1969 Velocette Thruxton

This perfectly restored Thruxton has all the elements of a classic high performance British street bike. With a stout chassis, a torquey short stroke high cam engine and big brakes, the Velocette Thruxton was one of the last, one of the best, British “big singles,” the prototype cafe racer. Clip-on handlebars, steering damper, bump seat, dolphin fairing, “bread loaf” tank, velocity stack, ventilated front brake, rear-set footrests, all the right stuff. A demanding rider would be at home on any winding road or road racing circuit. This superb example is on loan to the Museum from Don Rosene, Anchorage, Alaska.

 

Much like we have Triumph Bonnevilles and Manx Nortons, the Velocette Thruxton is named for its association with a competition event. In the 1950’s the South Hampton Motorcycle Club began organizing a nine hour endurance race around the Thruxton Air Field, Andover, Hampshire, England. It became known as the Thruxton Nine Hour, then the 500. With privateer Velocette riders having good success there, a specially tuned model Velocette Venom was added to the Velocette catalog; the Thruxton. Its new cylinder head had a downdraft intake port, finned manifold, an Amal GP carburetor (in early models), twin leading shoe front brake and a stouter fork.

 

Precursor to Velocette, Veloce was founded in 1908 and was always keen use racing to promote and improve their machines. When in 1967 the Isle of Man Production TT was established, Velocette entered “stock” machines, garnered first and second places. Though experiments with motorcycles by founder John Goodman go back as far as 1908, the first really successful motorcycles to carry the Velocette name were on English roads in 1913. Just after World War I they were using two- and four-stroke engines in the Isle of Man TT race entries. A few final Thruxtons were constructed in 1971.

"Walter," the Harley-Davidson Forecar pays a Visit to the Museum

Mike Schuster stands with "Walter," the 1913 Harley-Davidson Forecar he has been restoring for about 40 years. The only one known to exist, it will be on display at the National Motorcycle Museum through Spring 2015.

Mike Schuster stands with “Walter,” the 1913 Harley-Davidson Forecar he has been restoring for about 40 years. The only one known to exist, it will be on display at the National Motorcycle Museum through Spring 2015.

How did three-wheeled motorcycles like this Harley-Davidson Forecar come about? In 1913, there was strong competition between motorcycle, automobile and truck manufacturers. In addition to providing personal transportation vehicles, each manufacturer sought to design machines they could sell in vast quantities to businesses needing to transport goods.

With “super highways” not yet on the drawing boards, large volumes of goods were transported by railroads in 1913. Locally, big and small trucks broke down these loads and made deliveries to businesses, retailers. But there was still a need to get small quantities of merchandise to shops, or even to the final consumer, or provide door-to-door services like knife sharpening. Machines like the Indian Traffic Car, also on display in the Museum, the three-wheeled Wells Fargo American motorcycle and this Harley Forecar fit into this final category of local delivery, as did some of Harley’s sidecar based “trucks” and Servi-Cars.
Looking closely at this Forecar design, we see a fairly typical main motorcycle frame and drive train, but a stout angle iron frame for the “box” and a steerable front axle similar to the front axle of a car; linkages connected to the handlebar/steering stem made the front wheels steer. Rare in 1913 was the Harley-Davidson two-speed rear hub. Given the weight of the machine, the need to pull hills, perhaps run at low speeds with heavier loads, a low gear was useful.
Few of these Forecars were made and very little is known about them. This is the only example known to exist. It was used by a Harley vendor in Milwaukee, then sat in a barn 40 years and has been under restoration for the past 40 years by its long time owner Mike Schuster. On display temporarily, probably through Spring 2015, it will be the topic of an upcoming documentary; The Missing Link: Discovery of a Centennial Motorcycle.

1933 Ariel Square Four

1928 Husqvarna Model 180 Twin

Featured Machine: Harley-Davidson Snow Mobile

We thank David Borre for loaning his 1972 Harley-Davidson Snowmobile and rare matching snow "trailer" for display at the National Motorcycle Museum.

We thank David Borre for loaning his 1972 Harley-Davidson Snowmobile and rare matching snow “trailer” for display at the National Motorcycle Museum.

At 110+ years of age Harley-Davidson must be counted among America’s most successful and long lasting corporations. But looking back into the 1960’s and 1970’s there were partnerships, buy-outs and product experimentation that, in hind sight, were not always well thought out.

Looking for new ways to make use of technology, manufacturing capability and existing distribution channels, several powersports corporations ventured into the world of snow machines. AMF, American Machine Foundry, at that time soon to be the owner of Harley-Davidson and many other brands, was among them. An internal written study for AMF dated in 1964 offered “Proposed Specifications for the AMF Snow Sled.”  It presented the huge growth potential of the snowmobile market and specs for AMF’s proposed concept vehicle.  The study said the sled should feature a front-mounted two cycle engine, rugged drive belt, top speed of 25 mph, smooth and flowing styling, be lightweight, comfortable and focus on dependability. In 1965 AMF Western Tool made the decision to proceed with the new AMF snowmobile and production came fast!
Through 175 dealers, 3000 units were sold in 1966. After AMF’s acquisition of Harley-Davidson in 1969,  the facility in York would produce Harley-Davidson motorcycles and snow machines. Then, making use of their recently acquired power-house brand, in late 1971, AMF made the decision to again re-design and re-brand their snow mobile line.

They dropped the Ski-Daddler name in favor of the hugely popular Harley-Davidson brand.

A handful of 1971 Harley-Davidson Snowmobiles were produced and the 1972 model year was the first full year for the Harley-branded sleds and the last for the Ski-Daddler sleds, both AMF offerings. Harley-Davidson dealers were offered the Harley snowmobile line as a separate product and some former Ski-Daddler dealers were also offered Harley snowmobile franchises.  Promoting the brand, the Harley-Davidson sleds were advertised as using Harley engines, two-stroke singles which were conveniently sourced through the Italian Aermacchi connection; Harley had bought 50% of Aermacchi about 1960.

It was believed by AMF that they would sell more snowmobiles through the Harley-Davidson network with the Harley name.  Soon the Harley sleds were assembled at the company’s Oak Creek, Missouri facility, sharing production facilities with the Harley-Davidson (AMF) golf cart.  But, at the end of the 1975 snowmobile model year, it was announced that production of AMF Harley-Davidson snowmobiles would be discontinued. The eight year experiment had not been much of a success. And to complete the picture of that era in Harley-Davidson history, in 1981 Willy G. Davidson, Vaughn Beals and 11 other partners bought the company back from AMF. After a few tough years refocusing and rebuilding the company, profitability came in the late 1980’s.

The Sno-Clipper, Power Sled, Ski-Daddler and Harley-Davidson snowmobiles have remained popular with vintage collectors. We thank David Borre for loaning his 1972 Harley-Davidson Snowmobile and rare matching snow “trailer” for display at the National Motorcycle Museum.