Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In praise of Peter Egan.

He seeks adventure and invites us along.

 He has been a contributing editor to Road and Track and Cycle World for so many years. His column "Sideglances" has enriched my life as an enthusiast, and I would bet that many others have had the same experience.

I have never met the man but through reading his columns and articles over the years I believe that we are kindred spirits. He treats his reader like an old friend, sharing stories of his youthful experiences and automotive aspirations.

Mr. Egan  (Can I call you Peter, Sir?) is a bit older than myself and grew up during the mid Fifties and early Sixties. He dropped out of college and was drafted. He served during the Vietnam War. Upon his return he was employed for many years as European Car mechanic. He has raced sports cars and motorcycles, usually preferring British machinery. He has restored several race cars and European sports cars such as MGs, a Jaguar E-type, a Porsche 356 and others. His life story and experiences have provided him with a wealth of experience and fodder for his stories.

In his writing you will learn that like most of us, Peter couldn't wait to get a chance to drive. He learned his mechanical basics fixing the old lawnmowers that he used to earn  his spending money. Like most of older guys, our parents expected us to work and earn our own money. He did finally manage to acquire a go kart. I know that I wanted a go kart for the longest time. He was extremely attuned to the different cars that were driven by his neighbors. His recollections of the cars in his neighborhood are quite amusing. Back then the type of car you drove was a big reflection of the person you were. Not only were there Ford and Chevy people, there were Chrysler and even Studebaker folks. Brand loyalty ran very strong in those days, and ran generations deep.

After the service he returned home and began his career as a "foreign car" mechanic and as a sports car racer. Always a "hands on" kind of guy, he turned his own wrenches, learning many valuable lessons that he shares in a humorous and ironic manner. He can find the kernel of wisdom in almost any situation. It is obvious that the man really cares about cars and how they are an instrument that we can use to satisfy so many of our needs and desires.

He delights in the prospect of obtaining a new automotive project. He immerses himself in learning the background and lore surrounding a potential purchase. I find it so gratifying that he cares so much. Just like me, and I'll bet like you do too. He knows that a car is always much more than a collection of machinery. It is the screen that we project the fantasy movie of our adventurous automotive lives. Like most of us Peter is interested in just about anything with a motor. He has been involved with motorcycles, boats, trucks, and even airplanes. I would say that he is a lucky guy, but as Peter once wrote,when you really want something, you make it happen!

On of the best things about Peter's writings is that it is so easy to empathize with him. His struggles, his frustrations are just like ours. He has been there, probably many more times than we have. His successes and triumphs can be shared by us, because they are like ours, though our's may be on a more humble level.

Another thing that I really like about Peter's writing is that it always has a positive message. It is uplifting and almost always cheerful and reaffirming. He may have suffered some real life setbacks, but his stories are always fun, sometimes quite humorous. It is easy to place ourselves in his shoes, because they fit us so well.

Peter's columns and articles have been collected into several books. The Sideglances and the Leanings series. There also books about his Road Trips. These are a convenient way to discover his material. Researching this post I found several books that I hadn't read yet. I have read many of his columns in Road and Track over the years but I was happy to discover these anthologies. The richness of these volumes cannot be understated.

You may have noticed that I have not really revealed any of the narrative storylines from Peter's writings. First, these were primarily written as magazine columns, so they are short, sweet, and to the point. Second, each volume contains about two dozen columns covering a myriad of automotive subjects and experiences. Since I have arrived at senior citizen status, certain themes, concerning the running down of my life clock, resonate especially strongly for me.

