Tuesday, April 11, 2017

1914 PEUGEOT GP; 500cc, 8-VALVES, DOHC

A Peugeot poster from 1925, by Geo Ham

Here's a fun fact: Peugeot is the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, since 1898. Sorry Harley, sorry Indian, the French got there first...but you knew that, right?  Most American factories based their early engines on a French design - the DeDion motor - whether copied or licensed (except for Pierce, who copied a Belgian design, the FN four!).   But Peugeot's heyday as the world's preeminent force in two- and four-wheel racing was so long ago it's nearly forgotten today. 

Italian racer Giosue Giuppone was a pioneer professional rider on the Peugeot team, racing both cars and motorcycles.  Here he rides a 1.7liter track-racing 'Monster' c.1906

Over a century ago, Peugeot seemed to be 'first' at everything important in racing, even in the English-speaking world.  The first Isle of Man TT in 1907 (multi-cylinder class) was won with a Peugeot motor (Rem Fowler's Norton-Peugeot), and the first motorcycle race at Brooklands was too (the NLG-Peugeot).  The company also produced fearsome track specials at the dawn of motorcycle competition, with heroes like Henri Cissac, Giosue Giuppone, and Paul Péan riding monsters with 2-liter motors, weighing under 110lbs to comply with early rules restricting weight (not capacity!), riding on the makeshift bicycle tracks before the first purpose-built racing circuits existed. 

Henri Cissac on a 1.7Liter Peugeot track-racing v-twin c.1906; weight 110lbs! 

== Les Charlatans ==

While Peugeot's early v-twins (as used by Norton et al) were reliable and reasonably fast in the 'Noughts, in the 1910s Peugeot débuted the most technically sophisticated engine designs in the world, first for automobile racing in the burgeoning Grand Prix series, then in a series of remarkable motorcycles. In 1911, Swiss engineer Ernst Henry was commissioned by 'Les Charlatans' (Peugeot racing team members Jules Goux, Georges Boillot, and Paul Zuccarelli to draw up a new four-cylinder racing engine from ideas they'd discussed. Henry wasn't a 'qualified engineer' but a draughtsman, with enough experience in motor design already (for boats and cars) to have caught the attention of the Peugeot team drivers. 

Ernest Henry at the drawing board

Racing men were no prima donnas back then, but skilled mechanics too, savvy enough to make the models for their dream engine's foundry castings, as well as machine components from raw metal.  The team of Henry and Les Charlatans worked independently of the Peugeot brass (apparently over the usual disagreement - investment in racing vs production), camping out in the Rossel-Peugeot factory in Suresnes (a Paris suburb), where their aircraft engines were tested.  Paris was a hotbed of the burgeoning aircraft industry, so most of the car's engine castings came from local aircraft subcontractors, even though it appears all the design work and pattern making was done by the Charlatans themselves.

The 1912 Peugeot L3 'Lion 3Liter' racer with Essai driving and Thomas as mechanic

What the Charlatans proposed was revolutionary; the first automobile engine with double overhead camshafts, and four valves per cylinder. The result of Henry's design work was the legendary Peugeot Grand Prix EX1 or L76 ('L' for 'Lion', Peugeot's symbol, and 7.6-liter) and L3 (3-liter) four-cylinder racing engines.  The overhead camshafts were driven by a shaft-and-bevel arrangement at the front of the engine block, and the engine was water-cooled of course. 
They were raced from 1912 onwards, and literally won everything they entered, including the Indianapolis 500! 
1913 Indianapolis 500 winning Peugeot with Jules Goux driving.  Goux drove the entire 500 miles without a co-driver, the first driver to do so (1913 was the 3rd running of Indy).  The Peugeot L76 was the first wire-wheel car to run Indy (previously 'military' spoked wheels were the norm), and finished 13 minutes ahead of the second car, and averaged 76mph in the race 

The Peugeot racers even won the Vanderbilt Cup and Grand Prize in 1915 at San Francisco's Panama-Pacific Exposition, driven by 'Dolly' Resta.  American driver Bob Burman purchased a Peugeot racer that year, and sent it to designer Harry Miller and machinist Fred Offenhauser to 'shrink' the motor to the new 5-liter limit for the Indy 500.  Burman spent $2000 transforming the Peugeot with Miller-designed light alloy cylinder/heads, tubular rods, a pressurized oiling system, stronger crank, and 293 cu” displacement...which coincidentally founded the Miller/Offenhauser engine dynasty.  It would not be far wrong to say Ernest Henry's 1911 design last raced at Indianapolis in 1976...or at least, its direct offspring, bearing a striking resemblance to the original.
Paul Péan on the 1915 Peugeot 500M on an advertisement for its successes

