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Bad Astra Per Aspera: The Sea Beast Finale

Participation trophies presented by Editor Fellenstein and my nephew, Fisher.

This is the final entry in a six-part series detailing Shane Powers' restoration of a Honda CB350, also known as the Sea Beast. Start at the beginning with Part 1.

The motto of the great State of Kansas, where I have lived my entire life, is “Ad Astra Per Aspera,” a Latin phrase meaning “To the stars through adversity.” This seemed like a fitting sentiment as I reflected on the happenings of the Topeka AHRMA event.

On Thursday before the race weekend began, Editor Hall and I pulled into Heartland Park with the Sea Beast in tow. After much deliberation, we decided on our pit location and began the familiar process of assembling our event booth. We made pleasantries with the neighbors, one of whom told me he had been following this project. I was flattered to say the least. I’ve always assumed a few people outside my immediate circle of friends and family had read this blog, but I can’t say I ever expected to actually hear that directly from them. As it turned out, these amicable neighbors were a group of gentlemen also racing CB350s. Scott Wilson was racing Production Lightweight AND Heavyweight on his CB, David Miller and Bill Howard were racing their own CBs in the Sportsman 350 class. Supporting the group was Chuck, whose last name evades me (sorry, Chuck), the wrench behind Rebel Dog Racing. These guys were friendly, they were fast, and they became a corner post in my race campaign right off the bat.

David Miller (right) and Bill Howard (center) on the Sportsman 350 podium.

I was extremely nervous about passing tech inspection; I had never done it before, and it was kind of the final exam of my project. I asked one of my new pit-neighbor friends if they would mind taking a look over my bike to see if anything glaring was going to cause me to fail tech. With tech opening at 7 a.m. on Friday morning and race school beginning at 8, failure was not an option. David took a walk around the Sea Beast and pointed out a handful of fasteners that the tech inspector would want to see safety wired. I made the recommended alterations and got as prepared as possible for the long day ahead before I tried to get some rest.

Scott Wilson (left) and Brady Ingelse (center) on the Production Heavyweight podium.

No amount of rest could have prepared me for the long day ahead, but it didn’t matter because I hardly got any anyways. My nervousness and excitement combined with the unrelenting heat of June in Kansas made for a rather un-restorative night of tossing and turning in my tent. At 5:30 a.m. I got up, ate breakfast, and lugged my gear, the Sea Beast, and the thousand-pound lead weight in my stomach up to the tech building. The first AHRMA official I encountered asked for my name and transponder number. “So you’re Shane Powers …” This might be really good, or really bad. Has he read my writings? Is he aware that I’m a mechanic of intermediate aptitude, throwing my final product at the mercy of his tech team? I never found out. He didn’t elaborate and I didn’t ask him to. I pushed ahead as directed to where the inspector was waiting to look over my creation. To my eternal surprise, the inspector looked around, twisted and released my throttle to ensure it snapped back properly, squeezed my front brake lever, and put his stamp, or rather sticker, of approval on my front number plate! Amazed at having overcome my first, and what I thought would be largest, obstacle of the weekend, I returned the bike to my pit and double-timed it over to the Fast and Safe classroom.

Conferring with my mechanical advisors, Chuck and Keith.

The first classroom session was brief. We discussed the various flags we could encounter as new racers, took some specific instruction regarding our first few laps, and onto the track we went. That’s when it all started coming unglued. Having come down to the wire on completing the bike at all, and not having access to a suitable location to test the bike at speed, the Sea Beast had not been thoroughly proven. I had ridden it around my block a couple times in constant fear of encountering an officer of the law who might want to discuss my lack of lights or registration. As I turned the bike onto the track for the first lap, it was almost immediately apparent that something was amiss; this thing’s a dog! I didn’t know exactly what the Sea Beast should be capable of in terms of performance, but I knew there was a massive disparity between the claimed top speed of 110mph and the roughly 40mph I was currently capable of achieving. After a few laps around the track at ego-bruising slow speeds, we returned to the classroom where I was promptly dismissed to fix my bike.

