There's no BMW content in this post. Absolutley none. Nada. Zip. Turn back now if that offends...
For the rest:
I spent some time tonight reading history on the Web. Work-related, but obliquely‘«™ I work for Whirlpool, as a designer at our washing machine factory inn Clyde, Ohio. A recent trip to the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan had me looking at the antique Thor washing machines till my mind wandered,and then two aisles over I looked at the antique Thor V-twin motorcycles as well. Yes, the same parent company. Both divisions were apparently
going well in the early part of this century.
Anyway, Googling around on the Web using "Thor motorcycle" as the search words, produced some darned interesting stuff. If you're into twisted stories and antique mechanicals, take a look at the URLs below. It's good stuff, if you like stories that twist and turn and interconnect:
The three URLs describe the birth, life, and eventual decline of Thor Moto Cycles, out of Aurora, Illinois.
I'd assumed Thor was just a small-potatoes operation, folding like many others, but the story is a lot more twisted than that.
Just a quick outline, for details the websites make fascinating reading:
Aurora had a foundry, and made castings for engines for the founders of Indian starting around 1901. It appears to have been a joint effort, as eventually a deal was made where Aurora would make engines for Indian, but could sell those same engines to other makers, as long as the royalties were paid to Indian. Aurora was not allowed to make motorycycles themselves, as part of the agreement with Indian.
An example of the cooperation between Indian and Thor:
In 1902, all 137 Indians produced had Aurora-built engines in them. Indian didn't have a foundry of their own‘«™ Imagine, when Harley was taking baby steps Thor had been building engines for several years‘«™.
Then in 1903, Aurora formed Thor Moto Cycle company, but only selling components such as hubs, brakes, and spokes to other makers. In short, you could order your parts, build a frame, slip Thor engine and components in, and you were suddenly a motorcycle company. But Thor didn't yet make a machine with a Thor emblem on it.
It appears that Thor had an increasing market share and presence, with approximately 50% of the motorcycles at industry shows in 1905 being powered by Thor engines, or Thor clones.
Eventually, Thor decided to build entire motorcycles themselves. And their machines were competitive against Harleys and Indians and Excelsiors, winning enduros and other types of races.
There was innovation at Thor, and many components made at Thor were purchased by other makes as OEM equipment. Thor produced major components for Reading Standard, Flying Merkle, Raycyle, Indian, Sears, Cyclone, Henderson, and Harley.
Much of the innovation and race effort at Thor was under the guidance of an engineer by the name of William Ottoway. In 1912, Ottoway left Thor and was recruited by Harley to head up their racing team. The Harley race team brought Harley fame and prestige from 1912-1916.
By around 1916-1919, Thor motorcycle production had stopped. It appears there were still some components for sale, but it's hard to tell exactly what happened from reading the websites. The parent company, now re-named Hurley Mf'g Company, by then was making home appliances (I know them for their washing machines), and continued to do so for several decades after the demise of Thor Moto Cycle.
But the story doesn't end there, not exactly. William Ottoway was still working for Harley after Thor's demise. And so in the late nineteen-teens, under William Ottoway's guidance, and with the help of combustion expert Harry Ricardo, Harley designed and built an 8-valve V-twin race bike. Several, actually, though I didn't see any exact numbers anywhere. None of these were sold to the public, and apparently Harley themselves never thought about the historical significance of the machines, either.
In other words, they didn't save any for themselves, and it was thought all were gone, having passed into private hands eventually and then being scattered to the wind.
Over the years, three have been found, in various places around the world. Extremely rare, and I suspect extremely valuable.
So the V-Rod isn't the first 8-valve Harley, not by a long shot. And that obscure Thor up at the Ford Museum played a not-so-small part in the long Harley story‘«™
I especially like the way all the old names in motorcycling were so closely connected, that was a major surprise‘«™. I had no idea I was looking at so much history, when I was looking at the Thor motorcycle in the Ford Musuem.
Anyway, that's the twisted tale I came up with tonight, when all I really set out to do was to read about old washing machines and other home appliances‘«™
And yes, I *am* writing a book...
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