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Frankenstein my Friend

(Travels with Guido series #329, Oct 2020 )

by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen

Harley Brough

Who says Frankenstein is dead?

Did you ever get an unreasonable urge to build your own monster? What I’m on about is building a hybrid of who knows what unholy marriage between engine and chassis, that were never intended for each other.

There’s a proud history of it in motorcycling and, at the moment, I don’t there’s enough of it going on. There’s nevertheless some hope. I was talking to Mick the mechanic this morning, and he was getting all excited about the prospect of getting a Yamaha SZR660, pulling out the motor (because he loves the idea of a big electric-start single) and shoving it into his own frame – probably something that used to have ‘Norton’ written on it. Add a freshly-made set of big drum brakes in some wire wheels, and voila, a modernish café racer.

It’s a great idea and I can’t wait to see how it progresses. Of course it would be churlish to mention the complete and original SZR660 is/was a very, very capable scratcher and chances are you’d end up with something that was slower and less capable. That’s not the point. It would be fun and, hopefully, the end result would look a million dollars.

People have tried all sorts of things over the years. I remember some lunatic putting a Honda CB750-Four on extended suspension and knobby tyres and calling it an enduro bike. Courageous, and predating what we now call adventure tourers by a few decades. But it would have been the proverbial rhino on roller skates once you got it out into the scrub. Still, when it did go pineapple-shaped, you’d have no trouble finding the wreck – there would have been a big and wide path of destruction to follow.

Perhaps my all-time favourite was the aptly-named Barbarian. This wasn’t so long ago, and was a locally-made motorcycle (to use the term loosely) with a Chevrolet V8. Yep, not a new idea and there have been many attempts over the years. This version didn’t bother with a gearbox, but you did have two clutch levers – a hand lever in the usual place, plus a foot lever to assist. Unusual and surprisingly effective.

I actually spent the best part of a day on the device, eventually getting comfortable (or dumb – it’s a fine line) enough to have the thing scraping and bouncing through corners for the photographer. The builder was delighted, as he wanted to see people hammering his creation. It was fun but utterly ridiculous.

Car engines in bike frames have been a common theme across the years. I’ve ridden a BMW twin with a Volkswagen engine transplant, plus a Subaru-powered thing the frame of which seemed to be mostly constructed of a scrapped paddock gate.

Then you get geniuses like Friedel Munch and his Mammut (Mammoth) motorcycles of the sixties and seventies, using NSU car powerplants. Those things turned ugly into an art form and remain very high on my must-have list.

My new favourite is the machine you see here. It was at a recent car show in Melbourne and I did a bit of a double-take because Brough Superiors are pretty thin on the ground anywhere on the planet, and particularly on this side of the globe. Ah, hang on, that’s a Harley-Davidson Shovel engine. Cute. But come on folks, where’s your sense of humour? It says ‘H-D Brough’ on the tank – I would have gone for ‘Brough Inferior’. (Oh dear, I guess that means I’m off the builder’s Christmas card list.)

Jokes aside, it was a fantastic-looking device and I was a little jealous. Thirties style with something resembling modern reliability (though Shovels weren’t great on that score) has a lot of appeal.

Righto, it’s time to pull out the angle grinder, the welder, and the credit card. A quick trip to the local wreckers should be enough inspiration. After all, how hard can it be?

(See more Travels with Guido here.)


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