Hellraiser, the hardware store petcock.

One thing at a time, and one failed track session after the next, various mechanics and I worked our way through possible fixes; pod filters were first altered, then removed. Fuel filters were removed. Timing was checked. I limped the poor Sea Beast, and dragged my dejected self, through a gauntlet of wrenching, testing, classroom training, testing, wrenching and testing again. I was able to keep the bike on the track for all required activities, I passed my verbal exam, and I was granted a probationary AHRMA race license, but I was also told “you can’t take that machine on the track tomorrow if it’s not fixed!” Friday night found Editor Hall and myself checking and re-jetting carburetors with some smaller main jets provided by our pit-neighbor friends. With the new jets in place, I set out for my first real race on Saturday morning. My family and a few friends had come to watch, which only made it worse when the bike seemed fixed, and then lost power before turn one of the warm-up lap. I left the track unable to grid for my first race and feeling lower than dirt.

Noting grid position.

The bad news was plenty; I had missed my race, embarrassed myself in front of my friends and family, I had built a bike that I could probably outrun in a foot race, and even with the help of some great mechanical minds, I couldn’t figure out why! The good news seemed only one; it was early in the day and I wasn’t expected back on the track for 24 hours. I was battered, but not yet beaten.

Glad Editor Hall was able to capture the essence of my single lap at speed!

The problem was eventually discovered in fuel delivery. A faulty petcock was dripping enough fuel into the carburetors to make the bike go, but not enough to go fast. One last time, our pit-neighbor friends came to the rescue! First they commiserated; “Those petcocks are garbage!” Then they guided; “Here’s what we do.” I was handed a hardware store shut-off valve and given a list of necessary supplies to gather. A run to the local hardware store for a couple brass fittings was made before lunch. As I licked my wounds at a nearby brewpub, Editors Hall and Fellenstein kindly assembled my new fuel supply gizmo and left it in the pit for me to install upon my return.

Best advice I never took.

If the Sea Beast is the astronaut turned bionic super-spy, Steve Austin, the new petcock is Hellraiser. All function and no form, this collection of brass and rubber held together with myriad hose clamps was exactly what the doctor ordered! I completed Sunday morning’s practice session at speed and I was pulled from the depths of despair one more time as the last race of the weekend loomed mere hours away. My family gathered again, and I set out to grid for the first time.

’Tis but a flesh wound.

There were four racers on my grid including the Sea Beast and me. I was vibrating with nerves and excitement as I pulled into position, put the bike in neutral, and watched the Starter. On his cues, I clicked the Sea Beast into first gear. The cacophony of engine and exhaust noise grew around and within me. With no tachometer on the bike it was hard to judge how present a part of that cacophony my own machine was. No matter. The green starting flag went down, I dropped the clutch, and the Sea Beast lifted its front wheel like a tiny, pissed off bull out of the chute. I giggled like a leather-clad child at the absurdity of it and opened the throttle as I pushed towards turn one. In my first lap, I passed someone! With my class consisting of four racers, I was in a podium position! First and second place had a sizeable lead on me, but I could see them!

Rearset looking a little worse for the wear.

At this point I feel it’s prudent to pause the race story and impart a lesson Andrew Cowell shared during race school, and a piece of racer lore David Miller shared early in the weekend, both of which were apparently lost on me. Andrew’s lesson was this: race the track first, then race the competition. David told me “I’ve got new leathers this weekend and if I go out on the track in them, I’m going to go down. That’s why first thing tomorrow morning, I’m going to put them on and go roll around in that dirt over there.” I told him I would be right there next to him in my shiny Vanson suit. In all the mechanical hullabaloo, I must have missed that party.

A little rash on the clutch lever.

