track, and he did that every evening for months. Do it enough, and you’ll get good.
“I was getting faster and faster,” Giguere says. “When I raced my first 125 Junio (now Novice) event I was so fast and won the race they moved me up to Senior (now Intermediate).”
Giguere had a great year in 1976 campaigning a Yamaha YZ125. He won plenty of races and moved up to Expert (now Pro). He spent 1977 racing in Expert class, and late in the year he went to work for Alfred Nunn of Austin Sports. Nunn wanted to open a satellite Suzuki shop in Portage la Prairie, and he tapped Giguere to basically run a one-man show, looking after sales and service. While working for Nunn, Giguere was given two bikes to ride – one of them was a Suzuki RM125. He did well aboard the Suzuki, but crashed hard in 1978 and was on crutches for several weeks.
After the crash he quit the Suzuki gig in Portage la Prairie and moved back home. While there he got a call from Riteway Sports, and was offered a job to work at the number one Yamaha shop in Manitoba. Again, Giguere was given machines to race, now YZs. All through this period Giguere and his friends (there was quite a crew of them, often referred to as the Manitoba wild bunch) would travel to tracks in Thunder Bay, Minneapolis, Saskatoon or Regina to race, and if they weren’t motocrossing they were battling it out on half-mile dirt tracks or on ice.
Giguere started a welding course in 1980, and by 1981 he was employed by CP Rail as a boilermaker’s apprentice. He’s still working for CP, but was transferred to Calgary in 1997. Giguere continued to race motocross off and on for several years, but says, “In 1978, ’79, ’80 and ’81 the top three riders were Kim Houde, Don Gill and myself.”
Cross-country and enduro racing followed, and he still likes to get dirty and even greasy, as he’s collecting and restoring motocross machines similar to those he used to race. Amongst a number of Yamahas he’s got a 1974 MX100, and a 1978 Kawasaki KX250 and a 1981 Suzuki RM125.
While he’s having fun in the garage he’s also having just as much fun with his computer. After setting up the Manitoba Motorcycle Racing Facebook page in December of 2009 the number of members grew exponentially. It started off with 25 or 30 members, and climbed to 130 in less than two weeks. There are now some 193 members, and more than 1,200 pictures of Manitoba racers and events on the group page.
“Facebook is free to join and peruse,” Giguere concludes. “(The group page) has brought a whole bunch of guys back together that we haven’t seen or heard from for a while. I just think the whole global Internet thing is so cool.”
Dave Holmes with his 1977 Pontiac Trans Am SE. Holmes won the Long Distance award at the Summit Racing Equipment Firebird car show in McDonough, GA. Holmes had driven his car from Calgary, Alberta to attend, ensuring he was a winner as part of the Bandit Run 2010. Courtesy Dave Holmes.
This story first appeared in the Calgary Herald Driving section July 9, 2010.
As a film, Smokey and the Bandit didn’t win any major awards.
Nevertheless, high -speed car chases and high-flying stunts helped make the movie a memorable one.
What makes Smokey and the Bandit even more memorable, however, is the black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am that plays a role in almost every scene of the film.
There were of course other actors in the movie, including Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason.
Here’s a brief plot synopsis: After accepting $80,000 to guarantee delivery of 400 cases of illicit Coors beer, Bandit (Reynolds) uses the Trans Am to draw police attention away from an 18-wheeler, driven by Cledus (Reed), that’s loaded with the goods. They’ve driven from Georgia to Texas to pick up the Coors, but by crossing the Mississippi back to Georgia with the suds they essentially become bootleggers – at the time, Coors product wasn’t allowed east of the mighty river.
But when Bandit picks up a wedding-ditching Carrie (Field), he also picks up some heat. Carrie left Junior, son of sheriff Buford T Justice (Gleason) at the altar, and Justice vows to track her down.
With hi-jinks and gags aplenty, the movie doesn’t offer much intellectual stimulation. But that’s OK, it is entertaining.
When Dave Holmes of Calgary ordered his own Trans Am in 1976 he hadn’t seen or heard of Smokey and the Bandit.
“My purchase of the car had nothing to do with the movie,” Holmes says of his black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. Some 34 years later, Holmes still has the car.