photo source:wallpaper abyss

In one story Peter relates how he has come to admire the new Porsche Boxster convertibles. They are a return to the simpler, purer, virtues that he remembers from his experiences with Porsches of the past. At this time late model used examples were available at fairly affordable prices. He had gone to the dealer and test driven some cars to determine which model he wanted. He still found their prices a little hard to swing, but he told the salesman that if a slightly older car at a certain price range became available, to "give him a call". Of course in due time he get's a call from the dealership telling him that a car meeting his criteria has just come in off lease.  He goes down to check it out and of course he is smitten. Still he decides that the times is not yet right , so he passes on the car. He then goes home and his long suffering wife, Barbara, asks what he thought about the Boxster. He tells her that it's a good thing that she didn't go down there with him, because she would have wanted him to buy it. She asks why he didn't just buy the car. He replies that the time just isn't right. Barbara counters the way we all wish that our spouses would. She says that the car is exactly what he wanted, the price was right, and it's a convertible! Summer is coming. And... There are only so many Summers left. Ain't that the truth! The time we have left is not unlimited, there is no guarantee that we will see even the next summer. Of course Peter realizes her wisdom and goes back and gets the car.

If you have never heard of Peter Egan or have just never had the opportunity to read any of his stories, I highly recommend that you take the time to pick up and read one of his books. As a car and motorcycle enthusiast it is a pleasure to find some one who can interpret our feelings. I think you will enjoy it and be amazed that someone so witty and eloquent can capture the very same feelings that we all share, and put it down on paper.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

photo source: christmas tree

Monday, December 12, 2016

I have fallen into a pattern, updates on my the progress of my automotive fleet interspersed with postings of my memories, musings and ramblings. I actually have that line printed on my "social cards".

I would call them business cards if there was any money making business going on. They are more like the calling cards used in the Victorian period. You would exchange them with other folks you met and would like to get together and socialize with at a later date.  So if I discuss my blog with anyone and they express any interest I can lay a card on them!

There are so many sites with how to videos on the web that I wouldn't try to compete with those guys. I'll just share some of my insights into the process.

Progress has been kind of slow, due to all the work emptying out the garage. However I have turned the corner as you can see. The car is in there with enough room to work around it. Many thanks to my Wife who has worked hard to consolidate and move her things.

I asked that she be careful not to place anything on the car. But you know how an inoperative car in the garage is soon transformed into horizontal storage space. So just in case. The most dangerous thing is a rake or broom standing near the car. If one of these fall on the car they concentrate all the force in one small spot resulting in a nasty little dent. I'm keeping a close eye on those!

First I covered it with the basic car cover

Then I laid this old comforter over the hood and fenders.

kind of like Leatherface, but not as scary!

The final layer was this flat card board. It's not visible in the photo but there's an aluminum ladder hanging above the car. I forgot to remove before parking the car. I'll wait to move the car from the garage before I try to take it down, with my luck I can see myself dropping it on directly on my XJS.

Change of plans. I've decided that the best course of action is to fix up my XJ6 first.  I have made a point of driving this car every chance I get. I know that there are things that I should have fixed but my intention has to been to enjoy the "Jaguar experience" as often and as long as I could. "Keep calm and keep on driving" has been my mantra. Old cars have problems, they all do, and if doesn't stop me from using the car I'd rather drive than fix.

There has been problems with the rear view mirror, the loose door panels and some other minor stuff. The problems with the worn out hood and trunk struts which I have suffered through for the last nine months. The fuel gauge has never worked properly as it would be stuck on empty for a while after fill up, but it has always indicated properly after awhile, some times a very long while.  The car has started a screeching sound which I hope is just a bad fan belt. It got to the point where it would only make the noise for about 15 seconds on start up when cold. Now it's gotten worse though it does stop when it gets warm. A couple of days ago I was driving to work in a light misting rain when I noticed that the defroster wasn't defrosting. The air was blowing but it wasn't warm. I searched the forum and it appears that it might be the auxiliary pump for the heating system. It could be that the brushes in the motor are worn, maybe. I haven't taken a look yet. The steering pulls a little to the right. Obviously some steering or suspension bushings have"perished,"

                                                photosource: awesome

So I have a "squawk list" that has gotten pretty long. This afternoon I finally got around to ordering some of the parts I need for my XJ6 from Parts Geek. I had good luck getting some parts from them for my XJS. Prices are good but you can't find every part. I ordered a the support struts for the hood and trunk, the fuel tank sending unit, and the transmission mount spring and insolater for the XJS. Some of the  common transmission parts like the shifter, front and rear shaft seals and o rings for the filler tubes and vacuum modulator, I can get from my local auto parts store. There is also a vendor named Jaguar Specialties out of Los Gatos. I have done business with him and he claims that he can get any part I need.

