WE LOVE weird and wonderful machinery here at Street Machine, usually the weirder the better, but this 1935 Harley-powered cyclecar blows our minds. It coughs, it shakes, it farts, it roars and it comes from a time when sex was safe and racing was decidedly dangerous.
Built in 1935, the homemade machine features leaf springs, friction shock absorbers, an external shifter and drum brakes. The motor is a 1936 Harley Davidson ‘Knucklehead’, displacing around 90 cubic inches. They call them Knuckleheads because the valve-cover contours resemble a person’s knuckles when they make a fist. They made Knuckleheads from 1936 to 1947, until Harley replaced the engine family with the ‘Panhead’ in 1948.
Cylcecars were mainly built in the pre-WWII era, using air-cooled single- or twin-cylinder motorcycle engines, and were designed to fill the gap between motorcycles and ‘proper’ cars. Generally they were pretty small and agricultural, with just the bare minimum of creature comforts. Eventually they were killed off by mass-produced cars such as the Austin 7 and Ford T-model, which offered more bang-for-buck when compared with the low-volume cyclecar manufacturers.
This car – nicknamed The Redback – is a single-seat racer and devoid of anything the typical petrolhead would consider modern equipment. It doesn’t even have a fuel pump to move the methanol from the rear-mounted tank to the engine. A brass bicycle pump on the left-hand side of the car is pumped to pressurise the tank to 3psi, which forces fuel to the period-correct Dellorto carburettors. Imagine driving this car on a racing circuit at high speed, working the wheel and shifting gears, while pumping up the fuel pressure constantly. Throw in the fact that the rigidly mounted Harley motor shakes the living shit out of the chassis and you’ve got a car that puts the ‘death’ in death-defying (or death trap).
We found the car down at Glenlyon Motors in Brunswick recently, where Michael and his team (including Craig the motorcycle mechanic) were getting the beast going. As you’d expect with an old Harley-powered car, there were a few oil leaks to sort, but once they got things fired up, it roared!
Check out how much the car vibrates when Michael gets it going on the rollers! It shook the GoPro so hard the camera mount came loose. The boys reckon this car will require a spanner-check on every nut and bolt, every time it gets used. It showed 56hp at the tyres, but the boys are pretty confident it’ll see 80rwhp once it’s ready.
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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