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Classic Velocity Blog

Limerock 2017 The Motorcycles

Classic Velocity

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The Limerock Vintage Weekend has long been a great destination for a motorcycle ride. It is set in bucolic north western Connecticut, and is surrounded by upstate NY and western MA. When  the Berkshires and the Catskills are neighbors, you are in great riding country. At the track, a motorcycle parking area on a hill above the swap/paddock area has emerged over time that is always interesting, and the infield camping area often has a smattering of motorcycles. It always delivers a surprise, such as the year when a Vincent was casually parked among the commuter and touring machines on the mound. There was also a Crocker one year inside a vendor tent!

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This year, all of that was enhanced by a display of BMW machines from Philip Richter and his Turtle Garage. In addition to a few of Bruce Meyer's hot rods on display, there was an elegant line of BMWs from pre-war to the 1990s. A most welcome surprise to us, and a delight for the crowd of attendees who appreciated vintage machinery in general.  It was particularly amusing to listen in on some of the conversations of others admiring the collection. There were comments such as "They all look the same", or "Black must be his favorite color, since he has so many of them".

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However, a few folks who knew their BMWs would also stop to spend time looking at the subtleties between models. They would comment on handlebar controls or frame gusseting.  They were always pleasantly surprised to find someone who wanted to share in the conversation.  There is a particularly strong bond that is formed between geeks who discover each other at an event not intended for them as a primary audience. You now instantly have 2 things in common. But I digress...

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The machines included a Dover white R60/2, an R69S with a Hoske tank, a superb ISDT bike, and a pristine K1. All in superb restored condition. However, the favorite bike of the collection's owner is a 1938 R51 which is cosmetically unrestored. It has been mechanically restored, but the paint and bodywork has not been touched. It is in remarkably good condition, and has a patina that you simply cannot purchase. Sharing the same year, 1938, was an R71. Judging by the interest in German cars and motorcycles, it is easy to see why Limerock voted Philip collector of the year. The Turtle Garage is on our list st of places to visit soon....

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Limerock 2017

Classic Velocity

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For us, Labor Day weekend is synonymous with the Limerock Vintage Motorsports Weekend. The event has graced these pages many times before (see nnnnn), and always delights. This year represented an abbreviated visit, as we were going to miss Monday racing (the circuit has a long time noise ordinance which effectively bans racing on Sundays), and the remnants of hurricane Harvey drowned out the Sunday car show. The auction that has now become part of the weekend took place under tent as the rain came down on all sides.

However,  Friday and Saturday were perfect, with temps in the seventies and a mix of sun and clouds.  We have been to this event when the sun was blisteringly hot, and we have been to this event when everyone was huddled up in winter clothing. Saturday's blend was great for walking around the paddock, and for watching the racing from multiple vantage points around the track. Indicative of the variety that you find at Limerock was one of their last run groups, which was an eclectic mix of machines together on track. It included a Ford GT, a few MGBs, a Lotus Elan, a few Porsche 911s, and a Tatra!

Of course like any great event, the parking lot can be almost as interesting as what is inside. No disappointment here. Something about New England brings out the anglophiles, so the early Jags, and Healeys, and Land Rovers were abundant. Even a nice Rover TC graced the grassy parking area. Clubs also showed up in force, so Porsches and BMWs were everywhere. A few interesting Italian cars were there, in addition to the Ferraris and Maserati ( is the plural of Maserati, Maserati?), including a rare Fiat 130.  The Fiat was large and wide, and could have easily been a product of Detroit Rather than Italy.

The paddock continues to expand, with the two areas now consuming most of what was the swap meet area. Sadly, there is less of a swap meet these days, but it is due to increasing numbers of on-track competitors. This makes the paddock more interesting, and the chance to see your favorite marque and model, greater. Limerock's mix of elevation changes, esses, and a long straight, ensure that you need a well sorted machine to dominate, and that the racing stays interesting each lap.  

Want to browse through our photos from the event? View the Full Limerock Vintage Weekend Album

Lancia ready to race

Lancia ready to race

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Green on green  

An impressive tape job on the headlights! 

An impressive tape job on the headlights! 

