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Photo by Genghis

CAR GUYS: Unbiased and give honest assessments?


"I had recently found the carcass of a 1968-1969 Repco Brabham BT25 Indianapolis car lying in a tiny, dark lock-up garage behind a row of houses in Chessington, not far off the Kinston Bypass in Surrey....The car was raced by Jack Brabham in the '69 Indy 500.....his teammate Peter Revson's BT25/1 actually finished fifth and effectively began the elevation of Revvy's career....The Repco engine ran F1 style Lucas fuel injection rather than Indy's typical Hillborn 'piss and splash' system.....Meanwhile Jack Brabham's race had ended due to 'the horrible Joe Hunt magneto he was talked into'....."


MotorSports magazine is one of my favorite magazines. If you're into open-wheel and sports car racing like I am, then you likely are familiar with this legendary publication, that's been in print since 1924! And you thought that Easyriders has been around for a long time. MotorSports has a longevity that I wish that Snow's Iron Horse could've enjoyed! Their coverage and writing is exemplary, first class for confirmed car guys. Now, I've been a car guy for almost 50 years. In fact, I was a car guy for years before I became a biker. I coveted Corvettes years before I desired Harleys. In 1960 at the age of thirteen, I started saving bread for a Vette, an effort of extreme discipline for my tender age, that ended in success in 1966, when I had saved enough for a used Vette that I bought off of a used car lot on Queens Boulevard for three grand. That money came from an after-school, off-the-books job at a neigborhood store. "Route 66" was my favorite TV show.

By the early 1960s, I was a full fledged fan of sports car racing, Formula One, Indycar, and drag racing. For me, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix were every bit as significant as the Indianapolis 500. By the early '80s, I added NASCAR to that list. For me, Mario Andretti, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, Jimmy Clark , Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen, Ayrton Senna , A.J Foyt and Phil Hill were all on equal levels of cutting edge racing superiority. I was a non-discriminatory, non-denominational racing fan. Of course, I was partial (and still am) to Chevies. I've only owned two cars in my life, and both were Vettes.

I can't tell you how ecstatic I was, when Chevy "back-doored" a few examples of the lightweight Corvette, called the Corvette Grand Sport, to racing privateers in the '60s. Chevrolet only built five of these brutal beauties. GM placed a ban on racing activities just after the Grand Sports were made, forbidding the performance elements of Chevrolet from racing the lightweight Vettes as a factory team. Chevy got around this ban by loaning the lightweight Vettes to private racing teams, and just coincidentally, there were plenty of Chevrolet racing engineers hanging around these teams' garages and pits. These beasts weighed a mere 2,000 pounds, which was more than 1,000 pounds less than a production Vette and were powered by 600 horsepower mills. Man, they were magnificent! Zero to sixty in 3 plus seconds, and a 9 second quarter mile, baby! The Ton times two, was its top speed.

One of my all-time favorite sports moments, was when Jimmy Clark, the reigning Formula One champ brought his spindly, little rear-engined Lotus to the 1965 Indianapolis 500, and beat all the front engined, Offy-powered roadsters. You have to understand that up until that seminal year for rear-engined, Formula One style cars, that the big front engined roadsters were the kings of the Brickyard. Wouldn't ya know it, the year after Clark's big win, most of the cars that showed up for the grid were rear-engined cars? It looked like Formula One had taken over American open-wheel racing. Today, my enthusiasm for Formula One goes on unabated, and my favorite driver of any series, is a young German phenomenon named Sebastian Vettel, who's just locked up his second championship in a row. He is heads and shoulders above all others in driving talent.

As a car guy, I was happy when my sister Nancy married another car guy. He's now Nancy's ex and his name was Bobby. However, the difference between me and my ex-brother-in-law Bobby The Car Guy, was that Bobby was a millionaire. After my sister graduated from the Parsons School of Design and became a runway model, Bobby spotted her at a fashion show, was enchanted by her beauty, and swept her off her feet. Or maybe it was the other way around. Bobby was so affluent, that by the time we met, he had owned over 90 cars! Not all at once, he only owned a few a time, but his turnover rate was amazing. Bobby was no empty suit though, when it came to driving technique. He knew how to drive, man. Bobby came in eighth overall, in the 1953 Twelve Hours of Sebring in his Ferrari 225s Berlinetta Vignale. Whenever I visited Bobby and my sister in Connecticut, I drooled over his cars, and wondered over his racing trophies.

