Monday, February 13, 2012

Royal Enfield Big Head Bullet became a saga

John Ruff shares the saga of his Big Head Royal Enfield Bullet.
Royal Enfield motorcycles are the hobby of John Ruff of Huntsville, Ontario, Canada but, as he admits, his collection has gone way beyond a hobby. In a series of emails he walked me through part of his amazing collection of Royal Enfield bikes and bits. Come along for the ride. We'll start with his Big Head Bullet.

Below is the edited (for length) story in John's own words. (Note: the pictures are somewhat out of date and many of his projects have moved beyond what you see here).

"Here are a couple pictures of my Big Head Royal Enfield . I now have a GP carb for it . This bike is a work in progress . First heard about and had a look at a very sad appearing Big Head about 30 years ago. At that time I was new to British bikes but was trying to find parts for another sad project, an early Interceptor that I paid $300 for and brought home in the trunk of a Toyota Corolla. That's another story .

"Did not get any parts for the Interceptor, but instead bought a really rough RE 125. While there the guy let me have a look at some of his other stuff, one them being the Big Head, as he called it. Dirty and not much to it, but the engine hit me as a beauty.

"The frame had been chromed at one time. Looked pretty good. Well it was not for sale, and he was looking for parts for it . Over the next few years I ended up finding quite a few motorcycles while looking for parts for the Interceptor and RE 125 . Several of these were Royal Enfield parts bikes as well as what others considered good bikes. I traded the others for Royal Enfields and parts — usually the others got the best of the deal, but at the time I thought I was the winner.

"Some of these went to the guy with the Big Head for future considerations. I was left with the understanding that I had first dibs on the Big Head. Over the years I bought at least eight bikes from the guy, paying the going price. Finally, at a rally about 10 years ago the guy said he was going to sell the Fury, as he then called it . 'How much?' I ask. Three Thousand U.S. I am told. Quite a lot of money for a frame, motor with tranny bolted into it and a front end on it with two wheels. That's all. No bars, seat  fenders, footpegs, fuel tank,   carb, mag, etc.

"I made the deal that weekend basically sight unseen since a trip to his place about 20 years before. Went to his place one last time to pick the bike up and pay for it . I must say that it sure looked a lot tougher than I remembered. For some reason I thought it was a lot more complete and in better condition. As mentioned the frame had been chromed , but the rear footpeg loops had been cut off with a hacksaw first, then the frame was chromed . They did not even bother to file the rest of the loops smooth . Just left the stubs there and chromed over them. Later the front seat mount had been cut off, also not cleaned up. By now everything was rusted up some.

"One thing I got was a gas tank that he said was his and that another guy had at his place and I could have. I later had to pay another $200 for it as the buddy said that other buddy had not paid him for it. Turned out it was incorrect anyway. Still have it.

"Well, now I am committed. Here I have three grand in a parts bike. Could not find a tank, so I used a rather battered Model G tank that was on the shelf (another trade, another story). Did some reconstructive surgery. Stuck a couple alloy fenders on it, made up the brackets for fenders, tach, Triumph seat, bars, Mikuni carb and whatever else I could cobble up over the winter. Had it looking not bad (or so I thought at the time) and took it to the following year's CVMG Rally. Had it running at home before bringing it , but only for a few minutes. She drew a bit of interest there and I was excited to ride it around. Bitch to start, and when it did it farted and missed like crazy. Gas tank began to leak all over the place. One short burst was all I  got out of it at that time and I realized there was sure a long way to go .

Rough when found, it now gleams.
"So over the next few years all that was done was try different parts on it. Added new chrome (take off) fenders from the India Enfields. Made up new rear seat fender brackets to more of original styling. Put on one of the cafe seats for the new Enfields. Took a rusted out new Enfield gas tank and reworked the bottom of it to fit over the head. Remade all the cables, added a GP carb. That was made from scratch (castings and machine work and everything, a work of art in itself). Cleaned it all up. Looks pretty good again, although still not original.

"Never did try to run it again until last summer's REOC Rally here in Canada. Now that weekend is another story altogether. If you want I can tell you about that as well one day."

GP carb that Royal Enfield guru Roy MacMillan cast and machined.
John had to find the internals.
I'll show you more of John's amazing collection of motors and motorcycles soon.

UPDATE:  John Ruff advises that he sent his frame and engine numbers to Graham Scarth of the Royal Enfield Owners Club, keeper of the original Redditch dispatch ledgers. Here's what he learned: "Big Head is a matching numbers 1959 Indian Westerner (built by Royal Enfield). Have a story out of a November, 1995  issue of Classic Bike that says the American Bullet had formerly been the Indian Woodsman, a Redditch-tuned version of the 'small head' single. For 1959 only, Indian sold the Westerner, the first big head single in the U.S., and the RE-badged Fury followed that model's pattern. Some early advertisements depicted it with the earlier head."

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