Sunday, July 1, 2018

Switching Gears - '64 BSA Lightning Rocket Restoration

The estate sale that delivered a Series II Interceptor on my 50th birthday also brought me a 1964 BSA Lightning Rocket and several lots of parts. What attracted me to the Lightning Rocket? If you have been reading my blog for a while you have found I have an affinity for BSA's which started in the early 80's. I'm not totally sure why. I just like them. Maybe its the styling which I find appealing, maybe its their mechanical design which I appreciate, or maybe its the BSA that was featured on Kolchak the Night stalker's "Chopper" episode in the mid 70's. Maybe you saw it? Anyway, the Lightning Rocket was the first Dual Carb A65 head and was the drag bike of its day or so the advertisements and bike magazines proclaim. Made the year I was born, unique styling, a bike with a history that will help make it competitive for shows, and something about it appealed to me. Luckily it went for a price I could afford and ended up in my workshop.

Absolutely terrifying to a 10 yr old kid. "Kolchak the Night Stalker's" headless BSA knight and sword. A bit Lightning Rocket, a bit Hornet, and a bit 70's moto-cross for the jump scenes. A complex set of bikes for a semi-dead guy to bring together.  

I have been pondering what to do with the Lightning Rocket since it came home with me. It is setup in touring guise with what appears to be a factory touring seat and grab rail. Not as stylish as the stock look but unique. I think I will lose them to start but restore both and put them on at a later time. BSA did a great job with its factory out of the box styling so lets not mess with it.

The Lightning Rocket as found straight from the shed where it spent many years.  

BSA's high performance model for '64. The lightning Rocket. 

Details that made the Lightning Rocket break speed records and just a great bike. 

As far as originality goes it has most of the parts it departed jolly old England with. The previous owner took it apart and repainted most of its bits at some point coating all of the hardware with gold paint. Why? The last title was from the late 70's. Maybe a disco induced bad decision?  I was not a big fan of disco and blame it for everything I can. As with the Interceptor the BSA came from the same small town I grew up in. I probably saw it running about in my early days. The trials rear tire bound with the fender which was probably its final downfall. After reviewing the the setup it appears adding a link to the chain would move the wheel back far enough to provide a fix, although that still leaves a few other problems to tackle.

All of the hardware painted gold....hey, it was the disco era...weird stuff happened. 

When it was purchased I checked all of the oils and they looked relatively good. The fuel tank was a bit rusty and the lines were not hooked to the taps. The coils were unhooked which told me there were electrical issues as well as the binding rear wheel problem. A spare dual lead coil was wired into the system, a battery added, and fuel was put into the lines. Three kicks later it was running although very rough. I did not detect any mechanical issues and suspect carbs and/or electrical systems caused rough running. I considered putting it on the road but decided not to do so as the shocks were locked up and the forks had lost all of their oil. Time to move to restoration mode.

The rear wheel pressed against the fender and the shocks completely locked up :(

The wiring had been converted from 6V to 12V and the necessary bits had been added. Another point to ponder, which system to put back on? My plan is to make this bike safe to venture out on longer distances. It will feature the best bits I have found in my past tinkering which should be easy to conceal with the large side panels. I will also use more powder coating this time around as I like its durability. The headlight bucket and rear number plate will be sprayed but all other bits will probably head to the powder coating source.

Not supposed to have one of these I think...

The tank is badly damaged and a well used duplicate was purchased at the Wauseon AMCA meet a couple of years ago. It has one small dent to remove, although it is in a bad spot.  Now that "the master of metal" Ross Thompson  has retired I am not sure where to go with tank repairs but will need to figure it out at some point.

A bit of an issue.....major dents...not sure who can fix them...research time.

Better yet....get a tank with no dents....this has one small area needing attention. 

The front fender is banged up pretty bad. I will try to fix it but will most likely get an original to replace it with. The rear number plate is Swiss cheese and a bit broken up to. The primary cover is cracked and missing its plug cover and screws. Overall needing a few bits but it's a pretty complete bike. 

The front fender has dents in bad places....a tough fix but possible. 

So now its time to start collecting missing bits, do a rough assembly, then take it apart for restoration. I rather like starting new projects and this is an exciting one I can't wait to get going on.

