Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dick Howell / Bill Lee "Tinker Toy"

Of the thousand plus old magazines I've scoured through over the years looking for this stuff, the one and only time I remember seeing a picture of the "Tinker Toy" pre-unit Triumph dragbike is this one from the 1967 drags at the Stardust International Speedway, Las Vegas NV POST with its brute dual Dell'orto carbs, double row primary and 9-bolt Bonneville head. This partial pic of hot pre-unit power plant in swingarm frame left me begging for more... Mysteries revealed, below is the additional info I got from Bill Lee: Here is the Orig. Tinker Toy and the 2 guys who built it and raced it for 4 seasons. It started as a TR model, front forks are early BSA 250 Bantum 21" front spool,the frame is in Purple Metal Flake. I Bill Lee made the frame and metal parts, Dick Howell (seated) done all the perfect engine work, It was dyno'd at 82 HP, at std bore & stroke 40 CI this photo taken at Dicks Dads house in Fresno Ca. 1966, it turned 11:27 et at 127 mph, we lived in Brodrick CA when this was built, in 1968 we put it in the Sacramento autorama and took best of show for bikes and the Governors excelence award. Back in those days I didn't own a camara, this photo was taken by Dicks dad who was a professional and had a studio in Fresno, we did a lot of racing at Fremont raceway, I think their archives would have pic of the bike, we held track records at 8 Ca. tracks. he broke the worlds record in Fremont and it stood for a month, your pic was taken at Las Vagas at the worlds championship all bike meet, tinker toy won the DG Bike class, stepped into the DF class and took out 8 more bikes before being beat, to my knowledge it's the only bike ever to win the Gov. excelance award at the Sacto. autorama, Dick sold the motor to a guy in Sacto. and was put into a street bike, the rest stayed in Dicks garage for some time, I don't know what happened to it, If you talked to someone a few yrs, ago that claims he has the bike he might have the motor or the other part, they were split up in about 69 or 70, that bike had close to 150 throphys to it name, as you can tell, I'm very proud to have been part of that bike and it's history. I rode it 2 times when Dick hurt his knee and in those days it was awsome to cross the 1/4 mi traps at 125 mph on that bike, I don't have any english stuff left, but my 650 triumph is still my all time favorite, here is my 650 in 64 when we were racing the tinker toy, I painted the tinker toy and my bike at the same time in metal flake, mine red, tinker toy purple, the last paint job I did on tinker toy for the Autorama was in faded Candy Purple, it was pretty. I extened the swingarm 6" we were the first to my knowlage to do this, within a few there were many. The tinker toy was a '54 and thats what it started as Dick and I used to road ride together for a couple of yrs before he decided to make a dragracer. He built the motor and I stripped the frame and dug up the front forks, I built the tanks and oil tank and a few other items, we raced it one season as a 54 motor, then one day while working on it in Dicks garage a guy came by and ask if we wanted to buy a MC motor, it was a near new 63 Uni. YA it was hot, Dick did some mix and matching so I couldn't swear to the parts for sure as my memory serves, we were working on it in the garage one day and Dick's wife came out with drinks and said what are you guys tinkering with now, thus she name it tinker toy. The motor is made from 54 & 63 parts, all cases were hand lapped and there were NO gaskets in any cases or no head gasket. He kept it parked on a white sheet over a rug and never a drop of oil. That bike was prefection, it was raced four seasons and tore down every winter and nothing in that motor was ever replaced, you would marvel at Dick's motor work. He rebuilt my triumph motor and it turned a 13:93 in the 1/4. Tinker Toy had 2 slicks, one was a recaped soft rubber the other was a Avon drag slick. We prefered to cap. The 54 flywheel was chopped, lightened up, but they dropped the rpm too much on the launch, so he used the flywheels from the uni motor, also the head & barrels. He built the motor with his gears to red line at 10.5 and cross the line at 10.2. The Bannam forks dropped the front quite a bit, when I put the 6" in the swing arm I just used a shorted tube to get the drop we wanted, I drilled over 200 different size holes in the frame and cast connecting joints. then layed a sheet of fiberglass over the whole frame, worked it down to what you see, thats all the frame was changed, nobody ever knew about the holes in the frame. Walt Ross from San Jose had his Sportster frame done full of holes, him and Bob Lux with a 54? Triumph, both running Fuel was turning in the real low 10's 148mph, they grudge raced a few times at Fremont, not for sure, I thing I had the frame down to 18 to 20lbs??, lot of details to remember but I'm working on it, I think the whole bike was 212lbs, every time I study the pic I see another little detail, you can see I took out the lower tank bar. The chain guard was a strip of brass with the edges rolled. The top of the oil tank is the filler bung form the primary cover, the gas tank cap is the cap from a grease gun. The action in the forks was not Hyd, just a 5" spring like a valve spring. The tack was bought from Germany, it started a 5000 rpm. I hand formed the seat from alumium and it was drilled full of holes. Dick opened a Kawie dealership in west sacto, in the early 70's and when the first 3cyl 500 kawie came out Dick ordered one and done one of his speed tunes on it, took it to Bonnyville and set a new 500cc worlds record, a little more history, the guy had reactions like a cat, never beat of the line, Bill More pics of Bill's bike SOON!

1953 Bill Martin "Big Bear Spring Frame"

The race that started Triumph's claim to fame in American Racing. The 1953 Big Bear race had 448 entries, with only 83 finishing. Four newly made Martin Spring Framed Triumphs were in the mix and Vern Robinson's came in first after the leader Bud Ekins took out his Matchless in a slide. Vern had only been racing for a year and only had one previous trophy on his mantle.

Being a large fellow, Vern had no advantage in the power to weight ratio area, and the suspension had its work cut out for it. I like the high California bars and plain control levers pointing towards the sky.

The story behind the 1953 race winner.

A year or two ago a guy had a complete Triumph twin Martin chassis including forks as seen in this article offered on ebay. An extremely rare find!

Unknown 1950's era Martin Swingframed rider.

First kid on the block to build one that I know of in the modern era, David Edwards Iron Tiger Martin Swingframe as featured in the March 2000 issue of Cycle World magazine.

For those that can appreciate the history and coolness of these swing frames I have an original 1953 example as mounted to a 1952 Thunderbird with matching numbers engine on ebay HERE.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jack Chard's California Customs

Sent over by JORDAN The chromed pre-unit Triumph with candy peanut tank was built in the early 1960's and has to be one of the coolest bikes i've ever seen.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Got this envelope on Friday from Kaz a few hours after hearing the news of the quake tsunami.

Talk about some eerie timing. My most sincere wishes for the well fare of our Japanese brothers and sisters. No matter where you are, take a lesson here and prepare for the hardest of times because they can visit you anywhere you live in the blink of an eye. Following reports now of potential escaped radiation heading towards the west coast of the United States in the coming days...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Eric DeVries Triumph Cross Country Bike

'66 Bonneville ('72 TR6R motor). Not finished yet, still looking for a skid plate.
Looks like loads of fun!!!