It's not known who or what prompted Ernest Henry to adapt his 'L76' engine design to a motorcycle, but in 1913 he drew up a totally new 500cc engine as a straight-twin or 'vertical twin', in the configuration first used by Werner in 1903 (and in 'laid down' form by Hildebrand&Wolfmuller in 1894!).   The cylinders and heads were one-piece in cast iron, and included four inclined valves per cylinder, actuated by twin overhead camshafts, driven by a train of gears between and behind the cylinders from the center of the crankshaft, running in angled aluminum cases.  The Peugeot 500M introduced in 1913 was the first DOHC motorcycle in the world. 
Paul Péan at the Parc de Fontainebleau, at its second race in June 1914

In comparison to what the industry was then building - single-speed, single-cylinder or v-twin sidevalves and F-heads - it might as well have landed from outer space.  And as with most engineering 'firsts', the DOHC motor was the culmination of very rapid development of the gasoline engine; the first inclined valves in 1904 (Bayard-Clément), the first overhead camshaft operating inclined valves in 1905 (Welch, Premier), the first four-inclined-valves pushrod motor in 1910 (Mercedes-Benz), the first OHC four-inclined-valve motor in 1911 (Rolland-Pillain).  There were other engines with two camshafts up top before the Henry motor, but they used vertical valves and rocker arms, or were two-stroke diesels using louvers rather than exhaust valves, and more importantly, they were obscure, and usually only drawings or prototypes, and did not exploit the huge power advantage possible with direct valve actuation.  It seems fair to say the Peugeot was indeed the first proper DOHC motor as we know it today.
Driveline details of the Henry Peugeot, with direct belt drive to the rear wheel, and no clutch.  Note the use of a countershaft for the final drive, which also drives the cascade of gears to the cylinder head

The Peugeot 500M was first raced by Lucien Desvaux on April 5, 1914 on a very muddy Rambouillet circuit; his was the only 500cc machine to finish the race!  On June 14th, during the Automobile Club de France's ‘Records Day’ in the forest of Fontainebleau, ithe 500M exceeded 122kmh (75mph) over a measured kilometer and 121kmh (74mph) over the measured mile.  While the 500M was clearly fast, the Collier brothers at Matchless recorded a timed 92mph (147km/h) with a 1000cc sidevalve v-twin that year, and board track Cyclones and Indian 8-valves were pushing 100mph.  
Paul Péan with the third version of the 500M, designed by Gremillon, with right-side cam drive by a cascade of gears, and a clutch

Clearly the translation from a water-cooled 4-cylinder version of Henry's auto engine to an air-cooled parallel twin required further development.  Unfortunately, two weeks after the 500M's first speed tests, the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, and 6 weeks later France was at war; Peugeot suddenly had bigger fish to fry, and the 500M was abandoned. Ernest Henry was not retained by Peugeot during WW1... he took his engine design first to Ballot, then Sunbeam/Talbot/Darracq, all of whom subsequently won a lot of races! 

== Post WW1 ==

In 1919, the Peugeot OHC motorcycle project was revived by a new engineer, Marcel Gremillon, who added a clutch and 3-speed gearbox with all-chain drive.  Henry's original 500M was a nightmare for even simple maintenance, with its one-piece casting for both cylinders/heads and 8 valves, so even simple tasks like valve adjustment and decoke required a total engine strip.  
The Gremillon Peugeot 500M, with the cascade of gears on the right side of the engine, as was common in the 1950s in Italian racing singles!  This is the first iteration, with a 3-speed gearbox.

In 1920, Gremillon totally redesigned the motor with the cascade of gears on the right side, rather than between the cylinders as originally; the layout will be familiar to any fan of Italian race engineering of the 1950s.  The clutch was redesigned as well, with multiple discs for greater resilience; the clutch was housed in a distinctive open cage, and looks very robust! With each succeeding improvement of Henry's design, the Peugeot was increasingly successful on the track, but it was the final, simplest layout that proved best of all for reliability and top speed.  Sadly, it required abandoning the two cam/four valve formula to achieve greatest success, which speaks to the metallurgy and lubrication of the day, rather than the original concept, which is absolutely standard today.

The Peugeot racing team with 3 Gremillon 500Ms c.1921

In 1922, a Romanian engineer, Lessman Antonesco, replaced Gremillon on the project. Antonesco totally redesigned the motor with a single OHC, driven by a shaft-and-bevel system, and utilized only two valves per cylinder, which created both a more powerful and more reliable engine. This 4th-generation Peugeot 500M began winning races in 1923, and was campaigned for two more seasons, before Peugeot's motorcycle Grand Prix project was abandoned altogether, after Peugeot split its motorcycle and automotive branches. 
The final, Antonescu design of the 500M, with single OHC and two-valve cylinder heads.  Note hand-pump oil feed beside the fuel tank! 

