Third 1994 to 1996

Third 1994 to 1996

Another new streamliner had to be built. However, this time about 60% of the liner would be retained. I was getting closer to getting a liner that Don was willing to ride.

So work began on liner number three. I won't give all the details in it's construction, many minor in nature. I can remember some of the more costly things however, one being the rear tire. The first rear tire on the liner, which I purchased from Bob George, didn't fit the bill because of it's low speed rating. The following is a complete run down of events including design flaws, mechanical failures, structural failures, and oh yes, even human errors.

The engine was turned over for the first time with the on board starter I had built, laying the spark plug on the head. The spark was yellow and weak. The next couple of hours were spent checking all the wiring, switches, coils, spark plug wires. You know what I'm talking about. Nothing was found to be wrong, the system was just weak in the spark department. I swapped out the dual coils, using single Lucas 12 volt coils, and now was using one of the spark plugs only to plug up the hole. This helped, but not much. I then decreased the plug gap as much as I dared, and hoped for the best. Still a weak spark persisted. It was too late in the game for any major change, so you know the ol' saying, "Go with what you got". I pushed the starter button and the engine started turning over at a brisk pace. However, no sounds of thunder were being emitted through the exhaust pipes as expected. Why wouldn't this thing start? I had fuel, spark, well not so good, but spark nevertheless, and compression. It should go, I thought.

After several tries, Larry suggested we pour gas down the injector, i.e., alcohol is harder to light than gas. The thing roared into life, speaking with thunderous authority. I gave it a quick look-see, which revealed a few obvious glitches. The starter motors bendix didn't disengage fully, and was throwing sparks not unlike a chop saw parting a piece of steel. This wasn't good.

Next I noticed that when the motors were wicked up, the exhaust pipes were bending the better part of an inch, due to the extreme pressures being emitted from the pipes, but what concerned me most was that the blower belt had moved over half the distance of the pulleys, and was about to come off. I shut the engine off. All of the usual was going on, "She sounds bad!" Mike Shea. "It runs!" Larry Feece. "It's been a long time coming!" me.

Now to the task of fixing it. I made some brackets to keep the pipes in place, quite shoddy looking, I might add. The starter was moved further away from the flywheel using washers, no time for machining proper spacers this late in the game.

The blower belt was another story. I had designed the blower mount to allow the blower to move fore and aft, serving as a way to put tension on the belt, which was too weak. It didn't work at all. I figured on a quick solution to the problem, and the jury rig began. I braced the blower by welding straps here and there to keep it from twisting, as the twisting was causing the pulleys to misalign, therefore causing the belt to come off, and I manufactured a quick pulley tensioner. None of this was pretty, and didn't present itself as being built by a professional in any sense of the word. The only plus was that it worked.

I started the liner again. It started immediately, no more sparks. The pipes weren't moving around and the belt was staying on. Wow. I thought, things are looking good. Then it happened.

Noise from the primary case, and the thing was vibrating so badly it was about to come off it's stand. A quick shut down. I remember thinking, there goes Bonneville.

Something major had gone wrong. The primary covers were removed, revealing that the engine to engine chain was loose. This was bad. I took off the primary cover and found that the mod to the front engine sprocket dampener, the single large spring type, had shattered. The cammed portion of the unit had been made out of cast iron. The fix had to be quick. I decided to take a stock unit and weld it up, making it a solid sprocket to the main shaft of the crankshaft. My efforts in building the Mustang double to figure out the harmonic vibrations didn't give me enough information on the subject. The only thing I learned was that you had to lead the firing of the front engine by at least 13 degrees. One other thing I learned was that the chain between the two engines had to be super tight. The primary case was buttoned up and restarted. Everything worked well. The engine would go to 6500 rpm instantly. It sounded real good. Real good.

I knew the liner still had problems, oil leaks and things of that nature, none of which couldn't be solved on the salt.

Three days of valuable time had already been eaten up. Even if we drove straight through to Wendover, Utah to the Bonneville Salt Flats, we would arrive one day late. We had no choice. We loaded up and off to the races we went, having high hopes as to what was about to happen.

If I recall, it was raining and the Wendover area also had a forecast for showers. This was a real point of concern. I had already talked to Don Vesco, and he assured me that he would be there. He said that he hadn't finished the Turbinator, but he planned to run it at Speed Week also.

So 42 hours later, driving straight through, only stopping for nature's necessities and a bite to eat, Mike and I finally arrived about noon the next day. All of the crew who said they would come to give a hand were there, Sonny and Don Angel from San Diego, a couple of guys from Virginia, Maurice Dale, Bernie, David Baxter and a few others.

As I wasn't familiar with the happenings on the salt, since I'd only been there a few times, the constant changing of the rules, coupled with the fact that we missed the rider's meeting and the tech inspection, which is the first and second day of the meet, presented a major problem in getting a sticker on the nose of Black Lightning--the lack of which would prevent us from running. We got the bike through tech by changing the water lines that were in the cockpit area to an approved water hose. A safety sign was painted on the tail with a shoe polish brush, stating, "pyrotechnic chute deployment system".

