Production Specials Part I

Improving the breed

Starting with competitive racing then trickling down to the enthusiast sector, the practice of combining selective parts for optimum performance came into existence shortly after the motor vehicle itself. No doubt starting with the automobile then spreading out, it only stands to reason that drivers and riders alike would assemble the best available parts for the best possible results. History clearly shows the Triumph/Norton marriage produced the Triton, which follows (or predates, depending on who you talk with) Fritz Egli's Vincent racing frame. The why established, the next logical question asks who, when and where it has taken us.

Unless someone can prove otherwise, the aforementioned Egli is the patriarchal production specialist. Finding the stock Vincent frame lacking and no better component available, Egli designed and made his own. Built solely for road work with or without a passenger, the iconic Vincent twin was not only the industry's best, but an engine with far more potential than the chassis that held it. So while the talent and success of the Swiss tuner and his Egli-Vincent cannot be overlooked, Egli was, in part, a fortunate benefactor of Phil Irving's timely magic.

The heavy, powerful Vincent twin was the exception, not the rule. Comprised mainly of lightweight singles and twins of various layout, the motorcycles produced in Europe and the UK were slim and agile; built for the compact, twisting streets and roads that dominate the continent. That said, it's interesting  to note that the first Rickman street frames were regarded as a considerable upgrade for the Triumph and Royal Enfield parallel twin. By contrast, the motorcycles roaming across North America's wide open spaces were axle-to-axle heavyweights with large, heavy engines. It was for this market that Honda aimed the CB 750 Four, as did the other Japanese builders upon joining the four-stroke revolution. Rocking the industry with affordable, oil-tight operation with reliable power, Japan's initial wave of big-bore motorcycles displayed the same top-heavy engineering Fritz Egli found in the Vincent twin.

Using the world's race tracks as a testbed for producing street-able sports machines, the wave of specialty builders that followed aimed to restore balance by infusing a measure of European handling. It took the Japanese factories nearly three decades before they could mass produce anything coming near the levels of balanced performance offered by the production specialist. Part One of this series features two of these remarkable motorcycles.

McIntosh Racing BR1
Built in the early 1980s to commemorate victories at the legendary Bathurst circuit in Australia, race watchers in the area remember the rapid Suzuki being the only four stroke capable of running (or outgunning) with the Works RG500s and TZ750s of the era. Designed and fabricated by New Zelander Ken McIntosh, the Bathurst Replica should be considered a 'second generation' production special; a more serious, higher performance version in line with the Harris and uprated significantly from the first generation Rickman and Seeley specials. Simple and straightforward the McIntosh uses a perimeter tube space-frame (engine as a stressed member) and dual-shocks acting on a braced, square section swinging arm.

Introduced in 1976 for its new GS750 four stroke, an air-cooled,1000cc 8v Suzuki DOHC four powers the McIntosh BR1. Bored and stroked for the GS1000 in 1978, the Suzuki was the finest Japanese engine in the early 80s, placing at or near the top in most comparisons. Extremely well engineered and durable, Suzuki worked wonders with cylinder head technology, perhaps a carry-over talent from making rotary engines and an exceptional line of two-stroke street bikes. A favorite among hot rodders, tuned examples produced as much as 500-hp on racing fuel. Why, you may ask, did kit builders use other engines if the Suzuki was superior? Simple. Honda and Kawasaki sold far more motorcycles than Suzuki. The engine in our feature bike has been modified using Wiseco pistons, Keihin FCR37 carbs and a custom 4-into-1 exhaust. No exacting specifications are available as each machine was either built to order by McIntosh himself, or assembled by the owner after purchasing the kits. Later examples (code BR2) differed and were fitted with the 16v GS1100/Katana 1075cc four.

Remembered by area enthusiasts for its high quality, some reports recall the McIntosh kit was made available to designated dealers in Australia, such as Mick Hone Motorcycles in Melbourne. Included was the frame, alloy tank, a braced, superbike-spec swingarm, triple clamps, shocks, the fairing & screen, a front mudguard and the padded seat unit. The upper yoke is of particular interest; a beautiful casting with the builder's name in raised lettering. The donor Suzuki gave up its engine, wiring harness, front forks, brakes and clocks. The rims also needed to be purchased unless the owner retained the OEM Suzuki parts. The 18” wheels on our feature bike (offered on eBay from a seller in Japan) bear a striking resemblance to Magni/EPMs, but many owners laced wider, lightweight spoke rims to standard Suzuki hubs.

