This time they're shooting for 300 mph with a surprisingly stock 55-inch twin, and 200 wit
Twenty-seven years ago, in March of 1937 to be exact, a professional motorcycle racer who rode for the Harley-Davidson factory made two runs over a measured mile on the sand of Daytona Beach at an average speed of 136.8 mph. This racer's name was Joe Petrali and the speed of his 61ci bike, timed by the American Motorcyclist Association, was a new World's Maximum Speed record for motorcycles. The previous record had been 132 mph, set in 1926 by John Seymour, also at Daytona.
Petrali's bike was capable of an estimated 150 mph, but its average was held down to 136 by making short approach runs to the timing traps so the new record wouldn't be so high that it would scare off the Indian Motorcycle Co. Indian was H-D's only major U.S. competitor, and H-D hoped Indian would try for the record. If it did and broke it, H-D and Petrali planned to go again, this time on the salt at Bonneville. Letting it all hang out, they'd make a new record of 150 or so that should stand for a long time. But, as often happens in racing, events didn't proceed as H-D hoped they would.
Indian didn't take the bait - at least it didn't break Joe's record - nor did anyone else until 11 years had passed. It was then that Roland Free, on an English-built Vincent twin, boosted the record to 150 mph. Roland's runs were made at Bonneville. Ten years earlier this would have triggered lots of action at Harley-Davidson, but now it wasn't interested. Both H-D and Petrali had retired from racing many years previously, and although H-D was building and selling bikes for track racing, the straightaway record didn't fit into its plans.
Joe's bike, which had been carefully prepared for the record attempt, had a nosepiece and tailpiece that converted into a semi-streamliner. Joe sat in the normal location, bent low over the fuel tank between the streamlining members to decrease air resistance to the minimum, but his body was exposed to the wind created by the bike's speed. In theory, the streamlining looked good, but in practice, the air flowing over the streamlined tail caused the bike's nose to lift at about 124 mph. To correct this condition, the nosepiece and tailpiece were removed to return the bike to its normal configuration and this is the way Joe rode it. Roland Free's bike also ran without the benefit of streamlining, but Roland made his runs prone, lying flat on his stomach with his legs extended straight out behind him to reduce the air resistance created by his body to a minimum.
To become official, motorcycle speed-record runs, like those for automobiles, must be sanctioned and witnessed by a recognized association. For motorcycles, the sanctioning groups are the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, and the Federation Internationale Motorcycliste (FIM) in Geneva, Switzerland.
The two timing associations recognized by both FIM and AMA for straightaway runs are the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) and USAC. SCTA events are timed by J. Otto Crocker, whose equipment is among the best in the world. Ironically, the man in charge of USAC's timing equipment, and the crew members who operate it, is the same Joe Petrali who set the AMA World's Straightaway Record for Harley-Davidson in 1937. World-record-attempt bikes that have run in recent years have changed drastically since Joe Petrali's and Roland Free's times, and so have the record speeds. All the bikes have had streamlined shells, with the rider sitting inside them, out of the wind, and their engines, to date, have been comparatively small displacement and of foreign manufacture.
In 1956, a German team invaded Bonneville with a streamlined 30-inch supercharged NSU and went home with a new record of 211.04 mph. William Herz was the bike's rider. This record was established over a course 1 km in length and was recognized by the FIM. Shortly after the NSU run, in the same year, Texans Stormy Mangham and Johnny Allen, with the help of veteran racing motorcycle builder Bus Schaller, combined their efforts at the Bonneville Nationals with a streamlined 40-inch Triumph and boosted the barely-cool NSU record to 214.40 mph. Two years later, in 1958, Jess Thomas rode this same bike, also with a 40-inch Triumph, to a new record of 214.47 mph. This was only a twitch faster than Allen's speed but was nevertheless faster. In 1959, this same bike was wrecked at Bonneville. Johnny Allen had just gotten it well under way on the first leg of another record attempt when the low pressure created by rotation of its rear wheel caused the drag chute mounted in its tail to be forced into the wheel and sprocket assembly. The chute locked the wheel and the bike went down. After sliding on its side for awhile it flipped end over end a few times and finally stopped. Johnny wasn't hurt but the bike had had it.
At the Bonneville Nationals meet in 1962, Bill Johnson rode Joe Dudek's streamlined 40-inch Triumph to new AMA World Records of 205.78 mph on gasoline and 230.269 mph on methanol. These runs were made over a 1-mile course. A few weeks later, the runs were repeated for an FIM rep, this time over a 1-km course. The best average this time, also on methanol, was 224.57 mph. This is the official FIM World's Motorcycle Maximum Speed Record at this time (1964 - Ed.).