The engine breathers were of the "D" type and vented to the atmosphere inside the liner's shell. I hurriedly made a catch can, using plastic orange juice bottles. They approved it, but told me that they expected the next one to be made from a non-flammable material. The liner also sported a 150 hp nitrous system just in case I was unable to create enough horsepower to do the job. The nitrous bottle was strapped to the rear of the frame with hose clamps, (hose clamps are not recommended for affixing any bottle), however, this was also passed. They said, "Fix it for your next outing". I couldn't understand what in the world they were talking about. Next outing? Didn't these people understand that I was there to set the record?

Finally the bike was approved to run, and I paid the $400 entry fee. Oh yeah. Running at Bonneville isn't free. They handed me a log book with all of the change recommendations for the next time out, gave me the two stickers required to run, the one that goes on the nose and assigned the number 785 to the Vincent streamliner. I registered her name as Lambky's Liner/Black Lightning.

All of this had taken another one and a half days of the precious and ever shrinking time of Speed Week. The pits were already set up, the rain had subsided, and it was the morning of the fourth day of the meet and I hadn't yet even started the liner, which in it's entire life had only been started six times.

I'd been making daily calls to Don Vesco to see if he was going to come, but he still hadn't arrived. He assured me that he would be there on the fifth day.

There was nothing to do but fire the liner to see if it still ran. I fired the engines. The stock Vincent triple row chain was yanked in two, the one that couples the two engines together. I hadn't timed the firing of the two engines properly after the repair made in Virginia. The moral to that is be rested, know what you're doing, and take your time doing it. I had excellent help on hand, Don Angel and Mike Shea, so the work began--them working on the bike, me going through the spares. A big problem now raised it's ugly head--no chain. It had been left in Virginia on the work bench. Another mistake.

Sonny said he had a chain at his shop. He called his son-in-law to go fetch the chain and take it to Vesco's shop in Murrieta, 70 miles away. Don was planning to drive the 700 mile trip to the salt that day anyway. He was asked to place the chain on the nose of my liner for it's installation the morning of the 5th day.

The next morning we were all there at daybreak. The chain was on the nose, so that meant Don had arrived. What a relief.

Then we discovered that the chain he had brought was from a Norton, not a Vincent. It had to be shortened. Due to the limited chain adjustment, it needed a master link. The famous Texas machine, an open wheeled double engine Triumph triple was there. In the true spirit of Bonneville he gave us a master link. We made the repairs, fired the engines, and everything worked.

When Don got there he wanted to take the skin off, as he had never ridden the liner. "In case it crashed" he said, and wanted a dead engine tow up. We found a spot at the end of the salt where it would not interfere with the racing that was going on. Bob George, who by now was a good friend of mine, having "been there and done that", was given the job of driving Larry's panel tow truck to Don's liking. The tow was made and the release mechanism worked flawlessly.

The liner for the first time was rolling at about 60 mph. Don had gotten it up on it's wheels prior to the release. She coasted for over a mile. This was something I had never experienced, low drag and a small frontal area, 3.4 square feet to be exact. Aerodynamics in action. I was thoroughly impressed. He turned around. For the second tow up Don wanted me to raise the skids; I'd made them adjustable on his previous advice. This is important and an excellent feature in the building of skids. The skids were raised and the liner was towed to release speed.

This time he had trouble getting it up on it's wheels. After several tries it was on it's wheels, and coasting around 3/4 of a mile. Then he said, "Put the skids back to where they were. Max, I think you have a good liner. It handles really well. Let's make a run and see what she's got". Finally after many years of hard work, a liner was about to make a trip down the salt with it's power being two supercharged Vincent engines. My dream of building a Vincent streamliner and taking it to the salt, was at it's zenith. I became quite emotional then, and if I recall a tear came to my eye when Don Vesco and Bob George both slapped me on my back and shook my hand, saying, "You did it, guy, few people have".

We took Black Lightning to the pit, fueled her, and made all final checks. I might point out I hadn't given any thought to how difficult it would be to load the liner on the trailer and off load it. Each time it required at least five men, jacking up the front of the trailer, and lining up a very suspect 15 ft. long, 1 ft. wide ramp. Something would have to be done about that in the future.

All hopes for setting the World Land Speed Record were dashed at this point. With only two and a half days left, we all knew by now that it was an impossible undertaking, so the next best thing to do was to get as many test runs in as possible. The salt condition was bad with the rains, as cars were making grooves in the surface, and few records were being set. Finally we were able to bring Black Lightning to the line. Henry Louy, a Bonneville official, told Don to keep it below 200mph. It was the littlest thing on the salt, and people who had been coming to the salt for as many as 50 years commented, "This one is really going to go fast someday".

