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Vintage Motocross Bikes of the 1970s
Tom Ewing is the owner and caretaker of these important vintage examples of motocross racing history. These, and other vintage motorcycles that Tom has painstakingly restored to museum quality, are on display in his Naples, Florida collection.


1974-75 Honda Factory Works RC125 "Marty Smith" Replica


1975 "Marty Smith" Honda Factory Race Team RC125 Recreation

Throughout the 1960s, and until the early 1970s, the typical race-bike seen on motocross tracks in the U.S. would have been a crude, stripped down and highly modified trail bike that was not made for this kind of abuse. They were unreliable, poor handling, and unforgiving. There were a few purpose-built bikes available - mostly from European manufacturers - but they were the exception, not the rule. Then, in 1973, Honda turned the motocross world upside down with the introduction of their 250cc Elsinore. Honda got the name "Elsinore" from the famous annual Grand Prix featured in "On Any Sunday". They were ahead of almost anything else on the showroom floors, and they were much more affordable than their European counterparts. Without serious modifications, nothing else could keep up. Honda was eager to showcase their new rocketship, and they didn't dissappoint. They recruited Gary Jones, who had won the 250cc American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Championship in its 1972 inaugural year aboard a Yamaha. Gary repeated his 250cc AMA National Championship win in 1973, but this time it was aboard the newly released CR250 Elsinore. Several months after the 250cc Elsinore was released, Honda introduced their 1974 125cc Elsinore. To the amazement of the racing community, the 125cc Elsinore was even farther ahead of its competition than its big brother. 1974 was also the inaugural year of the 125cc Class in the AMA National Championship series. Honda recruited a young talent by the name of Marty Smith to carry their flag aboard their 125cc racer, and the rest is history. He was unstoppable for the next two years, and easily won the 1974 and 1975 series championships. Marty also became the first "superstar" of the sport. The bright red Honda Factory Race Team Elsinores, ridden by the fastest riders of the day, were the most recognizable of all the racers. They looked fast, they were fast, and they changed the sport forever.

The most challenging of these restorations is a recreation of one of the versions of the Honda Factory Race Team RC125s. Since the RC125s were all custom made, and had little in common with the CR125 Elsinore that was sold to the public, parts for this restoration are hard to come by. Many of the parts were either custom made, or they were obtained through a painstaking, year-long search. Some of the custom parts and modifications include the swingarm, period performance shocks, a 2.5" extension in the front fork travel, a custom built RC replica fuel tank, a recreation of the original RC "up-pipe" expansion chamber, custom FMF cylinder porting from Don Emler, the RC-correct 32mm Mikuni carburetor, and too many other modifications to list. The money-pit for a project like this can be bottomless if you don't set a limit. So, the point of diminishing returns was set at the completion of the frame, wheels & tires, body work, carburetor replacement, cylinder porting, all visible external parts, and miscellaneous non-visible parts that were required to accomodate items that were modified or replaced. The exotic reed intake system, the center-port exhaust, and the engine lower-end mods of the original RC engine were not replicated (not that I could have found these specs anyway). This recreation of the 1975 AMA Champion RC125 will certainly bring back memories for those who were involved in the early days of AMA motocross racing.

The red, white and blue leathers, shown above, may be the only (still) never-worn set of Hondaline Factory Race Team (style) goatskin leathers currently in existence. They have been safely tucked away in a closet for the past 37 years, since the day they were won at a 1975 motocross race in Waco Texas.


1978 Harley Davidson MX250

Harley Davidson MX250; the "Holy Grail" of vintage motocross collector bikes

If there is one single production bike that would be considered the "Holy Grail" for for any serious vintage motocross collector, it would have to be the 1978 Harley Davidson MX250. It's a bit like a Unicorn... you know, something that is often talked about, but no one seems to have ever really seen one. In fact, very few people are even aware that Harley Davidson ever built a serious motocross contender. The Harley Davidson MX250 is unique, extremely rare, and simply a great looking bike.

Harley Davidson’s entry to the world of motocross was a by-product of one of the most unusual marriages in motorcycle history when they purchased Italian firm, Aermacchi in 1960. This marriage gave them access to a basic 2-stroke engine, and entry into the rapidly developing small-bore sport bike market in America. Over the next few years, Harley/Aermacchi produced several two and four stroke motorcycles, ranging from 50cc to 350cc. Prior to the development of the MX250, only their Baja MSR100 (100cc) was ever advertised as a competition motocross bike. First introduced in 1970, the performance of the Baja was best described as lackluster. The Baja remained virtually unchanged in subsequent years, while other manufacturers continued to make large performance improvements. By 1973, the Baja was hopelessly outclassed. Any lack of success in the motocross arena certainly wasn't because of an inability to produce world-class, winning motorcycles. This was proven beyond any doubt in 1974, when Harley/Aermacchi won the 250cc road racing world championship with their RR250. Harley/Aermacchi repeated the 250cc world championship in 1975 and again in 1976. They also won the 350cc road racing world championship in 1976.