It’s estimated by Peugeot that 14 of these special racers were built in total between 1914 and 1925, and only 3 in that first DOHC configuration of 1913/14.  No surviving first-generation 500M has been seen since the 1920s, and only a single last-generation 'Antonescu' 500cc OHC machine exists.  Its engine was installed by the legendary Jean Nougier into the frame of Peugeot P104 roadster. One more GP Peugeot exists, with a 350cc Antonescu motor, that shows up regularly at French vintage races. 
The robust shaft-and-bevel camshaft drive of the Antonescu Peugeot; note enclosed clutch/gearbox assembly (unit construction) and direct oil feed to the upper bevel drive.  A purposeful motor!

== The Recreation of a 500M ==
The only original Peugeot 500M, an Antonescu model built by Jean Nougier into a Peugeot 104 chassis, shown here with Bernard Salvat at the 2010 Rétromobile show in Paris (Yves J. Hayat photo)

The absence of the ‘world’s first’ DOHC Peugeot, barring photographs and stories from the period, is a tremendous loss to French heritage.  Several of the original 'Lion' automobile racers survive, but none of the 500M racing motorcycles built from 1913-1923.  But in the mid-1990s Emile Jacquinot, an archivist for Peugeot, discovered the original blueprints for the 1914 Peugeot 500M at the Peugeot family home in Valentingy.  They now reside in the Peugeot Museum in Sochaux, France.  Jacquinot told his friend Jean Boulicot about the drawings in 1998 during the Coupes Moto Legende event at the Montlhéry autodrome (before it moved to Dijon), and a spark was struck. Boulicot is well known in the French vintage bike scene, both as a restorer and officer of the Retro Motos Cycles de l'Est, one of the biggest vintage motorcycle clubs in France. During a mountain hike Jean Boulicot was inspired to recreate the 1914 500GP from the newly discovered plans. He reasoned that replicas of racing Moto Guzzi V8s, Benelli 4s, and Honda 6s had already been built, so why not a replica of the Peugeot, which is no less legendary? 
The recreation of the 1914 Peugeot 500M

After going over the plans with the Peugeot Museum, the reconstruction began in the basement of Boulicot's family home in Evette-Salbert, Territoire-de-Belfort, France. An inventory of the plans showed a complete set of engine drawings, but the chassis drawings were incomplete. It was necessary to scale up frame drawings from period photos to supplement the plans.  Even the 'complete' engine plans,
 dated 1913, had only raw dimensions, without built-in tolerances accounting for heat expansion, or normal running tolerances.  The plans needed to be recalculated and drawn afresh with those constraints accounted for. Then Boulicot’s home lathe and milling machine were put to work making almost all the moving parts; sprockets, shafts, axles, etc. The connecting rods and the crankshaft were created from raw steel chunks.
A close look at the aluminum camshaft housing and open valves for the 8-valve motor, with central spark plugs

Recreation of the crankcases and cylinder block/heads were handled by a friend of Jean’s, a retired expert model maker. He hand-built (no 3D printing!) wax models of each part, then used resin to create the molds. For complicated parts, several "cores" were needed to create one piece; for example, the cylinder/head casting (as this was one large piece) required eight cores of cast iron. Jean machined and finished the raw castings himself. The cycle parts were fabricated by Peugeot specialist Dominique Lafay, who built the fuel tank in brass, and the frame from steel tubing. 
Where it all happens! Jean Boulicot in his workshop

The fork began as a Peugeot 175 ‘cyclomoto’ item that Jean cleverly modified, by attaching extra bracing of the correct dimensions. He hand-formed the mudguards using an English wheel roller built for the project. A few parts, such as the wheel hubs or the rear crownwheel, were machined up from solid. The reconstruction of this magnificent motorcycle required over 15,000 hours of work, spread over a period of 10 years. It was reborn almost a century after it was born, and made its first public appearance at the 2010 Coupes Moto Legende event in Dijon. It was fitting the project was revealed at the same event the seed was planted 12 years prior, and Jean Boulicot now demonstrates his remarkable machine at events like Vintage Revival Montlhéry. It’s certainly worth a close look!
The cam drive housing is clearly seen between the forked induction tube to the Zenith carburetor. 
Sources and Thanks:
- The Automobile, 'Peugeot Racing Engineers: Ernest Henry', Sébastien Faurès Fustel de Coulanges, 2012
- RAD magazine, 'Résurrection d'Une Peugeot 500 DOHC', Alain Jardy / Fabrice Leschuitta (photos)
- Bibliothéque Nationale de France digital archives
- Yves J. Hayat/ NewYorkParis


