Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Vintage McClanahan Drag Bike Available

Recently one of the members of the NVMDRA bulletin board contacted me with information about a vintage drag bike that is for sale.  This particular bike could be best described as a rolling test bed for ideas from the fertile mind of one Carl McClanahan.  When I heard the name, it sounded familiar, but I could not place it.  A quick web search revealed that Carl is the author of V-Twin Thunder (subtitled "A Handbook of Inexpensive Performance Modifications for Harley Davidson Motorcycles.") published in 1984.  No wonder the name was familiar; the book graces a bookshelf here at my shop.  Another interesting thing about that search is that it turned up the fact that copies of the long out of print book are currently offered for sale ranging in price from $57 for a used copy, to nearly $300 for one in new condition.  That would seem to put Mr. McClanahan in some pretty exclusive company.  I can think of only one other author of performance modification books which command such large premiums for their out of print works.  The other author would be David Vizard; exclusive company indeed!

Carl McClanahan, now in his 80's, began drag racing in 1958.  He was one of the first to build a double engine Sportster, and may have been the first to build a set of wheelie bars for a motorcycle.  Looking over my copy of V-Twin Thunder to write this, I found a whole slug of performance tricks that I have used for years, but had forgotten where I learned them.  Looks as though I owe Carl a belated thank you.

The bike itself conjures up images of the glory days of motorcycle drag racing, when innovation was the name of the game.  Though Carl set numerous records and an untold number of wins in his long and storied racing career, just as with nearly every other long time racer, the bikes used were constantly being updated and/or replaced as technology advanced.  As stated earlier, this particular bike was used primarily to test new ideas and therein lies real the beauty of it.

A fuel Sportster with a tire that small probably needs all the down force a wing can provide

Pressurized reservoir supplied additional air to the intake

Anti reversion cones on the exhaust look as though they could have inspired the modern day Thunderheader

There is a modern "induction system" on the market which shares a similar shape

Note the dual float bowl conversion on the L Series Fuel carb

If you are interested in  purchasing this piece of history, send me an email and I will put you in touch with the appropriate party.


Mark said...

Hi Lee, I to am a big fan of Carl's I also bought that book when it came out and have use the info. in it many times, his book helped me to understand many of the things I was trying to do to my bikes back then, when it was hard to find the info. needed to make your bike run harder. Thanks for reminding me of the past and the fun I had building fast bikes.

Fastmatt said...

My good friend Smitty and a few others together bought 2 old fuelers from Carl in the mid 80's. I got to meet Carl when we were testing. One was a shovester the other a sportser. He called his bikes the belly burnner. F.M.

Unknown said...

Do you know if you they still have it he was my grandfather

Unknown said...

Do you know if you they still have it he was my grandfather

St. Lee said...

Hi Joe, unfortunately it seems that somewhere along the line (probably one of the times I had a catastrophic computer crash) I seem to have lost the contact information for the gentleman who was offering the bike for sale. He was also a member of the vintage drag bike bulletin board that I ran for a while, but that whole board also disappeared into thin air some time ago. Last time I heard from him, he was contemplating parting the bike out, which is a real shame (and he hated to have to do it), but it seems that he was not receiving any realistic offers for the bike. If I'd had some extra cash laying around I'd have bought it myself. If I recall, I think he was somewhere on or near the east coast.

Unknown said...

Last time I saw this bike at Carl's home in steelville mo in 2013 Carl passed away late 2013

Unknown said...

how did this guy get the bike

St. Lee said...

I wrote the above post at the beginning of July of 2013, and I see that in late August of the same year I added a "tribute" after Carl's death. That post can be found here:

I am not sure if the gentleman who was selling the bike ever mentioned to me how he came to have it, but he seemed to know Carl quite well and to have the utmost respect for him. I believe he was the person who informed me of Carl's passing. Yesterday I took the time to search through all of my saved emails and contact lists but found nothing, and remembering names has ALWAYS been a weak point for me. Sorry I can be of no more help; I would have liked to see the bike in a museum or with an owner who would preserve its history.

St. Lee said...

Wait - Search engines can be your friend. I just did a search for "Carl McClanahan Harley drag bike" on Bing and found this:

The bike you guys are looking for is on craigslist in Rhode Island for $6500 posted just 2 weeks ago. In my mind that is a real steal of a price. Will somebody please give this bike a proper home where it will carry on the legacy of a great racer and not just sit under a trap in the corner of a dusty garage as so many other vintage drag bikes do.

St. Lee said...

Umm - that was supposed to be under a tarp, not under a trap. It would only be a trap if it was waiting for an enthusiast to find it, enticing him to spend money he doesn't have to rescue it

fastmatt217 said...

talked to dale walker said he didnt have time to track it down but if it showed up at his door hed buy it (wheels through time)

St. Lee said...

Thanks, everyone for the comments and follow up. I passed the info (with links both to this post and to the Wheels Through Time Museum's web site) through the craigslist posting for the present owner to do with what he likes.