Tom White's Early Year's of MX Museum
May. 01, 2006
On October 6, 2005, the Orange County Dualies Dual Sport Motorcycle Club was invited to hold their monthly meeting at Tom White's Motorcycle Museum. While I knew that Tom (of White Brothers and racing fame) had one of, if not the, most extensive collection of motorcycles from my era of interest (1960 to 1980), I had absolutely no inkling what was in store for us when we showed up at 7 PM.
Tom's collection covers both street and dirt motorcycles, with an extensive number of historical European brands (Ariel, Bultaco BSA, CZ, Husqvarna, Maico, Matchless, Montessa, Greeves, Ossa, and Triumph) as well as a smaller representation of the Japanese and American brand names. Not only does he have an incredible number of motorcycles but his newly completed showcase for them is exceptionally well thought out, and the bikes are showcased with printed stories, and an incredible amount of posters, photos, and other memorabilia.
After his experience of be co-Master of Ceremonies for the Dualies' organized and sponsored On Any Sunday Reunion Movie/Fundraiser earlier this year, Tom generously offered to host our October general meeting at his museum, with his brother and friends cooking up the requisite Dualie burgers, chili, chips and salad. After filling our faces and saying hi to our friends and fellow Dualies, we repaired to the museum to get the meeting business out of the way so we could feast our eyes on Tom's fabulous collection.
President Dave Harlan kicked of the meeting by introducing Tom and his friends and family, and then proceeded to make short work of the Dualies meeting agenda. Also present were Dualie past president and founder, Larry Langley, who gave us the status of his move up to Bass Lake, and CJ Stewart who spoke to us about the OHV Volunteer organization that she is try to start up in the Cleveland National Forest.
Then it was Tom's turn to speak to group and give us some background on all these wonderful motorcycles and why he created this exquisite tribute to the motorcycles of the golden age of motorcycling. He touched briefly on his own personal history in the motorcycling business, his racing career, and spoke about his heartfelt affection for this industry and those wonderful two-wheeled machines. It's obvious that he can speak at length and cite the dates, events, and people that played a part in making the history of each bike.
In some ways, that is the daunting part of writing this article. There is so much history and interesting background in Tom's collection that it really deserves a book, not just this humble article, to do the justice. With that in mind, Tom and I have picked a few of the motorcycles that have special meaning to him and will describe those in detail. For the others, you will have to be satisfied with some pictures and brief captions.
One of the first bikes that he spoke about was very unique twin-250 CC Husqvarna used to win the Baja 1000. See below for the lowdown on this machine.
Husqvarna engineer, Ruben Helmin was a dedicated road racing enthusiast and with a limited budget from Husky, developed a twin cylinder engine by combining 250cc Husqvarna motocross components with crankcases that he designed.
The development of this engine sparked a predictable interest in extending the twin into Husky's core business, the off-road business. The first dirt version was handed over in late 1968 to Rolf Tibblin and later to Torsten Hallman who raced it in a cross country race (with spiked tires) and determined it was no motocrosser. In 1969, Husqvarna factory rider Gunnar Nilsson won the European FIM cup motocross series, racing against antiquated British 4-strokes. This 5-race series was FIM's attempt to retain interest in the over 500cc bikes and at the time, the twin was 504cc.
Edison Dye, the American importer for Husqvarna had his own ideas for the machine. He convinced the factory to build him a twin reduced to 499cc to race in the now famous, Baja 1000. This bike, called the Baja Invader was the only machine that was purpose built by the factory for off-road and motocross, as the earlier bikes were modified for off-road from road racing frames. Mr. Dye convinced the Husqvarna factory to send over Gunnar Nilsson and then hired J.N. Roberts to compete in the Baja on this machine. The pair led the race by a significant margin until Nilsson crashed in the early hours of the morning and was knocked senseless. It took him 20 minutes to find the bike and he couldn't remember which direction he had been traveling on the moon-like surface of the Baja course. Fortunately, he guessed correctly and still ended up winning the race by 20 minutes.
The Twin was race in a few more events and then sat for over 20 years in Edison's warehouse. In 1998 it was purchased by Dutch enthusiast, Frans Munsters who restored it to original condition. The Husqvarna 500cc Baja Invader now sits in Tom White's Early Years of MX Museum and is one of only 3 twins ever built for off-road. Approximately 10 motors were built, most being used for road racing or side car racing.
