“Goliath” Harley-Davidson XRTT in Bonhams Vegas Auction
The ex-Vance Breese, factory-assisted and magic from Alan Sputhe c. 1973/1980 Harley-Davidson XRTT 1200/1300cc ‘Goliath’ Racing Motorcycle
Engine no. 4A18468H2
• 1980 10.554-second quarter mile at 130.24 mph (John Ulrich, Cycle World)
• 1980 SCTA Bonneville National MPS-AG class record at 176.615 mph
• 1980 AFM series Unlimited Class road racing champion
• 1989 John Cronshaw class lap record at Oulton Park, UK
• 1300cc Sputhe short-stroke, all-aluminum motor, now rebuilt at 1200cc
Goliath, a biblical warrior, stands at about nine feet tall, and is typically characterized as being bigger and stronger than any of his opponents. When, but not why, this motorcycle was named Goliath seems to have been lost in history. A very fitting name for another ‘California hot rod.’
This unique, do-it-all-racing Harley-Davidson was a project started in 1979 by one Vance Breese, racer, of the Redwood City-Menlo Park adjoining neighborhoods just south of San Francisco, a hidden hotbed of engineering and machine shops. He teamed up with Alan Sputhe, engineer and racer, of the Sputhe Engineering Company then in Tujunga, northwest of Los Angeles and close to the San Fernando Valley. Sputhe designed and manufactured his own big bore aluminum barrels and heads, amongst many other ‘speed parts’, a good place for Breese to start. Jim Belland actually built the motor for Breese, however. Over time the bike was constantly modified and improved, and more to the point focused, moving to the ‘purity’ of competition; drag, road race and speed record. Such was their early success that soon there was ‘assistance’ from the folks at the Juneau Avenue factory Race Shop.
The bike is in its final form as a road racer ridden by John Cronshaw for Team Obsolete in 1989 in Europe. Its trick specification was as follows: a Sputhe all-aluminum (now) 1200cc short stroke Sportster-based XR750-type motor complete with S&S forged flywheels, connecting rods and pistons, Sifton cams, a total loss ignition, a pair of 40mm Dell’Orto carburetors and a two-inch diameter custom exhaust built by Tony Williams, an XR750 clutch and ‘C’ ratio transmission. The final chassis is a genuine XRTT frame with Sputhe oval-section swing arm, complete with ‘period correct’ wheels, suspension and brakes and fairing. A time-warp 1980s tool room special!
The complete bike was recently restored from the ground up by Duncan Keller of Yankee Engineuity, Inc. He took the bike into his shop in late 1996 and began the tear down and build-up of this tired racer. The engine was de-stroked from 3-13/16inch stroke to 3-1/2inch, reducing the capacity to 1,200cc, increasing the rev limit to 8000 rpm. A XR750 ‘mini-sump’ was also installed along with a special secondary external scavenge pump to evacuated the crankcase more efficiently. Ignition was changed to a ‘single fire’ Dyna ‘S’ system. An ‘R-ratio’ transmission was installed along with a new larger capacity oil tank was made by Harry Hoffman. The bodywork has two air management systems, one feeding fresh cooling air directly to the motor and the other extracting air from the motor bay out through openings in the seat cowling. Keller says in a letter on file that he spent over 150 hours undertaking the rebuild.
Vance Breese is a renaissance man. Although his father was a well-known test pilot in the 1930s and ’40s, Vance found his own ‘need for speed’ purchasing a Norton Dominator 99 in 1962. He soon went through numerous jobs from (unsuccessful) motorcycle shop proprietor – Mothers Motors and Parts Pile – VW parts man, carpet cleaner, telephone answering business, a half share in an engineering shop, to his acquisition of Harley-Davidson of Santa Maria on April Fool’s Day, 1987. No fool Vance, it lasted until 2001 when he sold out. He also developed his own software to help shops like his survive, Counterman. His motorcycle race successes, pre-‘Goliath’, are excessive…500 GP, Open Production, even sidecar, AFM champion over the 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, and 1979 seasons, 1981 Isle of Man ‘Spirit of the TT’ award for pushing his bike in flames across the line, and more. He obtained his Gyroplane Pilot’s License in 2003 and was inducted into the Dry Lakes Racer’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
The late Alan Sputhe was a versatile engineer of considerable breadth and depth. His ‘Harley-Davidson record’ alone is massive for he created a gigantic list of better, often bigger, performance parts. By 1990 his shop was ‘totally’ CNC and by the following year he had built his own 112ci 60-degree motor, and five years after that his own Sputhe Spectre had run 158mph at Bonneville. He went into limited production with the Spectre in 1998.
It was in the July 1980 issue of Cycle World that Peter Egan, with John Ulrich as test rider, analyzed the first rendition of this truly amazing motorcycle which used a “Mert Lawwill XR750 dirt track chassis along with the Sputhe powered engine and thus launched the bike and its builders from the ‘unknown’ to the ‘well known’, his feature being titled The Aluminum Steamroller, A Lean and Hungry Hawg. A copy of the article comes with the bike as does alternate gearing. Egan quotes Breese, ‘There are two approaches to horsepower. There’s the electric high-speed machine gun method, and then there’s the big cannon. This is the big cannon. A big engine doesn’t have to work so hard to produce power, and it’s usually simpler and lighter.’
‘Goliath’, the big cannon.