We have to step back to 1972 to pick up the story of Holmes and his Trans Am. After a motorcycle accident, Holmes lost the use of his right arm. He was 18 years old, and it took four years of court dates before Holmes got his insurance settlement.
With the money, he was going to buy a car. He’d always been a Corvette fan but he wanted to give his business to his uncle and cousin. They were family members who owned a Pontiac Buick dealership in Virden, Manitoba.
“The hottest car Pontiac had at the time was the Trans Am,” Holmes says. “I was talking to my cousin in the fall of 1976 – I ordered the car over the phone – and he mentioned they had a new special edition Trans Am available, and that’s what I ordered – with a red interior.”
Prior to Smokey and the Bandit, the car was simply known as a Trans Am LE, for limited edition. The LE was produced to commemorate Pontiac’s 50 th anniversary.
Pontiac built the LE for the 1976 model year, and the car featured the black paint, gold pinstripes and the huge decal of a bird, also in gold, spread across the hood. Another unique feature of the 1976 LE was the T-top glass roof hatches.
Selling successfully, Pontiac decided in late March of 1976 to continue the LE option into 1977, dubbing it the Trans Am SE, or special edition, to differentiate the two model years.
But then Smokey and the Bandit happened. In the summer of 1977, after the movie hit the screens the black Trans AM SE vehicles pretty much became immortalized as ‘Bandit cars’.
On May 24, 1977 Holmes flew from Calgary to Virden to collect his Trans Am. He paid $8,900 for the car, and he drove it every year, all year, as his daily driver. Even though he was 24 at the time, he says he never drove the car very hard, and always took care of it by changing the oil every 2,000 miles (3,200 km). He replaced brakes, tires and hoses, and kept it tuned up.
But in the winter of 1993 the car skidded on a patch of ice in his driveway and continued through his garage door. That’s when he decided to buy an SUV, and park the Trans Am for the winter months.
Holmes says he had the car painted in 1998, but bemoans the fact it was a mediocre restoration, complete with the wrong decal package. Plus, it started to rust again almost instantly; with the unsightly rot returning around the rear wheel wells and the back bottom corners of the doors.
“I got sick of looking at it like that, and I borrowed the money and got it done properly,” Holmes says. In 2004, rusty metal was cut out and new patches welded into place. A one-man shop in New Sarepta, Alberta, sprayed the black paint and positioned the iconic decals.
Most recently, Holmes had the engine pulled to chase down a leaking seal, and while the powerplant was out of the car the pistons and valvetrain were inspected. There was nothing wrong with the big 6.6-litre V-8 engine, which has logged some 189,000 miles (304,166 km).
While Smokey and the Bandit had nothing to do with his original purchase decision, Holmes now enjoys the connection. He’s attended two Bandit Runs, one in 2009 and again in 2010. The Bandit Run was first held in 2007 to commemorate the film’s 30 th anniversary.
Holmes drives his Trans Am from Calgary to the southern states to participate, and says he rolls his eyes when he sees vehicles unloaded from car haulers.
“They’re so much fun to drive around, and that’s the whole idea of having the thing,” he says. “I get honks and waves from truckers all the time.”
Rene Cormier’s single-cylinder 2003 BMW motorcycle shows 154,000 kilometres on the clock.
Cormier bought the bike specifically for one purpose – to tour the world. Needless to say, those kilometres weren’t added commuting back and forth to work.
Every one of them was racked up over a period of four years between 2003 and 2008 as Cormier rode through 41 countries, existing on a meagre $25 a day budget.
Cormier is justifiably proud that he did the entire journey without any sponsorship — he bought the 2003 BMW F650 with his own money.
When he ran out of cash halfway through his odyssey he returned home to Edmonton where he worked for a year as a new house framer to earn enough funds to carry on.
But now that he’s back BMW has taken an interest in his exploits. The company is paying for Cormier to tour across Canada, visiting 15 of their motorcycle retail outlets. He’s in Calgary next week on Thursday, April 29 at Blackfoot Motosports from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
While the talk is free, a donation of a non-perishable food item for the Inter-Faith Food Bank would be appreciated. And, you don’t have to be a motorcycle enthusiast to enjoy the talk – anybody with a spirit of adventure is welcome.
Cormier recently released a self-published book, The University of Gravel Roads: Global lessons learned from a four-year motorcycle adventure (www.renedian.com). He says his BMW presentations will be an overview of the trip, peppered with five or six anecdotes that he says are the most interesting. Then, he will take questions.
