by Firko #53
A skinny little bloke from Minnesota once sang that “the times they are ‘a changing”. Although we know different, he could easily have been singing about the way we build our vintage bikes these days. In the twenty odd years that vintage motocross has been around nothing has changed the way we do things like the internet and eBay in particular.
I’m currently building a pretty unique Hindall framed Ducati 250 using a frame and core motor I bought via eBay from East Coast racer Brian O’Connor. The build has been a hoot because it has allowed me to don my Dr Frankenstein stethoscope and build the bike that’s been festering away in my head since I was a kid. eBay has allowed me to build a bike that prior to the internet would never have even been possible down here in my island paradise. As a teenager in sixties Australia I used to scour the American magazines drooling over the exotic frames made by companies like Champion, C&J, Trackmaster and Harry Hindall himself. Sure there were a few British Rickman Metisses, Cheneys and Sprites running around down here but it was the ‘Yank’ stuff that tooted my horn.
The Champion Honda XL350 circa 1990
When vintage motocross first kicked off in the mid 80s I hopped a plane to California to see what it was all about. At the 1986 Dick Mann Vintage Rally at Sandhill Ranch in California I was blown away by some of the amazing hot rod trick framed bikes that turned up. At the swapmeet I was lucky to find a N.O.S. Champion motocross frame made for an XL Honda for a pissy $400. I flew the frame home as luggage and over the next year managed to build a bike like nothing else down here. The 350 engine was full of shiny go fast goodies also picked up on that trip and with Maico forks, Bultaco back and Yamaha front wheels it appealed to my drag racer hot rod background. Sadly, as trick as the bike looked, it wasn’t the nicest thing to ride and it was sold for the usual huge loss. Over the next twenty years I had a ball racing my Maicos but every now and again (usually beer induced) the little chap in the back of my head would keep reminding me that I needed to build another hot rod vintage racer. It wasn’t long before the little bloke got his own way!
eBay made it easy. I top bid on a bloody awful looking Hindall rolling frame to which Leon Roach in California had attempted to fit 450 Ducati engine . Luckily he realized that the engine wasn’t going to fit without major surgery so he decided to sell it rather than chop it around to fit the big Italian lump. He knew that the beautifully built Harry Hindall frames were rare and this bike deserved a better fate than what he had intended to do to it. While it was on its South Pacific cruise to its new Australian home I did a bit of research and discovered that this very bike had once enjoyed a much better life and was the actual Dirt Bike magazine ‘Project Bighorn’. The frame had been built to house a Kawasaki Bighorn 350 engine and Dirt Bike magazine had serialized the build throughout 1972. When I got it the engine mounts had been removed so rather than build it with a Bighorn engine I decided to fit an RT1 360 Yamaha engine. The bike received a set of CZ forks and front wheel, and a DT2MX Yamaha rear wheel and I went about building a trick engine to go into the old show pony. By now eBay had become a major distraction in my life so I searched and found some rare and cool trick bits like a NOS RT1 GYT cylinder an ACK head and something called a Skunk Works inlet system which looks kinda like a reed kit without the reeds. I fitted DT400 CDI ignition, DT2MX ‘no name’ outer engine cases and all new internals, all courtesy of the kind vendors on eBay.
Hindall #1as it appeared on eBay. It now has CZ forks and wheels but is still as ugly. Under the surface rust the brilliant fabrication and welding of Harry Hindall is still evident.
Sadly something as simple as running out of acetylene shut the project down for a week or so but that week or so turned into two, then three years as the XJS Jag project took over. The poor little Hindall was relegated to the garden shed while the big Jag took up all of the available shop space. The years went by and then one evening eBay changed my battle plan once again. As usual I typed Hindall into the eBay search and up popped a sweet little shiny nickel Hindall frame fitted with a 250 Duke engine. A few bids later it was mine and within a couple of months it was in my garage and undergoing its rebirth.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I love building one off hot rod style vintage motocrossers. I’ve done a number of anal retentive restorations over the years, everything from the obligatory Maico 490 to a DT1 commissioned by Yamaha Australia to help celebrate their 50th birthday but as much as those restos are in the end very satisfying, they are extremely frustrating as they have to be 100% perfect in every department. There’s no room for artistic expression at all. This little Duck is the perfect patient for yet another of my mad professor operations. The bike arrived and it turned out to be even better than I’d imagined. I had a fairly blank canvas to start with, a 250 Ducati narrow case engine in need of a light rebuild and another of Harry Hindall’s masterpieces. I’ve made the decision to build the bike totally using eBay as the parts source and to try and use as many period parts as possible.
The 1968 Yamaha DT1 I restored for Yamahas 50TH birthday celebrations. They let me keep the bike after its show career ended.
Starting at the front I’ve used Arces triple clamps I had left over from another project and a pair of Mexican Betor forks from a humble Cooper. The wheels are eBay sourced Rickman Zundapp hubs with Borrani ‘mudcatcher’ rims. I bought one of those cool alloy head stem nuts and a MK3 Metisse brake pedal from UK ebay, a rare as shit Doherty side pull throttle and Doherty grips from eBay Canada, and a way cool Hi Point alloy tank. I was going to use a Wassell trials tank I found for chicken feed on UKeBay but it didn’t match the Maico wide frame seat I settled on. I’m using period N.O.S. Arnaco shocks, an AJS Stormer rear fender and a Wassell front mounted with a rare Cheney fender mount. I'm about half way through the assembly and I’m loving every minute of it. I still however haven’t worked out what to do for an airbox. I tried one from my MK4 Metisse but it looked as ugly as a New Zealand Prime Minister (southern hemisphere in joke). I guess I’ll have to make one if I can’t find one that fits. It’s the same with side number panels. I’ve tried various different types ranging from ’75 Maico to Metisse to AJS Stormer and none of ‘em look the way it does in my head. The covers I really want are the alloy type from a ’72 Penton Jackpiner or from a ’72 Carabela. (If anyone has side panels from either of these bikes they’d like to sell me dropplease me an email).
Hindall #2 as shown on eBay last year. It's now close to being completed.
In the time it’s taken me to get to this stage I’ve managed to pick up another project. I couldn’t resist a sweet Cheney 360 Yamaha from Paul Pinsonnault in Massachusetts via Mark Holloways site. Although this bike is a reasonably simple assembly there are still a few hot rod touches going into it such as Rickman Montesa hubs/Boranni rim combo similar to that on the Hindall and my trick RT1engine that almost found a home in Hindall #1. That particular Hindall project is now going to be taken over by my buddy Bernie who wants to fit a 650 Benelli engine! Believe it or not it looks like it’ll fit without having to hack the frame. If it doesn’t fit an XL350 Honda motor will probably find a new home in there.
The recently purchased Cheney RT1 in Massachusetts snow prior to it’s export to Firkos tropical home.
eBay has helped make our little vintage community a closer place. We can now buy parts with the stroke of a key that we would never have found in the old days. It’s also enabled me to build bikes that were once only a dream for a young bloke living half a world away from the action.
It’s given me the drive to keep me in the shed and away from the hotsy totsy clubs and beer halls (occasionally). The only downside is the damage all of this eBay action is doing to my wallet.