Twin-Triumph Record Challenger
22 February 2022
In a pleasant point garage, one man’s passion for the engineering of the past coexists with his enthusiasm for the possibilities offered by the technological innovations of the present.
By Ritchie WilsonPhotographs: Brian High and Ritchie Wilson
Marine engineer Gilbert Bailey was in the US for the 2015 Speed Week at Bonneville Salt Flats when he saw an advertisement online for Pleasant Point Motors, a garage inland from Timaru in New Zealand’s South Island.
Gilbert was familiar with the building from his early motorcycling days as a young apprentice. Until 2001, the business had had petrol bowsers on the side of the road. If it was raining, Gilbert would park his bike on the footpath, under the garage veranda, to fuel up. The proprietor would see this from his office window and erupt onto the street to demand the bike be shifted.
Gilbert decided to buy the building and its contents, both as a place to live and as somewhere to store his cars and motorcycles. Unfortunately, the century-old masonry building had no steel reinforcing so didn’t meet current earthquake standards. Its walls are double brick while the pillars supporting the very long, shallow, timber trusses are triple brick. The lack of earthquake compliance meant that it wasn’t possible to secure a mortgage over the building, so Gilbert had to pay cash. More recently, he has bought the vacant plot of land next to the garage. There, he plans to build a heritage-type barn, which will have a two-bedroom apartment as well as a display area for old, working machinery from the garage business and a variety of classic vehicles.
Instant ‘my shed’
Pleasant Point Motors was a well-patronised working garage. However, the owners were ready to retire and put the business up for sale. Gilbert decided to keep the business going, with his partner Sharon Venmore overseeing operations when he was away for work.
Gilbert’s plan was to have a small corner in which to work on his own projects, while the garage, renamed ‘Obsolete Iron Motors’, carried on as before. It hasn’t quite worked out like that. Gilbert estimates that 50–60 per cent of his clients own older cars or hot rods. He personally spends much of his time in Pleasant Point working on motorcycles, hot rods, and custom builds.
Pleasant Point Motors did a lot of motor reconditioning, so had large machine tools such as a British flat-bed lathe driven by a flat belt from overhead shafting, which is itself powered by an electric motor mounted high on the brick wall, a massive TOS Czechoslovakian lathe — interestingly labelled as a ‘Triumph’ — and a smaller Emco one.
Gilbert already owned the large Tom Senior milling machine. There is also an enormous hand-cranked press, which Gilbert plans to convert to hydraulic. However, he finds old machinery so appealing that he is increasingly reluctant to do so.
Currently, Gilbert is at the garage only two weeks out of four. The other two weeks he is employed on the construction of Napier’s new container port as a marine engineer, working on a tug that operates with the project’s dredge. After his many years at sea he is well used to the 12-hour shifts and 84-hour weeks.
Classic car repairs
When The Shed visits, a number of clients’ cars are being worked on: a 1929 Austin Seven Chummy, a 1935 Morris 10, a 1931 Model A Ford Fordor sedan, and a VW Bug. The 1937 Chevrolet GA Master Deluxe sedan on the hoist is having its ‘knee-action’ independent front suspension converted to a solid front axle. Gilbert tells us that it’s possible to get oversize components from the US to repair some wear in these notoriously short-lived suspension systems, but not the very extensive wear that this knee-action has suffered over the years — the car was undrivable — so a replacement beam axle ‘straight’ front suspension, from the same year’s GB model, is being installed.
Off to one side the unpainted alloy tub of a replica D-Type Jaguar is being finished, after a delay of 30 years, with a V12 Toyota GZ engine from the Toyota Century limousine (1997–2016) being installed. Gilbert says this is the V12 to have, because it uses the same components as the straight-six Toyota Supra and the parts are plentiful and cheap.
The D-Type is owned by Chris Bromwich, a mechanic who stayed on when Gilbert bought the garage. It was built by Rod Tempero Motor Body Builder in Oamaru (see The Shed, Issue No. 93) in about 1990 but was sold unfinished and passed through a number of hands before Chris bought it. The complicated extractors for the V12 were being formed from tube bends: short sections of curved exhaust tubing. Chris was cutting the bends to size and tacking them together with MIG welds, and Gilbert, a highly experienced welder, would finish off the numerous joins with TIG welding, which makes a neater job.