“Of the top 20 questions I get asked the one I hear most often is: ‘How did you pay for it?’” Cormier says during a telephone interview from his home in Edmonton. “I sold everything I had. That’s how I generated cash to put in the bank.
“And, the easiest way to get your money to go a long way is to live cheap – about $25 U.S. a day. That’s about $10,000 a year if you do the math.”
In 2002 Cormier was working in Colorado for RockShox, a bicycle company that produced suspension systems. He was living the dream. But when RockShox was sold to a larger firm based in Chicago he decided he didn’t want to make the transition.
Cormier literally became a fan of motorcycle adventure touring in 1992 after seeing his first bike on the trail, so to speak, while on a safari in Kenya, Africa. Ten years later, in 2002, Cormier could finally afford a motorcycle. He bought a used 1986 BMW R100 GSPD, and during a soul-searching tour of Alaska Cormier decided he wanted to tour the world via motorcycle.
And that’s how, when he returned home to Colorado, he helped RockShox close up shop. He sold everything he owned, bought a new BMW and rode it to Vancouver to start the first leg of his trip.
And here’s one of the anecdotes Cormier might just share. It wasn’t banditos in Mexico or any other South American country, nor an inebriated border guard in Ethiopia armed with an AK-47 who scared him the most. Nope, that happened in Utah, on his way to Vancouver.
While camping under the stars his slumber was shattered at the sound of a gunshot. A group of fun-loving folks were taking potshots from a vehicle parked a few hundred metres away, and one of the bullets had just pierced his fuel tank. Gasoline dribbled out of the hole and soaked his sleeping bag.
The other anecdote Cormier likes to share is how in November 2006 he met his future wife, Collette (they actually just married four weeks ago) near Cape Town in South Africa.
“I met her at a birthday party, and we got speaking and chatted for a while,” Cormier recalls. “She told me where she worked, and we agreed on a date.
“I picked her up on the bike, and we had a great day riding the beautiful South African roads enjoying the wonderful scenery – ocean side riding, then through vineyards and mountain passes. She’d never been on a motorcycle before, and I don’t think either one of us really expected the relationship to last.”
Cormier was waiting for the rainy season to pass in points further north in Africa, and when it was dry enough he left her behind in Cape Town.
“But we kept texting each other, and she’d fly up to meet me, or I’d fly to meet her, and that was it, really,” Cormier laughs.
Cormier’s BMW was a steadfast steed throughout the journey – it never once let him down. He performed regular oil changes, and kept on top of preventative maintenance chores. By riding cautiously he managed to make a chain and sprockets last 40,000 km at a time.
The message he hopes to impart at his BMW retailer presentations is that the rewards far outweigh the risks of any travel adventure.
“The goal behind bringing my stories to other riders is to remind them that although there are inherent risks with any travel, we imagine them to be bigger and scarier than they actually are,” Cormier says. “I want to convince people of the overwhelming rewards of adventure travel by motorcycle.”
Story first published in Inside Motorcycles, Issue 13/01.
In 1959 Honda changed the way many people thought of motorcycles – and motorcycling — when they introduced their clean and quiet machines to North America.
And it was in 1961 with the CB72 Honda Hawk, a 250cc motorcycle, and its larger brother the CB77 Super Hawk at 305cc, that some rather unique features became available in mass-produced machines. An inclined vertical twin engine that could be revved to 9,200 r.p.m powered both models. The bikes included 12-volt alternator electrics, electric start, chain-drive overhead cams and wet sump lubrication. The Super Hawk proved most popular of the two bikes, and thousands of first-time riders cut their teeth aboard the model.
Calgary’s Wade Youngman (we featured his 1973 Kawasaki Z1 900 in issue 1208) was aware of the significance of the Honda Super Hawk. So when he got a call from a friend who told him he’d heard of an old Honda for sale, Youngman got the number and called the owner.
“The story was this had been his son’s bike, who had bought it brand new and rode it for a while,” Youngman says. “But he was on a trip down in Montana when he fell over on it, and it came home and into the back of the garage where it sat for years. That wasn’t a big deal until he retired and wanted his garage space back – he was working on a big Chrysler Imperial.”
