Before I had decided on an as-originally-built approach to restoring this BSA, I acquired some parts that I now don't plan to use on this machine. Specifically, I prefer the look of the alloy scrambler tank and the shorter "racing dualseat," both of which are used on the Gold star in the following advertisement, as well as the crossover high pipes introduced on Spitfires in 1959, but which were available as aftermarket accessories as early as 1957:
Factory brochure for the 1961 Competition Model Gold Star (also known as the All Sports).
Advertisement from February 1958 issue of Southern California Motorcycle News.
Because for the first few years after getting it I had intended to restore this machine to a period-correct "as-raced" (as opposed to "as-new") condition, I have a beautiful alloy tank, a new short seat, and a set of factory high pipes sitting on the shelf. Also, the timing covers of these machines have blanked-off holes for a tachometer drive, and my Spitfire came to me with just such a drive attached to it, so I also have a Smiths RC83 chronometric tachometer waiting on the shelf:
Finally, during the 1990s I picked up one of the rare dual-carburetor A10 heads. This would be a period-correct upgrade for the Spitfire since they were used on earlier A10s and since BSA lists it in a speed equipment catalog. At $123.94 including the necessary manifolds, it was an expensive performance item at the time:
BSA Accessory and Speed Equipment Catalog, 1960.
BSA (East) Bulletin. February 25, 1964.
If I did use this head, a pair of TT carburetors would be an appropriate complement given that they are listed as approved speed equipment for the Spitfire in a 1957 Hap Alzina bulletin:
I already have a 1-3/16" AMAL TT so only would need one more (at the trifling cost of ~$400 they are selling for these days). For what it's worth, the TT that I have is mounted on a BSA C11 engine that has been decorating my office for the past 25 years:
While I acquired these "period-correct" pieces in the 1990s, my intention for over a decade has been to restore the machine to a condition that is as original as possible. However, even if I did use these "incorrect" parts (which I won't) they could be easily swapped for the proper ones in only an hour or two (although swapping heads might take a bit longer).
MM, I admire this very well documented restoration, and attention for details.
In particular the frame/headstock repair is a first class job. When I saw your first pics of the frame, I simply could not imagine that there could be the remotest chance of success, but I was wrong, and it proves (again) that almost anything can be achieved by dedication and competent craftsmen.
I look forward to watching your progress.
Peter. 1974 Commando 850 1972 Trident T150T 1961 Goldie DBD34 1969 Benelli 250 sport special
In particular the frame/headstock repair is a first class job.
Thank you for the kind words in your post. Indeed, almost anything is possible with the right tools and expertise. In this case I was lucky my friend possessed both when I needed that frame brought back from the dead 20 years ago.
This section seems to get at least a couple of REALLY good ongoing build threads every year; this is another one of those.
Thanks very much for the comment. It's nice to know the effort is appreciated. I was traveling this past week but should have the next installment uploaded later today (although it will be a bit of a digression from actual welding and bolting).
I wrote in my first post in this thread that I will "… describe an approach to restoring a motorcycle that not everyone will want to copy." Although the "as-original" approach to the restoration that is documented in previous posts is basically what I was referring to, it goes deeper than that.
Museum Quality Restoration
When the term "museum quality restoration" is used to describe a motorcycle it's usually to try to make it sound better than it probably is. But, what do actual museums do when restoring something for their collections? Not that I'm in any way equating my BSA Spitfire to a priceless work of art, but my approach to this motorcycle has more in common with how an art museum's conservation lab approaches a restoration than with how a motorcycle shop does. Before getting to that, the 9 August 2013 issue of The New York Times has an article about restoring the world's first Duesenberg:
Three years and some 10,000 hours of intensive restoration work later … At what must be that shop's labor rates, this restoration would have cost at least $1 million. Describing the work the article says:
Typical of the era, the Castle coupe … was produced as a running chassis without a body. … The coupe’s aluminum-skin body used an ash frame. ... "Today, the whole restoration philosophy is about preserving as much original content as possible," he said. "From Day 1, that was our objective." … took apart the frame, removing hundreds of tacks and nails and replacing rotted sections with new wood. For strength, the structure was infused with epoxy.
