1919 Excelsior #001
Excelsior #001 (pictured above) was purchased by P. Gagan in July ’07. Gagan got a very special price, probably because he committed very early on, and because I didn’t know the true cost at that time. When he saw me designing the cylinder heads was when “he knew I could do it”. Sorry, I’m embarrased to tell you how much he paid.
Anyhow, we loaded Excelsior #001 into his van and headed to Davenport for the Antique Motorcycle Swap Meet. I thought we were just taking the bike to show people and including the occasional startup, but Gagan had other ideas. He’d been talking to Larry Barnes, an experienced flat-tracker, and Larry was keen to have a ride on the track and enter the Friday night board-tracker races! I didn’t like the idea. It’s one thing to assemble a bike for show, and something entirely different to setup a bike for the track.
With borrowed tools I did my best to be a factory mechanic. Larry got on the track, and three of us pushed him to get the motor started. Remember: direct drive, no clutch. The Excelsior did run, rather slowly. We discovered it was only running on one cylinder. Gagan had really wanted to use these superbly old Splitdorf racing plugs, and one of them insisted on fouling. I put in more modern plugs, and even though the “reach” was much shorter, they seemed to work fine.
However, Larry still couldn’t go fast, even with more power, because of the engine vibration. His glasses would rattle around inside his helmet, and he had a hard time seeing. I would learn to balance the motor in the months to come. I loctited a LOT of nuts and bolts at the track.
Larry still wanted to race, though (he really is a TRUE racer!). We pushed him to start the race, but it was not to be, as the engine sprocket came loose on the shaft. If it had happened earlier, we could have torqued it back down, but the race was on and there was no time.
Here is Excelsior #001 in the pits at Davenport. We put some padding on the top of the tank, and that’s what the duct tape is holding down. I started making Schebler carbs later, and this carb is one Gagan provided. Until I copied it, I didn’t realize how worn out it really was! It still worked, though.
Here’s Larry doing some laps in the afternoon sunshine.