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Born Of Speed

Born Of Speed

Born Of Speed

A Late '50s Drag Bike Has Sentimental Value.


Words Chris Nelson Images Jenny Linquist


 

The people we admire and emulate are often as imperfect as we are. Everyone is flawed by their humanity, and our mentors and role models should inspire us how to be — and how not to be. Kevin Busch built Zeus in memory of his childhood hero, his grandfather, but he knew the man well enough to appreciate both his gifts and his faults.

Kevin’s grandfather, Jack Williams, owned Syndicate Scuderia, a speed shop in Langley, British Columbia. Jack started wrenching in 1947 at the age of 16, and soon everyone in town knew him for doing impeccable bodywork and for being mechanically perfect. After building Vancouver’s first hot rod — a three-window ’34 Ford coupe with a flathead V8 — Jack became a fixture in the local car scene, and in the early ‘60s he became an international hot rod legend when he debuted the Scuderia front-engine slingshot dragster. It had a blown, 404-cubic-inch Hemi, a shapely, metal-flake blue aluminum body, and a blue-tinted Lexan canopy over the driver capsule, which sat above the rear axle; it’s remembered as one of the most beautiful dragsters ever built. The streamliner made its first pass in 1963 at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California, where Jack ran the quarter-mile in 8.83 seconds at 169 mph.

 

Kevin remembers visiting the Syndicate Scuderia shop throughout his childhood, but he doesn’t talk about the hot rods or dragsters, but rather the bare BSA frame that used to be the old man’s drag bike. Jack had stretched the plunger-style frame six inches and welded on a hardtail, then cut three inches out of the forks and drilled holes in the tubes to shave weight. When the bike ran, it had a 500cc JAP (John Alfred Prestwich) Type 6 single-cylinder engine that burned alcohol and had a huge domed piston that could handle the 15:1 compression ratio. Jack didn’t install brakes, because brakes cause friction and drag, and he wanted all the speed he could get; fortunately, he often raced at decommissioned World War II runways and when he crossed the quarter-mile mark in 11 seconds at 120 mph, he had plenty of run-off to coast to a stop.    

 

When dragsters became Jack’s fix for speed, he parted out the bike and shoved the gutted frame into a corner of the shop. In the ‘80s, when little Kevin visited grandpa’s shop, he’d saddle himself on the forgotten frame, tuck behind its low handlebars, and make motorcycle noises until Jack yelled, “Get off that thing before you hurt yourself!” Kevin had no idea how the complete drag bike looked until he was a teenager, when Jack shared with him a few black-and-white photos, which is when Kevin first had the idea to rebuild and restore his grandfather’s drag bike. 

Jack didn’t install brakes, because brakes cause friction and drag, and he wanted all the speed he could get.

He chewed on the idea for decades, but it was never the right time, and then Jack passed away in 2014 and his belongings were sold off with his estate. Kevin didn’t have the money to buy the drag bike, so all he could do was tell the new owner that it had sentimental value and that he’d appreciate a phone call if he ever decided to sell. A year later, the guy called and admitted he didn’t have the time or skill to bring the bike back to its former glory, so Kevin scrounged up the cash to buy a bare frame, a couple of crusty wheels, and the forks his grandfather had drilled into.

 

While Kevin had never built or restored a motorcycle, he’d followed in Jack’s shadow and spent weekends underneath hot rods or his ’68 Pontiac Beaumont, and after 22 years of working at the same steel company, he flowered into a damn fine welder and fabricator. Kevin cleaned out space in his home garage, used a magnifying glass to study three vintage photos of the complete bike in order to compile a parts list, and started a build that took four years to (almost) finish. 

 

Jack would have liked that Kevin made the seat, primary cover, chain guard, and linkage out of lightweight aluminum, but not that Kevin installed a BSA drum brake in the rear wheel. Kevin couldn’t find an exceedingly rare JAP Type 6 engine and settled for a Type 4B from a speedway bike, but he did manage to source the original BSA SC four-speed transmission. He also found period-correct tires — a front Avon and a four-inch Dunlop racing slick — and installed a brass Amal carburetor from the late ‘40s, although it’s not the Amal methanol carburetor he needs to start Zeus. He says it's a precaution, because if he runs the wrong timing or incorrect fuel mixture in the high-compression single, the valves will bend or he’ll burn the piston. When he buys the correct carb and has the BTH magneto re-wound and tested for adequate spark, then maybe he’ll bring the God of Thunder to life. Or maybe he’ll get distracted by one of his other motorcycle projects.

On the heels of his second vintage drag bike build — a 1955 Triumph with a 500cc twin that he named Born Again — Kevin bought a torn-apart, peanut-tank ‘61 Triumph T120C Bonneville for his first street-legal motorcycle build. His wife gives him flack for not finishing Zeus before focusing on other projects, but she loves Kevin and supports his new obsession, as do his 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old twins. Kevin says he wants to develop his skills to be a quarter as good as Jack was, but he doesn’t want to be selfish with his time or neglect his family by spending too many long nights at his workbench. Kevin remembers Jack as a working man “dedicated to something other than his family,” and appreciates that he isn’t like that, and that being a father and husband comes first.

 

More than 60 years after his famous grandfather let vultures pick apart his drag bike, Kevin has pieced it back together and given it a name. When he takes Zeus to shows, Kevin rarely leaves the bike’s side, telling stories of Jack Williams, the man who first built the bike, who Kevin loved and looked up to and hoped to impress. “He was kind of a stubborn guy, a man of few words who didn’t give out a lot of credit,” Kevin recalls. “I know if he saw this drag bike all back together, he would be like, ‘It looks good, but I would’ve done it a little different.’ It’s kind of funny that way.”


Year/Make/Model: 1953 JAP drag bike  Fabrication/Assembly: Kevin Busch Build time: Four years Engine: 500cc JAP Type 4B speedway engine w/15:1 compression  Exhaust: Custom, 2-inch, thin-wall tubing Air filter: None Transmission: 4-speed BSA A7/A10 SC  Frame: 1953 BSA hardtail, stretched six inches and lowered 2.5 inches Forks: Early '50s BSA forks, drilled and cut down 3 inches Shocks: None Front/Rear Tire: Late '50s Avon Speedmaster racing tire/late '50s, 4-inch Dunlop Speed Universal slick Fuel Tanks: 4-cup custom, fabricated from 14-gauge mild steel Handlebars: Custom clip-ons Hand Controls: Amal Handgrips: Amal  Headlight: None Taillight: None Auxiliary lighting: None Seat: Custom, black leather Electrical: BTH magneto  Paint: Satin black Graphics: Doc James

This article was originally featured in Issue 037 of Iron & Air Magazine.


 

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