I also need to buy some more equipment for the transmission job. I bought a new floor jack awhile back at Harbor Freight Tools, but I'll have to return to buy the engine support bar. I also plan to buy two pairs of auto ramps, I'll put a pair under each of the front and rear wheels. I didn't like the unbraced metal ones offered at H.F. so I'll probably go with the plastic ones I've seen at O'Reilly's. They look more trustworthy, for some reason.

I just finished up changing the drive belts and a/c tensioner. I also replaced the hood support struts. I replaced and overhauled the auxiliary coolant pump which is used for the heater. I'm running the gas level down a bit so I can change out the sending unit, and I'll replace the trunk support struts at the same time.

The best place to work on a cold and rainy day. At the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. The replacement brushes came from a local hobby store.

A little filing, a little soldering and the pump will be as good as new.
Don't confuse it with this part,

This is the heater valve, and it has four hose connections. My mistake just added a couple of hours of extra work.

In my last posting I described how my '96 Mustang sustained a crippling ball joint dislocation. Painful. In the concept of automotive triage it now moves up front and center. I've been debating whether I should order the complete replacement suspension arms from the Net or at my local auto parts store, Winchester Auto. Now I like to save money as much as the next guy, but the staff of Winchester Auto stands heads and shoulders above the local O'Reilly's or Pep Boys. These guys are experienced parts guys and they can provide useful suggestions. I have had these guys pull the old parts books out and go through them when I was looking for parts for my old Riviera. They would even look through the interchange listings! You know what happens at O'Reilly's, if it doesn't show up on their computer than it's a " dealer only part", the counter person isn't going to look in a parts book, I doubt they even know what one of those is. I would doubt that there are any in the store. I don't blame that young person behind the counter, those businesses don't like to keep workers over the long term and develop their skills, they would rather replace them with new, lower paid employees.

So we have to make the choice to support out good local stores, or they will go out of business. Yes, the Web stuff is cheaper but it is nice being able to see the actual parts and compare, and ask questions. There aren't a lot of those good old fashioned auto parts stores and little machine shop operations around any more.  I don't know if we can stem the tide, but we can hopefully slow their demise.

Who doesn't like finding packages on the porch?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sometimes bad things happen!

Get Thee behind me stale watery gas!

Sometimes it's a poor choice that we make. Maybe were in a hurry or we try to cut a corner or procrastinate on a repair and a minor problem can lead to a major inconvenience. Sometimes  the results can be much more serious, even life threatening. Luckily for me both my mishaps were mostly a hassle.

I've gotten my garage cleaned out and  started working on my XJS again. I've been moving it in and out out of the garage. I have a trickle charger that I use to keep the battery up but I also let it run to charge the battery and keep the fluids moving around inside. I remember some of the first advice I read on the forum concerning the XJS, never just start them, run them for a minute or two, then shut them down. Always run them a minimum of ten minutes. It made sense to me that you could easily foul a plug or two, I mean just look at the tortuous path the fuel charge has to follow, and think how long it takes to heat up that huge lump of aluminium and allow proper fuel vaporization.  I don't keep much gas in it so I needed to add a few gallons  so that I didn't allow it to run dry, another no no.

I've got several gas cans, mostly one gallon ones, but I've got a two and a half gallon one also. To get the most benefit from the gas run I chose the bigger can. I use this for the lawn mower so I found that there was still about an inch of "fuel" in the bottom of the can. I keep the cans outside in the sideyard and we've had a lot of rain in the last month. Now I figured that there might be some moisture (water) mixed with the gas due to condensation, but I figured that it wouldn't be enough to cause a problem. I poured the contents into my truck then drove off to fill up the can. I had about a quarter tank so I figured any bad gas would be dissipated and diluted and it would be okay. Wrong!