After their 1958 runs, Mangham, Allen, and crew became involved in a project that resulted in "Big John." This Big John isn't a coal miner; rather, it's a Chevy V-8-powered, streamlined two-wheeled vehicle built along the same lines as the bike but scaled up to accommodate an automotive engine. It was built for an attempt on the World's Land Speed Record but so far has not been successful. On its first try, in 1963, Bonneville's salt was so rough that the rider, Johnny Allen, couldn't use the vehicle's power to accelerate, and had trouble stopping it.
At the same time that Big John was in the works, and although they didn't have engines for them, Stormy's crew also built two new shells and frames for motorcycle engines. One was a copy of the earlier machine, and the other was slightly larger to accommodate more horsepower. These bikes now house Harley-Davidson engines and are ready to run, the condition of Bonneville's salt permitting, the week of July 27, 1964. Their runs, the first in which Harley-Davidson will have participated since Joe Petrali's successful record attempt in 1937, will be timed by USAC's crew, under the direction of none other than Joe Petrali.
Building streamlined motorcycles that will handle correctly at high speeds is a job for experts. The performances Stormy's group has realized from their bikes and Big John confirm that they are experts in the field. Big John hasn't broken any records so far but has proved to be stable at speeds up to 310 mph. The record-setting motorcycle-engined bike had handling problems when it was first run, but after these were corrected, everything was straight down the line.
Apparently, Harley-Davidson took the Mangham group's experience into account when it decided to try for straightaway records this year. H-D could have built its own frames and shells, but it wouldn't have had Stormy's experience. Also, two bikes ready to go are worth considerably more than two in the mind. But whatever its reason, H-D is supplying Stormy with engines of two sizes, dyno tested and ready to run, and Stormy is doing the rest. One engine is a 15-inch Sprint and the other is a 55-inch Sportster. Both will be factory-tuned for maximum performance on gasoline.
Motorcycle records are classified according to the type of bike involved, the fuel used, and engine displacement. Streamlined bikes are listed as S, and gasoline-burners are C. Engine displacement is classified in cubic centimeters. The 15ci Sprint is in the 250cc class and the 55-inch Sportster is in the 883cc class. So Stormy's Sprint is in the SC-250 class and his Sportster is in the SC-883 class. At the present time, there aren't any records, at least in the AMA's book, for either of these classes. This leaves the field wide open for Stormy, with the exception of the FIM World's Maximum Speed Record of 224.57 mph and the AMA World's Record of 230.269 mph, which he plans to capture with the Sportster.
H-D's Sprint engine is built in a factory in Italy that H-D acquired some time ago. Its original design is Italian, but it has been Americanized to make it stronger and more capable of standing the abuse of fast highway cruising and rugged off-highway use. It has a single cylinder and integral four-speed transmission. An optional five-speed trans will be used for the Bonneville runs. Its low-speed torque is outstanding.
In its standard form, with a compression ratio of 8.5 to 1, the Sprint develops 18 hp at 7,500 rpm. For Bonneville, power output is 30 hp. This is 2 hp per cubic inch, which is a commendable output for a normally aspirated engine running on gasoline. The power boost over stock was gained with normal engine-modifying procedures; however, the bore and stroke weren't changed as an increase in either of these would have moved the engine out of the 250cc class.
The Sprint engine was installed in the smaller streamliner. This is the chassis that is the same size as the one that ran 214 mph and was raced in 1958. Its fiberglass shell, which is 14 feet long, approximately 1/8-inch thick and weighs 68 pounds, is mounted on a frame that has a wheelbase of 96 inches. The frame was fabricated from 3/4-inch-OD, 0.040-inch-wall, 4130 chrome-moly tubing. It has two main members on each side, spaced 7-1/2 inches apart, center to center, that extend from its front end to its rear end. These members follow the contour of the shell. At the frame's front end those for the right and left sides are separated a few inches, but at the rear they were brought together to give the frame's rear end a wedge shape. Measured from the ground to its highest point, the bike is 34 inches high.
Wheels, front and rear, are H-D Sprint of Italian manufacture. They have 19-inch-diameter rims, 2-1/2 inches wide, and steel spokes. The rear wheel has an aluminum brake drum 7 inches in diameter with a cast iron friction surface. The brake assembly, including backing plate and shoes, is also aluminum. Standard organic lining on the shoes, which was 1-3/8 inches wide, was replaced with metallic lining. As the bike has neither a front brake nor a drag chute to stop it, the rear brake must be dependable. These little streamliners seem to coast forever when their throttle is closed at speed.