Saturday, April 01, 2017


The revived Zenith logo; old school retro cool

In a remarkable comeback, the Zenith Motorcycle Co is being revived by an Anglo-Swiss-American triumverate, the first-ever collaboration of the Swiss watch maker of the same name (Zenith), an English-born financier, and an American designer.  Zenith motorcycles (1903-49) is perhaps the most esteemed 'forgotten' brand to be picked up in the current mania for revival; in their heyday, Zeniths held the most 'Gold Stars' at the Brooklands race track (for laps over 100mph) and captured the World Land Speed Record twice.
Zenith brand ambassador Dimitri Coste

Zenith watch brand ambassador Dimitri Coste will remain the public face of the expanded Zenith lineup, and in a display of riding virtuosity at the press launch in Zurich today, he performed a double-backflip on an electric motorcycle between the wristwatch assembly bench and the pressure-testing tank inside the factory.  For the press event, the normally white-coated watchmaking staff wore the new Zenith signature white-black-and-red check pattern leather jackets, designed by Dimitri's brother Jérome Coste.
The Zenith heyday at the Brooklands race track

The CEO of the new company, Amaryllis Knight, spoke briefly about the exciting opportunity to build a next-generation motorcycle which "actually runs like a Swiss watch.  Because it is."  She added, "My father always said the best way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one. We intend to make a very small fortune indeed."   
Designer/conceptual artist Ian Barry (c.MotoTintype)

Knight's husband, custom motorcycle designer-turned conceptual artist Ian Barry (formerly of Falcon Motorcycles), will act as chief designer for Zenith.  He declined to speak at the press announcement, but was later interviewed at Zurich's finest restaurant, El Tiempo Transparente.  "I chose this restaurant as it relates to the idea behind the new motorcycle, that might not be a motorcycle like we've thought of in the past, as we're combining the watch-making expertise of the Swiss factory with new technology, using their ideas of transparency to see the mechanism, or the movement, and the passage of time, and the analogness of that, and the importance of the crystal, and maybe combining the crystal with the movement, because a motorcycle moves through space and time, so a motorcycle is a time machine and we're adding a crystal face to see through it, to see it happening, because motorcycles are happening."   
Ian Barry aboard a vintage supercharged Zenith, which may or may not be the inspiration for the new machine.

When pressed on design details, Barry demurred, saying cryptically "you'll see it soon, but you won't be able to see it." Asked whether the power source would be petrochemical or electric, he said "Yes, that's correct."  We eagerly await the outcome of this new venture! 

Monday, March 27, 2017


John Surtees on the MV Agusta 4 on which he won his World Championship in - I believe - 1958, which is owned by the Barber Museum.  From the Barber's display at Pebble Beach in 2011
(Note; I wrote this remembrance for Cycle World magazine, where it originally appeared)

He wasn’t a showman with movie star looks, like many World Champions; John Surtees had a sparrow’s physique, with a modest but intense demeanor, who suffered autograph hounds with a friendly noblesse oblige. No doubt he treated his rivals the same, giving very little away, his attention seemingly elsewhere…like memorizing every braking point at the Nurbrurgring or Isle of Man circuits. If you were close enough to observe his expression on the track, it meant you were about to lose your race to the most stylish and disciplined rider of the 1950s. 

Surtees on a 250cc MV Agusta in 1957, at a Crystal Palace meeting.

John Surtees’ father Jack was a south London motorcycle dealer, with strong connections to the Vincent factory. John’s very first race, as the monkey in his father’s Rapide sidecar outfit, was duly won, but as he was only 14, they were afterwards disqualified. It was better publicity than the win, and John’s canny father pushed his talented son into the spotlight early and often, sponsoring him in grass track races from age 15. John took his apprenticeship at the Vincent factory at 16, which gave him access to race shop, and the opportunity to race a Vincent Grey Flash 500cc single to good effect. By 17 he was harassing World Champion Geoff Duke on British circuits, and making headlines while riding a variety of interesting machines, including an NSU 250cc Sportmax, and the inevitable Norton Manx in the 350cc and 500cc classes. In 1954, for Unlimited class racing, he slotted a 1000cc Vincent Black Lightning motor into a Norton Manx chassis, which could have been a world-beater, but he was tapped to join the Norton factory race team before his creation was anything but the world’s first NorVin. 