On all available surfaces, in cabinets, hung from every wall, and dangling from the rafters, are old and interesting objects. Asked about his collections, Gilbert says that he has a lot of stuff but no collections as such — apart from 20 or so 26-inch-wheeled bicycles and a variety of pistons, some as big as rubbish tins. He loves motocross and also has a few motocross bikes.
Working around harbours, he comes across interesting old objects that are being thrown out, such as a long wooden trolley that ran on tracks on a wharf and a very large cast-iron maker’s plate from a 1926 Stothert & Pitt crane.
Gilbert’s family farmed in the Pleasant Point area and he attended Timaru Boys High School as a boarder. He was motivated to pass School Certificate (now NCEA Level 1) in all five subjects — English was compulsory — because this was the requirement to secure an apprenticeship at well-known local company Wallace & Cooper.
Gilbert was officially a fitting and turning apprentice, but in fact worked in a variety of departments in the large engineering company, from fabrication to blacksmithing. He worked in several Timaru businesses after completing his trade training in 1980 before being employed by Sanford fisheries as a marine engineer on the company’s deep-sea trawlers. He spent most of the next 30 years on ships, first as a chief engineer on Sanford’s large factory trawlers from 1989 to 2001, then on dredges deepening harbours around the Australian coast for two giant Dutch dredging companies. He first worked for Van Oord Dredging and then Royal Boskalis.
In between, he supervised the refitting of a new but fire-damaged 56.7m motor yacht, which had been purchased by a very well-known New Zealand business man. The engine room, for example, had been completely stripped except for the twin Cat 3512 main engines and two Cat C18 generator sets. Gilbert spent a very enjoyable 18 months ordering and fitting the super-yacht’s gear. Cost wasn’t a problem. He and the other engineers, — all motorcyclists — even managed to interest the owner in two-wheelers, and the boat now carries Harley-Davidsons, for shoreside excursions, as part of its basic equipment.
A love of the big jobs
Dredging is something for which Gilbert has great enthusiasm. Big jobs using big ships with big gear he finds very appealing. One job, the Gorgon Project, involved building an LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal on Barrow Island, a Class A nature reserve about halfway up Australia’s
west coast. This was reportedly Australia’s largest resource project, with a total cost estimated by the media as an incredible A$55 billion.
One ‘smaller’ dredge on which Gilbert worked was 238m long and had two 15,000kW engines and a capacity of 37,000m3 of spoil. An aspect of being a marine engineer is variety. The engineers are employed for the duration of a particular project, usually about 18 months, and then they are off to another ship, another job, with perhaps a completely different group of fellow crew members, certainly in another location, perhaps in a very different part of the world.
When we suggest to Gilbert that he has done very well in his profession, he replies that he knows a large number of contemporaries who have completed trade training in New Zealand and gone on, like him, to senior technical positions in many countries. He says that in his experience Kiwi experts are highly valued, especially in Australia, because of their can-do, number-eight-wire approach of getting a task done with the minimum of resources. Gilbert does concede that he has been offered great opportunities and has taken full advantage of them.
Obsolete Iron is born
In the 1970s most young men in provincial towns would have been interested in motorcycles, and Gilbert was no exception, but his employment in engineering meant that he could make and repair parts for the bikes — “helping people out”. He says that, for some makes, the availability of parts is very much better today than it was when the machines were only a few years old. He started making handlebar risers and handlebars for British bikes and then custom frames for Triumphs and Harley-Davidsons. He started trading under the ‘Obsolete Iron’ name about 20 years ago, making and selling parts for engine and suspension swaps for hot rods and swing arms for two-wheelers, usually as part of a specific project, enjoying the challenge of problem-solving.
Hot rods have been a large part of Gilbert’s life — he has a 1933 Ford coupe with a supercharged side-valve V8 — but motorcycles are his passion. He owns three BSAs, including a B50SS 585cc flat-tracker, a 1940 Harley-Davidson 1200cc flathead, a 1968 FLH, a Husqvarna, a couple of Greeves motocross bikes, a 1980s Battletruck road-racing sidecar, and a twin-engined land speed record challenger.