Everything is fine up to the last sentence. However, any museum conservator would wince when reading that they infused the original wood with epoxy since it will be impossible to reverse that action when the epoxy starts decomposing as well as attacking the cellulose in the wood. Epoxies are especially problematic because their final properties depend on both the mixing of the components as well as the details of the curing. No matter what, the final epoxy compounds are not incredibly stable on long time scales. "Preserving as much original content as possible" on any restoration is an admirable goal, but it also needs to be done using materials and techniques that do not seed the slow destruction of that original content. The article continues:
"Our job was to deliver the car as new." … The four known photographs of the car in its original condition were taped above his workbench. … devoted hours to research… Ignoring the obvious, that when "as new" the Duesenberg factory did not use epoxy-impregnated wood in its construction, reference to two paintings will show how art museums deal with objects that require restoration and about which not everything is known.
Hans Holbein the Younger was one of the most significant artists of his period (early 1500s), and his "French Ambassadors" was one of the most significant paintings of its time because it was the first example of the appearance of an anamorphic feature. This feature is the angled "blur" across the bottom of the painting, shown below in its unrestored form in the early 1990s.
If that blur is viewed at a grazing angle it looks like the following, which shows that the feature is a skull:
However, as can be seen, a significant amount of paint in the central portion of the skull's face was missing at the time. In order to restore this painting, the first task of a museum's conservation department was to determine as best as they could where new paint needed to be applied to reproduce as accurately as possible the painting as it originally was when it left the artist's studio (despite, obviously, not having a photograph showing what it looked like in 1532), and next to use materials and techniques that later could be reversed without damaging the original in any way at all if new information becomes available that indicated their original restoration decisions were in error.
An analogous decision in the case of a motorcycle would be not to polish the engine cases to a mirror finish since the sand casting marks could not be put back on again later. In the case of the painting the restorers were working on a truly priceless work of art in the National Gallery of England so they not only approached this restoration in the most thorough manner possible, they also documented all of their decisions and restoration work so that later scholars acting in light of new information can see where they might have made mistakes in order to correct them. This painting was restored in the 1990s and the museum published a detailed book in 1997 documenting everything about the painting and restoration process.
The bottom of the next composite shows a painting in the Louvre as it appears in the infrared. This "IR reflectogram" reveals the extent of the restorers' work since the paints they used have different IR optical properties than do the original pigments. In this case the painting is of considerable interest because it is by someone who was one of the most important of his time (Sassetta), but it was too damaged to exhibit in as-found condition. As can be seen, no detail even remained of the staircase so that feature had to be entirely reconstructed using the best judgment of the restorers based on their knowledge of the painter's style and practices. This example is analogous to the case of restoring a motorcycle as accurately as possible when its condition is too poor or incomplete to leave it as-found and at the same time there is very little information about its configuration when new. That is, like the motorcycle delivered to me in a box in the first post of this thread.
Whether any motorcycle merits it or not, the approach I've taken with this 1957 BSA Spitfire would be familiar to an art museum conservation expert. This wasn't what I had in mind when I started, but two significant involvements with the museum and art worlds beginning in the late 1990s heavily influenced my plans. As a result, my goal has not been to "restore" it to a shiny, powder coated, highly polished condition with upgraded aftermarket parts to create what many motorcyclists refer to as "museum quality," or as others state without any foundation to their claim is "how the factory would have made it if producing the machine today." Rather, it is to have a motorcycle that is as close as possible to how it was when it left the factory. In other words, to restore it in a way that conservators in a museum would recognize as an appropriate way to have proceeded.
As examples of the consequences of this approach, pre-painted Gold Star tanks complete with badges and fuel caps are available from India for less than $600 delivered. Even if those tanks were reasonably made, properly chromed, painted well and fit without problem, and even though the tank I am having refurbished right now will cost at least twice that by the time it is ready to install, a "museum quality" approach dictates spending the additional money. Although use of various perfectly reasonable aftermarket parts could save me many hours of work restoring original BSA parts, I have avoided using such aftermarket parts to the extent possible and instead have been putting in the necessary many hours of work.
