Monday, March 03, 2008


Sometimes you're fated to own a motorcycle, but perhaps not to keep it! I saw photos of this machine at Jay Leno's warehouse, probably 17 years ago, when it was being offered as a Brough Superior by an Argentine dealer of cars, motorcycles, watches, etc. It was clear to all present that the bike was no BS, but it wasn't clear at the time just what it WAS as it had been so heavily modified. Clearly, the heart of the machine was a supercharged J.A.P. 'KTOR' 1000cc ohv engine, ca 1925/6, which in itself was certainly worth looking into, but the price being asked at the time was far more than seemed appropriate, even for a motorcycle which was clearly untouched since the 1930's.
About 4 years after that initial encounter with photographs, I bought a Brough SS100/ Matchless 1000cc ohv engine from this same dealer. The engine was the real deal, from a batch of SS100's used by the Argentine Presidential Guard in 1938 (Argentina had plenty of money in the 30's, as they were unaffected by the global depression - their principal export was beef, which proved very profitable at the time. Hence, lot's of interesting cars and bikes from the 30's and 40's turn up there; they were one of the few countries which could afford them). The fact that it took 18months to receive that engine is another story, but the fellow (who is deceased now) offered me this same supercharged machine, so now I had my own set of photos.

Fast forward another few years, and my pal Robert Mueller from Dresden (who had seen my photos when working briefly in the US), found a small web page advertising the blown motorcycle. It was being offered by the actual owner, and Robert forwarded the info to me, and I immediately contacted the man, and made a deal.
By this time I had sorted out that the bike was a Zenith 'Super 8', ca 1925, which had been heavily modified for straight-line speed. The bike's owner forwarded some history;
"1925 Zenith Super 8, Authentic and Unrestored. This machine started life as a 'to special order only' racing model...available only to serious speedmen. Freddie Barnes, the Director of the Zenith company, personally attended such machines as this at various races which owners competed in. In the 1920's expecially, the Zenith name was to the Brooklands race track what Norton was later to the Isle of Man. Brooklands was the only course in England in which really high speeds could be maintained with any safety (although the track itself was very bumpy at speed), and big twins such as Zenith, Coventry Eagle, and Brough Superior vied for top lap speed honors. It is interesting to note that the majority of riders who lapped at over 100mph rode Zenith machines.
Although probably raced in England for a few years, this machine arrived in Argentina around 1932, purchased by Roberto Sigrand. Mr. Sigrand owned a factory which, among other things, produced piston rings, branded 'Aros Kim' and 'Super Kim'. The bike was used as a sort of advertisement for his company, and 'Super Kim' can barely be seen on the petrol tank.
The motor was modified over the next few years to include the supercharger [likely from an MG 'K' Magnette racing car], seen below the gearbox [which is one of only SIX Sturmey-Archer 'Super Heavyweight' gearboxes made for high-speed racing]. With the blower and gearbox thus stacked, the frame needed no modifications, unlike other supercharged big twins. Interesting features include the use of TWO Bosch twin-spark magnetos with dual-plug cylinder heads, a knee-operated gearshift, a large finned rear brake drum (heavily drilled for lightness), and three steel 'baskets' bolted to the engine, gearbox, and supercharger, which hold outrigger bearings for the extra-long shafts needed to drive the multitude of chains to spin all that machinery.
Apparently, 'Super Kim' sat as a display at the factory for many years, and there are no records of the speeds the bike may have reached, if in fact it ever ran in anger. It's interesting to note that CT Ashby rode a similar blown Zenith in 1934, at 157mph."

I had to sell quite a few bikes to pay for the Zenith, but an opportunity to own such a machine comes along rarely, and I felt the effort was worthwhile. Did I feel comfortable sending tens of thousands of dollars to Argentina? No! But, in an unusual twist, I had met an Argentine, a
Veterinarian who lived in Florida, who also collected old motorcycles. He had offered to help me when my Brough engine took 18 months with no arrival, and the Vet suggested that I tell the BS vendor about his intention to collect the engine for me. When I dropped this fellow's name to the vendor, I had a Brough engine at SFO within 48 hours! A man of curious powers... so when negotiating on the Zenith, I mentioned my association with the Vet, and the bike arrived within a week at SFO. He was my lucky charm; when I asked the source of his power in Argentina, he mentioned an earlier conflict with the Brough vendor, in which the use of a .45cal pistol became necessary... which I suppose would give one a reputation!

I learned a lot owning the Zenith; the bike was too valuable as an unrestored/original machine to ever bring to useable condition, and the configuration of the running gear made it unsuitable for any use but Bonneville or some other dry lake. Thus, it was a trophy, or a museum display, and I don't really have space or desire to keep motorcycles as static objects. When the time came to make a deposit on my first house, I decided to sell the Zenith, and now it lives in Europe, in the collection of a fellow who loves supercharged machinery. What a bike.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I very much enjoyed the article on the Super charged Zenith. My late father had mentioned how fast Zenith’s were at Brooklands. I didn’t really believe him but it seems he was correct. He was very much a motorcycle enthusiast and engineer in England during the late 1920 on up to the war.

Vincent Bradley