Not much larger than a current 600, the McIntosh BR1 nears the limit of what can be done with the heavy Suzuki four-stroke. McIntosh's ridged, tube perimeter frame is the key here, minimizing the steering stem to swing arm distance and locating the engine precisely to allow optimum cornering clearance while lowering the center of gravity. A fine motorcycle in showroom form, the McIntosh BR1 surpasses the performance of the stock GS1000 with race bred engineering and a substantial bump in overall quality. Although rare and valuable, it would be a challenge to resist showing The BR1's taillight to the uneducated enthusiast.

Stay tuned, as McIntosh (now busy as a Norton Manx specialist) has promised more information on his Suzuki-powered specials and yet more insight into the world of vintage racing. Until then, read more about him at: http://www.manxnorton.co.nz/

Harris Magnum 1b: One owner's story
More recognizable than the rare McIntosh but not as popular as Rickman or Seeley, the Harris name appeared on motorcycling's landscape in 1972; offering a myriad of performance products and providing engineering expertise to the biggest names in motorcycling. Based in Hertford, Harris was established by brothers Steve and Lester, who along with manager Stephen Bayford “designs, develops, manufactures and markets road and racing motorcycle chassis and components in the UK and exported worldwide.” Low, compact and sinister, the Harris Magnum certainly backs the company mantra that “racing improves the breed”.

Spotted on an obscure Facebook post, the pictures of our red and alloy feature bike are from the mid-80s. “I wish I could remember the details” said then-owner Jack Ferguson, who crashed the Harris shortly after purchasing it. “I first saw the bike years before; parked in the infield at an AMA race at Road Atlanta. I was into Kawasaki and visited with the owner. Years later a buddy of mine saw it listed for sale in Cycle News. I was looking to replace my KZ900, so I borrowed a pickup truck, bought it and brought it back to San Antonio”  Light years ahead of the standard Z1 in performance and specification, Harris' motivation for building frames mirrored the other production specialists. During the 1970s there were plenty of great engines and many fine handling frames, but finding those qualities in the same motorcycle was rare. “The previous owner told me it was the first street version of the Magnum that Harris built in house. The engine (a Z1 spec Kawasaki 903cc) was supposedly blueprinted by one of the top Euro builders in the south. But...” Ferguson remembers with a laugh, “He was actually was a tractor mechanic, No matter, because the the bike was hell for strong. He engraved his signature and the engine specs on the top right-hand cooling fin. It had Dymags, Lockheed discs, Brembo calipers, 29mm smooth-bores, and that beautiful Harris-built 4-into-1 exhaust.”

Rumor has it the Harris introduced the Magnum street kit in response to owners hanging a tag on the purpose-built endurance kit and according to my research, the Magnum 1 was not much more than the Harris endurance racer with the necessary attachments to make it street legal. Engineered to attach either the Kawasaki or Suzuki four stroke, standard spec included Marzocchi forks, Harris cast aluminum trees, adjustable clip-ons and magnesium wheels.  The perimeter space frame attaches in front, on top and under the transmission. Ultra-light and rigid, the frame features single and double-butted, manganese bronze welded chrome-moly tubing. A Harris-made monoshock swinging arm is connected out back and more in-house work produced the aluminum fuel cell and fly-paper-thin fiberglass bodywork.

Tangled in barbwire and broken fence posts, we're afforded a rare look at the Magnum's underpinnings. “I came into the corner hot and heavy” says Ferguson. “Looking back, I was in a bit over my head. The wreck put a dent in one top tube, a small dent in one of the tanks (it came with a larger, quick-fill alloy endurance tank and three sets of bodywork). The crash broke the front wheel and the exhaust too. Otherwise, the bike was not in bad shape. I ended up selling it to a guy in Georgia. Last I heard, it was being rebuilt somewhere in Florida.”

Contrary to some published reports, Harris continues to offer frame kits for both vintage and  modern, high performance engines. Even better, the Magnum frame is still available, ready to transplant the heart from that tired (or wrecked) air-cooled Kawasaki or Suzuki you've got stashed behind the shed. One visit to their website (http://www.harris-performance.com/) suggests Harris is a major aftermarket player. One look at the Harris Magnum proves it. Nolan Woodbury

Click here for the Production Specials gallery

Many thanks to Ken Mcintosh, Harris Performance, Jack Ferguson and all the posters at perthstreetbikes.com.

Production Specials Part II: Paul Dunstall. Winter 2011/12.