Sunday, April 6, 2008

Nostalgia Drag Bike part 3

In a previous post regarding my interest in building a nostalgia dragbike, I told of my purchase of a blower that had been used on a Knucklehead dragbike here . After receiving the blower and through further discussion with the party I purchased it from, I was put in contact with the original owner. I hoped that I may have purchased a part that came from an old dragbike which it might be possible to re-create. It had not really even crossed my mind that it should be a significant piece of drag racing history. Of course that would have been a plus, but I would have been quite satisfied just to find that the blower was from a '70s or earlier dragbike that had a little local history.

Well, I must say that I feel as though I have hit the mother lode! Not only is the blower from a bike with a history, that history goes back to the very beginning of organized drag racing itself!

As stated in previous posts, this S.Co.T. blower came off of a Knucklehead dragbike named the Gorilla, owned by Don Jones. A Google search really didn't give me any info on the Don Jones I was looking for, at least that is what I thought. The name came up in regards to motocross; obviously a different Don Jones. Wrong! When I called Don, he told me that he was pretty busy for the next few weeks since a documentary was being done about he and his family's involvement in the origins of motocross racing.

It seems that Mr. Jones has a history of being involved when and where racing history is being made. Apparently his bike, "The Gorilla", was only one of a pair of Knuckle dragbikes running out of his motorcycle shop in 1949 and the early 1950's. The other bike was Chet Herbert's "The Beast"! The dragstrip they frequented was Santa Ana, which, from what I understand, was the first track to ever have a weekly drag race schedule.

Now "The Beast" is one of the most famous of the very early drag bikes. Of the first 19 events held at the Santa Ana strip, The Beast ran the meet's top speed 6 times (this included both bikes and cars). There is a some irony in the fact that the Knuckle dragbike which I campaigned in the mid to late 1980's was also named "The Beast", but that is another story, for another time.

In speaking with Don Jones via the telephone recently, I found him to be a veritable treasure trove of information about these early dragbikes. With absolutely no hesitation he was able to rattle off details even down to the number of teeth on each sprocket of these bikes. Wow. I must admit that many of the details from my own racing career are fading fast, and those are from only 23 years ago.

You can bet that I was taking notes as quickly as I could while Don told me a little about The Beast and The Gorilla. A few of the notes I made are as follows:

  • The Gorilla was a single carb 80 cubic inch Knuckle with a blower

  • The Beast was a dual carb 92 cubic inch Knuckle using Indian Chief flywheels

  • The Beast was in a VL frame and ran a VL springer fork

  • The Gorilla used parts of a Matchless frame and used a BSA front fork

  • Transmissions were modified Harley using only 3rd & 4th gear

  • Both bikes used Panhead cylinders due to weakness of the Knuck barrels

  • They used '36 -'37 cylinder heads due to smaller combustion chambers giving more compression, and installed 2 1/4" intake valves

  • They used the Harley 1936 61" cam, which Chet Herbert later made a direct copy of for performance use

Obviously all of this gives me plenty of food for thought. I would absolutely love to build a replica of either of these bikes. How "correct" I can build one is the big question. I have the actual blower from The Gorilla, but duplicating the frame may be tough. On the other hand I have a nice set of dual carb Knuck heads and a VL frame and front fork, which points toward The Beast being an easier bike to duplicate. Of course, having a few of the original pieces from The Gorilla point to that being the better choice. Of course a limited budget will have a bearing on either choice. Decisions, decisions.... more to follow....


Anonymous said...

Great blower find!
And great history on Don Jones and "The Gorilla"...
Did Don have any pics of the bike?
That would be some great history to have as well.
I tried the link , maybe they are updating it...but did a search. Some great reading about Chet Herbert as well. From what I read , he used Harleys roller lifter/cam technology to make for car engines...and Zoomies!


St. Lee said...

Hi Billy, yes Don has pictures, which he says he will copy for me when he gets time. I am in the process of working out the details on a possible way to gather and preserve some of the drag racing history that is still available. If you know any old drag racers ask them to stay tuned.