Tires were made by Goodyear. Their size is 3.50x19 and their outside diameter is 26 inches. That's about all that can be said about them at this time, as they are still in the development and testing stage.
The bike doesn't have any suspension members. The axle for its rear wheel connects directly to its frame, and the axle for its front wheel is mounted solidly in a fork assembly that was fabricated from 5/8-inch OD, 0.083-inch-wall, 4130 chrome-moly tubing. Stormy's experience with his former streamliners indicates that a flexible suspension system isn't needed for good handling and stability at high speeds if the salt is reasonably smooth. Fellows who have inspected the flats this year say the salt is in the best condition it has been in many years. This is good news to Stormy and the several other men who will be running vehicles over it during the '64 season.
Big John has a pair of outriggers, one on each side, that support him when he is standing still. These can be retracted by his rider when he reaches a speed fast enough to become stable. The Sprint bike, because it is light and easy to handle, doesn't have outriggers. When at rest, it is supported by a special wheel rack into which its tail fits. When the bike leaves the starting line, this rack's wheels enable it to be rolled along behind the bike by a couple of crew members until the bike drives off.
The rear wheel is driven by a heavy-duty motorcycle chain in the normal manner, and the ratio between the engine's crankshaft and the wheel when the transmission is in high gear is 4 to 1. With this ratio, the bike should turn the 185 mph expected of it at roughly 9,600 rpm. The engine will turn 11,000 rpm safely, but if possible, Stormy doesn't want to run it over 9,800. For 30 hp to push a motorcycle 185 mph requires a vehicle of clean, low-drag design, but there's little doubt that Stormy's streamliners have these features.
Stormy's number two bike, in which the 55-inch Sportster was installed, is larger than the smaller bike and heavier and stronger in all respects. Its fiberglass shell is 15 feet, 7-1/2 inches long and weighs 120 pounds. The shell's lines and proportions are exactly the same as those for the smaller bike but scaled up slightly to fit the longer 112-inch wheelbase. Its wheels, brakes, and tires are identical to those on the smaller bike but because of the greater speed it will run, it has a drag chute that will help it stop. Its frame was fabricated from 3/4-inch OD, .073-inch-wall, 4130 tubing. Spacing of the main members on each of the frame's sides is 7-1/4 inches center to center, the same as for the smaller bike, and the frame's shape is similar to that for the smaller bike.
A pair of handlebars approximately 24 inches behind the fork head controls the forks. The bars pivot in their own bearings and a tubular link connects them to a bracket on the forks. Their right hand grip is the throttle control and the clutch release handle is mounted on their left side. Other controls are a brake pedal actuated by the left foot and a gear shift lever within easy reach of the right hand. Similar controls are in the Sprint-engined bike.
As there was enough room in it for the mechanism required, retractable outriggers like those on Big John were installed on this bike. These will simplify getting the bike under way and bringing it to a stop.
Installation of the Sportster V-twin engine was simplified by bolting a complete Sportster frame, less forks, in the bike's frame. This was done quite easily, without any cutting or welding, by making suitable brackets and members to join the two.
Harley-Davidson's Sportster engine has gained an enviable reputation among bike riders for having sheer brute strength that gives its bike solid, continuous acceleration. One that has been modified with racing cams and additional carburetion and develops an estimated 60 hp requires a good man to suddenly crank it full-on. If the rider's grip isn't good, the bike will literally run out from under him. The engine in Stormy's bike, with its modifications, has an honest 70 hp at the rear wheel. This is 2.33 times the Sprint's output. Per cubic inch, horsepower output is 1.27. With a 1.74-to-1 final drive ratio, the Sportster streamliner should turn 285 mph. This speed and gear ratio combination will require approximately 6,400 engine rpm, which is the engine's peaking speed.
When Stormy and his group try the salt on for size this year (1964 - Ed.), they will have their full complement of rolling stock and two riders on hand. The riders will be Everett Brashear for Big John and Roger Reiman for the two bikes. Neither of these men has had streamliner experience but Brashear, who lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana, has been National Motorcycle Champion 17 times and Roger won the big 200-mile race at Daytona in '64, his second win in this event. Both are hot to go, but each of them is, for sure, in for a new experience.