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Friday, May 3, 2013

Very rare, very original VAX Interceptor roars back to life

This classic VAX Interceptor now looks the way it should.
The original owner bought this 1960 VAX Interceptor "S" in Los Angeles in 1960. He rode 3,000 miles, then parked it, in 1964, with half a tank of gas in it. It sat in a shed with something dripping on it. Until now.

Forty-eight years after this very rare 700cc Royal Enfield Interceptor was parked, it's roaring back to life in a stirring YouTube video posted by the new owner, a Californian named Jeff who purchased it from the family of the original owner.

Not only does it sound great, the VAX Interceptor (so called for the unique letters "VAX" stamped on the motor) now looks fantastic. Jeff and his son Mason (who shot the video) removed half a century of grime and grease to reveal what may be the most original example of a VAX in existence.

They had help.  Says Jeff, “Tony Markus at Gas Tank Lining rescued the original tank using remarkable new techniques, and Tom Robinson at BBC Triumph did the heavy lifting, including oil flow modifications which were beyond my capabilities, but necessary to protect the bike from known issues with these early Interceptors.”

Hitchcocks, Burtons and Jeff’s friends on Yahoo's Royal Enfield Interceptor group provided invaluable information and advice.

The mighty Interceptor looks surprisingly crisp and clean.
Jeff, a stickler for research, shared his research into the history of VAX Interceptors in July  25 and July 27  2012 posts featuring his bike. Most of us think of Interceptors as the last and mightiest Royal Enfields, introduced in 1962 with 750cc (actually 736cc) motors. That's only partly true.

In 1960, Royal Enfield combined their most powerful 700cc (actually 692cc) motor with their best high performance parts to create a new, experimental offroad hotrod designed to meet the demand for powerful scramblers in the U.S.  They called it the “Interceptor.”

"No lights, No mufflers and No speedo. The largest and most powerful vertical Twin in the World," boasted one ad.

However, in creating this "super-potent competition model with snarling power and acceleration,” Royal Enfield soon found that they had produced a beast that only a highly skilled, musclebound rider could tame in the dirt.

With quick-detach lights, the Interceptor could take you anywhere.
Accordingly, Royal Enfield scrambled to introduce a road going “Sports” trim package, with detachable headlight, speedometer, tail light and other modifications, hoping that this new version of the 700cc Interceptor “S” would be more appealing to riders who wished to easily switch between road and off road configuration as the need arose.

Although factory records indicate that no more than 170 VAX Interceptors were manufactured, the VAX Interceptor was no failure. Rather it paved the way for the larger displacement Interceptors to come. Interceptors remain the pinnacle achieved by Royal Enfield before it went out of business in Britain in 1970.

Even sitting still the motor appears to ripple with power.
The few VAX Interceptors made probably lived hard lives, and only a handful are known to survive today.  We know of no museum holding a VAX Interceptor in its collection. While most examples in private collections have been pieced together using parts from various Interceptors, Jeff’s bike is the only complete, unmodified, running VAX we’ve seen.

"It is unmolested, with the original frame, engine and transmission verified by the REOC, and with the original tank, bars, exhaust, toolbox, rims, shocks, speedo, magneto and so on — all parts present and accounted for, with the exception of the toolbox covers. Conveniently, I particularly like the look of the VAX in its scrambler configuration, sans toolbox, as advertised and sold in 1960,” Jeff said.

Period ad showed the 700cc Interceptor without toolboxes.
Jeff plans to keep his VAX as original it can be and still fulfill its mission of providing two-wheeled excitement.

"Interceptors shouldn’t be trailer queens. These bikes were built to ride, and I’ll ride this one, hard,  just as I ride every bike in my collection. She’ll be keeping her hard earned battle scars like the small dents and scratches in the silencers, and I won’t be polishing her hubs or getting her into concourse shape. We’ve just cleaned her up and made repairs where necessary. We had to use some extreme measures to clean 50 years worth of grease, oil and dirt off of the bike, but underneath that gunk, the paint on the frame is in great condition, as is most of the bike."

It does look great. But to appreciate this motorcycle you have to watch (and hear) it in motion. Check out the video.

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