John Randolph’s back-from-the-scrap-heap Harley-Davidson Sprint
Words and photos by Reg Kittrelle
Harley-Davidson has dabbled in small bikes several times throughout its 116-year history. Currently the Street 500 and 750 hold center stage, but over the past 70 years there have been at least 15 other models, 500cc and under, that have worn the Milwaukee logo, the majority being 2-strokes and in the 90cc to 250cc range. Prior to today’s Street 500, the only other 500 was the Buell Blast! (ya gotta add that exclamation point) that hit the highways between 2000 and 2009.
In 1960, Harley bought 50 percent of Aermacchi, an Italian motorcycle maker split off from Aeronatica Macchia, an airplane manufacturer. This purchase was in response to the flood of small Japanese bikes beginning to dominate the U.S. sales charts. Re-badged as Harleys, the most interesting of these were the Sprint models, first in 250cc and, later, 350cc versions. These were 4-stroke, horizontal singles putting out a mighty 18 and 25 horses, respectively. While Harley’s efforts here put nary a dent in the Japanese juggernaut, the bikes did see quite a bit of road racing and flat track success in the hands of legends such as Mert Lawwill and Carroll Resweber.
Harley bought the remaining 50 percent stake from Aermacchi in 1970, but by1973 the Sprints had realized their full racing potential and it wasn’t enough to stave off the more powerful 2-strokes, particularly those from Yamaha. With street sales being less than stellar, Harley eventually sold off Aermacchi to Italy’s Cagiva.
Which brings me to John Randolph of Ben Lomond, California, yet another old fart that just can’t seem to give up motorcycles. Beginning in 1968 aboard a $200 Honda CB77 Super Hawk, John has ridden and raced his way on dozens of different motorcycles. But one stuck in his mind over the years. As a pro racer in 1972 he was at the Cow Palace in San Francisco for an indoor short track. Aboard his new Bultaco Astro he found himself chasing Mert Lawwill’s (’69 AMA Champ) aging Sprint during practice, and the memory stuck with him. “I’ve been fond of Sprints ever since,” he says. But he never owned one until a year or so ago. He got wind of a discarded Sprint motor in a scrapyard about to be recycled. Smart boy that he is, he snagged it, and thus began his own recycle project.
A teardown showed the motor to be a 350cc version, and in fairly decent shape. But that was all he had; a motor. Bench racing with friends —we old guys do this a lot—John was offered a couple of Sprint rollers (frame and wheels, no motors) for a very generous price of $0. With an engine and roller he set about doing what we all have done … spending far more money than expected. According to John, “By the time I replaced every bearing, every worn part and every spoke, I probably could have bought a runner!” Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been what he now has.
With its rattle-can paint, a dent here and there and some well-earned patina, John’s Sprint reflects the man himself. Fifty-plus years of riding and racing have given him dents here and there, and his own patina matches the Sprint’s. He didn’t set out to build a show bike, he just wanted a reliable backroads burner. An inveterate garage tinkerer, John massaged and adapted bits and pieces — note the SuperTrapp muffler and small luggage rack— to fit his needs. Yes, he styled it a bit with the grey seat with its red piping and those red rims. Period correct Dunlop K70 tires (yes, they’re still available) and S&W shocks finish off the look. Oh…and of course the Medaglia D’Oro coffee can wrap on the speedo.
Overall the bike comes off just as he wanted, but I’m sure the next time I see it he’ll have changed something ’cause that’s just the way he is. Is he happy with his recycled Sprint? “I’ve never owned a motorcycle as much fun to ride through the twisties,” he says. And there’s little doubt that part of him is still chasing Lawwill through those turns.