Bigger is better
In the search for MX success, more cubes will often help… CDB is invited along to the first running of a big-bore SWM.
When Michael Simmons talked to Philippe about a big Mxer the suggestion Philippe came back with waas ‘why not an SWM 440 TF4MC?’ annd with Michael’s MX background feeaturing KX500S, CR500S and YZZ465S the idea of a 440 was met w ith approval. Except the 440 isn’t exxactly common, especially the late mmodels such as this 1983 version ass the factory was on the way out by thhen. Still, Philippe Vanderwalle is not thhe sort of person to let minor details likke that get in the way of providing whhat a customer/friend requires to goo motocrossing…
It does help that Philippe has been ob obsessed with SWM almost since he began riding, there was a brief dalliance with Fantic and KTM until he saw the 1977 SWM featured in a magazine report about Milan show. “I fell in love,” he grins and went on to tell of a year where he spent nothing at all to save for a dream SWM. This sort of tenacity and determination to gain his first SWM was also displayed in his professional life as he advanced from an apprentice chef in his home town of Bordeaux to executive chef at the Ritz Casino Hotel in London. Life moves on, management changes and new ideas come in under cost saving, but Philippe already had Old Knobblies under way and moved full time into the vintage enduro scene. So, when Michamichael Simmons agreed what he wanted fromm the SWM suggestion the whirlwind wwhich is Philippe Vanderwalle went into a ction.
Being so involved with SWM Philippe has built upp a network of contacts in all sorts of pla ces and his name is known so knowing it was unlikely a 440 would turn up in a reasonable time frame a differentt avenue was explored. An average ccondition 370 SWM was sourced in Italy and imported to the UK. “It was complete and more importanntly the plastics were faded but undaamaged so if I couldn’t source new old-sstock- ones the originals would wwork. In the end I did find NOS side pannels and a better original petrol tannk to use. The reproduction ones don ’t always match the same colours weell enough and to me that spoils the ooverall look of the bike,” he says, addingg: “sometimes a compromise has to be a ccepted as these bikes are 35 years ol d and were not high volume in their day.y.”
Along with the complete 370 bike a genuine but well-used 440 motor was found, which as well as 80cc more capacity, the bigger motor would add six or so BHP and a bit more flexibility to the
finished bike and the project could advance.
Once the bike was at Old Knobblies a careful inspection went on and it became clear the rolling chassis was in need of complete renovation. On describing the machine Philippe rolled his eyes and displayed much Gallic shrugging, “It was worse than I originally thought, the 370 was a long-saddle model, probably fitted with an enduro seat, and the forks were leaking, the head stock and swinging arm bearings were totally shot, a footrest was broken, the nuts and bolts were awful, I thought ‘oh my, what have I got?’ but once I got past the obvious problems there were a lot of okay parts.” With the bike stripped the frame was measured and found true and the various threads and fastener holes were also in good order. “Things started looking up at this point so I could put the frame to one side ready for powder coating. It is as well to send everything to be powder coated all at once so the colour is all the same.” With a straight frame to work with all other problems are relatively minor, so Philippe looked at the forks. A leak could be as simple as a popped seal or as bad as damage to the stanchions
or cracked sliders. Basically hard chromed tubes of steel the stanchions were in good order and cleaned up nicely with no evidence of pitting in the chrome. The sliders too were undamaged so went into the pile for the powder coaters, as did the fork yokes once their threads had been checked. At this point Philippe had a word with Michael to discuss the way forward with the bike. A few tweaks were needed mainly because Michael is quite a bit taller than Philippe. These tweaks involved longer rear dampers, brand new YSS ones – as Philippe is a great fan of the make – higher bars and a shorter MX seat. The latter was built around a genuine seat base and reproduction foam with a pattern cover and looks great on the finished job.