Seafoam has displaced Marvel Mystery Oil as the new "Miracle in a can".

When I returned to my house I noticed that the truck was running pretty rough. I left it running while I filled up the Jag. Thank God I didn't add that bad gas to my Jag! I figured I better add some fuel drier or some additive so I went to the auto store that was across the street from the gas station. They didn't carry "Heet", the  only fuel drier that they had was "Seafoam". Now I've used Seafoam in the gas tank and have added some before an oil change, and like most "miracles in a can" it promises probably more than it can deliver. I read the can and it promised to remove moisture from gas in the tank, so I bought a can. I added about a third to my tank, fired up the truck, (still running rough, but still running) went to the gas station and added five or six gallons added the remainder and returned home. I probably should have driven the truck around until I burned up some of the contaminated fuel but it was getting late. I'll do that tomorrow. I noticed that the Check Engine Light (CEL) had come on, but I parked the truck around the corner and called it a night.

The next afternoon I tried to start my truck. It would crank but not catch. My truck has this "computer controlled" starting feature, where once you turn the key it will continue to engage the starter automatically until the motor starts. You have to turn the key completely off to stop this. I must have tried to start it ten times, being careful not to overheat the starter or run the battery down. Now I was kind of discouraged. I could always call AAA and have them tow my truck to my trusted mechanic, but that would be the last resort!  I went inside to turn to the Web for advice. It was  pretty much as I expected, add gas drier, run the motor, burn up the bad gas add new fuel. Well I would have done that but my truck wouldn't start! One guy said to buy a quart of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) at the hardware or dollar store and pour it into the tank. Basically all gas driers consist of alcohol in an expensive package.

A simple fact of practical chemistry is that water and gas don't mix. Also water is heavier than gas and will sink down to the bottom of your tank and fuel system, displacing the gas and will be sucked up by the motor. Well of course your motor can't run on just water, so you have a problem. Another fact of practical chemistry is that alcohol and water do mix, and alcohol also mixes with gas, ever heard of gasohol? My Wife uses alcohol in her crafting but didn't realize that it was dispersing the water in the paints she uses, causing certain desired affects. We took a small plate, added a small quantity of water, then dropped in some rubbing alcohol. The water suddenly flattened out over the plate, a dramatic demonstration.

Before I tried this I decided to swap out the spark plugs, maybe they got fouled somehow, I replaced the plugs and they were really clean, especially considering that they were the original plugs in the motor, now with 119,000 miles. The gaps were a little big, but only one was wet, with what appeared to be water. I cranked the engine with the same effect, no start, and an engaged starter motor. Now I was even more depressed. Looks like I was going to have to call that tow truck.

I hadn't used this stuff in years.

What I needed was a way to get the motor to catch and hopefully run long enough to disburse the water after I added the alcohol. Luckily my Wife had a whole pint of rubbing alcohol on hand. I found a can of starter fluid in the garage and luckily it was still half full. I hadn't had to use that stuff for years. I added the pint of alcohol, I figured that should be enough for the six or seven gallons of gas that were in the tank. I pulled the air inlet tube to the throttle body and shot a good stream down it's throat. I loosely replaced the intake tube , just in case there was a backfire. I cranked it. It caught, ran a few seconds then died, but the starter had disengaged. I repeated the drill, this time I stepped on the throttle when it caught. It stumbled but kept on running, it gained rpms and I held it there for a couple of minutes. I kept the revs up until I dared see if it would idle, it did. Success! I drove it down to my house and put it in the driveway, and let it idle for a awhile. After it was fully warmed up I drove several laps around the immediate neighborhood, not going further than I was willing to walk. I put it in the driveway again and let it run for about forty five minutes. It was running pretty smooth now, but the CEL was still on. I could deal with that later.

Surprisingly the exhaust didn't smell too bad. What a cocktail: Old gas, water, Seafoam, new gas, rubbing alcohol, topped with a spritz of starting fluid. Better Living through Chemistry!

I drove the truck to work the next couple of days. The CEL was on. but I figured I could disconnect the battery and see if that would clear it up. On the third day I was coming home from the barber shop after work and I noticed that the dash seemed different, the CEL was off!