When Youngman came along in 1997 he didn’t know the bike he was going to look at was a Super Hawk. He arrived at the garage where the bike was stored – buried behind some sheets of plywood – and the owner uncovered the Honda. “I knew right away exactly what it was,” Youngman says. “(The owner) said the motor was seized, and that he’d tried to kick it over. But he didn’t know that the Super Hawk kicks forward.”
The Super Hawk does feature an electric starter, but also employed the forward rotating kicker as a backup to fire the all-alloy engine. With its 305cc’s, the twin-cylinder engine produces 28 horsepower at 9,000 r.p.m. Lubrication is via wet sump, and the oil used in the engine also looks after the unit-construction four-speed gearbox, clutch and primary chain. A single overhead camshaft is chain-driven, with the drive sprocket placed directly in the middle of the crankshaft. Twin 26 mm Keihin carburetors feed fuel to the forward-canted engine.
A tubular steel frame with a large diameter backbone sees the engine employed as a stressed member, and features swingarm rear suspension and hydraulic forks up front.
The Super Hawk had a six-year model run, from 1961 to 1967. Production stopped in ’67, but Super Hawks were still available through to 1969. Super Hawks were replaced in 1968 by the CB350. In the U.S., 3,479 250cc Hawks were sold between 1961 and 1966. And between 1961 and 1969, 72,396 305cc Super Hawks were sold. In 1964, $665 would buy the CB77 brand new.
Youngman got his project Super Hawk for $125. Sounds like a steal these days. “The bike was in pretty good shape, but there had been a few modifications to it. There was a rack on it at one point, and somebody had welded an extension on to the shift lever to make it a heel-toe shifter.” There were dings and some road rash from when it went down, notably on the forks, front fender and the chrome gas tank panels. The handlebar control levers were broken and most of the rubber pieces were gone.
Armed with an old parts book and a Honda parts microfiche Youngman went over the bike and made a list of items required to bring it back. The Internet was just starting to blossom when he began the project, and there weren’t as many ways to find parts for old motorcycles. Using sources discovered in Walneck’s Classic Cycle Trader he phoned and sent faxes to many different suppliers, mainly in the U.S.
Remarkably, the mufflers on his Super Hawk were in fine shape. Original Super Hawk mufflers in decent nick are rare, and reproductions today cost upwards of $700. Youngman cleaned and detailed one piece after another. It soon became apparent that the whole bike needed to come apart – something he’d never done before was a complete restoration. Undaunted, he brought the frame to bare metal using paint stripper, wire wheels and sandpaper. He beat the dents out of the front fender, something else he had never done before, and says he was encouraged by the results.
The chrome gas tank panels, though, were left to the experts at Alberta Plating. They removed the dents and applied the requisite finish to the panel, as well as the rear brake pedal, kickstarter and repaired shift lever. Nothing much else on the Honda required plating, but Youngman spent hours and even burnt out the motor on his grinder – equipped with buffing wheels — polishing all of the alloy components. Honda used a protective coating on its alloy brake plates and hubs, and it’s difficult stuff to remove. Youngman says he felt a bit like a chemist as he mixed and experimented with various stripping agents in an attempt to get to bare alloy in preparation for polishing.
A local motorcycle mechanic took the engine all the way down for inspection, and found nothing serious to fix. Youngman bead blasted the cases, cylinder and head, cleaned up the valve seats, and had the 305cc engine put back together with new piston rings, gaskets, o-rings and seals.
Super Hawks were finished from the factory in red, black, blue or white, and the frame matched the colour of the tank and forks. Fenders, side covers and the engine side covers were all painted the same silver colour. Youngman hired out the painting, and had reassembled the motorcycle in a little less than a year.
This is the point in the story where you’d expect to hear Youngman added fluids and a battery and pressed the starter button. It’s a bit of a standing joke now, but Youngman has never attempted to start the Super Hawk. It has oil. He has the battery.
“I just haven’t gotten around to it,” he says, and adds, “I know, it’s a lame excuse.” Regardless, he has a great example of one of the first motorcycles that really helped put Honda on the map.
Story first published in the Calgary Herald’s Driving section March 5, 2010.
Take your semi-reliable car or motorcycle, equip it with a set of decent tires, fill your pocket with adequate cash for gasoline and it’s easy enough to drive across this country.