 Norton team manager Joe Craig was notoriously hard, and squeezed several years of life from the single-cylinder, DOHC Norton Manx racers John rode. They were past their sell-by date, as sophisticated multi-cylinder machines from Italy and Germany had been flying past them on straightaways since the 1930s. During the War, a fortuitous meeting between Craig and Leo Kuzmicki, a Polish refugee with a degree in combustion theory, kept Nortons plenty fast, but foreign factories inevitably dusted off their prewar designs for post-war racing once they’d rebuilt their factories. John Surtees reached a pinnacle of British ambition in 1955 by joining the Norton team, and bit hard at the heels of Geoff Duke, who had defected to Italian machines just like his predecessor Stanley Woods had done in the ‘30s. As those men had found, a single-cylinder racer was no match for an Italian thoroughbred multi. Duke’s elegant, lightning fast, and good-handling Gilera Quattro was designed by Piero Remor, and had won six 500cc World Championship between 1950-57, and for good measure held the World Land Speed Record in supercharged form before WW2. 
Surtees in 1957 aboard the MV 4, looking amazingly menacing in this photo (the bike that is). How must the Norton rider have felt beside such a machine? 

Count Domenico Agusta had watched Surtees take his Manx to the limit in pursuit of Duke, and admired his style. He offered an astronomical sum (by Norton standards) to jump the British ship, and join the MV Agusta team for 1956. Agusta’s business was primarily aeronautic, but he loved motorcycles, and no doubt expended all the profits from his street motorcycle manufacture into making his race them the best in the world. He’d already secured the 125cc World Championship in 1952, but wanted the big prize, so had lured Piero Remor away from Gilera to design a new DOHC 4-cylinder racer. The MV four still needed development, and Surtees struggled against the better-handling Gilera Quattros in ’55, taking 3rd in the World Championship. In 1956, Geoff Duke was punished by the FIM for supporting a riders’ strike against dangerous conditions (and more start money) that year, halving his season, and Surtees snatched his first World Championship. 
Surtees aviating the MV4 at the Isle of Man TT in 1957 - no 'waggle' here!

At the end of the 1957 season, on another ‘day the music died’, Gilera, MV Agusta, Moto Guzzi, BMW, NSU, and Mondial all bowed out of GP racing, citing increasing expense and falling motorcycle sales. Count Agusta, the sly fox, changed his mind when he realized the benefit of greatly diminished competition; MV Agusta racked up a string of 37 World Championships, until formerly obscure Japanese companies like Honda and Yamaha demonstrated what a corporate budget and a simple two-stroke engine (respectively), could do. 

John Surtees discussing a Ferrari F1 car from the Barber Museum with George Barber at Pebble Beach in 2011

John Surtees won his 7 World Championships in 4 years with MV Agusta between 1956-1960, in both 350cc and 500cc categories. The Italians loved his riding style, naming him ‘ figlio del vento, - son of the wind. He was eel-slippery and one with his machine in the years before ‘hanging off’ was the norm, and simply tucked in behind his screen, making it all look natural. 
When Grand Prix racing was a mix-country affair; Italy, (two MV4s) Germany (BMW RS56), and behind them, Britain (Norton Manx)

During a Sportsman of the Year banquet in 1959 he met F1 legend Mike Hawthorne, who suggested Surtees ‘try a car sometime; they stand up easier.’ He did try a car, in spite of the fact he’d never even seen an F1 race or watched one on TV! His natural talent was instantly recognized by Lotus boss Colin Chapman after a few practice laps, and in his first F1 race (the 1960 Monaco GP) he caused quite a stir. On his second F1 race, at the British Grand Prix, he came 2nd, and nearly won his third race at Estoril. Another Italian racing legend, Enzo Ferrari, noticed his talent, and offered a spot on his team. It proved a prescient move, and he won the World F1 Championship for Ferrari in 1964. While Surtees was cool, he also spoke his mind, and his relationship with the Ferrari team was never easy. Tensions with team manager Eugenio Dragoni blew up in 1966, while Surtees was en route to a second World Championship; he quit Ferrari, and refused even Enzo’s entreaties to return. 
Surtees in a Ferrari F1 racer c.1961

He carried on F1 racing through 1972, but his 1964 championship remained his, and the world’s, only World Championship Formula 1 title from a motorcycle World Champion. In the 1980s, Surtees inspired a new generation of riders, restorers, and builders with the revival of his interest in the track for vintage racing. He rebuilt his old Vincent Grey Flash, and put that 1955 Black Lightning-based NorVin back together, with remarkably gorgeous brutality. He also collected the crème de la crème of vintage racing machinery, and was happy to demonstrate George Meier’s 1938 TT-winning BMW RS255 kompressor, or Ray Amm’s Norton streamliner, at events across Europe. 
A very young John Surtees with his original Vincent Grey Flash racer