One turbo, two engines, three computers
You can’t attempt to break a world land speed record just anywhere. Official observers need to be present, the gradient of the surface must be less than one per cent, the wind speed can’t be too great, the surface should be as smooth as possible, and it helps if there aren’t fences, trees, or other obstructions nearby. Most difficult of all, official permission for a record attempt must be granted. It’s easy to see the attraction of the dry-lake salt flats at Bonneville, Utah, in the US, just over the Nevada state line.
In the winter, springs flood the salt flats with brine. As temperatures increase the brine’s water evaporates, depositing sulphates and (mainly) chlorides of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and (overwhelmingly) sodium in a smooth, flat expanse.
In the summer, if there hasn’t been unseasonable rain, the salt flats will be hard, level, and obstruction-free. Official and sophisticated timing gear is present, manned by the 82-year-old Southern California Timing Association (SCTA). There are a couple of drawbacks. The flats are nearly 1300m above sea level, so the air is thinner than at sea level, and the salt surface can be as slick as polished marble, so traction is poor.
The land speed challenge Triumph
Gilbert Bailey took these factors into consideration when he was designing his land speed record challenger. He was aiming to better an existing record speed of 356.425kph.
To maximise traction, he used two engines, not only to have access to twice the power but to also have more weight, and hence more grip, because of increased friction between the salt and the tyres. To compensate for the thinner atmosphere, he used a large, fast-spinning turbocharger, feeding both engines, to pump in the maximum amount of air. The turbo-lag associated with large turbos isn’t a concern at Bonneville because there is plenty of time to get the turbo up to high revolutions before entering the timed section of the course. The thinner, less resistive air means that the turbo spins faster than at sea level, so the turbine had to be handmade by Christchurch company Turbo Care; a stock turbine would not endure the centrifugal forces produced by the higher than normal revs. The compression of the incoming air by the turbo heats it up, causing it to expand and so reducing the mass of air delivered to the engine in any given time.
To counteract this, an intercooler is fitted between the turbo and the two engines. Intercoolers usually use the cool air from outside a vehicle to cool the air exiting the turbo or supercharger. At Bonneville in summer, cool air is rare. Gilbert’s bike carries compressed carbon dioxide (CO2)gas, which cools as it expands on leaving its storage cylinder. This cool gas is used in the air-over-air intercooler — a heat exchanger in which heat from the compressed air leaving the turbo is transferred to the colder CO2. Gilbert did suggest to the Bonneville authorities that he use nitrous oxide, which has lighter storage bottles, instead of CO2, but the proposal was rejected because of safety concerns. Some Bonneville vehicles use air-over-liquid intercoolers, in which evaporating liquid cools the air feeding the engine.
Cleverly packed frame
The two 2011 Triumph 675 Daytona engines, radiator, fuel tank, a large turbo with air filter and exhaust, intercooler and CO2 bottle, three computers, wires, and pipes are intricately packed into the frame that Gilbert fabricated from chromoly tubing. This is loosely based on a Ducati ‘trellis’ frame — he thinks this is about the 20th frame he has constructed.
Maximum speed is majorly affected by the bike’s cross-sectional area, so it was crucial that this was reduced to the absolute minimum by careful planning. The front forks are from Gilbert’s Aprilia road bike. Gilbert speaks very highly of Link Engine Management, which provided the engine management computers (ECUs). It can access and optimise the computing packages remotely — the company is in Christchurch, the bike in, say, Utah.
The 675 engine was designed for the Triumph Daytona model that was released in 2005. The 675cc, in-line three-cylinder, water-cooled engine is a fuel-injected 12-valve double-overhead camshaft (DOHC) design with a bore of 74mm and a stroke of 52.3mm. It produces 128bhp. A rev limit of 12,000rpm is specified for the 675 engine, but Gilbert was told by a Triumph technician that the unit was good for 14,000 — but not for 14,001.