Building upon their road racing success, Harley/Aermacchi launched a serious effort at developing a truly competetive motocross bike. After some success with Harley's innovative 1975 250cc prototype motocross racer, most remembered for its unusual rear-fork suspension, production of the MX250 was begun in 1977 (1978 model year). Harley also fielded an impressive factory motocross team, with Rex Staten, Marty Tripes, and Rich Eirstadt at the controls. The results were fairly impressive for a first-year team. Although the power of the Harley Davidson engine was excellent, the total weight was a bit portly, the suspension lagged behind the competition, and the price was higher than any of the very capable Japanese competitors. There was no question that Harley Davidson was on the right track, but much work still remained if Harley was going to become a winning motocross team with a truly competetive production bike. Given the success of their road racing program, there was plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of their motocross program.

Unfortunately, continued success for their motocross program was not in the cards for Harley Davidson. Harley’s relationship with Aermacchi, for many reasons, ground to a halt after 1978, and production of the MX250 abruptly ended. The production run of the MX250 ended with fewer than 1,000 of these bikes ever leaving the assembly line. Cagiva purchased Aermacchi from Harley Davidson at the end of 1978, and modified versions of the Harley/Aermacchi line of motorcycles continued under new ownership, and under a new name. Harley must have been on the right track, because only eight short years after the baton was passed, Cagiva won the 1986 motocross world championship with their WMX125. That same year, Cagiva also claimed 3rd place in the 125cc world championship and rarely missed a podium with their WMX250. Any doubt about whether Cagiva could build world-class motocross bikes was forever laid to rest. Whether the same success in motocross could have been attained under Harley Davidson's leadership is something we will never know.

It has been decades since the introduction of the Harley Davidson MX250, and most of the original 1,000 bikes no longer exist. Tom Ewing's Harley Davidson MX250 is VERY unique, in that it has never even been started. This is a 100% unrestored, original example that is still in showroom condition. This bike went straight from the dealership to a private collection in 1978, and has always been kept in a climate controlled environment. That, folks, makes this one VERY rare motorcycle. This Harley is now the centerpiece of Tom Ewing's vintage motocross collection in Naples, Florida.


1975/76 Honda CR100 (E.C. Birt Sleeve-down)


1975/76 Honda CR100

In 1974, Honda absolutely dominated the very popular 125cc class with their CR125 Elsinore. Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki all fell short, and had much work to do in order to compete effectively in this class. The 100cc class was also becoming very popular, and young riders were eagerly awaiting the latest racers from the major manufacturers. Honda, at the time, decided not to produce a 100cc motocross bike. Suzuki and Yamaha both produced 100cc bikes that were essentially sleeved down versions of their less-competitive 125cc bikes. There was no shortage of after-market modifications for these 100cc racers that were designed to overcome the same shortfalls that made the Suzuki and Yamaha bikes less competitive in the 125cc class. However, there was a clear understanding that the only reason that Yamaha and Suzuki were on the podium in this class was simply because Honda chose not to develop a 100cc bike. Then, a few of the aftermarket suppliers upped the ante by offering 100cc sleeve-down kits for the CR125 Elsinore. The most popular kits came from Donny Emler’s FMF, DG Racing Products, and Jeff Ward Racing Products. There’s no disputing the fact that many of the sleeve-down Elsinores were fast. However, cost proved to be a barrier. The cost of a new CR125 plus the cost of the sleeve kit resulted in a VERY expensive 100cc racer. Most riders opted to stick with modified Suzuki TM100s or Yamaha MX100s.

This particular example of a 1975/76 sleeve-down Elsinore was clearly intended to destroy any competitor that crossed its path. The engine in this CR100 was originally custom built by engine-builder E.C. Birt for Jeff Ward. The ingenuity, engineering and workmanship that went into the production of this engine was unmatched. As shown in the adjacent photo, the crankshaft counterweights were turned down in order to make room for small fins that were welded, turbocharger-style, to the counterweights. This fin modification was designed to pressurize the ports, allowing a greater fuel/air mixture through the combustion compartment. Although intriguing, the fact that this modification didn’t become more mainstream indicated that there were probably more effective ways of increasing power. Nevertheless, this is an excellent example of the “skunk-works” mentality that permeated every motocross racer’s garage during this period. Restoration of this jewel was completed in 2012, and is now part of Tom Ewing’s vintage motocross collection in Naples, Florida.


1975 Kawasaki KX125

1975 Kawasaki KX125

Kawasaki’s timing was just a bit off in the early 1970’s. The KX125 debuted in 1974....but so did a wave of very capable competition from Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda. The KX125 was competetive with the Suzuki TM125 and the Yamaha MX125, as well as some of the European 125cc bikes from Husqvarna, Bultaco and others, but all were left in the dust of the class-dominating Honda CR125. The 1975 season brought the much improved, cantilever suspension Suzuki RM125 and the radical new Yamaha Monoshock YZ125. The 1975 CR125 and KX125 were both virtually unchanged from the 1974 models. Kawasaki was in serious trouble in the 125cc class. In 1976, Honda introduced their new long-travel CR125, Suzuki was in their second year of their popular RM125 with an impressive new redesigned engine, and Yamaha rarely missed a podium on their Monoshock YZ125. The 1976 KX125 remained essentially unchanged from the 1974 model, and was rarely even seen on the tracks. Sales of the 1974-1976 KX125 paled in comparison to their rivals, making this a rare bike even in it's day. Kawasaki finally threw in the towel, and didn't even release a KX125 in 1977. Kawasaki made good use of their down-time, and released a very impressive KX125 in 1978. Even so, it was not until Jeff Ward strapped on a KX125 in 1984 that Kawasaki finally brought home the 125cc national championship.