He encouraged his son Henry in the racing game as well, until tragically he was killed in an F2 race in 2009, when a competitor’s tire struck him. In remembrance, he established the Henry Surtees foundation to help people with brain injuries. I was lucky enough to meet John Surtees at the Pebble Beach Concours in 2011, where his World Championship Ferrari and MV Agusta were on display, and he obliged a few photographs on his old ‘Gallarate fire engine’. His heyday was over before I could watch him race in anger, but one needn’t have seen it to understand the monumental talent it took to assume the World Champion mantle in two very different sports. It’s unlikely we’ll see that achievement matched anytime soon, and we will never see his like again.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Paul Brothers and Colin Lyster, whose partnership created the Lynton racer.  The pair display their ultralight frame and Hillman Imp-based motor in 1968

Colin Lyster isn’t a household name, unless you’re a hardcore café racer fan, in which case, he’s a demigod on par with Dave Degens and the Rickman brothers. A former Rhodesian road racer, Lyster moved to Britain in the early 1960s, and set about re-framing Triumphs and Hondas to reduce weight and improve chassis stiffness.

The sole surviving Lynton racer, from the H+H web page.  Not the Weber DCOE side-draft carb, racing AMC gearbox, and triple discs - in 1968!
His frames were ultra-rigid and half as heavy as the comparable Norton item; he typically discarded the lower frame rails, using the engine as a stressed member, and thinwall tubing of smaller diameter than considered prudent for a street machine. Still, hotshot riders can’t resist a road racer with lights, and a few Lyster-framed roadsters can be found in books on the café racer craze. 
The drive side of the Lynton, with single-plate diaphragm clutch a lá the Norton Commando (H+H photo)

Lyster’s frame output was low, but his impact on the industry was outsized. He developed the first triple-hydraulic disc braking systems for motorcycle racing teams in the mid-1960s, using specially adapted Ceriani road race forks and his own fabricated swingarms, with his own cast iron discs. Triple juice discs became a must-have item on winning road racers; Lyster began selling kits to the public in 1971.  After failing to interest the British motorcycle industry in his product, he sold his patents to AP Lockheed. Ironically, it was Honda who first used hydraulic discs on production motorcycles, in 1968. 
The halved Hillman motor, with Lynton's own DOHC, 8-valve cylinder head and geometric sump.  (From Cycle World)

Still, it was Lyster’s patent, and he changed motorcycling forever. By the mid-1960s, the British motorcycle industry had given up on Grand Prix racing, but enterprising builders hadn’t. Colin Lyster thought a reasonably-priced, competitive engine could be built from automotive parts, and he cut a water-cooled 1000cc Hillman Imp 4-cylinder car motor in half, and built a DOHC, 8-valve cylinder head for it. Interestingly, the Imp motor was designed by Leo Kuzmicki, the Polish ‘janitor’ who was ‘discovered’ by Joe Craig, race chief of Norton, as having been a research scientist in combustion theory before becoming a WW2 refugee. It was Kuzmicki who kept the Norton Manx engine competitive a decade after its sell-by date, extracting ever more power from the aging single-cylinder design. After leaving Norton, he moved to the Rootes Group, and designed the extremely reliable and very fast Imp motor. 

The chain-driven DOHC cylinder head, with central spark plugs and 4 valves per cylinder (Cycle World)

As reported in CycleWorld in July 1968, Lyster’s Imp-engined ‘Lynton’ racer was a collaboration with Paul Brothers, and used an ultralight Lyster full-cradle frame, with his own triple disc setup. The cylinder head is a chunk, and the side-draft Weber DCOE carb doesn’t inspire confidence that the watercooled engine is light. The builders claimed 60hp from the motor, which used a 180-degree crankshaft, a modified Hillman part, as were the rods. Slipper pistons from Mahle and cams by Tom Somerton painted a picture of speed, and the projected price of £300 undercut a Matchless G50 single-cylinder SOHC motor by £75. Orders were not forthcoming, though, as the project needed more development, and it remained yet another British ‘what if?’ 