Parts manual doc build sheet what do I need???

Friday, June 22, 2018

Interceptor Build Reflection - Final Thoughts here is my final diatribe on the at your own risk.....OK there will be one more...."Upgrades for the Road".......but who's really keeping track anyway???

One of my early morning and blog post writing. 

I have been hooked on British motorcycles since my father's friend let me ride his 1973 Triumph Trophy Trail 500cc twin in 1980. I was not actually interested in riding it. He wanted to ride my Kawasaki 440 to see how it stacked up against his Triumph. Although he said kind words about my Kaw I came away enamored with his Triumph and British motorcycles. So much so that a short time later I wound up with a 1969 BSA Firebird Scrambler. It had been a dirt bike in its prime and needed total rebuilding which I did. Looking back it wasn't my finest work but it ran well and the bug was fully invested in me. Then onto a slew of British bikes over the years with a 1974 Norton Commando Roadster being my one constant bike. Kids off to college and time on my hands it was on to bike restorations. At this point it's leading into my retirement planning scheme. Let's find an Interceptor....

My first Britbike....A '69 BSA Firebird...

The '73 Trophy Trail. 

The Interceptor is a motorcycle I had longed to own for many years before the circumstances finaly lined up for its purchase in 2014. I first recall seeing one at a motorcycle rally in the early 80's. I had no idea how it rode but its unique design and rareness appealed to me. I especially liked the look of the engine and its unusual cylinder and gearbox arrangement. It just looked different and was something I wanted to ride. Great criteria for its pursuit.

One of several Interceptors I attempted to purchase over the years. 
It went for more than I was willing to spend.

Who wouldn't think this is a great looking bike?

The purchase of an Interceptor never seemed to work out. I couldn't get the money and availability to meet. In 2014, just shy of my 50th birthday, a friend alerted me to an estate sale in the area we grew up. The auction was offering a couple of dozen British motorcycles for sale. I immediately checked out the lots and signed up for the online auction. Although there were many bikes for sale; Triumphs back into the 50's, BSA's and Nortons, there were two Series II interceptors which caught my attention. Wow! I had rarely seen one for sale at a time over the years, but two at once?  I investigated the value, set my max bid, and entered into the fray.

Many lots of bikes and parts....

The SII I didn't bid on. Nice but partially restored and I was seeking an original condition bike. I could have saved a lot of money by starting with this one. 

The SII I took home...fresh from the sale & still wearing its auction tag. 

My goal was to purchase the SII or a 1964 BSA Lightning Rocket as I thought the SII would sell above my budget.  My wife and I sat down with our PC's and started bidding at the auction's end. To my surprise I won the SII and the BSA at prices much lower than expected. I also had my eye on a few lots of parts. I purchased boxes of BSA side panels, mufflers, and fuel systems parts. It turns out I should have bought the box of old gauges - rookie mistake.

Won these...needed them as the LR's panels were in this lot. 

The Interceptor I purchased was un-restored while the other Interceptor was 70% finished. They both went for the same price and both were missing fuel tanks which sold in a different lot. I attempted to purchase the tanks but quit bidding around $1800. This turned out to have been a decent price for the pair as they had been re-chromed. I hoped to meet up with the winning bidder at the pick up site to see if he would sell one but was not able to connect. I later found a Ross Thompson restored fuel tank on eBay and made it mine. It was not cheap.

Missed these...should have tried harder but I was already past my budget's limit. 

Upon taking ownership of the SII I found the title was from 1974 and owned by a childhood friends's father. I remember seeing him ride bikes around town and had probably watched my SII go by on many occasions. A small world or so they say.

The RE in the shed I pulled it from...truly a barn find. 

I started the Interceptor's restoration in 2015 following the completion of my BSA Hornet. In the past I have been guilty of starting several projects at once slowing down the progress of all. I have been working to correct this character flaw. Although my attention was focused primarily on the SII many things came up over the course of its restoration. My BSA & Norton riders needed work to keep them on the road, auto repairs, house repairs, and my job which is the biggest offender. I made progress slowly.

When I am not working on bikes I work in a Product Development Group that builds prototypes and show cars such as XiM18 shown here.

Sorting the wiring on my '70 BSA - a primary rider...another side track. 