Turns 5 and 6 at Heartland Park are a relatively sharp right, followed quickly by an extremely sharp left. On my second lap I successfully negotiated Turn 5, but I knew I was too hot coming into the sixth. I minded my lessons; look through the turn, brake hard, don’t crash…The first two went pretty well. So well, indeed, that I was as surprised as anyone when suddenly I found myself no longer riding the Sea Beast, but instead sliding along beside it. I had three thoughts in very short order. First: “So this is crashing. It’s not so bad.” Second: “I hope my bike is OK.” And third: “I hope my leathers are OK.” As both rider and machine came to rest in the grass, I took stock: I’m alright. No major damage. I picked up the Sea Beast. It seemed alright as well, but some perceived twists in the front end made me feel uncomfortable getting back on and finishing the race. The bike turned out to be OK as well, and as I stood in the grass waiting for the tow truck to come pull us from the course, I thought “This is the perfect ending to the story. If I couldn’t win, I’m glad I crashed.”

With the crash behind me, and the race bike still capable of racing, I look forward to getting some more track time under my belt. I hope to participate in a track day at Heartland Park next month where I will sharpen my track skills. Over the winter, I plan to straighten up the bike’s bent bits and improve my racing/pit setup so I can give the 2020 AHRMA season my best effort. I owe so many debts of gratitude to so many people for making this happen for me. All my sponsors, my family, the AHRMA team, my friends and colleagues here at Motorcycle Classics, and the guys at Rebel Dog Racing … I couldn’t have fallen without you!

"Sea Beast" Parts Suppliers

Buchanan's Spoke & Rim Charlie's Place Dime City Cycles
EPM Performance Imports Moto Services Race Tech
R/D Valve Springs Rick's Motorsport Electrics Shinko Motorcycle Tires
Spectro Performance Oils Vanson Leathers Z1 Enterprises


The Aermacchi Project, Part 8: It Starts!

Margie Siegal's Aermacchi
1973 Aermacchi, with spiffy new(ly re-chromed) pipes!

This is the eighth and final installment of a series detailing Margie Siegal's restoration of a 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. Start at the beginning with Part 1.

The 1973 Aermacchi (350 Harley Sprint SS) is all in one piece. The tank petcock is not leaking (another tale of woe), and there is gas in the tank and oil in the bottom end. I gingerly push the bike out of the garage and into the driveway. Turn on the key. Kick — I'm not expecting much, but am going to give it a try. It's surprisingly easy to kick. I am used to a Norton Commando, which needs to be put up on the centerstand and jumped on hard. Kick. Kick. Hey wait — What's that noise?

It started. After a year of work, ups, downs and a heavy learning curve, it started.

I have been working all day on the bike, and I am tired. I turn off the key, push my completed restoration project back into the garage and rent a truck. My goal for the last year has been to get the bike to the national AMCA meet in Dixon and enter it for judging. In order for the bike to be judged, it has to start within the hearing of a judge. Not that I plan to win any prizes — with the artistic tank and side covers, I will be lucky to not be thrown out. Dixon is now 10 days away. The bike is all together and it runs.

In the next few days, I work on improving the carburation. Figuring it is finally time to go for a ride, I push the bike out into the driveway, put on my riding gear and kick. Nothing. No spark. Augh. Dixon is now three days away. I call friends. Everyone is busy, but several people I know are going to be in Dixon, and will help. I get the truck, I put a box of tools together, a friend helps me load the bike, and off to Dixon I go.

Margie Siegal's Aermacchi
The 350cc motor, rebuilt top end, rebuilt clutch, rebuilt carburetor and most of the dirt scrubbed off.

It helps to be among others with the restoration bug. I get many offers of help, and someone notices that one of the rubber tank mounts has almost fallen off. I put it back. People poke around with the circuit tester I brought with me. Somehow, I now have spark. Is there a bubble in the fuel line? OK, now try kicking the bike. It starts. IT STARTS! Judging is the next morning, but one of the judges is within earshot and puts a red sticker on my headlight as proof that the Aermacchi started in his vicinity. I go to my motel and crash out early.