Lessons learned: don't put "suspect" gas in any vehicle. If I'm using the gas can for the mower I'll put any unused gas into the truck that same day. Keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the garage, if I suspect water in the fuel system I would add some alcohol immediately, and drive enough to burn up the bad gas.

This bad gas experience had tied me up for several days. I had decided to change my focus to fixing what was wrong with my XJ6 first, since this was my Dailey Driver. The Mustang could wait. Sure it could. Cue the dramatic music of impending Doom.

In earlier postings I've mentioned that the steering on my Mustang has stiffened up, and it doesn't return back to the straight ahead position after making a turn, it also pulls a little to one side on braking. Obviously there is something wrong. I originally thought (hoped) that it was just the ball joints, but now I wonder if it's the steering rack. It's funny that the problem didn't seem to develop until after a I spent over 500.00 buying new tires and getting a front end alignment. So you can understand that I really didn't feel like spending any more money fixing it up, at least right now. It's been sitting parked at the curb, getting covered with leaves and bird crap for about a month. I just paid the registration for 2017, since I was unsuccessful in selling it.

Still it's important to drive the car to keep the fluids moving, the battery charged, and use up the gas in the tank. My truck now sits around quite a bit now and that doesn't help it's condition either. So I decided to clean up the Mustang and use it as the parts runner while I work on the Jags. I made a run through the car wash and down to a new hobby store on the south end of town. I picked up a set of brushes that I could modify to fix the auxiliary coolant pump in my XJ6. On the way back I stopped at Harbor Freight to pick up a cheap surge protector power strip that I needed for my Christmas light set up.

It was getting later and I was hungry, and wasn't planning on making dinner until that evening. So I crossed the parking lot to the Burger King to pick up a Whopper Junior and a Coke to tide me over.  For some reason I didn't see the faded directional arrows painted on the pavement and overshot the opening to the Drive thru lane. Hey, there's no one behind me so I could just backup. I did, turned to the right and promptly drove up onto a little dividing island. Still no one behind me, so I wasn't even too embarrassed. As I  backed down I heard a loud "pop!"  I continued through. The steering felt kind of weird but I got my burger and parked in the lot, I figured I would go home cautiously and check this latest development out. After eating I left the parking lot and entered the main street and accelerated. I was greeted by the sweet sound of my Flowmasters,  Then heard a loud thump and my car dropped on it's front suspension and lurched to the left. I braked, straightened it out, and made my way to the curb. Luckily there wasn't any traffic around. I activated my emergency flashers and got out to survey the damage. Luckily (there's that word again!) there was no damage to the fender but there wasn't any air space visible between the top of the tire and the fender opening. I didn't see any brake fluid dripping down so I figured that the wheel/ front suspension hadn't moved enough to rupture a brake line. I called AAA with my cell phone and got ready to spend an hour waiting for the tow truck.

I like 'em slammed, but not this way.

I had plenty of time to ponder what had happened. I had thought that the ball joints were going bad, I mean there's over two hundred thousand miles on the car. I thought back to things that I knew, and had read online about the problem of bad ball joints.

My experience with worn ball joints were that they allowed the wheels to tilt a bit, and cause some free play, but especially to cause accelerated wear to the inside tread of the tires. This was usually the motivation to replace them. My experience had been that the ball couldn't come through the top of the joint and separate.

I had watched a video series on You Tube about restoring old Mustangs and I remembered an episode where they were working on a Fox body car. They had jacked the chassis up and one of the front suspension arms had dropped loose, separating right at the ball joint! The shop owner/ narrator stated that this was uncommon, but these Fox body cars were getting on in age (over twenty years old by this time) and that the chassis and suspension needed attention. The arm was held in position by the vehicle's weight, and probably wouldn't have separated under normal conditions, unless the car was driven over a Hell of a series of Whoop Dee Doos! ( Extremely sharp series of undulating pavement, generally not encountered under normal driving conditions, it's where your car can catch "air" if you go fast enough. The actual term comes from Motocross racing).
Painful to look at. Like a hip bone ripped out of a pelvis.

