Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Super-rare AJS 7R3 fore (a single cylinder with three valves), standard 7R aft
One of the greatest collections of functional/campaigned racing motorcycles anywhere hides in a nondescript warehouse in Brooklyn.  Team Obsolete, the love child of Rob Ianucci, has garnered press attention, admiration, resentment, stunning race victories, and the occasional lawsuit during the decades of its existence, a testament to Ianucci's powerful impact on vintage motorcycle racing.  He's been collecting and racing bikes much longer than most, starting back when two-wheelers were cheap but hard to find, with no internet backup, and every discovery was luck or via the Good Old Boy network.  Rob was one of the first to take up Vintage racing, and field a team of esteemed riders.

The TO collection is mainly focussed on AMC products (AJS and Matchless), with significant forays into BSA triples, MV Agusta singles, triples, and fours, and Benelli singles and fours, and Harley XRTTs.  A few 'other' makes stray into the workshops and offices of Team Obsolete, like the odd ex-works Honda 4 cylinder GP machine, or Norton Commando, but this isn't an 'everything interesting' assemblage, this is a racing team.
Matchless G50 spares unlimited...
The collection manager, Lawrence Au, invited The Vintagent to come spy their 'other' AJS Porcupine E95 racer, the one which isn't being sold this week at Quail Lodge, and which will set a new world record at auction.  That Porcupine is also from the TO collection, but has sat in the National Motorcycle Museum in England for many years, whereas the Brooklyn machine is being retained by the Team.
Benelli 4-cylinder racer with original engine and George Beale replica chassis
Our tour guide was none other than Dave Roper, the first American racer to win an Isle of Man TT (the '84 Classic), the finest vintage rider in the US (maybe the world), and the best possible fellow to discuss the machines present, as he's raced them as a member of Team Obsolete for over 20 years.  [Dave and I have bumped into each other since the 1980s, when I was editor of the Velocette owner's club newsletter (Fishtail West), and he submitted articles on a MkVIII KTT he campaigned.]
Conrad Leach entering the inner sanctum of vintage racing...
The subterranean warehouse where 'things get done' has a full machine shop with a stock of Unobtanium (MV Agusta and Benelli racing bits), an assembly room where the 'in progress' machines live, and a separate garage which seems to harbor fairings and gas tanks (and an airplane).  The ready-to-race bikes live upstairs, bathed from sunlit industrial glazing, and integrated with a functioning series of offices.  This is one work environment where a corner office with an outside view isn't necessarily an advantage!
Don't choke on your coffee; works MV Agusta 3- and 4-cylinder racers, with a Honda 250cc 6-cylinder on the plinth
A trio of Triples; Rob North-framed BSA and Triumph 750cc racers
It could only be a Honda 6...
Three Harley Davidson XRTT 750cc road racers...
Original paint from the Era of Metalflake, from a Norton Commando (top) and Matchless G85CS
The street-legal 1963 Matchless G50 CSR on which Rob Ianucci got married...
...and the Matchless G50 on which Dave Roper (pictured) won the '84 Isle of Man Senior Classic TT
Spare G50 engine, with Mike Hailwood's leathers
The Honda 6, sans engine (it was blown up during a race, and awaits repair)
Harley KRTT 750cc sidevalve racer...with a very large Dell'Orto carb!
MV Agusta 175cc ohc single racer with Earles forks
Lawrence Au with an ex-Bultaco 'nugget' finish tank
The 'Wheelbarrow', last single ever to win a GP race, a G50-based special with lightweight Reynolds frame and magnesium wheels.  The combination of decent power and super low weight beat even the factory MVs at times.
Cal Rayborn's HD 1973 XRTT, along with his leathers and kit bag.
Cal raced a 1972, iron-headed version of the XRTT in England, where it dominated the Trans-Atlantic Match Races.  This was the end of an era for Harley Davidson, when they backed their tuners and riders, and won.  Cal gave HD their final Grand National win in 1973 aboard this machine at Laguna Seca.
Badass doesn't even begin to describe the XRTT; purposeful and brutal and difficult, they captivated all who saw and heard them.
Late-type XR racing engine with all-alloy top end, as used in HD flat-track racers
Rack 'em up; the Benelli's 4 Dell'Orto carbs
The ultimate café racer?  An AJS 7R being converted to street spec...something I've always wanted to do.
More superexotica; cylinder head from an AJS 7R3, with one inlet and two exhaust valves.  The cam gear is fiercely complicated, as seen at the top.
Team Obsolete, ready to rock.
Ex-Works Benelli 175cc double ohc single
The Italians have a thing for shapely.
Almost a ghost, or half a Ferrari; the MV Agusta 'Boxer' flat-four racer, which never did.  This one doesn't run...yet; is there another?
Water cooled, dohc, but no power advantage over the upright 4, so the project was dropped.
Giacomo Agostini was here
The Ur-Cammy; a 1929 AJS K10 ohc single, awaiting revivification
Another Benelli engine laying around...
Looks prosaic but isn't; Honda CB550 with Yoshimura cams and pipe and racing Keihin CR carbs.  Sleeper.
Dave explains the fine points of the E95 Porcupine
Lawrence leads us to treasures untold...
Thanks for the tour, Dave

Many thanks to Rob Ianucci, Lawrence Au, and Dave Roper for opening the doors to the Kingdom.


Pipérade said...

A job at Team Obsolete reminds me of a classic Woody Allen line about the man who swept the floors in the strip club.
His friend asks ‘What's the pay?’ ‘Ten dollars a night.’
‘That's not very much.’
‘No, but it's all I could afford.’

That G50 CSR.. If I could own only one bike, it would be that. Ran a G80CS for a few years but it needed to go on a diet - plus it was crying out for more horses.
A G50CSR - but with the G85CS Reynolds frame - would be some bike.
Great post!

Anonymous said...

All those bikes need to be back on track .... for our pleasure ....

occhiolungo said...

Hiya Paul. Don't you mean that porcupine MIGHT be sold at the Quail auction? ;) Or is it offered without a reserve?

Anonymous said...

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Toadeus Maximus said...

As always Paul, Thanks again for letting us tag along to visit places and things unseen or out of reach.

It's good to know as we tinker and toil in our own workshops, this madness isn't ours alone.

All the best!

ExtremeSportsBlogger said...

AJS – what a refreshing blast from the past. There is quite a buzz being created amongst fellow AJS 7R members, riders, enthusiasts and collectors here in the UK about an ex Bob Mcintyre and Joe Potts AJS 7R 350cc. What a combination and a piece of racing history this could be. Seems that an AJS 7R has surfaced that has a great deal of history from the late 50’s and early 60’s and continued to be raced at the Isle of Man TT through the late 90’s.