The next day, the bike won't start again, but with the red sticker, I am over that hurdle. I push the bike into the judging arena, which is starting to fill with bikes. Dixon is the only AMCA meet west of the Mississippi, and there are over 30 bikes signed up and more coming. Leslie from Moto Italia, the Sprint specialist, shows up. I get my tool box and he pokes around. In six and a half minutes Leslie has figured it out (he has only been working on Sprints for 30 years plus) A tiny bit of the points wire is exposed and the wire is grounding on the points cover. Of course, the one thing I didn't bring is electrical tape. A fast circuit of the swap meet and I have the tape I need. A bit of tape and the Sprint starts easily. I leave it to the judges and wander off to look at all the two-wheeled eye candy.

I eventually get a completed judging form. Only six points were deducted for the paint job. Points were also deducted for a list of minor issues, only two of which — rusty spokes and rust spots on the back rim — have the potential for costing me serious money. On my first try, I have gotten 83.75 points, just a point and a quarter shy of a Junior Second award. I have met my goal and then some.

I could not have done this by myself. Thanks are due to: Leslie from Moto Italia, Dave Kafton, Scott Dunlavey from Berkeley Yamaha, Ron Lancaster of Lancaster Sprint, Mike Rettie, Kim Williams, Larry Orlick, Brad Johnson, Steve Turnbaugh, (the Rembrandt of the Gas Tank) and my next door neighbor Tony.

Margie Siegal's Aermacchi
Ms. Sprint with new paint job, back from the beauty parlor.

The Aermacchi Project, Part 7: Serendipity Strikes Again!

Amermacchi clutch
Left side cover, in process of cleanup. The key that pushes the shaft-and-ball bearing linkage that operates the clutch is to the left. I was told that someone badly overtightened the clutch, resulting in the key being dimpled and possibly slightly bent.

This is the seventh installment of a series detailing Margie Siegal's restoration of a 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. Start at the beginning with Part 1.

The clutch rebuild is NOT going well. I have put the clutch together and taken it apart twice. Despite all efforts, the clutch arm that connects to the clutch cable just waves around without connecting to anything. Frustrated, I call a mechanic friend. He is leaving on a trip and can't come over to look at it. He suggests to keep excavating until I find something.

The clutch arm is on the left side. I pull the cover off. This looks promising: the left side cover is full of black goo and metal chips, and the rubber stop for the kickstarter is destroyed. Also, the “D” shaped piece that pushes on the linkage that goes through to the clutch plates on the other side had an indentation in it. A new rubber kickstarter stop is on eBay! I Buy It Now.

The clutch is still inoperative. I send photos of the left side to Lancaster Sprint. Ron Lancaster builds Sprint racebikes and does Sprint restorations. Like everyone else involved with Aermacchis, he is amazingly helpful. He says he thinks he knows what is wrong with my bike, rounds up parts and sends them to me Priority Mail. I am assured that I will get the parts Thursday or Friday so I can work on bike over the weekend.

Ball bearing diagram
Four out of five parts of the linkage. The short shaft (not shown) is threaded and adjusts.

The Post Office, unfortunately, is not as helpful as Lancaster Sprint. The parts never arrive, and I need those parts to work on the bike. I call Moto Italia, another source for Aermacchi parts, who is a couple hours away. Leslie, the owner, says he has the parts I need and will be open until I get there. Off I go. Traffic, of course is horrible, but I finally get to the little store in the back of a shopping mall. Leslie and I start discussing the clutch. He says that he recently rebuilt the clutch on a similar Aermacchi ... and had to put an extra ball bearing in the linkage. A light bulb goes on.

A word of explanation here: The clutch operates by squeezing the clutch lever, which is attached to the clutch cable, which is attached to the clutch arm, which pushes the linkage that operates the clutch through a little tube. The linkage is composed of a short threaded rod, a ball bearing, a longer rod, a second ball bearing, and a second rod. Sort of a Rube Goldberg design, but it works. That is, it works on other Aermacchis, mine currently not included.