The other point I remember reading on a Mustang forum was that bad ball joints on a Fox body and SN97 series car were primarily manifested through stiff steering. Well I definitely had that problem. My assessment is this; the divider island is the kind that has a higher curb that surrounds a lower dirt area. When I drove onto the divider island the left front wheel crossed the curb and came to rest in the lower dirt area. Then when I abruptly reversed the car, it was bouncing up as it dropped off the curb and stopped abruptly. I imagine that this abrupt motion caused the ball to be pulled out of the socket, producing that loud "pop" that I heard. The ball was resting directing on the suspension arm. When I accelerated onto the street, the weight transfer lifted the car allowing the ball to slip off the arm and the car to drop on it's suspension on the left front side. The arm dragged on the rim. causing it to lurch to the left, but still allowing me to maintain steering and braking control.

That's the operative word. Me. I've had a lot of experience dealing with extreme driving maneuvers, emergency situations, and even component failures. It's what I do. In cars and on motorcycles. So far I've been successful at maintaining control and resolving the situation safely. Maybe due to skill, but always partially due to Luck. It's always part of the equation.

So as I sat there waiting for the tow truck I was experiencing a deep sense of guilt and had a hard knot in the pit of my gut. ( I still did when I wrote this). I told my Wife to drive this car, I sent her out in this car, even with our granddaughter in the baby seat. "The steering's just a little stiff, don't worry about it." She did worry about it, and wouldn't drive the car on the freeway, just around town on surface streets. (Luckily I had bought the Explorer a couple of months ago). Would this happened under normal circumstances? Maybe not. Should I have put the car on the lift and checked out the freeplay in the steering? Definitely. Why didn't I? Too busy, procrastinate, more important things to do, blah, blah, blah. Could it have prevented a potential tragedy?

We ARE the car guys. Other people dear to us,depend on our "expertise", our assessments, our recommendations.  "With great power comes great responsibility".  Maybe we don't have great power, but we should keep that in mind.

My daughter had a very close call when driving, a couple of years ago, due to inexperience. It definitely could have resulted in a fatal collision. Luckily (there's that word again) it did not. Does she believe that it could have ended that way? I don't know, she's young, the young think that they are immortal. But I know the reality, it easily could have resulted in her death, I have no doubt about it.

When we experience an incident of that type we either end up with a tragedy, or just a story to tell. I hope we can always learn from our experiences. Let's not make this guy work overtime!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The beginning of the next big chapter of my motorcycling life. The Harley Davidson years. It isn't that I owned so many different Harleys, I ended up owning these motorcycles for longer periods of time. one for over twenty years!

Looking back, I wish my bike had looked like this.
Harley Davidson motorcycles had always been a Holy Grail for me. I had lusted after one since the time that motor cop pulled me over when I was riding my Honda 50. First of all, the name was magic. Harley Davidson, a delicious name to have roll off your tongue. You can enjoy each syllable. The only other name that I relish as much now, is "Aston Martin". I had gone through high school reading several different chopper magazines; Big Bike, Choppers Magazine, and Street Chopper. The first two were aimed towards the "Biker" rider and lifestyle, while Street Chopper was aimed towards the more mainstream enthusiast. I knew all about Knuckleheads, Panheads, and Shovelheads. Even the rarely seen Flathead models, the big UL or the meter maid trike style W series. I really, really, wanted a Big Twin. I wanted to build a chopper out of it. Back when I was a freshman I had convinced my Father to take me to an auction put on by the City of Oakland. I knew that there would be some retired OPD bikes available. They weren't just retired, they were just plain "tired". I remember that one of the three was even missing the top end, just a couple of connecting rods sticking up out of the crankcases. My Dad looked at those things and said that they couldn't go for more then a couple of hundred bucks. Boy was he wrong. The bidding pushed all the complete bikes to well over one thousand dollars apiece. No way could I get my Dad to front me that kind of money! Still hope springs eternal. 