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A classic beauty in Motorsport livery

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Renault Alpine

Beetle with a Porsche engine at the auction

Beetle with a Porsche engine at the auction

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Ford Angelia with a Cosworth inside..

An Auto Union 1000 for sale

An Auto Union 1000 for sale

Mercedes 200D : Building The Diesel Legend

Classic Velocity

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 Mercedes Benz has always been a premier luxury marque, but they have also been a producer of basic workhorse transportation. Pick a movie from the sixties and seventies set in Europe, the Middle East, or the third world in general, and you will note their legendary role as the taxi cabs of the world. That legend started with the W110 in the early 1960s, and in particular with the Diesel variant. Mercedes was never the cheapest sedan, but in the case of the 190D and 200D, they quickly built a reputation for running millions of kilometers, tolerating heavy loads, and being generally indestructible. Those are the key attributes of a commercial vehicle, but in this case, they were embodied in a sedan.

The W110 series began in 1961 with the introduction of the 190 cars., replacing the W111 series and confounding the once logical Mercedes nomenclature. They were part of the Heckflosse (Fintail) series covered here before (see The Heckflosse Champion), and had the signature appendages in the rear. In the front, they looked like the preceding Ponton cars (see Ponton Production) with the round headlights and the snub nose. Inside, wood was replaced with Bakelite, and luxury seats were replaced with fixed back items. But the key gamble that Mercedes continued to take was in promoting the Diesel engine. At the time, diesel engines  were noisy and visibly produced soot out of the tailpipe. They also had extremely sluggish performance. The press was not kind to these machines, and the traditional Mercedes customer did not view them positively either.

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However, the taxi cab industry had quite the opposite view. These were robust, relatively fuel efficient vehicles with enough comfort to be the ideal conveyance. If it was good for taxicabs, then it was good for others desiring rock solid transportation, and sales grew along with the reputation. Between 1961 and 1965, the diesel variant outsold the gasoline version by over 95,000 units. In 1966, a second series of the W110 was introduced. The inline 4 diesel in the 200D now had a 5 bearing main crankshaft, twin carburetors, and increased bore to yield 1988cc. This produced a whopping 60hp, and a top speed of 130kph in a vehicle weighing 2794 lbs. This was not a performance sedan! However, it also went on to outsell the gasoline variant by over 51,000 units between 1966 and 1968. 

Overall, over 387,000 of the W110 diesels were produced by the time they were replaced by the W115 series in 1968. They cemented the legendary status of the Mercedes Benz Diesel engine, which also became popular in marine applications. It also provided a reputation for reliable, durable vehicles to complement the image of premier luxury automobiles. Remember the 600 Pullman was produced in the same timeframe, as were trucks and vans. No other manufacturer at the time had such an effective grasp of both ends of the spectrum.

The Neander Meander

Classic Velocity

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Ernst Neumann Neander of Duren, Germany was a man of many talents. He was known as an artist, with works in sculpture, painting, and poetry. However, he reportedly built one of the earliest motorcycles in 1886. He later returned to motorcycles in 1926 when he designed the machine seen here. It had many signature features, the most prominent of which was the box section frame made or Duralumin. But for the headlight, you would be excused for thinking this was a machine from 30 years later. The frame looks like a modern twin spar, the tank could be postwar, etc.  The frame went on to be licensed by Opel, which used it with some success in racing. It also featured a unique articulating fork. Neander used several different engines in his machines including JAP, Villiers, and MAG.    Although some small displacement machines were created, the majority were either 500cc or 1000cc machines. Overall, the look was very modern for the time, and it was thought to be both artistic and innovative.  However, they were not to everyone's taste. Only about 2,000 Neanders were produced over almost a ten year period, and they went out of production in the 1930s. They also produced tricycles and quadricycles, which never appealed to the public and were short-lived.  Neander also produced several very interesting cars during this time, but that is a story for another post. The name has been resurrected in recent times to be used on a turbo diesel motorcycle. 

