Tony Murphy – Journalist, Can-Am Supporter and the man for Rotax
Anybody that has waved a tool at a Rotax engine will know of Tony Murphy. But fewer people know of his involvement and support for Can-Am. Tony tells all:
My history with Can-Am goes way back. In fact back to the days when it was just an idea. Bombardier/Canada had hired Gary Robison to put a plan together. Gary had previously owned Harmon and Collins, a camshaft company catering to Southern California’s hot rod and motorcycle community, and was just beginning to develop items for the Honda Super Hawk 250 and 305 machines that had just been introduced. I was then working for American Honda and racing the new Hawk, which was fitted with Gary’s camshaft and larger bore ForgedTrue pistons to make the engine a full 350.
By 1968 I had moved to Petersen Publishing, working on the staff of Motorcyclist magazine. By about 1970, or 1971, Gary called me and filled me in on his arrangement with Bombardier. He wanted some technicians who would move to Quebec to help build the new, revolutionary Can-Am motorcycles. I supplied him with several names, among them an old friend, Bob Barker, who moved to the frozen north and had a good record with Can-Am, riding their 125 to a 138mph record at Bonneville.
Bob then heading up the design team that built the 500cc two stroke street bike that only made it to the development stage. Pending emission regulations, which actually did not come to pass, forced the cancellation of what was a wonderful bike. I participated in some testing at the Talledega Speedway and it was a brilliant design, surpassing the 750 Honda, Norton Commando and other selected bikes of the day. They built two bikes, both of which I think Gary Robison still owns. Barker now calls Gainesville, Florida home, and has a large collection of very desirable bikes. Manx Norton, AJS 7R, Indian twins and fours, you name it. Some 1930′s AJS V-twins, but sadly, none of the early Can-Ams. They were all destroyed, including the Bonneville 125, although several people claim to own it.
As the Can-Am’s performance became obvious to the marketplace, I approached Canada about operating a road test fleet that would have each and every motorcycle magazine testing a Can-Am each month. I knew all the magazine guys, and knew they were a bunch of lazy bastards, so I left Petersen and set up my own business in 1976, expanding it to Rotax racing engines in 1979. I’d supply the bikes and ride along with them and end the day with a splash in a Jacuzzi with a bottle or two of red wine. I haven’t had a real job since.
I’ve built two desert play bikes with Rotax tandem-twin engines and I’ll attempt to send you some photos. I’m not always successful at this but I’ll keep trying. One of the bikes is based on a 486 Can-Am and the other one is chassis from an ATK that had a 600 Rotax four-stroke. The Rotax tandem twin was produced in the 80′s and Rotax would not ship an engine that made less than 75bhp. So, 75bhp in a 220 pound chassis should give one a good ride. I call them the “world’s fastest play bikes”. They are lots of fun and I have yet to come across anyone who would disagree.
Memories from Glenn Evans
I worked in the parts dept. of Sonic Motorcycles from 1975-1982. Sonic was owned by Bill Sharpless and John De Gruchy . Sonic was the hub for all types of motorcycle racing , enduro , trials ,flat track , road racing , ice racing , It was common on a Monday morning to find that shop employees had dominated all types of racing on the weekend. We were the largest Can-Am dealer in Canada, and also sold Suzuki and for many years Bultaco ” Built to go Bultaco”…….
My first Can-am was a 1974 TNT after starting at Sonic, I had many more Can-Am bikes and competed in Ontario enduros , as well as riding in the 1980 USA two day ISDT qualifier’s while making the Canadian team for France.
Okay, so here’s some of my memories in no particular order: The endure scene in Ontario in the mid to late 70′s was at its peak. It was usual to have 200+ riders at an event. Can-Am was very well represented at these as they were a very popular bike. If I remember correctly at Sonic M/C we were selling about 80 per year (total shop sales of all the brands we sold was 500) Can-Am had a clever contingency plan in place for some of this time and paid, I think $100.00 for a win and $50.00 for second and $25.00 for third for all classes, junior , senior and expert No other manufacture paid anything. I know that I, along with Blair and Frank S, collected several hundred dollars each of this money during this time. It was a good incentive to get riders on Can-Am’s. This program may have been Steve Brand’s idea. Looking back he did a lot to promote the brand and help the riders.