I was a teenager when I first met Bobby, and of course, my greatest aspiration was to own a Vette. This was before I was able to buy the used '64 Sting Ray in 1966. Bobby always had a supercilious attitude toward Corvettes. He felt they were unworthy, because Vettes were whelped from Chevrolet's womb. Chevrolet was acknowledged as the economy sibling of the General Motors family. In other words, Bobby was a bit of a snob when it came to American performance cars. He never did get American muscle. I guess he never listened to the Beach Boys. Before I came of driving age, Bobby was always trying to get me to buy an inexpensive sports car like the Austin-Healey. Forget that, man. I wanted a ripppin' snortin' Vette with V-8 power! Chevies rule, man.

But I did admire Bobby tremendously, even if he was prejudiced against American Iron. One of my fondest memories of visiting his Connecticut home, was one of the times when he wasn't there. On this occasion, I already owned my Vette with its 365 horse, soild-lifter 327 cube motor. On that day, I drove up there in my Vette with a friend of mine named Paul Werner. Paul was another car guy. Now, my car was fast, keep that in mind. But that didn't blunt the experience I had that day, in one of Bobby's cars. The car was an AC Cobra, with the 260 inch Ford mill. Although the Cobra had American muscle, it powered a Brit sports car called the AC Bristol, making it palatable enough for Bobby's garage. The Cobra was an uncivilized, pure racing car with no street amenities. When Carroll Shelby developed the AC Cobra from the AC Bristol, he stripped the Bristol of all of its non-essential weight. Shelby left only what was necessary for going and stopping.

When Paul and I got into the Cobra, me in the driver's seat and him as a passenger, we were struck at the austerity of the car. There was no upholstery except on the seats. There were no panels on the inside of the doors, covering the guts of the door's mechanicals. The Cobra, was just a body shell attached to the chassis. There was no sound deadening material in the Cobra. This accounted for its 2,000 pound weight. This was roughly two-thirds the weight of my Vette. With the Cobra's greater power-to-weight ratio, even though its 260 inch motor put out less power than my Vette's 327, it moved. It might interest you to know that Chevy developed their lighweight Vettes, the Grand Sports, because Chevy was tired of Cobras blowing the doors off of their production Vettes on racetracks. The Grand Sport was Chevy's Great Equalizer in Chevy's battle with the Cobras. I remember thinking when Paul and I tore around Connecticut's country roads in this thing, "Man, this is the most brutal machine I 'm ever going have the chance to experience." I still carry that impression today. I had my hardcore XLCH, and my shovel stroker, but that Cobra was the most brutal machine I've ever operated. When Bobby found out that my sister let me drive his Cobra, he wasn't too happy.

And then came the Magneto Monster!

It wasn't long after that, when I became infected and enchanted by Harley-Davidsons, and bought my spanking brand-new 1968 Sportster XLCH, Sally The Bitch. I lived with Sally's Fairbanks-Morse magneto for 18 years, so I consider myself a self-informed authority on the advantages and drawbacks of the magneto as a motorcycle igintion device. Sally was hard to start when I first got her, but starting improved markedly after I swapped out the stock Tilliotson carb for an S & S Super B. The Tillotson was a piece of crap. I swear by the Super B, so much so that I still run a "B" on my 86 inch shovelhead stroker , Mabel. What's more, I always will. Here's what famed wrench and motor builder Andrew Rosa, had to say about the Super B:

"What makes it special is that it's just a long tube designed for max performance, rather than a short street carb like the Super E which is designed for tamer applications. It's a true racing carburetor"