The SII was a focus of many full days on the weekend but much of its work was done at 4 - 5:30 AM in the morning before heading off to work. I also tinkered on it a bit in the evenings but usually have other things that need my attention. I occasionally took a vacation day to focus on its progress.

The Interceptor sales much art as advertising.

Motorcycle restoration is an expensive prospect, at least the way I tackle it. The pace of a 3 year project fits my budget at the present time so it all worked out. I have found ways to reduce costs in future builds without compromising quality which should contribute to the escalation of my habit. At some point I also need to learn how to sell my completed projects......but I really like them all.....

Sorting points and timing at 5 AM. 

While there are not many RE experts in my area, help is not far away. Throughout the course of this exercise I have found numerous channels for input. The Yahoo "Royal Enfield Interceptor Group" was a great source of knowledge. Most times I would not need to ask for help and just combed the archives for what I needed. When I did have a question the members of the group were quick to share their knowledge with me. Thanks! The Royal Enfield Owners website was frequently searched, especially their online manual. Hitchcocks Motorcycles on line parts manuals and tech articles were very helpful too.

Two sources of help that provided a wealth of information. Check them out.

Parts for the RE were available from Burton Bike Bits and Hitchocks Motorcycles in England.There was not much I couldn't buy NOS or re-manufactured. Impressive. I collected lists of parts until large orders could be placed which minimized overall shipping expenses to the US.

I bought most of my parts from these two places. It's amazing what's available. Thanks!

One concerning thing is the crowd doing much of the work for our old machines is well past retirement age. One example is Ross Thompson who recently retired. He was the master of tank restorations in North America. I am not even sure where to go next. We must look to support and train the next generation or we will find ourselves without sources. A good reason to band together in specialized clubs (I have been in the INOA since 1989).

Ross was a real master of metal. We will miss him

Two good chrome plating sources were crossed off my list as they went under in the past couple of years. A third has gone under, been brought back under new ownership, and is struggling again since I started the RE build. Another source of concern for a process critical to restorations.

The Gilmore Antique Car Museum Vintage Motorcycle Show is the largest in Western Michigan. I have been attending and showing bikes at if for many years. I recently entered its master class and had success with my BSA Hornet. I was planning to enter the Interceptor at this show as well as the Battle of the Brits event in Eastern Michigan. These were motivators for doing a solid job on my restoration.

The SII finished second in the Masters class at the Gilmore Antique Motorcycle show. 
I'm happy to have fared so well against the fine bikes that were entered. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed restoring Royal Enfield's finest work. It is an interesting design that has provided many learning experiences. Dual cylinders and heads, Cross rings, an Albion gearbox with a neutral finder, and a plunger oil pump to name a few. While I am off to the 1964 Lightning Rocket restoration I am keeping my eyes open for another challenge. An RE of some variety would be welcomed. Anyone have a lead on one?  Thanks for reading my stories and for your comments throughout the past several years. On to he BSA Lightning Rocket!

The BSA Lightning Rocket at its auction pick up site. A great starting point for a restoration. Maintain its period touring guise or make it the "Rocket" that left the factory???

Monday, May 28, 2018

Interceptor - Lessons Learned

As much as I favor some British marques I don't want to focus on any particular one. I enjoy learning new things and experiencing new designs. After working on Norton's and BSA's for years, most recently completing the restoration of a BSA Hornet, the Interceptor provided a welcome change of pace. The Royal Enfield required the purchase of a few new tools and several more were made which is another part of restorations I like. Here are a few of the things I learned throughout this build.

A few of the things I purchased or made during the RE's restoration. Not all necessary but things used to improve the quality of my work. 

I am taking another swing at improving the Lucas electrical system by installing a battery unlike one I have used before. The one I purchased was made for security systems and is a small 5 amp hour unit. It's only purpose is to provide spark for starting the bike and steady power to keep the lights from flickering at low RPM's. Let's see how it holds up. At $14 USD it's worth a shot. Other than the battery the electrics are as they left the factory in June of 1969. 
A 5 AH battery to aid starting and support the lights at idle. 