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On Driving On The Left

Classic Velocity

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I grew up driving on the left.  In fact, I'm not even sure at what point I learned that there was an alternative. I also grew up on very narrow roads that were pockmarked with potholes and peppered with patches.  And they were all twisty roads. My father used to joke that the road builders must have been paid by the corner. I am not sure at what point I came to know that these were not normal roads. I can remember being surprised and delighted at a long smooth stretch of road, and then promptly using it to pass everything that I could. So did everyone else, leading to a kind of crazy no man's land in the middle of an already narrow road. Exciting times ensued, but as I recall, there was rarely an accident from this scenario. Accidents came from top speed trials and misjudging the limits around mountain roads with no guardrail, and from a general excess of testosterone over wisdom. 

Fortunately for me, I had no access to speed, although I wanted it very badly. The 10 year old clapped out 175cc Honda trail bike, and the even older Land Rover that I learned to ride and drive on, were both philosophically and physically opposed to speed. Several of us tried to make them go fast, but all we could do was paint a racing stripe on the Honda's tank, and get a running start downhill on the Land Rover. The Land Rover in particular was hilarious, as it was geared in a way that the top speed could only be reached downhill coasting with the clutch in! The Honda was just done at about 47mph. By experimentation, we discovered that both could "feel" fast by going across a bumpy field at anything over 40mph. Fast forward some decades, and the billiard smooth highways of the USA make speed a mundane necessity. Driving on the right is the norm, and speeds over 80mph are routine and uneventful. Of course, countries and cultures have changed, but there is still a desire for some excitement getting from A to B. Exceeding the limits of the roads and the machines in this environment is relatively hard to do. Little or no challenge, little or no fun. 

A recent visit back to a place that drives on the left recently shook up the norms again however briefly. There were warnings for visitors who might normally drive on the right, but I was instantaneously back in my natural habitat and needed no signs. There were roundabouts again, and shifting with the left hand, and overtaking on narrow roads, and no guard rails on mountain roads, and no time (nor need) to glance at the dashboard, much less a mobile device. It rekindled that original need to pay full attention to the act of driving, and to be challenged to do it well in a somewhat unpredictable environment. And it rekindled that original fascination with probing the limits and trying to go fast. It was not about the absolute speed, it was all relative.  Blind corners, and using your horn, and 1st gear hairpins, and maintaining momentum, all returned to center stage. Driving was brilliant fun, even in a small economical non-descript compact car, on the way to nowhere in particular. BMW often used the term Freude Am Fahren in marketing campaigns to invoke The Joy of Driving. Man and machine in perfect choreography. We have explored it here before (see One and Moonbathing), but it bears repeating....

Whatever it looks like for you, go drive on the left.

 

Victoria Bergmeister

Classic Velocity

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Victoria as a marque has been covered before (see The Victoria Ventures). The word Bergmeister dates back some time, and refers to the Foreman of a mine in Germany and Austria. However, in the context of Victoria, it is intended to translate to Mountain Master.  The model was introduced in 1951, and was quite remarkable at the time. It featured a 4 stroke ransversely mounted 80 degree V-twin reminiscent of a Moto Guzzi. It was air-cooled, and had pushrods activated overhead valves. A single Bing carburetor served the 350cc motor, which produced 21hp, The engine is also noted for its streamlined Art Deco appearance. The cases are smooth, and enclose the aforementioned carburetor, giving an appearance common to today's no-visible-cables custom bikes. Elegant body panels and frame paint added to the blend of old and new.

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The transmission used chains rather than gears which reportedly produced a quieter ride. The 4 speed  fed a shaft drive system. Total weight of the bike was 398 lbs, and it was often used in combination with a sidecar. Suspension was telescopic forks up front, and a plunger rear end. It took until 1954 for the Bergmeister to make it into production. It was very expensive to produce into a market with good competition from NSU and BMW. However, it did well in hill-climbs and other trials at the time to become well regarded. Reportedly, only about 5,000 Bergmeisters were produced until Victoria merged with DKW in 1958 to form Zwierad Union. 

