H-D rac­ers

We saw an ex­am­ple of Tony Fitz­patrick’s en­thu­si­asm and in­ge­nu­ity in OBA72 – his graft­ing of an ex-dirt track Wes­lake ver­ti­cal twin into a BSA swing­ing arm chas­sis to pro­duce a hand­some and func­tional clas­sic spe­cial.

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tos Jim Scaysbrook

Tony’s work­shop is fairly bristling with projects, many of which have their ori­gins in the col­lec­tions of his late fa­ther Cliff, an iden­tity of the New­cas­tle dirt track scene. Cliff saved many an ap­par­ent pile of junk from the scrap heap, but it tran­spired much of it was rare and valu­able, pro­vided of course you had the knowl­edge and skill to tackle the job of bring­ing it back to life.

Tony cer­tainly qual­i­fies in all re­spects, and with a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in speed­way and all forms of left­turn­ing oval rac­ing, turned his at­ten­tion to cre­at­ing a pair of Har­leys that rep­re­sent the hal­cyon days of the sport for that brand. In the com­pany’s his­tory, both v-twin and sin­gles played piv­otal roles in gar­ner­ing count­less wins for the Mil­wau­kee icon, trans­lat­ing into road bike and mil­i­tary sales, and cre­at­ing a brand that en­dures to this day as an in­ter­na­tional iden­tity like few oth­ers.

Shoot­ing peas

Let’s start with the small­est one first – Tony’s tilt on the ven­er­a­ble Peashooter, a mo­tor­cy­cle that punched far above its weight not just in USA, but world­wide. Board Track Rac­ing was a thrilling but in­dis­putably dan­ger­ous form of tear­ing around in cir­cles, but by the mid-twen­ties a for­mi­da­ble voice was rail­ing against this ‘blood­sport’ which had seen a string of ma­jor ac­ci­dents with fa­tal­i­ties not just to com­peti­tors but spec­ta­tors. In an ef­fort to ap­pease crit­ics, the Amer­i­can Mo­tor­cy­cle As­so­ci­a­tion (AMA), in­tro­duced a lower ca­pac­ity for so­los of 21 cu­bic inches (350cc) which was de­signed to make rac­ing safer by low­er­ing speeds. This failed mis­er­ably in its pri­mary aim, but it did have the side ef­fect of cre­at­ing a ma­chine that was to be­come a leg­endary dirt tracker. The Peashooter’s cylin­der head was de­signed by the equally leg­endary Harry Ri­cardo, and cou­pled with the mo­tor­cy­cle’s very light weight, re­sulted in a bike that was ca­pa­ble of nearly 100 mph in full race trim. The Peashooter was par­tially in re­sponse to In­dian’s side-valve and over­head valve 350s, which had sold well. Har­ley could not match the price, but pitched their new lightweigh­ts at ex­port mar­kets, pri­mar­ily the UK and Scan­di­navia. And out in

Aus­trala­sia, there was the new boom sport – dirt track speed­way – which also in­stantly caught on in Bri­tain. The Mil­wau­kee re­sponse was the Model AA, nick­named the Peashooter be­cause of the dis­tinc­tive note from its stubby ex­haust. As well as the gear­less speed­way model, there was also a US Flat Tracker with a 3-speed gear­box. By 1930 how­ever, the speed­way 350s were no match for the 500cc JAP, and with the demise of board track rac­ing in USA, the AMA re­vised the rules which favoured side-valve v-twins, and the Peashooter was gone. When Tony Fitz­patrick de­cided to cre­ate his own Peashooter, he had a pile of parts col­lected by his fa­ther, and what wasn’t there he fig­ured he could make or ob­tain. “The early 1926 Peashooter had

no gear with a straight drive, he says, “later ones had a sin­gle-speed coun­ter­shaft with a clutch. Apart from the gear­box this one is orig­i­nal. In ear­lier days they would have raced with the gears out of the box. Parts are very scarce so I had to make much of it”. To cre­ate the forks, Tony started off with a Har­ley triple tree bot­tom, and while he was at it, made an­other com­plete set for a planned fu­ture bike which is cur­rently un­der way. “I cut all the back of the frame and short­ened the wheel­base, be­cause the old man said that’s what they started do­ing with them to try to make them drive harder. They weren’t fast enough to stay with the Rudges and JAPs, so they short­ened them up and just rode the white line, knee trail­ing, so I’m mak­ing this new one like the fac­tory ones. I have a lo­cal bloke mak­ing tanks which are 4 inches shorter, I just have to get one of the pumps on the left side of the tank. The other mo­tor has a JAP bar­rel on a Har­ley bot­tom end, 350 JAP head, I’ve had 2 bar­rels done, roller rock­ers, cast the rocker box which is a JAP mod­i­fied to look like a Har­ley”.

New life for an old-timer

To go with his Peashooter sin­gle, Tony needed a twin, so again he turned to his fa­ther’s cache. “The old man had a mo­tor and gear­box lay­ing un­der his house for nearly 50 years; a 1000cc H-D J Model from 1917, so it’s 102 years old this year. It was orig­i­nally a road bike, but I didn’t have the proper brakes or guards, so I thought I’d just make it as a board track racer. Peo­ple say a board tracker didn’t have a gear­box and I say, ‘This is my ver­sion of one’. Most of the stuff you can still buy for them out of Com­pe­ti­tion Dis­trib­u­tors in Sturgess. The mo­tor is all brand new in­side, I haven’t even started it. The mag­neto ar­ma­ture has been re­wound, brand new petrol tanks came from Penn­syl­va­nia from Replica Met­als, and all the fuel caps you can buy new. Orig­i­nally it had nickel-plated heads and bar­rels be­cause they ran so hot. It’s a gen­uine J frame and forks, ev­ery­thing Har­ley on it, the long wheel­base is stan­dard. The en­gine num­ber has a T, and I have two H-D books by two dif­fer­ent au­thors and a 1917 HD could come as a stripped racer with sportier guards – both books say there was only one ever made. Peo­ple say why don’t you send the frame num­ber to H-D and see what they say, but there’s a small prob­lem. I can’t find a frame num­ber on it be­cause it was only on a plate at the back of the tank and it was sol­dered on so if the sol­der broke it fell off . This frame came from some­where else, it’s not the orig­i­nal frame”.

As Tony says, this is his in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a Har­ley V-twin board tracker, but it cer­tainly looks the part.

1917 Model J Har­ley.

RIGHT Tony with the en­gine for his sec­ond Peashooter, fea­tur­ing a mod­i­fied JAP top end on a Har­ley bot­tom end. ABOVE Tony Fitz­patrick’s Peashooter TOP LEFT Tanks are lo­cally made. TOP CEN­TRE Replica seat from USA. TOP RIGHT Gear­box with in­ter­nals re­moved.

Tony’s ‘Peashooter’. Par­tially Mil­wau­kee, par­tially Mait­land. A 350 that punches above its weight. Front forks made in Tony’s work­shop. Ca­bles clad tin leather to pro­tect from fly­ing shale.

ABOVE AND BE­LOW New fuel tank and seat came from USA. LEFT Forks are sim­i­lar to those used on the rac­ers. ABOVE AND BE­LOW En­gine and gear­box spent half their life un­der Tony’s fa­ther’s house in New­cas­tle.

“Only for the brave”. 1917 Model J Har­ley in board track trim.

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