Don, who had never been in the streamliner with his fire suit, helmet, and all other armor required to do battle, was shoehorned into the tiny space provided for the rider. That being accomplished, and barely reaching the controls, he fired her up. The canopy was secured. She sounded healthy and was running clean. The tow up went without a hitch. The tow truck veered to the right to get out of the way, and the liner went past the tow truck with the skids already up. Black Lightning was underway on her wheels. The liner, during acceleration, veered to the left, crossing the black line that had been laid out with soluble black stuff to define the course. He soon veered to the right, crossing the line and proceeded down the track about 20 feet from the center of the track black line. He then aborted the run at about the one and a half mile marker.

I was in my chase vehicle and got to him first. One chute had been deployed to stop the liner. At least the chutes work, I thought. The rest of the crew arrived and started the laborious task of loading the liner for it's return to the pits. I wanted to get Don alone so he could give me a critique as to the run while it was super fresh in his mind and not polluted by others. We got into my pickup and drove slowly back to the pits. I listened carefully--he was The Man. He said that the bike handled well, that he raised and lowered the skids three times and they worked really well, but that the engines wouldn't go over 3800 rpm. They sounded and acted like they were way too rich. He also said he couldn't see over the nose and had to look out to the side to find the black center line to give him a reference as to where he was on the track. None of this seemed to be an insurmountable problem, except for the visibility. I asked if the visibility was such that he didn't want to ride it. "Heck no", was the answer, "fix those engines and give me some power".

When I made all the checks I found that the chain between the engines was loose. We bolted the engines together using the through bolts, which also bolted the engine half cases together. Oil was all over the place, leaking between the engine case mating surface. We cleaned up the oil, tightened the bits, and lock tighted everything. The chain was made banjo tight, and the engines were leaned. We fueled the liner and took her back to the line. It was now about 5 o'clock on the fifth day. This time the line was short, as many of the racers had gone home, very few with records, many with their expectations unfulfilled, some with blown engines and other blown parts without which their wheels wouldn't turn. The worst were those who loaded unrecognizable parts on their trailers that not more than a week ago were their shining pride and joy. Yes, many crash at Bonneville. We all accept that fact and hope it won't happen to us.

Don was stuffed into the cockpit and was off on his second run. All was the same as the first except the liner went straight down the center line and the run again was aborted at about the two mile mark. On the drive back to the pits Don said he got the engines up to 4500 rpm, still rich, or possible ignition problems, not much power to the rear wheel.

Back to the pit. The same problem with the chain, the oil leaks and so on. This was fixed, or should I say "jury rigged", to "make do " for the third run. The engines, after reading the plugs, still showed a rich condition. I leaned her out some more, and made all the checks on the liner for it's third run. By now they had closed down the track for the day, so there was nothing more we could do but leave the liner on the starting line, so we would be the first ones to make a run in the morning.

Day six. The third run was made and Don aborted at the two mile mark again. He reported that when he accelerated hard the clutch slipped, and when he got into it easy the ignition would give up at about 4500 rpm. He said he thought the problem was a weak spark, which was going out when the blower was starting to make boost. Not much I could do about that yellow spark. I decided the only thing we could do was to try and fix the modified V-Two clutch from slipping, make another run, and hope for the best. knew with her sleek shape she would go fast, even if we could only achieve 4500 rpm.

The clutch was totally disassembled. The clutch plates were the same as used in street bike application, which are run dry. The liner has an enclosed primary and the clutch runs in oil. I decided to dump all of the oil out of the primary, and run the clutch dry. I dried the clutch plates, sanded them to roughen up the burned surfaces, and sprinkled them with baseball resin--an old racer trick. Don Angel washered up the clutch springs to the max. After reassembly the bike was taken to the line for the fourth time. Vesco made the run but aborted at the mile and a half, same problem, clutch slippage.

Back to the pits. A last ditch solution occurred to me and I asked him, "If I locked up the clutch some way, and we pull you up to speed, you have the engines running in neutral, you crash shift it into low, and then through the gears, shut the engines off at the other engine, using the engines to help slow you, would you consider doing that?" He said, "Yeah, let's do it". That was Don Vesco.

The clutch was jury rigged and locked up solid. We took Black Lightning back to the line. I noticed that there was hardly anyone left on the salt, as it was around one o'clock on the 6th day of racing. When we got to the line the official informed me the meet was over. He said, "We do this quite often if there are no cars or bikes running that have a chance to set the record in their class". We certainly didn't have a chance after that, so the year ended in failure. The only plus was that the knowledge gained was extensive. We didn't crash, and the liner left the salt in running condition. We all shook hands. I vowed to return with a vengeance, not having a clue how. My credit cards were maxed to the limit.

Mike and I went back to Virginia disheveled and salty, but not discouraged. I was at the helm towing the Vincent streamliner, my mistress, who had to that time eaten up around $80,000 of my hard earned dollars, and a large portion of my life.

Nevertheless, after thinking it over, I decided that I needed a new liner for the 1997 attempt. It was obvious too many things were wrong with the one following along behind us. I knew what was needed and what had to be redesigned, most of which had been done in my head during the running of the liner the previous week on the great white dyno.