1929 Harley-Davidson Factory Hillclimber
Building anything out of stuff taken from the parts bin can be a tricky business. Just ask Dr. Frankenstein.
But this 1929 Harley-Davidson factory hillclimber is proof that with enough ingenuity, a collection of parts can be turned into a unique and competitive racer.
Larry Ketzel, an early Harley-Davidson hillclimber who also spent time working in the Harley factory, put it all together.
“He said he had an idea about how to make it really run,” says close friend Ted Ponton of Salinas, California. “And he was a very intelligent man, real sharp.
“He called it the Home-Brewed Special,” Ponton adds.
The frame is from a 1929 hillclimber, and the motor was destined for a ’29 JDH road model, so Ponton calls it a 1929 Harley. However, that’s just the start.
The 74-cubic-inch (1,230cc) JDH engine was used as a base. Ketzel then incorporated flywheels from a 1929 61-cubic-inch (1,000cc) JE. The cylinders are based on a design from a 1930 21-cubic-inch (350cc) “Peashooter,” a single- cylinder Harley. But this set was specially cast at the Harley factory to Ketzel’s specs. Only 12 were ever made. The overhead-valve heads, meanwhile, came from two stock Peashooter engines.
Merging those parts wasn’t easy. Ponton notes that Ketzel had to cut off half the gearbox just to fit the powerplant into the frame. But when he was through piecing the elements together, he had the bike you see here, a V-twin with all the right parts for going uphill fast in 1930.
There’s no question that this was a serious racebike. Ketzel removed the gear-driven oil pump and installed a hand pump to avoid any loss of horsepower. And he bumped the compression ratio to a whopping 13-to-1.
Suspension? Another mix of bits. The ’29 frame came with the rigid rear end you see here, but Ketzel took a springer front fork off a ’28 model.
Unfortunately, no records remain telling us just how fast this unique machine was or how many horsepower it made.
“All Larry would ever say is, ‘It does the job,’ ” Ponton notes.
But Ponton has seat-of-the-pants proof that the bike was quick.
“I rode it on a hill in 1950, the last time it ran,” he says, “and it was a powerhouse.”
Ketzel, who owned Larry Ketzel Harley-Davidson Cyclery in Salinas, California, for 25 years, died in 1992, at the age of 86. Before his death, he donated the Home-Brewed Special to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum.