Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Today in motorcycle history, May 7, 2000


  One of the world's best-known Triumph tuners/builders George W. "Jack" Wilson dies.


  Bikes and engines built by the clever, often wisecracking Texan won hundreds of races and held scores of national and international speed records. 

  His first record-setting Triumph began in a garage in 1954 when his friend, J.H. "Stormy" Mangham, constructed a streamliner aimed at beating the 1951 180-mph world motorcycle record set by the German NSU team.  Wilson started with a standard Thunderbird, set up initially to run on gasoline, the T-Bird would eventually burn methanol and finally a 60 percent load of nitromethane, which at the time was just beginning to enter the drag-racing circles.

  The T-Bird's internals and careful assembly showcased Wilson's innovation.  He combined the latest Triumph factory speed parts, particularly camshafts, tappets, and gears, with a vast array of parts from various sources, including modified Harley K-model valves, Cadillac V8 shell-type main bearings on the connecting rod big-ends, and a 30-lb billet crankshaft machined from Natralloy.  It all added up to a liver-quivering 100 horsepower, according to Wilson.

  In 1956, after nearly 2 years of head-scratching and knuckle-busting, Wilson's nitro-fueled 650cc Thunderbird engine powered fellow Texan Johnny Allen to a 214.40 mph world speed record for motorcycle on the Bonneville Salt Flats.  It was this feat inspired Triumph to name their 1959 model the Bonneville!

   One world record just wasn't enough, so in 1958 Jack built a seriously trick 500cc Triumph twin and put 18-year-old Jess Thomas (another Texan) at the controls.  The machine clocked an average of 212.28 mph, seting a new world record for an unblown, streamlined 500cc motorcycle running on nitro. That record stood for 50 years.

   Jack Wilson was inducted in the AMA Hall of Fame in 2001.