But just imagine doing it some 80 years ago.
Challenging, to say the least. But J. Graham Oates did it in 1928 aboard an Ariel 500cc motorcycle equipped with a sidecar. He was the first individual to pilot a rubber-tired vehicle from sea to sea – long before the Trans Canada Highway.
And that’s just one reason why Oates, a motorcyclist who hailed from the Isle of Man – an island off the coast of the U.K. in the Irish Sea – was inducted into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame last year.
Oates was something of a nomad who prior to leaving his Manx home designed and built his own motorcycle, a machine he called the Aurora. In the early 1920s he had big ambitions intending to build and market the Aurora but public interest in his product waned.
In the mid-1920s after the failure of the Aurora venture Oates raced a variety of British motorcycles in competitive events.
Then, Oates moved to Bolivia before eventually winding up in Canada.
Once here in 1928 he worked in the Canadian motorcycle industry as a salesman at J.V. and J.W. Conroy, a shop in Toronto that sold Ariel, Douglas and Royal Enfield machines.
Over a few drinks in the bar with Charles Dennis Browne, a First World War buddy and Castrol Oil rep here in Canada, Oates hatched the idea for his cross-country adventure. He’d ride an Ariel motorcycle to drum up some publicity for both Ariel and Castrol.
Sponsored by Ariel Motors and Castrol Oil, between June and September 1928 Graham rode from Nova Scotia to Vancouver on a new 497cc ‘Two Port’ single-cylinder Ariel motorcycle attached to a Canadian-built sidecar – constructed by Sturgess of Hamilton, Ont.
To do this, Graham motored along roads when he could find them, but resorted to riding hundreds of miles on the railroad tracks between Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario and Whitemouth, Manitoba – a journey that would certainly have tested the mettle of any motorcyclist.
He rode the machine between the steel rails, and every railroad tie in the track would send jarring vibrations through the handlebars and saddle. Oates persevered; moving the outfit off of the rails when a train approached and lifting it back on after it passed. On occasion the train crew had to help him get his motorcycle and sidecar back on the rails.
On Thursday, Sept. 13, 1928 Oates arrived in Calgary.
A front-page story in the Calgary Herald ran the next day, and it summed up his journey thus far.
‘Coast to Coast Cyclist Arrives’, claimed the headline. ‘J. Graham Oates Reaches Calgary on Motorcycle in Cross-Canada Trip.’
And here’s the first paragraph: “Four days from Regina through discouraging prairie ‘gumbo’ and 18 days from Halifax on a coast-to-coast motorcycle tour in an effort to establish for the Ariel motorcycle the record of being the first gas-propelled vehicle to travel across Canada on rubber tires, J. Graham Oates, general manager of Conroy and Company, of Toronto, arrived in Calgary at 7 o’clock, Thursday evening, tired and dusty, but cheerfully satisfied with the results of his trip so far, having covered the 6,700 miles in 18 days.
“Mr. Oates emphasizes that Western Canada’s chief need is more and better motor roads and he heartily endorses the campaign of the Alberta Motor Association to awaken public interest in the subject.”
During his trip across Canada Oates collected letters from the mayors of major urban centres, including Toronto, Winnipeg and Regina. He visited with Calgary’s then-mayor (Frederick Ernest) Osborne and added his message to the others to be delivered to the mayor of Vancouver.
According to the article, Oates left Calgary heading west on what was the beginnings of the Trans-Canada highway to Golden where he expected to cross the Rocky Mountains once again bouncing over railway ties.
Oates made it to Vancouver just 21 days after starting the trip, and he dipped the rear tire of his Ariel in the Pacific, just as he had done in the Atlantic. He returned to Toronto via U.S. routes, and he remained in Canada for another three years.
As if crossing Canada by motorcycle wasn’t reason enough to posthumously induct Oates into the CMHF another of his contributions was the establishment of the British Empire Motor Club. Initially a motorcycle club, the BEMC of Toronto still exists, but now mainly organizes automobile races.
A great book by Manx author Bill Snelling called Aurora to Ariel is available and it details many of the exploits of Oates. According to Snelling, he is in the process of updating the book, and the new edition will include more of Oates’ diary entries and photographs. It’s a great read about an intrepid motorcycle pioneer — put it on your reading list. Click here to purchase the book.
Image courtesy Library and Archives Canada.
