When a French chef is passionate about SWM and Enduro he cooks up something like this superb 370 SWM TF1.
We meet Philippe Vanderwalle, a man with passions for cooking, enduro and for SWM – we look at the latter two.
1980- 81 SWM 370 TF1
It would take quite a talented chef to cook up something tasty from ingredients from such diverse worlds as those of food, enduro and SWM. Luckily, there is such a chef and anyone who spends moments – seconds actually – with him soon cotton on to the fact Philippe Vanderwalle is a man packed full of passion for many subjects. The three subjects just mentioned have certainly been a large part of the Frenchman’s life since he took his first tentative steps in both cuisine and enduro when he was a motorcycle-mad teenager in his home city of Bordeaux.
Philippe’s working world of catering involved long hours and low pay, which is something anyone who has served any kind of apprenticeship will be familiar with and it is the passion that keeps such motorcycle obsessed youngsters going. So, the fire roads of Bordeaux were a motorcycle playground for not just Philippe, but others in the area too. “I started when I was, oh, 11 or 12 with a Mobylette,” he laughs at that and manages to get in “not the most famous off-road motorcycle eh?” No Philippe, not the most noted machine for a budding enduroista… however this meant Philippe was mobile and learning. He was able to take to the roads aged 14 with a moped until the passion for off-road became too strong and he combined the on and off-road transport problem with a Fantic Caballero. “It was my first ‘gear’d’ motorcycle, I was 15 and invincible,” he grins… yes Philippe, we all were at 15.
Although the Fantic provided the start to his competition career, it was the Austrian KTM marque that was riding high at the time and doing a lot of winning with stunning looking machines that took Philippe into enduro proper. All seemed well until ‘The Moment When…’ a magazine report of the 1977 Milan show featured an SWM. “Well, I don’t mind admitting I was, oh what is the word?” Smitten? “Ah, yes, ‘smitten’ pff! Your language has so many words,” he grins. The SWM had such an effect on Phillipe that no article or feature escaped him and he decided that an SWM had to be the machine for him. It wasn’t easy to acquire an SWM and pretty much all of 1978 was spent building up a pot of cash to afford one and even then his father had to assist with a loan, but eventually he bought a 125 SWM. “It was a revelation – so easy to ride, so good in all areas… then a year or so later I got a 240 model. Our authorities had decided any motorcycle over 240cc was to be taxed at a higher rate, so all the makers reduced their capacity by 10cc, but of course everyone who bought one got the bigger piston and bored out to 250 again!” Philippe competed on this 240 until 1982 or early 1983 when his culinary skills were on the rise. “I had to make a decision for a working life and I am passionate about cooking too, so motorcycles had to be halted for a while…”
Philippe’s career in the food world rocketed to the point where he was, until recently, executive chef at the Ritz Casino in London. “It was a fabulous place to be in charge of food. They wanted only excellence and cost was not a consideration. We had a good reputation,” he sighs. A change in ownership and some ‘improvements in costings’ saw
Philippe head for self-employment but not as a chef… instead he went full tilt into his motorcycle passion.
“I had never lost my passion for SWM, but work and life had to come first, until I got to the point where I was more comfortably off and I thought I would find a 250, as I had in 1980. The problem is once one SWM comes along another follows it…” There is a wry grin from Philippe. “It was the first of a 36-bike collection,” he says. It was also the beginning of a business, as these bikes needed parts and restoration and once Philippe started finding such services, other people asked him to do the same for them, to the point now where Philippe is able to commission parts that have been out of production for some time and he offers improved parts too. This grew into the Old Knobblies business for older off-road motorcycles, although majoring on SWM.
Joining Philippe on one of his Trail Challenges last March there was a chance to photograph several of the SWMS he uses for this trail ride experience and one of the bikes was a 370 TF1 from 1980-81. This is Philippe’s personal machine and few people other than him get to ride it.
When it arrived at Philippe’s place the 370 was complete but not in pristine condition cosmetically. As my pen flashed over the notepad in an attempt to keep up with his out-pouring of words I gathered the 370 was new to SWM’S range in 1980 and started out with opaque plastics and tank, but for 1981 there was a more orangey feel to the machine, as the mudguards and fuel tank were now a solid colour.
Sadly, although in physically good order, they were too faded for the full-on restoration the bike was to receive, so white guards from the Acerbis range were sourced and an ex-works fuel tank, which is the same as the standard one, except that it had been fitted to the factory team bikes. Personally, and I told Philippe this at the time, I think the 370 looks better in this scheme than all orange, but that’s just my opinion. Maybe original plastics could have been found for the project, but Philippe wanted to ride the machine at the ISDT centenary event at Carlisle in 2013, so perhaps a compromise had to be made.
Most people will know Rotax engines were fitted to all sorts of machines and when we did up our Can-am project some years ago I seem to recall the list of makes ran to 20 or so. What is less well-known is Rotax two strokes are not all disc-valve engines and the bigger ones, like this 370 and Michael Simmons’ 440 we featured recently, are more normally aspirated with the carburettor feeding straight into the crank case through a reed valve. “I went right through the mechanicals of the engine,” says Philippe, “it was a mixture of ‘okay’ and ‘needing
replacing’,” he says. Once inside the engine he found the crankshaft to be good enough to reuse as it was, but the little end bearing was worn out.
“I also replaced all the bearings and seals throughout the engine and it needed a new piston too.” Philippe tries to find original SWM pistons but if not he will use the ELKO make and the one in this engine is a single-ring type.
The gearbox was in good condition and it is possible the bike had had little use and the five-speed cluster was virtually perfect, but as a precaution Philippe replaced the bearings in the ’box too.
Something that had to be changed was the clutch case. It is an earlier type with a three-ball bearing actuation. “The original cases are not available any more,” says Philippe, “so we have to accept some un-originality.” Once all the mechanical work had been completed, the cases were powder coated to a high standard by one of the contacts used by Old Knobblies.
With the engine unit sorted and parts such as the kick-start and gear lever away for plating, attention could focus on the cycle parts.
There was little damage to the frame and swingarm themselves, though the steering head bearings needed replacing while the swinging arm bushes were good enough to reuse. The centrestand did need a little attention, as the bike pivots on it when wheels are removed, so certain areas are stressed. Philippe repaired this one and added 3mm into the length, which doesn’t sound a lot, but it does actually make a difference. All that was required was to apply some coating to make it look like new.
Again evidence of light use was obvious as the yokes were in excellent condition, as was the chrome on the Marzochhi fork stanchions. In fact, the forks only needed new seals, springs and oil, plus a coating of orange on the sliders, to see them in tiptop condition.
Once the chassis was sorted and back from coating, the engine slipped in quickly and Philippe used all new fasteners throughout, as there was no point in trying to restore the originals. The final task before the wheels went in was to fit top-of-the-range YSS rear suspension units, something Old Knobblies recommends and sells too. The wheels themselves were in good condition with undamaged rims and once new bearings and tyres were fitted they were good to go. It was the same with the backing plates for the brakes – new brake shoes sorted them out.
With the bike looking like a bike, there was time to personalise a few things. There is no hiding from the fact Philippe isn’t the tallest of chaps and in order to ease the riding for himself he had the seat foam reduced in height and the seat recovered. He also prefers Renthal bars, which wouldn’t be
There should bemore ‘orange’ about the bike but the original plastics – tank andmudguards – were too badly faded for Philippe’s exacting standards, so non- orange replacements were found.