1971 magazine ad for Colin Lyster's double-disc front brake kit

It seems only the prototype motorcycle was built, although Lynton offered a full four-cylinder version of its special cylinder head to Imp rally drivers; a few of these are floating around, including rumors on one cut in half for a motorcycle! Britain’s HandH Auctions have turned up the sole Lynton racing motorcycle, which was freshened up for sale on October 12 , 2016, but apparently went unsold. It’s an uncompromised beast with a pur sang pedigree, and a lot of near-forgotten stories surrounding its build. Colin Lyster moved to the USA in the early ‘70s, and worked with Canadian national champion road racer Ed Labelle to build Lyster-Labelle racers, using Triumph Bonneville motors in lowboy frames with triple discs. Only a few were built before Lyster moved on to New Zealand, where he carried on with other projects until his death in 2003.
A man full of ideas!  This wing was an air brake for a racing motorcycle!  It proved, as you can imagine, frighteningly destabilizing
A closeup of a Lyster front brake kit - note the similarity to the Lockheed system, as used later on Nortons
The cafe racers' dream; a Kennedy-Lyster, with a Norton Atlas motor in a Lyster frame, with a double-disc front end.  I reckon this is pre-1970...what a beauty! 

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016


[As published this month on CycleWorld.com, written by Paul d'Orléans, photos by Bill Phelps]
From certain angles, there's a whole lot of the old Brough Superior in the new... (Bill Phelps photo)
Want to get bikers up in arms? Revive a hallowed brand. Established manufacturers get a pass when producing ugly or ill-considered motorcycles, and nobody questions their right to exist, but a new manufacturer using an old name fights steep resistance, no matter how committed it is to the old name. Brough Superior owner Mark Upham is doing his best to honor the spirit of the late George Brough, which is probably impossible in the 21st Century, because Brough invented a genre—the luxury motorcycle—that was bombed out of existence in World War II.
Perched on the Corniche, on the Cote Basque, between Biarritz France, and San Sebastien, Spain. (Bill Phelps photo)

First-generation Brough Superiors were built between 1919 and 1940, and immediately earned a reputation for quality, innovation, handling, speed, and beauty. They were the most expensive and fastest motorcycles in the world, and their lustrous finish earned them the nickname “The Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles.” Rolls didn’t object. Above all, George Brough was a PR genius, crafting an image via selected competitions (ones he was likely to win), flamboyant personal style, a gift for turning a phrase, and the regular patronage of celebrities like T.E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia. It isn’t likely for a motorcycle to be all those things today, as “fastest” seems irrelevant, most expensive is a matter of adding zeros, and today’s heroes are tomorrow’s targets for scandal. Just imagine a T.E. Lawrence cell phone hack, with his leather bed sheets and masochistic inclinations…
A thoroughly modern machine with antique visual cues  (Bill Phelps photo)
Since we live in a different world today, what remains to link old Brough and new is aesthetics, innovation, and quality; the 2016 Brough Superior SS100 makes a strong pitch for all these. One of George’s innovations, and a hallmark of the brand, was the industry’s first saddle tank, which was nickeled up and shapely, with a rounded nose and pleasing proportions. The new Brough Superior lifts its tank design directly from a 1920s Pendine racing model, which used triple straps to bind tank to frame; it’s the visual DNA of a Brough Superior, and a feature Mark Upham insisted on. Underneath that old-school tank (built in polished aluminum) we leave the past behind and enter the 21st Century, with a unique motor and innovative chassis.
The Brough was ridden to the ArtRide exhibition in San Sebastien, Spain, where it attracted considerable attention, as did my crazy one-off suit embroidered by Cody McElroy of Dirty Needle Embroidery (Bill Phelps photo)
The heart of the beast is a V-twin of course, but set at 88 degrees, which provides perfect balance a lá Ducati and Moto Guzzi, but looks wide to a traditionalist. It’s a bespoke motor from the firm Boxer Design of Toulouse, France, a water-cooled 8-valve DOHC unit of 997cc that produces 120 horsepower. That wide vee concurs with one of George’s last experimental Broughs, using an AMC-built (Matchless/AJS) 90-degree V-twin OHV engine, which was never serially produced. It thus bears a thread of a connection with the past, which turns out to have both lovely castings and contemporary performance, and most importantly isn’t an H-D clone. The Boxer Design engine is built and developed by Akira Engineering of Bayonne, which certainly has the chops—its Kawasaki ZX-10R engines currently dominate WSB racing.
The Brough was right at home in the swervery, and could be pushed as hard as one liked.  Fast and fun! (Bill Phelps photo)
The chassis is both innovative and expensive, with a mix of titanium, aluminum, and magnesium for the frame and swingarm, carbon-fiber wheels, aluminum bodywork, and a double-wishbone front fork. Front and rear suspension use Öhlins units, and that fork is a gift from Claude Fior, who never patented his design from the 1980s. It’s still avant-garde, but very well developed, with lots of track time; BMW’s Duolever fork is also Fior-based. While blade-type forks normally have zero brake dive, the Brough’s fork has a small amount engineered in to feel “normal” when the anchors are out. The small-diameter Behringer brakes, sourced from the aircraft industry, are incredibly powerful, with quad rotors on the front wheel; we featured them in Cycle World when Uwe Ehinger used a pair on his Kraftrad Speedster. Actual braking ability is the most radical departure from old Broughs, whose stopping power never equaled their 100 mph potential, in the days when traffic was sparse.
Posey-poseur...but if you can't pose on a Brough Superior... (Bill Phelps photo)