Story first published in the Calgary Herald’s Driving section 19 Feb. 2010.
Crazy custom cars ruled the day back in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Builders such as Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth, George Barris and the Alexander Brothers shared their unique vehicles with crowds around the North American auto shows.
It was vehicles such as the blue deuce coupe built by the Alexander Brothers – which later became known as the Beach Boys Little Deuce Coupe – and the Emperor by Barris that influenced Tom Culbertson when he built El Tiki.
Culbertson, of Indianapolis, Indiana, originally built El Tiki in a short 127 days. Currently owned by John Cooper, El Tiki was further modified to the point it’s at now – and the car is on show this weekend at Calgary’s 44 th Annual Auto Value Parts World of Wheels.
Culbertson’s been building cars since 1964. After he left the Marine Corps he came home to work with his father at the family service station. In the garage Culbertson went to work with torch, grinder and wrenches building his own hotrods. That line of work soon had him building rods and racecars for other customers.
For Culbertson, automobiles simply never progressed beyond the early 1960s. His daily driver is a chopped 1956 Lincoln two door, and his second car is a 1930 Ford Model A coupe with a flathead V-8. Both cars have been driven numerous times to New York, Florida and Las Vegas.
According to Cooper, who has been friends with Culbertson since high school, he looks the part, too.
“He has always had slicked back hair, cuffed jeans, engineer boots and tattoos,” Cooper says. “He doesn’t own a cell phone and still has rotary dial phones in the shop and house.”
El Tiki started off as a simple build. Out behind Culbertson’s shop was a rusty 1929 Ford Sport Coupe body shell that had been rescued from a farmer’s field. At one point in its life the coupe body had been modified – badly – and Culbertson says it was a good candidate for a roadster-style conversion.
“Every car I do I pretty much just sit back and look at it, and visualize in my head what I’m going to do. The inside, the dash and the doors – I visualized it all before I started the build.
“If I was a better artist I could probably draw it – but I’m not,” Culbertson says from his shop in Indianapolis. He’s worked in the same 85’ long by 30’ wide building since 1976. He’s got everything he needs in the shop, including an attic full of cool old parts, and El Tiki never left the building during its construction and ultimate completion.
Culbertson started by building a double-tube chassis, complete with a 1947 Lincoln front axle and a 1957 Ford 9” rear end.
Then, he fit the body, channeling it 4” over the frame and removing the metal top to make it a roadster. Of course, there was far more involved than that. The doors were sculpted, the windshield and frame fabricated, the interior ‘waterfall’ console hand constructed and the dash from a 1956 Oldsmobile narrowed and welded in place.
“There’s no carbon fibre or fibre glass in this car, it’s all metal,” Culbertson says. “You start with a 20-gauge sheet of steel, cut it, roll it, stretch it and shrink it until it fits the way you want it.”
To give the car some power Culbertson opted to use a 1956 Oldsmobile 324 cubic inch engine mated to a 1947 Ford truck three-speed transmission. An adaptor was used to marry the Olds engine to the Ford gearbox.
“Everything on the car is older than 1961,” Culbertson says. “I had in my mind that if a guy was building it in 1961 that’s the newest a part could be.”
When the car was done Cooper decided he wanted to buy it. Cooper had been around during the entire build process and after he sold his 1960 Cadillac he had some funds to buy El Tiki from Culbertson.
“When I bought the car it was finished, but just not the way it looks now,” Cooper says. “I wanted to take it to another level.”
Together, Cooper and Culbertson rebuilt the front grille and added the quad headlights – from a 1960 Buick – built the headrests and added the fins to the decklid.
“El Tiki has been a bit of a test bed for my son, Dustin,” Cooper says. “He did all of the original body work and paint in 2005 when he was 17, and he did it again when he was 19.”
Cooper does drive the car, and he’s put several thousand miles on El Tiki since its completion.
At the World of Wheels El Tiki is just one of many custom, restoration and original vehicles on display at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park. The kids will enjoy seeing Doc Hudson, the Hudson Hornet from the hit movie Cars. And Kane’s Harley-Davidson hosts Motorcycle 2010 with a display of new, custom and vintage machines.
The show runs today from 3 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. General admission is $14, children six to 12 are $5 and children five and under are free. Discount tickets are available at Auto Value Parts stores.