I ask Leslie to add an extra ball bearing to the bag of parts he is putting together for me, and fight my way home through still more traffic. Up bright and early the next morning, I get the linkage out, blast the tube with WD-40 to clean out residual goop in the tube, lightly coat the linkage with grease and reassemble with the extra bearing. The clutch now works. Amazing. I have been working on that #$%^&* clutch for at least a month. And if the Post Office hadn't delayed the parts from Lancaster Sprint (they showed up several days later) I would never have figured it out.

The Sea Beast Saga, Part 5: Oh What a Body!

As I write, Fast & Safe Roadracing School is 16 days away and approaching like a rock flung towards my face shield from the wheels of an 18-wheeler on I-70. There’s no way I’ll dodge it, so I’m glad I’ve prepared. While it hasn’t always gone smoothly, things have progressed to a point where I have a bike I’ve actually ridden, and I have at least a modicum of confidence that it will carry me around the track a couple times.

Last Sunday I thought I was a goner. After about 10 hours in the garage on Saturday, I believed I had a rideable motorcycle. I had started the engine a month or so prior, so I knew it ran. It had brakes. Fuel delivery was in place. I cleared a path from the back of my garage to the front, and I pushed the bike out into the parking lot. I ran down the checklist: fuel, ignition, neutral, engine, choke, clutch. I pushed the starter button and the Sea Beast roared to life beneath me. I clicked it into first gear, eased out the clutch, and took off! Fifty feet later, it died. Not a fantastic maiden voyage. I pushed the bike back to the garage, checked the petcock, plug wires, switches, etc., and found nothing amiss. I pushed the starter button again and BANG! It backfired louder than I’ve ever heard a machine backfire. Certain that the police were en route in response to a gunfire call, I closed the garage door and went to bed.

First thing Sunday morning I got back to work. I texted Motorcycle Classics Tech Editor Keith Fellenstein and described the situation. He patiently ran down a list of possibilities, which one by one I eliminated. When Keith showed up to offer in-person assistance, he found a very dejected Shane Powers cleaning the garage and organizing tools. “If you ever come in here and it’s really clean,” I told him, “things aren’t going very well mechanically.” As Keith worked through things, I faced the currently very real prospect that I would have to publish a blog for everyone I know, and thousands of people I don’t know, to read. The contents of that blog would boil down to two words: “I failed.” The issue was discovered in the spark advance mechanism. I had failed to properly tighten the bolt, which allowed the pin that keys the cam to the spark advance plate to fall into the plate. After that was righted, the bike ran well once again, and I was yanked from the depths of despair.

This entire project has been a learning experience for me, and the past month was no different. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll recall that in the second installment, The Sea Beast Saga, Part 2: I Need Help, I learned that wheel building is a difficult task for a first-timer. This month’s “that could have come out better” moments were experienced while I tried my hand at body work. Put on your chemical and dust particle respirator and I’ll show you what I’ve done.

Shane Powers with a chemical respirator
Safety third.

First up, and prettiest, is the fuel tank. My tank came from the K3 model that I picked up in Wisconsin. It was ugly; sun washed and dented. I started by removing all the old paint with a can of Aircraft Remover and wood shim as a scraper. Once I had a clean metal surface, I bought a can of body filler. I filled the dents and I filled the holes where the badges had been affixed. I did my best to smooth the filler and match the contours of the tank, then I sanded. And sanded. Then I sanded some more. After a couple rounds of filling, smoothing and sanding, I was satisfied. I won’t be winning any concours awards, but from 10 feet or at 80 miles per hour, the tank looks good. I sprayed some primer, then a few coats of white paint. Growing older and wiser, I opted for a cheap can of paint and spent my money on a 2-stage aerosol clear coat. So far that seems to have been the right choice, the end result looks decent and didn’t strip immediately off when I spilled gas all over it.

Fuel tank
The tank, in progress.