I don't care that it sticks out more than the Super E, forcing me to bowleg my right knee to accomodate it. I don't mind stickin' my right leg out more, I like having this special carb on my Harley. The Super B that I had on Sally, I transferred to Mabel when I bought Mabel 26 years ago. I eventually replaced that Super B with a new Super B years ago, and sold my original Super B to Walter Siegl for $20.00. But the point was that my XLCH started better with the change to the S & S. Sally was never a "one kick bike," except when she was warm. One thing I loved about Sally was, she always started on one kick when she was warm or hot. When she was cold however, her magneto ignition restricted her to anywhere from ten to uncountable kicks. This varied quite a bit, but a constant was the good condition I kept her points and correct timing, in. I also made sure to change the condenser when I changed the points. There were good days, not so good days, bad days--the good, the bad and the ugly. But, I was generally satisfied with the magneto. I never felt that Sally was going to strand me due to a dead battery, and that gave me great comfort.

I did in those 18 years I had Sally, consider other strategies such as having the magneto's magnets remagnetized (never did). I also considered changing to aftermarket versions of the stock Fairbanks-Morse, like the Joe Hunt. I was never convinced of the superiority of magnetos like the Joe Hunt or Morris versions. The supposed superiority of these aftermarket magnetos over the Fairbanks-Morse, always seemed more hype than reality to me. After all, they visually looked to me like refurbished Fairbanks-Morse magnetos. I've always believed that it was the inherent design of magnetos, that gave them limited capabiltiies compared to battery-distributor systems. There are those who differ with my opinion, Here's what Englishman had to say at The Seedy X-Bar recently:

"I have had the Joe Hunt magneto on my Shovel for a number of years now, I have had problems with the 90 drive system, but that was due to someone replacing a Hunt part with a weaker piece. My magneto features 'rare earth' magnets, for a better low speed (kicking) spark, as well as an auto-advance system. Usually, after two prime kicks in the morning, it's a one-kick starter. The Morris version of the same setup, has a 'wind-up' feature that automatically accelerates the shaft at kicking speeds to give a hot spark. My Triumph has a belt-drive ARD Magneto, set at full advance, and can get interesting,but again, it's a one kick starter. Since FM no longer makes magnetos, it makes sense to have alternatives. I'll admit I've never owned an Ironhead XLCH, I'm at a bit of a loss as to why it's accepted that they are just pigs to start. Obviously, everyone that's owned one can attest to the fact... but why? I'd be interested in hearing if there is an actual mechanical cause for this? I'd like to bet that an XLCH with a CV carb and magneto in good shape could be a one or two kicker. Maybe someone could ask Mr. Rosa?"

I would've had no problem with Englishman's assessment. However, shortly after he wrote that at The Seedy, I picked up an issue of THBC in which Hammer described Englishman's magneto-equipped shovel as, "....a thirty-kick bike...." Look it up, man. There it is in black and white. The questions remains, who of these two were exaggerating, Englishman or Hammer? I tend to think that Hammer was being the more accurate reporter. With regard to this "rare earth magnets" business, I don't know, man. That sounds like a marketing ploy. Then again, I'm a skeptical sort. Can magnets of the same size as the stock magnets in the Fairbanks-Morse magneto, produce more magnetism, even if the magnets are of the so-called "rare earth" variety instead of "ubiquitous earth"? I'm not an electrical engineer and don't know, but I tend to let my common sense follow Nancy Reagan's advice, and just say "no." In any case, thirty kicks doesn't seem to be an improvement over ten kicks for Sally on one of Sally's good days.

Clearly, a publication like MotorSports magazine, doesn't have a dog in the motorcycle ignition fight. They have nothing to gain from offering a biased opinion about a piece of equipment that cost Jack Brabham a decent finishing position in an Indy 500, that took place 42 years ago. Let's not forget that Brabham's teammate, Peter Revson, finished fifth in that race, in an identical car but without a Joe Hunt magneto. The author of the MotorSports article was just conveying the truth as it was perceived in 1969, about the performance of Joe Junt magnetos. As I said, I considered moving to a Joe Hunt in '69 on my XLCH, but balked due to a healthy skepticism. I'm willing to bet that a well-maintained Fairbanks-Morse magneto like Snow has on his '69 XLCH, "Animal Mother," can match Englishman's "thirty-kick" Joe Hunt any day of the week. Later.