While I was a high school Senior, riding my Mach III, which by all measures was a much better bike that an old thrashed Harley, I learned that one of my classmates had a line on an old Knucklehead. It seems that one of his uncles had been an honest to God, almost outlaw type, Biker back in the day. I guess when he finally got out of jail, his bride to be, told him that he would have to quit riding bikes, or find another girl. Like many before him have done, he chose the girl. He couldn't just sell the bike though, it was a part of him. So he somehow got it down the stairs to his mother's  basement. (Why is it that bikers are always living at home with their Mom? Back when I was calling around answering classified ads, my Mom told me that the phone would be answered by a woman, who would tell me, "Oh my son's not home now, I'll give him the message!" She was right ! That happened lots of times!)

Anyhow this bike had laid dormant for quite a few years. I asked my friend if the bike was for sale, how much would his uncle want, did it run, etc. and he told me that he would ask his uncle about it. Of course this third party questioning was going to take a long time. Finally he told me that his uncle was considering selling it. That's the only part that I needed to hear, The price of 650.00 was almost attainable. I just had to sell my Kawasaki and borrow a few hundred from my Mom. (Good old Mom, that's why those Bikers lived at home!). I got my friend to convey the message back to his uncle and find out when I could go see it. It took quite a while to hear back from him. His uncle had a change of heart and wouldn't be selling it. His uncle had told him, "That bike is my heart, and you can't sell your heart." So much for that Knucklehead. Well it was probably for the best. I really didn't have the money to buy the bike and fix it up. The reality would have been that I would have had a non running Harley in my parents garage and I would be passing my weekends looking at it and dreaming of a more financially secure future. Besides, I was used to riding a high powered motorcycle, and old Hog would probably be disappointing in performance. Maybe a Sportster, (another collection of tasty syllables!) would better suit my needs. Besides people were "Chopping" those all the time! 

My first H-D was a 1970 Harley Davidson Sportster XLCH. 900cc. At the time their were two models of Sportster offered, one was the light weight performance model, the XLCH. XL Competition Hot! Boy was that name magic in the late 1950s and early 60s! This was the original Superbike. While a Vincent Black Shadow was definitely faster, there wasn't much of a chance of running into one of those British Unicorns by the late 1960s. The Sportster had it all; great looks, thunderous performance, and that Magic name. Sportsters were not only faster than the Big FLH models, they were also faster than pretty much any other standard motorcycle. They were advertised as "the World's Fastest Motorcycle". These were equipped with the small tank, smaller headlight, shorter fenders, and smaller seat. The motor was in a hotter tune, with 
wilder cams, lower gearing and a magneto ignition. The Tillotson carb was huge,( maybe too big as it was prone to flooding the motor) and it could provide all the fuel it needed to let the engine wind to 7,000 rpm! It's no wonder that these motors didn't hold up that long to enthusiastic riding! My own Sporty revealed some flattened rod bearing rollers, and a scarred and worn pinion shaft, upon teardown. These were also always kick start models. Kick starting a Sportster to life was viewed as a rite of Manhood. Sometimes under the right conditions you could get to fire on the fist kick, or at least the first three of four. These motors were temperamental, early models even had a manual spark timing retard control to eliminate the dreaded "kickback." It was very easy to flood the motor with overzealous use of the choke, or the throttle. This could lead to an exhausting round of kick start attempts. It could easy lead to ten to fifteen minutes of open throttle kicking in an attempt to clear it out. Sometimes you just had to pull the plugs and burn them dry with a lit match, or you were never going to get that thing started.

It's hard to believe that the riding public tolerated these problems. Heck, we even used to boast about them. Are you a Man, or Not?  The big British twins and singles weren't any better, but that was the price we paid for being Motorcyclists. Boy, would that change with the coming of the Japanese Superbikes.  Many of the little tiddlers from Japan were sporting an electric starter by the mid 1960s. Fer Christsakes! Who couldn't kick over 160cc? 

You can easily see the difference between the two models. By '68 the XLH had the electric starter.