The specifications of the new Brough Superior have been discussed before, since the debut of the prototypes four years ago, but few road reports have made it to American shores, principally because Brough won’t be marketed here for a year or so (testing + regulations = $$$), and none are currently in the US. We’re a low priority, but that didn’t stop Boxer Design principal Thierry Henriette, the man who’s building the new Broughs, from allowing a test ride last June at the Wheels and Waves festival in Biarritz. The Pyrenees are legendary for motorcycling, with lightly traveled mountain roads and 1000-year-old stone villages for scenery. My test was over the slightly more traveled coastal roads of the Corniche, which attracts a few tourists eager to photograph the Cote Basque, and get off the ubiquitous toll highways. Luckily, access to this fantastic stretch of road between France and Spain is very poorly marked, so risky passing maneuvers were minimal.
The Brough looks good even in an industrial void

The SS100 is probably the lightest-looking literbike on the market, with lots of empty space around the engine and beneath the saddle. The dry weight is just under 400 lb., excellent for a 120-hp machine, and throwing the bike around corners is easy. It’s not razor sharp like a racer; it feels like a fast street machine, and real-world handling is totally intuitive. I stepped off a 1974 Norton Commando and onto the SS100, and the feeling was familiar at all speeds, except flat-out. At speeds over 100 mph, the Brough was still charging hard, and pushing the bike through the Corniche’s bends felt completely stable, predictable, and modern. The power is yeehaw-level good, but not insane—let’s just say passing traffic wasn’t even a thought, and clear roads offered breathtakingly fun motorcycling, with super secure handling, a great noise, and the stunning looks of the bike. Even a good squeeze on those crazy Behringer brakes in mid-corner felt perfectly safe; there’s no ABS yet, so it’s best to keep your right hand supple. An hour’s ride back and forth on the coast road left me with a big smile, and a desire to own an SS100—the “cheap” one that is. At £45,000 (about $60,000), the new SS100 is 10 percent the price of a 1920s model, and therefore a bargain! Well, any other bike is cheap by that metric.
Drawing a crowd everywhere it lands

The Boxer engine is a bit reminiscent in feel of a mid-1920s JAP 990cc OHV racing motor, which was the heart of the original SS100. It wasn’t meant for the street, and had a nervous disposition, which the new motor shares. There’s a slight harshness to the primary and camshaft drive of the Boxer motor; you can feel the sharp edges of gears whirring around, with not much cushioning effect present. It isn’t bad, and it runs dead smooth, but that slight harshness is the sort of thing a few years’ development will probably eliminate. For a small producer’s wholly new engine, it’s something of a miracle it works so damn well. The gearchange is firm and accurate, the clutch is progressive and strong, and the Öhlins suspension does its job unobtrusively. And the looks; love ’em or hate ’em, they’re distinctive, and telegraph the quality of the machine’s construction. My favorite model is all black, but my well used test bike harvested eyeballs everywhere it went—I haven’t attracted this much attention on two wheels since testing a Confederate Wraith. Everyone wants to know what it is, and non-bikers seem to love the design.
Ready for a blast down the B-roads...

I’ve spent more saddle time on vintage Brough Superiors than new sportbikes, having ridden a 1933 B-S across the States in the 2014 Cannonball. I’ve also been a B-S owner’s club member since the 1980s, having owned four models, back when they were semi-affordable to 99 percenters. Therefore, I’m the most likely candidate to make mouth-frothing accusations of “blasphemy!” for use of the Brough name, but I’ve known Mark Upham for years, and he’s also an arch enthusiast of the marque. That doesn’t mean he’ll make a decent new motorcycle, but when journalist Alan Cathcart introduced Upham to Boxer boss Thierry Henriette, he landed in the right hands. Henriette was excited by the project’s challenges, and has made an intriguing motorcycle that is totally up to date with terrific performance, a retro, classy vibe, and a totally unique look. It actually fills the vacant niche of the Gentleman’s Motorcycle. Would George have approved? I do believe he would.