Riding high on the “success” of having a passable fuel tank, I started work on my belly pan. Like body filler, fiberglass is a product I’ve never worked with before. I can see myself fabricating other things from fiberglass in the future, but I’m a far cry from “a natural,” and beginner’s luck was nowhere to be seen. You’ll notice in the photos of the “finished” bike that it isn’t wearing its belly pan. There’s a reason for that. That reason is that while the belly pan I built does hold water, and therefore will serve its intended function, it looks like my son made it in the paper mache unit of his third grade art class. Blindfolded. I’m going to need to do a little more work on it before I can attach my name to it and allow anyone else to see it. Even then, I hope my sponsors sent big enough stickers to completely cover it.

Belly pan
This isn’t going to end well.

After the gas tank and belly pan, the only body left to worry about is my own! I guess a true DIY-or-die racer would get out his sewing machine and get to work. However, like wheel building, I thought race leathers would be best done by an expert. Who more expert than Vanson Leathers to fill my racing needs? Not unlike my wheel building experience, these experts delivered, literally! I recently received a box containing 11 pounds of American-made leather race suit that is so perfectly stitched and so well fitted that my coworkers might need to get used to seeing me wearing it at the coffee pot!

Shane Powers with his racing leathers
My amazing new leathers.

A month of learning, a month of soaring highs and crushing lows, a month of new things and problem solving. While sometimes stressful, this bike building thing is definitely something I can get behind. The writing has been fun too. Unfortunately, this is blog number five in a six-part series. I have some loose ends to tie up before tech inspection, but I leave you with this photo of a “finished” bike. I hope you’ll come join us for a weekend of great AHRMA racing, June 29-30, but if you can’t make it, check back next month for the full race report!

The Sea Beast
The finished Sea Beast.

"Sea Beast" Parts Suppliers

Buchanan's Spoke & Rim Charlie's Place Dime City Cycles
EPM Performance Imports Moto Services Race Tech
R/D Valve Springs Rick's Motorsport Electrics Shinko Motorcycle Tires
Spectro Performance Oils Vanson Leathers Z1 Enterprises


The Sea Beast Saga, Part 4: Better, Faster, Stronger

Timing the Charlie's Place electronic ignition.

Since I started the project of reviving an extremely tired Honda CB350, many literary and pop culture references have been used to describe the process. Is this a Cronenberg creation? Negative. I’ve always preferred the Vincent Price film from the 1950s over Cronenberg’s Fly. Is it a Frankenstein? It could be. Much of the original material did resemble something long deceased that had recently been dug up from a hole in the ground. In spite of my best intentions, the results could also prove deadly, but my aspirations have always been more elegant than the stitched-together, inarticulate monster created by Dr. Frankenstein. I’ve always thought of the Sea Beast more akin to Steve Austin, the astronaut turned bionic secret agent from the 1970s. In fact, if you’re an Instagram user, you’ll find a lot of photos posted under the hashtag #sixmilliondollarmotorcycle. Feel free to follow me, @shanepwrs, as well.

A proper "before" photo of the forks wasn't taken.

Be it Cronenberg, be it Frankenstein, or be it ultra-powerful bionic conglomeration, the Sea Beast has undoubtedly become better, faster and stronger over the course of the last three months. The work has been far from all on my own. While I’ve spent many long hours and late nights moving this project to where it is today, I have to give credit to my friends and sponsors, some of whom may not have known exactly what they were signing up for. I’ve not yet ridden the bike, but I have started it, and it really hums! The Charlie’s Place ignition was a breeze to install and time, and in conjunction with the Rick’s Motorsport Electrics Hot Shot Starter Motor, there wasn’t even a “cranking” process. As soon as power was supplied to the engine, it fired right up and idled beautifully.

Race Tech did a bang-up job breathing new life into the forks.