Even though Philippe knew the engine was in need of a total rebuild even he admits to being surprised when he stripped it and found it was much worse than he thought. The rebuild included all powder coating for the outside of the cases. While these were away, along with the rest of the parts to have the orange coating applied – I’m sorry, a bit personal here, I’m not a fan of orange – that said the bike looks good. Okay, ahem, the engine internals were attended to while the powder coaters did their work. Starting with the crank a new big end was pressed in and the little end got a new bearing to hold the gudgeon pin of the new piston, though the original bore was okay. As a matter of course the bearings and seals were replaced and on inspection a couple of the gears in the cluster were past their best so they were also changed. Moving to the primary drive a complete new clutch was fitted, “You should have seen it, Tim,” says Philippe, “it was so bad, I do not know how they managed to get this clutch so worn,” he says of the original. With the cases returned the engine build could begin and rather than use the old grotty fasteners Philippe fits new stainless-steel ones, saying “they look so much better. At first glance no one would notice them but if the old ones were in it would be the first thing someone would see.” This philosophy of tidy fasteners has meant some things had to be made where off-the-shelf ones are not available, we’re talking side panel fasteners here, which have a large slotted head to hold the plastic panels against a rubber washer.
Rather than mess about trying to refurbish a totally worn original carburettor Philippe fitted a Mikuni VM38 to this machine. “It needs a modification to the airbox to hold the intake bell-mouth but the extra hassle is well worth it for a new carburettor.” You’ll notice we’ve not mentioned the ignition. As the owner rebuilds ignitions for a living it is spot on.
So, there’s a pile of bits in the workshop, all freshly coated and rebuilt, the swinging arm has been aqua blasted as have the brake plates and hubs. New needle bearings have been pressed in to the swinging arm and new steering head bearings are in the frame. Assembly is quite quick from this point and the bike starts to look like… well… a bike. Wheels are quickly refurbished with new bearings in the hubs, re-spoked and rims polished, new brake shoes on the plates and a new cush drive in the rear along with a Talon sprocket. Tyres are Pirelli Scorpion MX back and front and obviously new. Also new and on only for our photographs, is the last-ever brand new original 440 front mudguard… unless you know different. Once our shoot was over the guard came off and a pattern one went on.
The final bits and pieces such as controls and handlebars are to the owner’s taste, higher bars to suit Michael’s stature, Magura controls because they look right and are good quality. All that remained was for the first test which was at Luton MX Track on one of their practice days.
The owner’s view We could be cruel here and publish a pic of an ‘incident’ when Philippe jumped aboard the tall bike… but we won’t. As with any rebuild there is a certain amount of settling in to do and this was the purpose of heading to Luton MX Track. The bike was to be fired up for the first time here and this proved a bit of an issue as there was some reluctance from the fresh motor until it got the idea of what to do with petrol. As the day progressed starting was easier as the tightness freed up. Says Michael: “A very impressive first ride as the 440 felt light, so was easy to ride and at first the suspension was okay but settled down as the day went on. It only needs a slight adjustment and it will be fine again.” After a couple of laps Michael pulled in to the paddock, whipped out an Allen key and pushed the stanchions through the yokes to alter the trail a little and make it steer quicker before going back out on the track. At the end of his session he talked over the bike with Philippe and they reckoned a bigger main jet was needed as the motor was pinking under load once it was warm. Other than that there was praise for the brakes which, while not in the disc category were good for drums and the general feel of the bike was great… smiles all round.
SWM had its finger on the pulse of what was needed in the MX world of the Seventies and Eighties. Freshpowdercoating andstainless-steel fasteners… nice tidy job.
Probably the ultimate development in twinshock MX SWM, the next year the factory had gone. There’s a mix of reasonable original plastic, good repro stuff andamodified airbox to take a new carburettor. As with most bikes the plastics are the hard bits to find. We got there before the bike had been started and was all nice and clean…note the bore and strokemarked on the fin for noise metre regulations.
Go on Sharon, you’re as much a part of Westcountry Windings as Michael is. Modern carburettors work better than old ones… this is a Mikuni VM38, Mikuni was an Amal licensee in the early days. Thebuilder of thebike, (left) shakes on Philippevande rwalle, thedealwitht Simmons…asmichael he owner Michael also runs Westcountry Windingswek nowthe ignition will be spot on. Rear suspension has come a long way since the three- position oil- damped early units in the Fifties.
So oftensuper with brebuildsa re letdown smalldetail s fasteners… suchascra not ppy allstainless herethough steel. ,all new, Michael Simmons tries out his SWM440 TF4MC, basically fine but a few settling- down tweaks to do. Long-travel suspension needs an axle further up the slider or the bike would be too tall for sensible use. Lafranconi has beenmaking exhausts since 1928 and is inextricably linked to Italian motorcycles.