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The $800 CV Boot Revisited

Classic Velocity

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Some summer recycling here with a post from 2010 made relevant again due to a current S mall repair that turned into a much bigger bill. It also points out how prices have changed ;-)

The project started innocently enough. One of the CV boots on the Porsche 911T was torn and had sent grease all over the heat exchanger and everything else. Like many ailments to the early 911, a keen sense of smell is critical to early detection. With the pre-war VW heating system in these cars, you tend to develop a sense of what your engine smells like under normal circumstances. This is useful because by the time you actually see the flames shooting through the grill on the rear decklid, it is often too late. I detected burning grease, and shut things down. Satisfied that it was the boot, I nursed the car home.

Someday, I hope to hear a satisfactory explanation for this design, which is common to so many different vehicles from this era and well beyond. A complex and expensive flexible joint which has high speed rotating parts, which is under the car exposed to dirt rocks, etc, and which must remain lubricated, is protected by a $6 (probably 50 cents back then) rubber boot fastened by metal or hard plastic hose clamps. Anyone?……anyone?…..Bueller?…

The next day, I ordered some boots. A CV boot for an early Porsche 911 costs about $6, and I had ordered 4 just to be safe, and to get to the $20 free shipping limit. $6 and a few hours should have me back on the road. The next weekend I launched my assault. I got the rear of the car up on jackstands, and spent a good while cleaning up the mess. I had boots, tools, a can of grease to repack the axle, and I was all set. Except, I wasn’t. While cleaning up I discover that the driver's side heat exchanger has several holes and the outer housing is basically detached from the exhaust header. This would explain the rattling sound heard on occasion. Although work continues on the cv joints, thoughts have already shifted to heat exchangers.

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I do want to maintain heat in this car, so headers are eliminated. The next day, I search the forums, Ebay, and Pelican. I find a pair of heat exchangers in good shape from a fellow owner about 130 miles away. I decide that the budget will not withstand new SSI units, to I drive a few hours and come back fairly pleased with the parts, and fairly displeased with the magnitude of the unplanned expenditure. I also remember that I have a pair of heater control valves form the prior year’s Hershey swap meet. Better tackle them now as well.

During the following week, I remove the heat exchangers, and notice that one of the oil tubes is leaking. Well, with the heat exchangers out, now is the time to address them, and since we are tackling oil leaks, I need a pair of valve cover gaskets as well. So I order the items to arrive before the weekend. That weekend I dig in again. I quickly discover that a couple of the heater control valve nuts are rusty and seized. I leave them soaking overnight in penetrant. Of course, these two nuts are in the most inaccessible locations, so the next day it takes heat and a couple hours of contortionist positioning to finally get them off. I celebrate like I won the lottery.

During the next week, I finally get things back together. $800 and almost 3 weeks later, the $6 cv boot with 2 hours of labor is successfully replaced. Saturday afternoon I go for a drive. The glorious aroma of hot metal and a little paint seeps into the cabin when I open the heater control valve. Having your engine smell just right as you fly down a country road…..priceless. 

FAKA

Classic Velocity

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From 1952 to 1957, Fahrzeugwerke Kanneberg produced stylish scooters featuring "Jet Age" design. The key design element was a jet turbine looking feature beneath the seat, but they also had side air scoops and a smooth front end profile. The scooters were very well regarded from a quality and styling perspective, but they were high-priced. They also produced a three-wheeled commercial vehicle with a front-wheel mounted engine. 

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Eventually, the high pricing killed sales, and production ended in 1957. 

Neue Klasse Homologation Special

Classic Velocity

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In 1962, BMW broke even for the first time since the war thanks to a strategic infusion from the Quandt family, and some surprising success with a few models (see Birth of the Bavarian Sports Sedan and The Halo and the Hail Mary). This allowed them to introduce the Neue Klasse sedans in 1963 which immediately began to sell well. A 1500 model was introduced in various trim levels, all using the now famous "3 Box" design, and the M10 engine. The 1500 gave way to a 1600 model (except in countries where 1500cc was an important tax limit), and the a 4 door 1800 was eventually introduced. 