This story first published in the Calgary Herald, January 29, 2010. All images courtesy TMI AutoTech, Inc.
Ariel is a name that is familiar to vintage motorcycle enthusiasts.
The historic British maker got its start in 1870 with bicycles, and motorcycles followed in 1902. Ariel produced famed models such as the Square Four and Red Hunter before going under in 1970.
Today Ariel might become just as well known for a hot little supercar called the Atom.
Ariel Motor Company (U.K.) started life in 1991 under a different name, and designed the Atom in 1995 (arielmotor.co.uk). They acquired the Ariel name in 2001. There is quite a cottage industry in the U.K. of bespoke sports car builders and Ariel is among them.
Taking notice of the Ariel Atom was a group of three Canadian racecar aficionados now living in the U.S. They bought eight Atoms and set up a driving company that offered the ‘Ariel Atom Experience’ to individuals and corporate clients alike.
“Our background is motorsports, and we’ve worked with racing at many different levels across North America,” says Mark Swain, vice president, sales and marketing of TMI AutoTech, Inc. from his trackside office in Alton, Virginia. “In 2007 we were looking for something to do, and we developed the Ariel Atom Experience; where participants get to drive an Atom on the racetrack with an instructor,” and experience for themselves the thrill of driving a lightweight and powerful car.
That led to TMI AutoTech being granted the North American rights to build the Atom under licence (arielatom.com). In order to undertake this manufacturing task a facility was required. Swain says the best location was a 16,000 sq. ft. shop at the raceplex at the Virginia International Raceway.
They equipped the small manufacturing facility with some high-tech tools and started production.
“We can roll out the shop door and onto the track,” Swain says. “From chassis fabrication through to final assembly the Atom is built right here.” Approximately 50 Ariel Atoms are built in the plant each year.
But what makes the Atom so unique?
That question can be answered simply, acceleration and handling.
“It’ll do 0 to 60 miles per hour in under three seconds; it’s blindingly quick,” Swain says. “And it handles as well as it accelerates. You’re getting the performance of a million dollar car for one that starts at $50,000 – it’s good value for the performance dollar.”
The Atom features an exo-skeleton chassis, meaning the frame tubes are exposed and there are very few lightweight composite body panels to cover up the architecture. In the TMI-produced car motivation is provided by a Japanese-spec Honda K20 power plant. This is the same engine that powers the Honda Civic Type R in the home market. The engine is mated to a six-speed, limited slip, close ratio gearbox. While the engine is meant to power a front wheel drive vehicle, imagine the power plant pushed to the back, making the Atom a rear wheel drive.
“It’s a pretty hot little engine, and it’s the highest output 2.0-litre engine Honda makes,” Swain says.
There’s no windshield. No doors. No hood to speak of. And that makes the Ariel Atom weigh a paltry 624 kg. For the sake of comparison, a Mazda MX-5 tips the scales (depending on specifications) at around 990 kg.
Some components of the car such as the wheels, brakes and engine are purchased form outside suppliers, but TMI makes the chassis, suspension pieces and the few body panels the car does wear. Each Atom is built to the buyer’s specifications, and while some will go through the requirements to make it street legal and register the car for the road the Atom is sold in North America as a racetrack-only vehicle.
There is a Canadian dealer in Montreal to support a core group of enthusiasts who participate in track days at venues such as Circuit Mont Tremblant in Quebec and Mosport International Raceway in Ontario. According to Swain, though, 95 per cent of their sales are to U.S. states where there’s no snow and the Atoms can be used on tracks year-round.
“You’re not out in the open as much as you are on a motorcycle,” Swain says. “The car is very visceral. You feel the wind and you feel every movement of the car. There’s no traction control or ABS, whatever (steering or braking) you put in is what it’s going to give back to you, and it’s very rewarding to drive.”
Great news. Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter was recognized with a MAX Award on Saturday, Jan. 16 at the SUPERSHOW in Toronto. The award was accepted by motorcycle author Max Burns on my behalf. The 31st annual MAX Awards are the equivalent of the Oscars for Canadian motorcyclists. What’s especially great about the 2010 MAX is it bookends the 1997 MAX received for writing an article about J.B. Nicholson.
Be sure to visit www.modernmotorcyclemechanics.com for books, t-shirts and DVDs.