The shiny parts from Dime City Cycles, like the Old School Speed rearsets, MAC 2-into-2 exhaust and clubman bars deserve a nod for aesthetically transforming the bike from boat anchor to race contender. There aren’t enough words to describe how impressed I’ve been with this transformation, but the “What Did I Get Into” award has to be given in duplicate to Race Tech and Moto Services. Race Tech encouraged me to source a pair of the superior internal-spring forks from the later versions of the CB, but for a few different reasons, I wanted to work with the forks that came off the original bike. I had already procured new fork tubes, plus, they were the forks that came off the original bike! At a cost of $179.99, Race Tech made custom springs for my early CB forks and I couldn’t be more pleased with the end result. Moto Services encouraged me to throw my carburetors back in the lake, or sell them for scrap and use the proceeds as a down payment on something that might be capable of delivering fuel to my engine. After much pleading on my part, Matt did a bang-up job of rebuilding the carburetors. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’m going to keep this installment of the Sea Beast Saga short and sweet, bolstered by the before and after photos of the forks, restored by Race Tech, and the carburetors, painstakingly cleaned, rebuilt and re-jetted by Moto Services.

Refreshed forks, ready for installation.

I know this might read like my acceptance speech for a “Next to Impossible Project” completion award, but a lot of work remains! With a little over six weeks to see this thing through to completion, I’m keeping my nose to the grindstone and my eyes on the prize. I hope to see you at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas, for the AHRMA race, June 29-30!

The carburetor cores were about as bad as they could get.

Moto Services performed miracles on these carburetors.

Carbs after assembly.

"Sea Beast" Parts Suppliers

Buchanan's Spoke & Rim Charlie's Place Dime City Cycles
EPM Performance Imports Moto Services Race Tech
R/D Valve Springs Rick's Motorsport Electrics Shinko Motorcycle Tires
Spectro Performance Oils Vanson Leathers Z1 Enterprises


The Aermacchi Project, Part 6: In Which the Motorcycle Angels Come Through

Margie Siegal's mystery tool
Hallelujah! The mystery tool works!

This is the sixth installment of a series detailing Margie Siegal's restoration of a 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. Start at the beginning with Part 1.

“There's a special cherub for motor-cyclists.”

— Dorothy Sayers, The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag*

The top end back together, it's time to start in on the clutch. As delivered, the clutch took two hands to operate. Some of the problem had to do with the clutch cable, which was stuck in the housing, so I ordered a new clutch cable. Yes, Virginia, you can just call or email and mail order businesses will send you Aermacchi parts. Parts are available because all these folks are out racing Aermacchis. This is why you should support vintage racing.

Figuring the clutch cable was only part of the problem, I got out the service manual. The service manual says to take off the cover (not a problem, no rusty bolts) and then use your Special Tool No. 94670-66P to unscrew the five spring holders. After a little calling around I find out that there are five Special Tool No. 94670-66P in existence, each one owned by a crack shot with a bad temper. It's obvious that my chances of getting one of these things is about as good as finding a live passenger pigeon.

Margie Siegal's mystery tool
The mystery tool — found in a can of other mystery tools.

I ask Leslie of Pro Italia for suggestions. He says to get out my Dremel tool and cut a slot in the center bolt so I can use a big screwdriver to loosen the spring holders. I was not looking forward to this, but located a promising screwdriver and figured I would practice on some extra bolts that were laying around. I started looking for bolts ... and saw a can on a shelf with some odd tools sticking out.

One of those tools looked to be the right size and shape to unscrew those spring caps. Will it work?

Excited, I pulled out the tool. It needed a handle, easily supplied by clamping down on one end with a Vise-Grip. I uttered a short prayer to my Special Cherub (riding through the clouds) and put the tool on one spring holder. IT WORKED. I thanked my Special Cherub (who waved and hit the throttle) and loosened up all five spring holders. The square center part was just the right size for a 10mm wrench. Hallelujah.

Margie Siegal's mystery tool
Will the mystery tool work?

I have no idea what the tool is or how it got in the can. Asking around, it is apparently used to work sheet metal. If you have a later model Sprint (the earlier ones had a different clutch) you might check a sheet metal supply house for your very own Mystery Clutch Tool.