The Interceptor has a unique engine layout which I enjoyed becoming acquainted with. The wet sump dual pressure oil system was interesting but I found the plunger pump a bit out of place for a bike in its day. The inclusion of a self-destructing oil seal on the timing side was an oversight by the designer but there are many ideas on how to remedy this shortcoming. I developed a hybrid of my own based on other's efforts dubbed the KTR2 (Keeping The Rockers Rolling) modification. I think it will keep the threatening seal grinder at bay.

A pic of the KTR2 oil seal modification.

The engine is a stressed member of the frame on the Interceptor which made engine installation for one person a snap. Dual cylinders featuring heads not tied together aid cooling but made a weaker engine assembly which resulted in cylinder wear issues. My bores were worn .010 side to side which I assume was from cylinder movement. These issues were remedied with straps which tied the top end together and should greatly strengthen the unit. While we're at the top end what about those cross rings? I can't say I have run into anything like them before but when assembled the compression was good. They are still in use today for high pressure applications. We shall see how they hold up.

The Interceptor's Cross ring head sealing setup. 

Strapping the heads and cylinders together to strengthen the assembly. 

Engine installation was aided by the lack of lower frame rails. 

The transmission was a bit of an adventure as well. A robust structure based a lathe gearbox so I have read. Don Morley provided a great rebuild tutorial in his four part series which I followed closely.  The Albion provided challenges such as case screws that were stuck, oil throw washer orientation,  and figuring out the neutral finder assembly. I leaned on the Yahoo Interceptor group to help me sort all of this out. Thanks for all of the help guys!

Breaking down the Albion.

After the power unit was mounted I rotated the back wheel and the Albion went through the gears well so I thought everything was good. Under power it was a different story. Although it shifted through the gears it was difficult to find 2nd from 1st and downshifting was not consistent. I pondered it for a while and decided to see what the issue was. Anxious to dig in I undertook the task early one morning before work. 

The plunger's adjustment was my first suspect. I started by turning it out and the situation deteriorated. I ended up with it in a turn or two from where I initially started. Shifting seems to be improved. It is an odd feeling gearbox and I think part of the problem is getting used to it, shifting at the proper RPM, etc. Maybe it's what's referred to as the bike's "character", although more adjustments may be needed to the Albion. I will put a few more miles on it this summer and see. I think there may be a few more lessons to learn here....

A 4 AM transmission intervention......

When it was removed to adjust the plunger an outer cover screw on the transmission pulled its threads. This was not a surprise as they had all come out quite hard.  A method to repair the situation had to be devised as I did not want to pull the inner cover to install a Heli-Coil. The original screws only engaged half of the threads in the hole. I ran in a bottom tap to deepen the thread depth and made a longer bolt to engage undamaged threads. I could not find a cheese head bolt 1/4 of an inch longer than the factory one so I converted hex head bolts to cheese heads. This worked well and I made a pair of them to replace both screws in the front of the case. They will be sent to the Cadmium plater with my next batch of hardware. 

The starting point and the target....

Heads turned down and formed to "cheese" dimensions....collar spacers made...

Putting in the slot on a Bridgeport. I'm proud to say I didn't even break a cutter...

Not to the Cad plater....

Lessons learned for basic processes were also prevalent on this build. I like to think of them as refinements and I can never figure out why I didn't come up with them sooner. One such refinement was my Cadmium plating preparation. Removing old Cadmium and zinc with white vinegar before bead blasting provided great results. I am told pickling vinegar has four times more acid than white vinegar. I'm not sure I need that but it may be something to try next time. I also learned that plastic parts are not affected by the Cadmium process. I was able to re-plate nyloc carb nuts which I hesitated to do on my previous build. Good to know.

Cadmium plated parts being sorted.

The Interceptor build went pretty well and I did not encounter many setbacks. I had a few hiccups sorting out work from different chrome plating shops, I found voids in engine castings when they were polished to remove dings, and had adhesion problems with some of my painted parts. The clutch had a bolt come loose and hit the inside of the primary at some point in its life creating a bit of wobble in its assembly. Maybe the gearbox main shaft is a bit out of true? Although it is not to bad it may be part of my clunky shifting and may need to be addressed in the future. Even with the wee wobble the clutch seems to work fine. As previously mentioned the rims were bent a bit with one needing replacement. Other than that things went pretty much as planned.

