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.

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents - Words and pics Tim Brit­ton

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.

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