The other Sportster model was the touring XLH. XL Highway. It had the shrouded headlight, fuller fenders, big "turtle tank" higher gearing and battery and coil ignition. At first the XLH was also a kick starter, but by 1968 the electric start was standard. The Big Twins had gone to electric start in 1965. As time went on, the differences between the models disappeared. When the XLCH lost the magneto there wasn't much of a difference in the tuning. After 1972 the motors were enlarged to 1,000 cc. (61 cid) the styling was almost identical, the XLH being the one with the electric starter. After 1979 there were no more kick start Sportsters available. It was (thankfully) the end of an Era.

It was also pretty much the end of the era of the Sportster's performance dominance. The Sportster would never again be competitive from a purely performance standard. Cycle magazine had conducted a comprehensive Superbike comparison test in 1970. Check out the entire article here:

The 900cc Sportster XLCH was pitted against the new Triumph 750 Trident, the BSA Rocket 750, the Norton Commando S 750, the Kawasaki Mach III 500cc, the Suzuki Titan twin 500 cc. (these last two were two strokes) and the soon to be Legendary, Honda CB750. The poor Sportster was out classed by almost all the other bikes but still competitive enough to turn in a fair showing. Though it's days as a performance icon were fading fast, still the Harley was a desirable machine. The look, the sound and the feel still carried a lot of weight and the bike was still desirable and prestigious to a large part of the motorcycling community.  This comparison test still had  a lot of diversity in this group. The next test in 1973 would be different. This time there was no way to avoid the truth. The King was dead. You can read the whole article here:

These photos were taken right after I bought it.

My XLCH was already around five years old and it had been thoroughly chopped by  a previous owner. It had a raked and molded frame with a custom girder front fork. 21'' spool hub front wheel, that means that it didn't have a front brake. Great looking, very poor stopping! A "Frisco" high mounted Sportster tank. A cobra seat and staggered dual pipes. A velocity stack instead of an air cleaner. I guess I thought that this was a good buy since it was already customized, though a more standard model would have been a better idea. This example was pretty used up, but of course I had to have it. I'll never forget the first time I tried to make a emergency stop because I misjudged a signal light. I stomped on the rear brake, locked it up and slid into the middle of the intersection before coming to a stop. I couldn't believe it, but I should have known. I used to ride a Honda 750 with a front disc brake, this bike had no front brake at all! How could I expect it to stop at all?

The motor was pretty much thrashed which I discovered when I tore it down. I discovered the damage to the lower end and the pinion shaft. The crankcase boss that supported the kicker cover was cracked also. All in all just a used up, abused, old Sportster. Luckily I had a good job working at General Motors at the time, so money was not quite a problem. So why didn't I just buy a brand new bike? I really don't know. I guess I was just used to buying used stuff and I couldn't imagine chopping up a new stock bike. But I ended up doing it anyway with my next Harley. So I did a complete rebuild, well maybe 98%.  

Yeah, We were both looking pretty good.

I repainted the bike black. I was still running the girder up front. I decided to christen the bike with my usual pilgrimage, a trip up the coast to Mendocino. I had made the trip starting in my Senior year riding my Kawasaki. Later I made it on my Honda 750, so it was logical for me to make it on my newly rebuilt Sporty. There weren't any problems to report. The bike made the one day round trip with no issues. The bike did generate a lot of positive interest from the people I encountered. Nonetheless this trip confirmed that there was no way I could continue to ride a bike without a working front brake. So my plan was to switch to an extended telescopic glide front end with a disc brake from a '73 Sportster. I had a 21'' inch rim laced to the front hub and the infamous "banana caliper" was modified for clearance. I also added a fork brace and fiberglass Cafe racer style front fender.

This front end swap was part of the preparation that I was doing to get the bike in shape for my first really long road trip. My old buddy Rick and I were planning on riding up into British Columbia, maybe all the way to Alaska. This trip was to be my second epic trip after the California 1000. It did not disappoint. It was quite the adventure.

Photos taken the day before Rick and I left on our trip.

To be continued in a future post as an Epic Ride.