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A homologation special, the 1800 TI/SA, was introduced in 1964. It was produced to support the factory works effort, and took the TI (Turismo Internationale) production version and upgraded it to SA (SonderAusführung) specifications. This involved higher compression (10.5:1), twin Weber carbs rather than the twin solex TI, larger brakes upfront and rear disc brakes, a 5 speed gearbox, and a hotter camshaft. In the cockpit, there was a special tachometer and sport seats. On the exterior, there were no bumpers, and plain wheels without trim or covers. The end result was 150 hp compared to 120 hp in the TI. Only 200 of these specials were produced, and they were sold only to race teams.

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The TISA was successful in competition, winning the German national championship in the hands of Hubert Hahne in 1964, and coming second at the Spa Francochamps 24 hour race. In 1965, the TISA won Spa in the hands of Pascal Ickx (yes, father of Jacky Ickx). Today, you can still find the TISA at events like Goodwood and the Monterey Historics, but they are mostly tucked away in private collections and museums. 

In Season

Classic Velocity

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One of the sure signs that we are back in the riding/driving season, is that the gatherings of the clans become routine once again. Breakfast meetings, and after work gatherings, and weekend outings begin to fill the calendar. These always compete with work and family schedules, but at the beginning of the season, motivation is high to make the first events. The eclectic Moto Hang group is always welcome and interesting, because there is no rhyme or reason to the machines and the people that show up. 

There is a world traveler on a Suzuki DR, a Triumph Street Triple, a Ducati ST4, a BMW R75/5, a Piaggio scooter, and a Fuji bicycle with a Whizzer motor next to a new BMW R1200GS. Talk about eclectic !

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Hershey 2017

Classic Velocity

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The weather forecast was not helpful. Not that this is unusual for an April event in Pennsylvania. We have attended this event in snow flurries, hail, 80+ degree heat, and torrential downpours (see Hounds of the Basketweave or Hooked on Hershey). However, as the value of the cars rise, the willingness to drive them in less than perfect conditions plummets. A shame really for arguably the best handling machines of the 20th century, and even the beginnings of the 21st. The weather also seems to have impacted the swap meet vendors. There were noticeable gaps in the rows and rows of vendor spots. Were they just no-shows on this gray day, or did less people actually sign up?

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In any case, none of this stops the die-hards. Hershey is an annual gathering of friends not seen since before the winter, or since the last Hershey. It means that spring is here in the mid-Atlantic region, and cars are back on the road. It was great to see members of the crew out and about, shopping, searching, browsing. As shocking as it is, it was great to see that the hobby supports $2800 tool kits and a $1200 seat that needed a complete refinishing. On the other hand bargains were still to be found on a nice 944 for $5000, and an early 911 deck lid for $200. This is the magic of Hershey, friends, bargains, non-bargains, and French fries.  

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And then there are the cars. Despite lower than usual turnout, there were great examples of the marque from its' earliest models, to the latest. Between the show field and the Porsche-only parking area, you could find whatever you loved. A Reuter-bodied 356 Coupe, to a few weeks old GT3. As always, you could find many examples of any given year and model. 968, 912, 928, 993, etc. If you like the vintage models, this is still the place to be in April, although there is increasingly more for the newer cars. We were reminded that 911SCs, and 944s, and even 928s are now 30 years old. 20 year old $80k supercars with reasonable mileage are now under $30k. Time marches on, old classics remain timeless, new classics are emerging, but the place to see it all is still Hershey Pennsylvania in April.  

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A Fuel's Errand

Classic Velocity

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Simplicity is good. Few moving parts, a basic electrical layout, black paint, no frills. This could be a description of the Ford model T, but it is not. It is a description of our BMW R26. A 1956 single cylinder, single carb, 6V standard motorcycle. It does not get much simpler, no matter how far you go back. The motto of the Airheads (of which we are members) is "Simple by Choice", and this machine beautifully embodies that motto. It is a beautiful machine built for a purpose, at a time when quality efficient transportation was key. It even has points for sidecar attachment, despite having just 15hp at its' disposal. If you have ever been dragged along the ground by 15 horses at a gallop, you will know that it is more than adequate power.  So with such a simple and well-built machine, what tale do you have to tell ? Glad you asked.