I carefully ease the springs out, put them in a Ziploc bag, and pull off the face plate. The inside of the clutch is sticky with oil. Isn't the Sprint clutch supposed to be dry? I leave a message for Pro Italia. Leslie calls me back. Yes, the clutch is supposed to be dry, and the seal between the clutch and the primary case has apparently let go. He has seals and O-rings (again, thanks to the Aermacchi Classic Racing Team) but first I have to get the clutch basket out, which may require more Special Tools. Yet another hurdle, but I will get through it. Where is that cherub when I need her?

*Excellent mystery story from the 1930s, which starts with a road race between a Norton and a Scott Flying Squirrel.

The Aermacchi Project, Part 5: Fear of Plating

Left side of the engine
The cylinder head is on!

This is the fifth installment of a series detailing Margie Siegal's restoration of a 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. Start at the beginning with Part 1.

When motorcycles were invented in the 1890s, the manufacturers nickel plated some parts. Chrome plating came in the early 1930s. At some point during this journey, motorcyclists started taking parts of their bikes to plating shops to fix or upgrade the shiny stuff. Shortly afterwards, motorcyclists started trading plating shop horror stories.

Most people who repair or own old bikes have heard these stories. The plating shop that lost original, irreplaceable 75-year-old parts worth a few zillion dollars and tried to pretend they had never taken them in in the first place. The plating shop that buffed out the logo stamped on the parts — important to verify authenticity. The plating shop that estimated turnaround time as three weeks that somehow stretched into three months and then wanted triple the estimate.

Right side of the engine
Right side, showing the teeny tiny cutouts around the cylinder head bolts.

The exhaust system that came with the Sprint I am restoring was pretty crusty and the shorty mufflers were not only not stock and loud, but also ugly. I was lucky enough to locate a decent stock 1-into-2 exhaust and two stock mufflers (Thanks, Brad, and best of luck racing this year!) but they weren't perfect and needed a rechrome.

Scared by all the stories, I started asking around. Most people who restore bikes have a favorite chrome shop that they may or may not share the name of, like society ladies who go to a special hairdresser. Luckily, one of the guys in the Norton Club has a good connection with a chrome shop and was going to send some of his own parts out, so we combined the order. When my exhaust system comes back, I will let you know how it went. I am not disclosing the name of the shop until then. Don't tell anyone, this is just between us.

Famous last words: “Just bolt it together.” I successfully cleaned up the rusty bolt that had held the head onto the engine, got the head back from the machine shop, put the rocker boxes together and was finally ready to put the head assembly back on the motor. Friends said, “Great — just bolt it together.” First, there was this little problem of positioning the pushrods. I read the instructions. The service manual helpfully explained that the pushrods go up the tunnel on the right side of the head, the inside one is the intake rod, and I should leave enough space between the head and the barrel for a pair of needle nose pliers so I could position the pushrods in the little cups at the bottom end of the valve adjusters before pushing the head all the way back on the head bolts.

Rusty bolt
After photo, head bolt cleaned up nice!

I tried. I really did. Getting the pushrods positioned with pliers was just not going to work. I gave up after an hour, fantasized serious injury to the jerk who wrote the service manual, and started emailing for help. Several people suggested I make a little thingamajig with wire. I couldn’t immediately find the right kind of wire, but I did find some stiff cord. I cut two pieces a foot and a half long, looped them around the pushrods and started carefully moving the rods with the cord. A long, thin screwdriver helped with pushrod herding. Those rods did NOT want to go where they were supposed to go, but I finally convinced both of them to get in there.

Corralling the pushrods and making them get into the adjusters took work. They did not want to get in there!

Pushrods in place, I got out my torque wrench and started in on the head bolts. I found that if I took the rocker box end caps off, I could get a 17mm socket on the left side bolts. The right side bolts are in these little caves and barely accessible with my ground down special wrench. I torqued the left side, guesstimated the right side and decided to quit while I was ahead.

The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

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