Photos of  the fine work done by Atlas Plating in Houston, Texas. They were flooded out by a hurricane when I needed them for a second batch of parts.  

Lacing the front wheel. 

What other basic things did I learn? Walnut blasting pressure must be regulated to prevent dings in aluminum and soda blasting has a threshold over which it starts removing base material. I hit this somewhere around 80 PSI and stayed below this most of the time. I discovered vapor blasting via internet research and am eager to give it a whirl for my next build as the results look fantastic. Another learning opportunity was to put wheels on a stand and indicate them before disassembly. This is an easy way to know if the rims are worth re-chroming. I found them hard to measure accurately once they were off the hubs. I used a spoke torque wrench on this build although I don't think it's necessary for someone who has built a lot of wheels. It added consistency to my process as I am a relative newbie at this task.

Truing the rear wheel after chrome plating. I will check them before disassembly next time.

My frame and parts have been sprayed as I like the quality of finish it provides. After having adhesion problems with several parts I took them to a local powder coating shop. The results were excellent for parts that were not flat. Flat parts looked wavy which I did not like. I will incorporate more powder coating into my next project which will increase durability of the finish for road use and reduce expenses.

Powder coating looked great on curved surfaces such as the skid plate although not so good on items with larger flat areas such as the rear number plate. It's definitely a tougher finish.

The black phosphate coating I used for fasteners was not spot on and I will investigate a different process for future builds. It looks good and should hold up well but it's not an exact match. Maybe black Cadmium or hot gun bluing will look better. I have used cold bluing and have not been satisfied with the results of the kits I have tried. I have more research to do in this area.

Black phosphate looks good but has a rougher finish than the original hardware. 

Lastly lets not forget the front fender. That riveted brace sure looks good but is intimidating to the guy who needs to disassemble it, get parts plated, and then rivet it back together. It was a bit nerve racking trying to hand hammer the brace and fender rivets without putting unwanted dents into my freshly finished parts. Forming the rivet heads to match the curve of the fender was also a bit of a struggle. It all came out well which was a relief. Once again my lovely red headed assistant was a trooper and lent a hand. For such a small feature on the bike it was one of my more satisfying projects. 

The riveted front fender was a challenge I rather liked accomplishing. Unless a person has done one they probably won't pay any attention to it.

So what gets replaced during a total restoration? All of this a probably a bit more....It seems like there should be more from the amount of time and money I spent ....

A couple of non-related adventures also came up during the course of this build. My riders, a 1970 BSA Lighting and a 1974 Norton Commando, also needed attention. After owning and servicing them for many years I was not expecting any learning experiences. I was wrong with both bikes. The BSA had significant electrical issues while I fought oil leaks and a stuck rear axle on the Norton when I went to change the tire which was last swapped in 1990. Both are fixed, I know much more about British motorcycles, and we are happily running up miles together.

Now this was a major sidetrack. The BSA's 47 year old wiring and electrics started to fall apart and needed a significant intervention.  Let's tear everything off and start over. 

What I thought was an easy Saturday morning project was not. A rusted axle with abrading between the drum and spacer required a puller to get it out.  I also fought major oil leaks from the head which were mostly remedied by a modern oil breather setup. There is still enough oil dripping to maintain its "Authentic" Norton appearance. 

Although I would like to adventure into a bike that is more of a learning experience, my next project will be a 1964 BSA Lightning Rocket. It's a unique bike and BSA's first dual head design with more than a few quirky features; six volt wiring, funky side panels, odd switching, and engine internals a bit different than my later BSA's. It will provide its own unique challenges and I will try improvements not performed on my other bikes such as crank balancing and the timing side needle roller bearing conversion. My last rolling basket case is being started so it's time to find one for the queue......hopefully a Velocette, Triumph, Matchless, or Royal Enfield variation, although there are many others worthy of  consideration. It's time to comb the bike shows and craigslist for my next project.

A new learning experience on the Lightning Rocket I can't wait to dig into although I am not overly optimistic about my odds of success. Tank dent removal.....lets give it a whirl!

The Hornet is being shown in road going guise this season and recently won first in the British over 500cc class at the AMCA's Centreville, Michigan show.  A nice show....check out the pics......