It started with the smell of fuel n the garage. It took a while to trace it to the R26, but there was definitely a more pronounced smell around that machine.  There was no visible stain or wet spot, just a lingering smell of fuel. The usual suspect on machines like this is the float bowl of the carb being faulty, and failing to shut off the fuel supply leading to a leak. The bottom of the float bowl was suspiciously moist, and the engine casing below it was suspiciously clean, so it seemed like an open and shut case. Upon examination, the float had trapped some moisture, and so a new one was sourced (ridiculously expensive for a brass float compared to plastic, but this bike is nice enough to warrant original). A new float bowl gasket was ordered as well. Once received and installed, I went for a test ride and all seemed well. 

Next morning, faint smell of fuel. there was a droplet of fuel forming at the same spot on the bottom of the float bowl. At this point, I began to see if there was a route to the bottom of the float bowl coming from some other part of the carb or the fuel hoses. There was nothing obvious, although at one of the fuel hose connection points, the fabric-covered fuel hose was definitely damp from fuel. Since this motorcycle is just gravity-fed for fuel, there were no clips on any of the connection points. Despite not liking the look, hose clamps went onto every connection point. There was no other place where fuel was evident, so I took a brief test ride and checked. And then I checked again an hour later. The problem looked solved.

Next morning, faint smell of fuel. I laughed the kind of laugh that pokes fun at oneself, but which really indicates that the situation is not really funny anymore. Upon examination this time, there was no longer a droplet at the bottom of the float bowl, but there was a clean spot on the engine case right below where one of the hose clamps now lived.  Well I was planning to do a carb rebuild anyway, and so I did. Then, climbing a diagnostic ladder toward the fuel tank, I encountered a moist area right at the petcock lever. Aha ! A notorious spot for problems due to the disintegration of the o-ring gasket. Not content to stop there, I also ordered the petcock gasket for the attachment to the tank. Parts arrived a week later, and took only a few minutes to install. I sat watching the petcok with the fuel turned on, and the machine off. No detectable leakage. I waited an hour and checked again. No detectable leakage. I took a test ride. No detectable leakage. I waited 2 hours and looked again. The petcock was moist with fuel. 

From what I could tell, the fuel began right where the petcock threaded on to the tank. But it had a new gasket that I had just installed! I drained and removed the tank and concentrated my attention on the petcock flange. Nothing detectable. I put the petcock on it, plugged the cross connection, and threw in a little fuel. Nothing detectable. I then put the tank in its normal position, and taped some paper towel to the tank encircling the petcock flange. I let it sit. An hour later, Bingo ! The paper towel was moist with fuel. Not much, but certainly enough to form a drip over many hours. I repeated the experiment. Same result, a small fuel leak from the tank itself.

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I emptied the tank and began to lightly sand the area around the flange. It was built up with solder, so someone had been here before. I could not find the specific point of the leak, but there were a few suspect areas once the paint was removed. After some days of drying, and then work with a wire wheel and dremmel tool, most of the solder was removed, revealing a hairline crack. It was clear then, that vibration was probably the key ingredient to making it leak and find its way through the solder patch job. Once cleaned up, it was properly welded, and the the paper towel test was repeated. Bone dry. 

So what did we learn? A repeated lesson shared before in To Fuel or not to Fuel, and in On Getting Grounded and in To Spark or Not to Spark. Obvious solutions, and the usual suspects sometimes mask the culprit. I did not go to the tank first, because carbs and petcock are notorious for fuel leaks, and I thought I found the problem with the float bowl (which did have an issue, just not the main one). In this case, the simplicity of the machine contributed to a sense that the solution must also be simple. It was, that is once I found the root cause....

Weekend Warriors

Classic Velocity

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Being in the midst of building a street car that can go to the track and pass tech inspection, I am struck by the contrast of what this process was like when I last did it 20+ years ago, and what it was like 20 years before that. First a few obvious contrasts, so that you know this is not just another luddite diatribe about how much better things were back then... 