Different disciplines vary somewhat in their standards and approaches, and even then any number of decisions have to be made by a restorer based on specific aspects of an object itself. So, in addition to painting and sculpture conservators at the Getty, Guggenheim, and Metropolitan art museums, over the years I've had opportunities to discuss my approach with restoration experts at the National Air and Space Museum, the Henry Ford Museum, the Science Museum in London, and others. I should add, though, that while approaching a motorcycle restoration this way might sound completely unwarranted, or unnecessarily complicated or time consuming, it's really not a tremendous amount of extra work. Extra money and work, certainly, but not tremendously much more so.
Finally, if this were my only motorcycle, or if there were a worldwide shortage of BSA A10s, restoring one in the way I am doing it that won't be ridden much might be an issue. Neither is the case, so it's not. Also, if in the distant future (far, far distant future, I hope) a subsequent owner decides to use it in off-road competitions they won't discover a "restoration" that is only skin deep like so many are since I will be doing a complete mechanical restoration as well. Still, when done, it is unlikely that I will ride it very much. For the street, lack of lighting means it can't be licensed, and for the dirt, my Honda XR650L is 50 lbs. lighter with the same h.p., much greater suspension travel and, um, well, an electric starter.
Thanks to input from Boomer and Gordo, earlier this summer I was able to identify an early A65 fuel tank I've had for years as having been stamped from the same dies as used for Clubman's Gold Star tanks. As a result, my dented tank is now spending the fall in Canada with Ross Thompson. After he is finished reconfiguring and restoring it he will send it to Brown's Plating in Kentucky and finally, after its tour of North America, many weeks and many, many dollars from now a perfect Gold Star tank for my Spitfire will be returned to me. Well, not quite perfect, since it still will have to be painted before it's ready for use on my Spitfire.
Sending Parts from the U.S. to Canada
In case you need to do it, sending parts for repair in Canada is fairly easy and not horrendously expensive if you use the US Post Office rather than UPS or FedEx. Basically, you have to set up an account on the USPS web site, which is very easy to do. Then elsewhere on the USPS site you enter the weight and dimensions of the package, at which point you will be given the option to ship it in 1-3 days for a lot of money (Global Express Guaranteed), or in 3-5 business days for about half that (Priority Mail Express International). I used the latter and my tank was delivered to Ross in Ontario on the 7th business day.
The USPS site leads you through all the steps, one of which is to enter the relevant shipping information. To avoid Customs duty it is essential to write something like "Antique motorcycle part to be repaired in Canada and then returned to U.S." Although the site makes it sounds like everything can be done on line, once you print the forms you will find you are missing the clear USPS envelope needed to hold the forms on the side of the box. Even if you had one of these envelopes, it looks to me like you still would need to take everything to the nearest post office for them to do a few more things to it. At least, that's what I did. However, having typed in all the forms on line not only saved me from having to write everything by hand once I got to the post office, possibly with mistakes, it also gave me a 10% discount on the shipping cost.
Office supply stores carry boxes in a wider range of sizes and of heavier construction than you can find at stores dealing with moving supplies (e.g. U-Haul). I double-boxed my tank and used plenty of packing material as well. The total weight ended up 14 lbs. and the cost to ship it to Canada was $65.
Another Appeal for Several Parts for this "Historic" Restoration
As mentioned several times in this thread, I've managed to collect nearly everything needed to restore this machine to the configuration it had when it was the very first one to roll off the assembly line in February 1957. When I started this thread I was still missing four significant items. However, since then I found the correct "/89" carburetor on eBay; thanks to several contributors to BritBike Forum the fuel tank has been crossed off the list; and thanks to the wonderful generosity of one of the readers of this thread the Competition Number Plate also has been crossed off the list. This leaves the bike needing only the:
Exhaust pipes (42-2797 right; 42-2799 left)
Although I could fabricate the pipes, given this machine's "historical significance," I would like to have the highest percentage of original components on it as possible. If you know of anyone who has a set of these they might be willing to sell or trade (I have a fairly rare ASCT gearbox I no longer need), please send me a PM or an email to email@example.com.
At this point I've basically returned this Spitfire Scrambler to the condition Swan and Bry started with when they began their now-completed Gold Star and Velocette restorations:
Since it subsequently took them 2-3 years to transform their machines, it likely will take me at least that long once I am able to start concentrating on this bike. As I wrote in my first post, "[this thread is] going to be in two parts, possibly with an extended intermission between them." It's time for that Intermission, but I hope to resume with Part II in a few months (although there might be a few minor updates between now and then, depending on my progress with other projects I have under way).
