My Motorsports Passion
Many of you may be surprised that I own vintage British motorcycles. In fact, I "was" a motorcycle nut long before I decided to try my hand at drag racing. I grew up riding motorcycles from about the 8th grade on, thanks to my late step father Wally Dunn back in South Africa. It was his mentoring who I owe a great deal of gratitude to for all he did and taught my brother and I, first riding a Triumph Tiger Cub then a twin 350 Triumph in the sugar cane fields (dirt road fire brakes) in Kwa Zulu Natal province then later building home made motor cross bikes long before the first purpose-built Japanese motor cross bikes came into the world. My brother and I owned a Suzuki RM125A and RM125B respectively in the early 1980's. It was a family affair with the whole family going to race on the week ends. I miss those days!
In 1985, I had my '46 shipped over in a crate from South Africa in pieces. A few years prior to my sailing adventure which began in 1982.The engine had the spark plug removed and a "modified spark plug" with the porcelain removed and a piece of pipe epoxy in its place so the engine could be connected to another running engine via a chain, and used as an air compressor. Talk about ingenuity?
Once I had most of the pieces here in the USA, I began the restoration process on a very limited budget and in borrowed garage space belonging to me new in-laws at that time as I lived in an apartment. It took me many months, ordering some parts from the UK, finding some here and assembled it to the condition it is in today. I did ride it a few times but in the hot Texas summer, I had obviously not clearanced the ring gap correctly as it heat-seized several times and that is how it remained for may years.
During the past decade, my 1946 VG500 has been in my garage collecting dust, literally! My rejuvenation came as a result of not having anything to work on and cleaning out the garage. I pumped up the tires, tried to kick it over but it was seized so I wheeled it down to the shop and washed it cause it looked terrible. After the wash, I removed the spark plug and looked inside, saw no visible problem so I sprayed WD40 inside the cylinder then went to work on removing the gunk out of the gas tank and carburetor. About 3 hours later, I had it cleaned with fresh gasoline in the tank and for the first time in 25 years, after kick starting for a half hour and some brake cleaner it started up. What a sound! It was short lived because the needle and seat was leaking gas so I had to turn it off.
Inspired once again, I started searching for anyone else in North America who might have an Ariel and after a couple of hours surfing the web, I came across the Ariel Motorcycle Club of North America which I joined on the spot. The AMCCNA is based in Southern California and to my surprise, there are quiet a few members with these unique British motorcycles.
1946 Ariel VG 500cc 1934 Ariel VB 550cc
The pictures above is the '46 in my shop after washing the dust off and the '34 on the right is yours truly in South Africa at the beginning of the 1985 D-J (Durban to Johannesburg Commemorative Motor Cycle Trail) vintage motorcycle Rally. The staged rally is hosted by the Southern African Veteran and Vintage Association. The D-J Rally utilized the old narrow main road between Durban and Johannesburg. We were not permitted speedometers to judge speed and distance, just stop watches to cover the 2-day, 438 mile event. Check out some of the motorcycles that participated in the 2007 rally. I found some past information and pictures at the Classic Motorcycle Club of Natal
Below: My 1985 D-J Finishers award medal.
I purchased this motorcycle from a farmer, I believe it was in 1980 for around R50. It was in a chicken coup, in pieces and had been used as a compressor. The spark plug porcelain had been broken out and a pipe soldered in its place. Another running engine/frame was connected by chain to drive the "compressor". Talk about ingenuity? I had begun the restoration in South Africa but never completed it and so in 1987, I had the crate of parts shipped to the US.
Once I had most of the pieces here in the USA, I began the restoration process on a very limited budget and in borrowed garage space belonging to me new in-laws at that time as I lived in an apartment. It was at that time that I had the tank and brackets chrome plated and purchased many parts from Dragonfly Motorcycles in the UK and new rims and tires here in the states. I respoked the wheels with new rims & spokes, painted all of the black and assembled it to the condition it is in today. I did ride it back in 1987 but I must have installed the piton or the piston rings with insufficient clearance because in the Texas heat, the engine would heat seize so my intention is to completely disassemble the bike again and complete the restoration. I still need a few items such as speedometer, oil pressure gauge and complete the wiring.
Below are several pictures of the restoration back in 1987.
To be continued. (February 11, 2012)
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