The next machine is a 1968 Suzuki TM250. In 1965, Suzuki sent an engineer and one of the factory road racers to Europe to test and develop a motocross bike. A single cylinder and a twin cylinder machine were tested and they soon decided to concentrate on the single cylinder model. It's important to note that Suzuki was the first Japanese company to build a motocross machine. The first machine, the RH66 stole many ideas from the CZ250 Twin Port as did the 1967 RH67 which was somewhat refined from the 66 model. The Europeans laughed at the early combination of a poorly copied CZ and a road racer attempting to compete in the 250 GP's.
This would change in late 1967 when Suzuki hired Ollie Pettersson to develop the bike and later Joel Robert and Roger DeCoster to race the significantly improved machines. The TM250 is based off of the RH67. This model is the first production Japanese motocrosser and only 200 were produced World-wide, with the US getting 65 in early 1968. The bikes were sold with a parts kit that included a rod kit, pistons and rings, replacement clutch parts, gearing and other items. The American Suzuki distributor hired Gary Conrad, Preston Petty, and Walt Axthelm as riders to showcase the new machine.
The early TM250 was hampered by it's heavy weight (235 lbs), peaky power, and poor handling - not to mention the heat that was transferred to the riders bottoms from the twin pipes. This machine is one of my top 3 favorites in the collection. An excellent restoration by my friend Chris Carter of Motion Pro and it being extremely rare, make it very special to me. I can't tell you how excited I was when Chris and offered to sell me this motorcycle.
The next bike is actually a Sunbeam 500cc (actual 487cc) - S7 Sport, 1953. The Sunbeam is a very unique air-cooled vertical twin (front cylinder in front of rear cylinder, shaft drive motorcycle. The Sunbeam was manufactured in the BSA plant and they were in business from 1947 to the late 1950's. Top speed is in the 75 to 80 mph range, starts on the first kick, and the lack of noticeable vibration assures a comfortable ride. This example was purchased by Jody Weisels (editor of Motocross Action Magazine - the number 1 MX magazine) father while serving in the US military in England. He purchased the bike and shipped it home to Texas. The machine has 13,263 original miles and is in original, un-restored condition. The only accessory is the rear fender rack.
The next bike is a 1952 Mondial, manufactured in Italy by a company started by the Bosselli brothers. The first prototype, a 125cc dual overhead cam road race bike built in 1948 was the basis for future racing machines. Mondial was primarily a road race and street bike manufacturer. Only 7 or 8 motocross machines were ever produced, all 125cc machines. The Mondial motocross machines won a single Italian championship in 1952 racing against Moto Guzzis and Aeromachis. This 200cc machine (the only one ever produced) was produced by a factory employee with the brother's permission. Unfortunately, the Mondial factory went out of business in 1958.
This example was restored by well-known Italian restorer, Edoardo Vannucchi in 2002 and won best in class at the 2003 Del-Mar Concours.
When I first approached Tom about writing an article on his collection/museum, I was a little tentative about asking because I wasn't sure if he really wanted word to get around about his treasures. When I sent him an email asking whether I could write an article and if he would supply some background on his favorite motorcycles, he soon put my concerns to rest.
"Ron, Heck yes! I really want to share the motorcycles (and the history) with people, so keeping the collection a secret (Greg Primm?) is not an option. TW "
Tom also shared with us the story of his son, who was riding a mini-bike around one of the original White Brother's warehouses and went around a corner at speed, running into a chain use to block off a driveway. The chain hit him mid-chest and slid up to his neck, crushing his Larynx, stopping his heart for some minutes and causing severe brain damage. While he is confined to a wheel chair, he is still very much a part of Tom's life and an inspiration to us all.
Tom notes: "I plan to have the museum open (look for an ad in Cycle News) by appointment in early 2006. Current plans are the first Thursday evening of every month will be "Bikes and Burgers Night" with all profits going to my sons brain learning center, High Hopes Head Injury Program. He attends classes at High Hopes four days a week and the program has helped him (and many others) in so many ways. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't have the resources that my family has (thanks to the motorcycle business) to attend this wonderful program." Tom hopes he can use his museum to change that.