Entry #15: Smoke on the Horizoncafelogo

By Gary Charpentier

Oh man, now I’ve done it, I have adopted another orphan motorcycle. I just can’t help myself! There should be some sort of intervention from my friends and family to keep me away from the Sunday classifieds, but they remain blissfully ignorant of my plight as I sink deeper and deeper into the vintage motorcycle addiction.

My latest acquisition is a 1968 Bridgestone 350 GTR. According to Tim, the previous owner, it was a dealer demo bike until 1970 or so, logging 3,811 miles before being put into storage when the dealership went belly-up. It has languished in some warehouse for almost 30 years now, and it is up to me to resurrect it. This will be a challenge.

Two-stroke motorcycles have always seemed a sort of black magic to me. Yes, I know that they make lots more power per cubic centimeter than their four-stroke rivals, but there is all that gas and oil mixture and jetting alchemy to deal with, and no engine braking when I downshift at the entrance to corners. The old drum brakes on this bike look woefully inadequate when I think that they are solely responsible for dragging us down from a claimed 105+ mph top speed! What am I getting myself into here?

So, I rolled her out of my garage last night and into the light of the setting sun. All that chrome glistening with golden reflections really cast a spell on me. Polished alloy engine cases spoke to me of hours of soothing rubbing and buffing. I just sat and stared at her for awhile, far enough away so I wouldn’t see the cracked cables, dry rotted rubber seals, and other inevitable signs of aging.cafe28

To me, she was fresh, new, and ready to take me on adventures yet unimagined. Kind of like meeting someone in a dark, smoky bar for the first time–you want to put off that first glimpse under the harsh light of day for as long as possible. Or is that just me?

Classic Bike Guide describes the Bridgestone 350 GTR as: “Too rare to become the stuff of legend it deserves, the GTR remains one of the world’s great originals. Magnificent performance and engineering. Very rare.”

High praise indeed, coming from a British magazine which caters mostly to the British and Euro-bike crowd. The fact that these bikes are so rare makes me pause a moment before considering modifications. I feel a certain responsibility to restore this motorcycle to it’s original glory. But the addition of clubmans (clubmen?) and rear-sets is reversible, and as long as I hang on to the original parts, I feel I will have kept the faith.

There are so many unique, quirky little details about this motorcycle! It looks like the engineers were given free-reign during the design phase, and that design must have bypassed the bean-counters on it’s way to the production line. Disc valves, dry clutch, grease fittings right in the middle of the control cables, and the most beautiful castings I have ever seen on a Japanese motorcycle. These are only a few of the features that immediately capture the eye.

A six-speed rotary shift transmission means that all gears can be selected by moving the lever downward, with neutral between sixth and first. This can be a potential disaster if I ever lose track of which gear I am in, as selecting first gear right after winding it out in sixth would cause immediate, catastrophic disassembly! There is a warning light which activates as you select fifth gear, telling you there is only one more to go. This light will be checked frequently!

I am sure there are many more mysteries awaiting me as I strip away the layers of engineering artistry. I have been searching for a shop manual, and may have found a source on the Internet. This, I am sure, will save me a lot of time and headaches.

Speaking of the Internet, there is a Bridgestone Registry for owners of these obscure little bikes, as well as a mailing list. I have found both to be valuable sources of information and advice so far. The next step is to start buying parts, sight-unseen, from people I have never met. This will require a certain level of blind trust, but I have found most people who are involved in this hobby to be quite honorable and extremely helpful. In the case of a mailing list such as that which serves the small Bridgestone community, word gets around quickly if anyone feels they have been cheated, so I think my chances here are pretty good.

As I write this, it is getting very close to Father’s Day. The one who will call me Daddy is still in-utero, but we know who she is now and have picked out a name. Wife Amy says that’s enough to qualify me to receive the customary gifts, and I have given her a list of hand and power tools that will help my restoration efforts immensely. I wonder what she is going to pick from that very long list? The air-compressor will come in handy! Or the big tool chest, or the…

Having spent the past eight months in exile in Minneapolis, it is really nice to be back on Ton-Up Hill again. I have my garage, my shed, and the tools with which to turn out some interesting motorcycles.

Yeah, I do miss the rush of competition, both on the road and on the racetrack. But they will both be there when I am ready to tear it up again.

In the meanwhile, there is so much more to this motorcycle obsession that I can explore. First Thursday is coming, and I would like to have this GTR running by then, with clouds of smoke and a hearty “Rrrrrrring-ding-ding-ding-ding…”. It should keep the mosquitoes away, at the very least.


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