I always competed on 370 or 400 models , and as I remember I used the MX version , and changed the transmissions main and counter shafts to the enduro model , added a lighting coil , lights and the large fuel tank. Looking back , I think I did all of this work, just because I could……..
Having seen On any Sunday, and hanging out at Sonic while I was in high school, the ISDT had made a big impression on me. And when I started working there and riding enduros I aspired to ride in it someday.
Frank Sutton had made the team in 1979 and gone to Germany, after talking to him I decided to try for the 1980 team with him and Blair. We travelled to the USA to compete in the two day ISDT qualifiers that were being held, Tennessee for a weekend and rode Alabama and then drove over to Tulsa for the next weekend event. There was a group of 5 guys in the van and we had a trailer with the bikes and spares. We had a blast all week and everyone got along fantastic Alabama was a real (red) mud fest as there had been a tornado the previous week. We all wore out our brake shoes and didn’t have any spares for Tulsa. I had arranged for my Brother and his girlfriend to drive to Tulsa from his place in Calgary and be our support crew, I was able to get in touch with him and he bought a bunch of brakes shoes and brought them for us. A real life saver.
Tulsa was fast, hot and dusty, I broke a bone in my foot towards the end of the second day, but was still able to finish on Silver (my best two day finish ever), I was in so much pain that when were back at the motel and I got in the shower, I passed out and woke up with my mouth bleeding from hitting the shower base. I think Blair and Frank also got Silver.
The CMA made the team selection and all three of us were on it. Can-Am (Steve B) was very good to us and offered us new bikes for i think $1000.00 as well as picking up the tab to ship them to France. They also arranged to have a van, loads of spares and two tech’s from Rotax to offer support while we were there.
We all chose the Qualifier models – Blair 250cc – Frank and I 400cc – Geoff Burgess and Ron Matthews had suggested some modifications to be done, these were having the rear wheel rim turned down 2mm on one side and removing the Sun rim drive pins to make for faster tire changes, we also had the front wheel hubs machined for double wheel bearings on the small side of the axles. We also safety wired all wheel spacers in place and modified the front axle for faster wheel removal. We also used o-ring chains and added tank mounted tool bags. The bikes had to have functioning speedo for tech inspection, so we used some fork mounted Bultaco units that we could quickly remove after the start.
After we had done all the mods and broken the bikes in. We packed them into shipping crates, along with empty fuel cans and other riding equipment. Closed them up and Blair and I drove to the Valcourt RandD facility to have them shipped along with Geoff’s 250 and Ron’s green 500 4 stroke.
So after we had the three bikes crated up, Blair and I drove to Valcourt and spent the night in a guest house owned by Bombardier. The next morning we drove to the RandD shop and met with Ron M and Geoff B.
They gave us a tour of the facility I remember they had a suspension room that had pretty much every type of fork and shock. There were many prototype bikes, and lots of test mules. In the same shop there was also building a twin track racing snowmobile. It was all hand made with lots of titanium hardware. It looked like it was about a foot tall at its highest point. A wicked machine.
Ron had the engine cases for his Sonic on a milling machine and was having them thinned by a French Canadian machinist. I think these cases were sand cast so a bit thicker and heavier than Ron wanted. This was before CNC machines, so this poor guy was doing it all by hand. There was a large pile of aluminium chips.
I had taken an instamatic camera and shot a bunch of photos inside the facility, Ron and Geoff, made sure their backs were to the camera in the pictures. When we were leaving outside in a compound were about 30- 50 green coloured Qualifier models, they had very space age looking body work on them. I think they were going to be 81 models, but they had to many left over 80′s models still to sell. So they never produced them. I couldn’t help snap one last picture of these however a security guard saw me, and demanded to have the film from my camera. I had no choice but to pull it out and expose it. WHAT A TRAGEDY!!!!
2008 Australian Vintage Motocross Nationals
Paul Kalika is a legendary Can-Am collector in Australia. Not only does he have an enviable collection of early Can-Ams, but was responsible for getting Gary Jones and Jimmy Ellis together for a race reunion. The venue was the Australian Vintage Motocross Nationals where Paul personally prepared and leant Gary and Jimmy bikes so they could race together. Jimmy has lived Australia for a number of years, with Gary being specially invited over for the reunion.
Gary won the Pre ’78 class on the MX2 against later year all power longer travel bikes.
Check out the incredible photo’s of the race and reunion here.