Racing is safer today. Despite having fewer tracks today, there are probably many more track miles driven per year, and with far fewer injuries and deaths per mile driven. Cars are better today. Even in the arena of vintage racing where my interest lies, we are running better tires, better brakes, and better lubricants than the original cars ever did. Tracks are better today. I ran the new Watkins Glen, and the new Lime Rock Park in recent years, and the historic sharp edges of those tracks have been removed. It is very hard to run into a stand of trees these days, or hit Armco barriers that have no energy absorption. The new tracks such as Thunderbolt in NJ are designed so that Indy cars are safe, much less your 1969 BMW 1600. That is not to say that vintage racing is completely sanitized. There are accidents every season, and there was an unfortunate fatality at Lime Rock in the last 2 years. Things are better on all fronts, but this remains a sport with risks. 

In order to participate in this safer arena for a few weekends per year, the current project car has to have some significant modifications. It must have a roll cage of specified thickness, which rises above head height, and which has an inspection port so that the thickness can be validated at tech inspection. It must have a cutoff switch and a fire extinguisher. It must have no leaks of any kind, a multi-point safety harness, and must have catchment bottles, etc, etc. In order to be competitive at the sharp end of the field, the car would have to be made virtually unusable as a street car.

There was a time, in the heyday of sports car racing, when you could drive your street car to the track, and race it after doing little more than placing a taped "X" over the headlights. Certainly a low barrier to entry, and the sport grew tremendously. The SCCA general competition rule (GCR) book for 2017 is 986 pages, up from 963 pages in 2016, and it is updated monthly! In 1985 it was 786 pages. Thankfully, vintage is only 542 pages today, up from 533 in 2012, but this covers machines which were last produced 40 years ago! Time marches on, and the SCCA is just one of many organizations that are in a constant battle to close loopholes, and improve safety, while not killing the racing. Not an enviable balance to strike at all. 

The perception that even the most basic form of amateur racing is expensive and complicated may not be entirely true, but a 1000 page rule book, and a paddock full of trailers doesn't help dispel that perception. In a litigious society, it is probably a pipe dream to expect cheap, easy, and legal competition, but it sure would be nice to have an option of driving to the track with just a roll of electrical tape, a helmet, and a 1 page disclaimer....

On Being Far Away

Classic Velocity

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Joshua Tree National Park is thousands of miles from home. It does not look like home.  It does not smell like home. It is dry and dusty brown and filled with scrub brush. But then, it has spectacular small rocks and massive geologic formations that burst with colors and form fantastic sculptures against a brilliant azure sky. What kind of strange and wondrous place is this that spawns such giant structures out of nothing ? You have certainly left the shire Frodo Baggins.

Traveling solo on two wheels in the western USA, you get a very visceral understanding of space. Endless prairies and deserts go on for hours.  Mountains and canyons  take miles to ascend or descend.  Towns and cities seem to appear and disappear leaving little trace. Highways fade into the distance. You do not have a sense that you are always close to civilization. Great well-paved deserted roads snake through the desert, connecting nothing to nothing, leaving you to wonder why they even exist, but leaving you eternally grateful that they do. The average campground is spectacular in setting, if not in amenities, but that is as it should be. Who would want to be shuttered in a motel with a night sky like this ? The tent seems the right abode, and open flame, the right heat.

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These roads, these places, force you to contemplate big things, big questions. You can see time in these places in a way that is difficult in lush green places where perhaps a few hundred years is evident. Here, thousands of years are visible in rock formations, and cave paintings, and even in the brilliant simplicity of the homes of native peoples. You can see in canyons stretching for miles, how you are riding on what was once the bottom of an ocean. You can see how water has carved rock, how wind has shaped the mesa.

Riding and camping through these places implants the experience in a unique manner. You have to smell the air and get the dirt first on, and then under your skin. Slowly, over a few days, with nothing familiar around, it sinks in. This is why we should all go far away periodically. Physically, and mentally, you need to abandon the familiar for a time. You need to gain or refresh another perspective, to disturb a comfort zone that is probably deceiving you into thinking that you have figured something out. Your idea of far away may not be anything like mine, but I can only hope that it is as powerful as a motorcycle, a tent, and a few days in the southwest.