Roll the clock forward 40 years from the original KX125 release, and you can understand why this 1975 KX125 is an extremely rare bike. Although the 1974-1976 KX125 certainly wasn't one of the front-runners of its day, no collection of early 1970’s motocross bikes would be complete without one of these beauties. They are rare, they are unique, and they were one of the best looking bikes of the time.


1976 Yamaha YZ100 Monoshock

1976 Yamaha Monoshock (and the Monoshock in action at Lake Whitney, Texas in 1976)

In the early to mid 1970s, virtually all of the motocross bikes had traditional vertical mounted twin-shock rear suspension - and this suspension left much to be desired. By 1975, all of the top riders, looking for that "edge" that would make them more competitive, were relocating the dual rear shocks to a cantilever position. Then, Yamaha changed everything with the introduction of the Monoshock. They placed a single shock absorber under the gas tank, and used a rigid linkage to connect it to the swingarm. In reality, this (arguably) proved to be no better than the cantilevered twin-shock designs that were coming out, but it was wildly radical compared to anything seen before this. It also paved the way for the next generation of "linkage" suspension still in use today. The Yamaha leathers shown above, lightly battle-scarred but still in nice condition at the sprightly age of 39, are the same leathers shown in the 1976 Lake Whitney Motocross photo above.


1974 Suzuki TM100 and 1971 Kawasaki MT-1 "Parnelli Jones" 75cc Dynamite

1974 Suzuki TM100

1971 Kawasaki 75 Dynamite

Suzuki TM100 - The early to mid 1970s were exciting times for motocross racers. This period represented the first time in history that all the major motorcycle manufacturers were producing purpose-built high performance motocross bikes that were competitive in their stock, showroom configuration. Competition between manufacturers was intense, and technological advances were coming at an astonishing rate. Every new model release from each manufacturer rendered the previous year's model completely and utterly obsolete. Motocross was becoming very popular, and tracks were now filled with Honda Elsinores, Yamaha MXs, Suzuki TMs, Husqvarna CRs, Kawasaki KXs, Bultaco Pursangs, and a host of others. Even Harley Davidson threw their hat in the ring with a fairly impressive looking 250cc motocross bike. The smell of Castrol and the sound of 10,000 RPM two stroke engines permeated motocross tracks all across America. These were the days when you were lucky to find a bike with more than 4 inches of rear suspension travel, and the sight of a four stroke bike on the track would have been met with uncontrollable laughter. Motocross has come a long way since the early 1970's, but no generation - before or after - has represented such an important period in the history of the sport.

The 1974 Suzuki TM100 "Contender" was born of this era, and was the bike that introduced many up and coming racers to serious motocross competition. Motocross bikes like this were designed to withstand a high level of abuse, but most would eventually succumb to the riggors of the track. Relatively few of the early 1970's small-displacement motocross bikes still survive. The rare example in this photo was a year-long restoration project, and represents an important addition to my collection.

Kawasaki 75 - During the late 60s and early 70s, most kids were introduced to trail riding on the Honda Mini-Trail or the Trail 70. Kawasaki introduced their 75cc "Parnelli Jones" Dynamite in 1971 to compete directly with the Honda Trail 70, which dominated the market at the time. The best thing - and the worst thing - about this bike, when introduced in 1971, was that it used a two stroke engine. The two stroke engine gave it a lighter weight and better performance than its competition. The worst thing about this bike was that the two stroke engine required much higher maintenance, and required precise fuel/oil mixtures to prevent engine seizure. Because of this, few of these bikes survived over the years. This is, indeed, a VERY rare bike - and is one of a pair that I own and have restored to showroom condition.


1964 Honda 305 Dream (Mark Woolley - Owner)

1964 Honda 305 Dream

In 1964, the Beatles were the most popular band, Cassius Clay won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship, and Bewitched, Bonanza and the Andy Griffith Show were the most popular television shows. 1964 was also the year that Honda became the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer, and the year that Mark Woolley's Honda 305 Dream rolled off the assembly line in Japan. Mark has owned this bike for nearly all of it's 50 years of existance, which makes for a special provenance. After 50 years of use, this motorcycle was in pretty sad condition. Tom Ewing spent 8 months restoring this bike to better than showroom condition, and finished the restoration just in time for it's 50th anniversary in 2014.


The Next Bikes on the Restoration List


The next restoration bikes on the list
Bultaco Pursang - Husqvarna CR125 - Bultaco Astro


Restoration Videos

Videos of some of the completed restorations