The Triumph engines were chosen for their compact design — giving the desired low frontal area — good power, and availability. Gilbert says that there has not been much technical support from Triumph. “But, to be fair,” he says, “not many people build a project bike like mine; it was easier to switch to Link ECUs and start afresh.”
Tyres for record attempts are especially problematic. The rapid rotation of the tyre at speeds in excess of 200mph puts great strain on the tyre’s construction. A tyre failure at high speed is too awful to contemplate. The front tyres are replaced and destroyed after each maximum speed run. Four runs will eat up $800’ worth of tyres. The rear tyre, a Goodyear Eagle car tyre, is more resilient and isn’t changed so often. On the other hand, it cost $1K.
The two Triumph engines each has a cable-operated clutch connected by an enclosed chain and is connected by an open chain to the unsprung rear wheel. Gilbert says that the drive system is quite simple: the engines are offset, the front engine’s final-rive chain runs back to the rear engine’s extended final-drive sprocket shaft, whose end is supported by an outrigger bearing. A second sprocket on the extended shaft takes the drive back to the small sprocket on the rear wheel.
Land speed record class
The bike is shipped to the US in a specially made box that contains the bike, parts, tyres, tools, and the essential gazebo. It can get scorchingly hot on the salt flats on a sunny day.
The bike runs in the A–BG 1350 class at Bonneville, for non-streamlined motorcycles.
‘A’ for special construction — not stock
‘B’ for blown — forced induction, turbocharged or supercharged
‘G’ for gasoline powered — petrol fuelled
‘1350’ for the 1350cc engine combustion-chamber capacity.
Engine capacity is taken very seriously and record breakers’ engine capacities are routinely verified.
Gilbert’s land speed record venues
Lake Gairdner, South Australia
Gilbert first planned to go to the South Australian dry lake in 2012 as engineer for Steve and Teena Williams’ big block Chev V8–powered 1934 Plymouth coupe. He also shipped his 585cc BSA single-cylinder bike to Australia, but the speed trials were cancelled due to flooding. The following year the same team returned, the salt was in great shape, and the Plymouth achieved a speed of 201mph over the timed section and set a new record. Gilbert was impressed with the efficient running of the venue. The BSA’s ignition failed at the two-mile mark while travelling at 96mph.
Gilbert began building the twin-engine bike immediately on returning home.
Gilbert shipped the twin-engine bike to the US in 2015. After he had received permission to import the bike from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arranged shipping, paid for a carnet — a refundable bond designed to ensure that a vehicle temporarily imported into a country, without paying any duty, actually leaves — and booked accommodation at Wendover, the nearest town, Speed Week was cancelled — again due to flooding. He did get to run the bike on the salt, participating in the Mojave Mile, which is held at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Return to Bonneville
Gilbert planned to return to Bonneville this year, but Covid-19 thwarted his plans. Conditions were perfect apparently, and many records were set. The SCTA has strict safety rules. For instance, motorcycles are only allowed a rear brake. Experience has shown that when things go bad at speed, the tendency is to harshly apply all available brakes. This often makes matters a lot worse. Gilbert had to ensure that the racing leathers worn for record attempts met the required standard. He gets the leathers made in Auckland and the young woman who makes them told him that she has a number of other New Zealand customers, who have the ‘salt fever’ and run at Bonneville.
Gilbert has been working hard to establish Obsolete Iron Motors and says that he is ready to return to Bonneville when that becomes possible, perhaps sharing a container with another New Zealand team.
Before he bought Pleasant Point Motors, Gilbert had been looking for some time at other large, historic buildings in South Island rural towns. Pleasant Point seems the ideal choice, with its attractive buildings and vintage railway. It is also where local farmer Richard Pearse may have been the first person in the world to fly in a heavier-than-air craft, nine months before the Wright brothers.
This mirrors Gilbert’s interest in old engineering in general, and old cars and bikes in particular, and his involvement in salt flat racers with their cutting-edge technology. The combination of innovative and retro engineering is precisely what Gilbert Bailey is about.
The Shed: Story and images supplied by The Shed magazine. Read more The Shed content here at the-shed.nz.
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