Thanks very much for the comment. But, the story isn't anywhere close to finished, so there will be more to come. Finally having all the parts (except exhaust pipes) collected, and the documentation for what the configuration should look like gathered in a coherent package, provided a convenient place to pause.
I spent four hours in the garage yesterday moving motorcycle stands and boxes of parts around and straightening up to prepare for another project that has been gathering dust for as long as the Spitfire. After I build up some momentum with it both projects then will be proceeding in parallel.
Pulling two bikes to pieces at the same time normally isn't a good idea but it shouldn't be a problem as long as I keep things well organized. Or so I'm telling myself...
You are a brave man to be doing two projects at once. I'm too chicken to even try. Just finishing up a WM20, and my poor Dominator is languishing waiting for it's newly reubilt KF2C. Then, there's the Guzzi Lemans that needs a head gasket, the MZ that needs a chain and oil change, the Guzzi Quota that needs tires, and so it goes...
Soon as the M20 is done, I'll give the rest of 'em love. That's what I tell myself.
You are a brave man to be doing two projects at once.
In that case, I won't mention the third...
But, back to the Spitfire, a minor bit of progress to report was finding another quick change hub as a backup. The sprocket on the hub that came with mine is worn so I will need to weld on a new one. That "only" will require machining the old one off the hub, machining the ID of a new one to match (after first finding a new sprocket with the correct no. of teeth), welding the two pieces together, then turning the drum to remove any distortion induced by all of the above. I wanted a backup hub in hand before starting this surgery in case things turn ugly...
Hi magnetoman A very interesting read, I just bought a 57 spitfire from a man in utah and currently waiting for it to be delivered to the uk. It looks to be pretty much complete how ever the man i bought it from said he cant find the vin number i won't no if it is there or not untill i get the frame cleaned off ready for paint but is there a way of finding the correct number that matches the engine
but is there a way of finding the correct number that matches the engine
Both the VMCC and the BSA owners club will not release this info, they will just say if the bike left the factory with those numbers or if its a mixture. The reason is to stop people who have mismatching engines/frames from restamping them to make them match.
I made some progress today. Both footpegs were bent down from the weight of the riders over the years, as can be seen in the upper photo of one of them in the next composite:
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as bending upwards the portion of the foot peg that goes into the rubber. If you look at the casting mark in the upper photo you can see that it is basically straight, which means the fore-aft portion of the assembly has a twist in it (the other foot peg had the same problem).
To eliminate this twist I machined two "clamps" that are 1"x2"x6" as shown in the next photograph.
I used Al so it wouldn't mar the steel, and made them with ample cross sections to withstand the force of the press. To deal with the irregular cross section of the castings I machined slots wide and deep enough (~1/2" wide x ~1" deep) for them and then tapped 3/8"x24 holes in each to take up the slack. I inserted brass shims between the bolts and the footpegs to keep from marring the surfaces. Also, I offset the bolts in order to apply the twisting force to the foot peg at points as far apart as possible, i.e. for maximum torque.
The next photograph shows one of the foot pegs mounted in my press ready to be bent back into proper shape.
The various twists and turns plus the irregular cross section of the foot peg complicate matters, but three large C-clamps held everything while the press applied the necessary pressure. However, it was impossible to hold one part of the assembly perfectly stationary while applying force to another, as well as impossible to see how much of a bend remained while it was clamped in the press, so it required two tries for each foot peg to achieve the result shown in the lower part of the composite at the top of this post.
One task closer to the finish. Only 976 (estimated) tasks left to go…
If they did, I've not run across it in the past 20 years of looking. The Alzina supplemental parts list I posted earlier in this thread, along with the A10 and Gold Star parts books, are what I use. The text on the Alzina list strongly implies that there is no separate book.
Originally Posted By: Peter R
Applying some heat with an oxy-acetylene flame would probably lead to the same result.
Maybe yes. I have an oxy-acetylene torch so it's not that I didn't consider using it, but the advantage of the way I did it is it allowed a slow, controlled return to the original configuration with minimum chance of accidentally distorting the arm in a second plane.