Ponton Production

Classic Velocity

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Mercedes had been slowly rebuilding its manufacturing capacity after the war, but in July 1953 they really regained that capacity with the production of the "Ponton" cars. These cars were so named because of the external body styling which resembled pontoons. They were really the first true postwar vehicle from Mercedes, as machines such as the 170D were really just postwar versions of prewar cars. The cars and the styling are thought to be the work of Freidrich Geiger who was later responsible for the 300SL. First up were the 4 cylinder W120 sedans, which were dubbed the 180 models. The following year a 180D model was introduced to provide a diesel model, and the legendary straight 6 was introduced to create the 220a sedan. 

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1955 introduced the 190SL coupe and then the roadster, and a year after that, new versions of the 6 cylinder were introduced dubbed models 219 and the 220S. There were also new versions of the 4 cylinder cars, the W180 II. A handsome cabriolet was introduced to round out the Pontons. Finally, 1958 saw the introduction of the 220SE, and production fuel injection. In 1959, a third and final generation of the Pontons went into production, which technically lasted until 1962. Overall, there were over 580,000 Ponton cars produced, firmly returning Mercedes to high volume production, and putting them in position to attempt a purchase of BMW in the late 1950s. But that is another story....

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Modern Classics 2017

Classic Velocity

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Here in the wintry northeast USA, we have invented a number of great ways to break the grip of winter on our 2-wheeled hearts. Among them are trips to warmer climes, maintenance and restoration, researching the next great ride, winter riding, and shows. This last one, shows, is welcome, but cruel. To walk around amongst fine classic motorcycles, any of which you would love to ride today, makes it painful to leave and confront salty icy roads. But such is the pain inflicted by The Modern Classics show in Boyertown, PA. I have ridden to this show in past years, but not this time. There were only 2 bikes in the parking lot, and with temperatures below 30 degrees, their riders were made of strong stuff.  

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The show always manages to find interesting examples of machines from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. European, Japanese, and American brands are most prevalent. The theme of the show is modern classics, so you would expect to see the more iconic and popular models rather than the obscure.  With that said, it is great to see a nice unmolested example of a Kawasaki 1100 Eddie Lawson replica, or a Vincent Black Lightning, or a rotary-engined Suzuki RE5, or an MV Augusta or a BMW R100RT. All indoors, all a few feet away from each other.  

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There is a people's choice award, so in addition to admiring the machines, you get to vote for your favorite. It is always hard to single out just one machine in this show. If you choose according to rarity, then it has to be the Rex, even more than the beautiful Munch on display. For artistic jewelry, you would have to pick the Ducati 175. For value, the Vincent. For oddity, the MV Agusta monocycle. However, my ultimate choice was the Bultaco Sherpa almost overlooked on the fringe of the display area. It captured the essence of the machines of the era. It was simple, light, well-designed, good looking, and performed well. Simple fame, simple engine, simple everything. There was absolutely nothing on it that was not functional, and it was ironically, in a room full of desirable machines, the one I most wanted to jump on and ride. Of course, starting it would have filled the room with 2-smoke and killed all the attendees. 

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Almost Eight

Classic Velocity

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At the dawn of the 1970s, as the Porsche 914 was in production in both 4 and 6 cylinder variations, Ferdinand Piech ordered the development of a 914/8. Yes, as if the well-balanced lightweight chassis of the 914 was not enough in 4 and 6 cylinder configurations, a flat 8 cylinder car was commissioned to see if it would be viable for production. Piech, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, was responsible for the 914 platform at the time, but was also responsible for Porsche's racing program which was very successful, and which was on the eve of an outright win at Le Mans. 

Just 2 of the 8 cylinder cars were built. The first was predominantly a test mule, used to prove the concept. It used the 3 liter racing engine from the Porsche 908. At 300+ hp, it must have been a challenge to drive. The second was a 60th birthday present for Ferry Porsche. The cars featured modified wheel arches, a front mounted oil cooler, and dual headlights to differentiate them from the regular 914s. Reportedly, Ferry was not impressed by the car, and it never made it to production. Instead one sits in the Porsche museum.

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The Era Error

Classic Velocity

The Classic Velocity crew considers the postwar period from the late 1940s to the late 1970s to be an era. Why? Because it is a time when the engineers and the stylists often triumphed over sales and marketing, when the engineer's stopwatch beat the accountant's calculator....

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