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.
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.
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.