Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Ledgend: Dave Degens Dresda.

Dave Degens is a survivor. He began racing and then building motorcycles over 40 years ago and is still thriving.

From racing in the early 1960s, Degens progressed to building Tritons for the cafe racer era, to short circuit racing, to winning the Barcelona 24-Hour Race (in 1965 and 1970), and then into a new era with Japanese-powered specials during the 1970s, when his success in the Barcelona marathon led to the Paris-based Japauto concern asking him to build an endurance racer around the four-cylinder 750/900 Honda engine.
In 1972 this collaboration resulted in the famous Bol d'Or win by the pairing of Debrock and Ruiz riding a 969cc Japauto housed in a Dresda chassis and weighing only 170kg (3751b).This success was repeated in 1973 against a vast array of works opposition: quite some achievement, and one which firmly established the Dresda name. Today, the continuing enthusiasm for classic machinery, together with a fresh interest in his first creation, the Triton, ensure that Dave Degens' talents remain in demand.

Mick Duckworth wrote this report entitled GOTHIC REVIVAL in Classic Bike Magazine in August 1986:

When Japanese multis left the Triumph twin behind in the seventies, Dresda Autos changed with the times. Proprietor Dave Degens moved away from his legendary Triumph Engined specials to build cycles around the engines that had made them appear obsolete. He was successful too, as many wins in endurance racing on Dresda products have proved, but the last couple of years have seen an amazing swing back to British-engined products at the company's factory near Heathrow airport.

Ironically, it was interest from Japan that prompted the return of Dresda Triumphs and Tritons. classic racer Tetsu Ikuzawa won an historic machine championship there in 1984 using a Degens-prepared Triumph. Several Dresda twin cylinder specials were subsequently built to be shipped east, and with Degens himself returning to the track -where he was a top runner in the sixties-to ride in CRMC races, word soon spread that the classic Dresda was available again.

Road and racing machines are being built to meet demand from Britain and abroad. The custom-specification specials use 500cc, 650cc and 750cc unit and pre-unit engines in either the Norton Featherbed frame or the Dresda lightweight chassis. Typical of the eye catching exotica that Degens produces for his customers is a Dresda Triumph that was undergoing final assembly when we visited the works.

Originally unit construction Bonneville, its engine is heavily modified internally. A Norton Atlas crankshaft with lightened bobweights has been machined to run in standard Triumph main bearings. Polished T140 conrods give a capacity of about 840cc and the flywheel has had its periphery skimmed to give clearance for the lobes of T140 camshafts timed for optimum mid-range torque. The 10 stud cylinder head has been converted to stub exhaust fittings instead of the troublesome push-fit system, and sweptback pipes carry BSA Gold Star pattern silencers in traditional Dresda style. Although of dubious benefit on the road, centrally-disposed spark plugs are fitted in keeping with the unashamedly cafe-racing image of the machine. Boyer Bransden electronic ignition triggers a Nippon Denso double-ended coil, and carburation is by a pair of 32mm Amal Concentric MkII's complete with spun-alloy bellmouths.

The awesome double-sided four leading-shoe front brake was developed by Degens and used by him for endurance racing. Marketed for a time under the CMA brand name. the l0¼in drum is still obtainable from Dresda Autos while stocks last. It's claimed to be no heavier than two discs and calipers. Two operating cables run to a double pull lever, which, like the clutch lever, is an Italian Cuppini type incorporating a click-stop cable adjuster and mounted on a Tommaselli clip-on handlebar.

Veglia instruments are carried on an alloy facia with switch gear and warning lights. Twelve-volt electrics run off an alternator with the rectifier and zener diode bolted to an engine plate. The battery is carried in a forward extension of the oil tank where it can be checked and topped-up whilst in place. The headlamp is a French Auteroche halogen unit secured in the half falling of the type favoured by Degens since he found through experiment that the lower part of a dolphin falling plays a minimal role in streamlining. Like the fairing, the petrol tank is in fibre-glass. The same craftsman has been laminating this material for Dresda since the sixties - lightness fanatics can order tanks made using carbon fibre in the resin, which weigh only ounces. A small but important detail that Degens points out on his petrol tanks is their generous recessing underneath to allow smooth runs for control cables and wiring. The machine's paintwork is firmly traditional, except for red coach-lining on the frame tubes - slightly over-decorative for some tastes, perhaps, but it is what the customer ordered. Typical cafe-racer gothic lettering adorns the tank.

Hidden under the hump backed seat on this model is an ingenious telescopic arrangement to allow the rear frame loop to extend, moving the seat back to give more room for two-up riding.

How much does a machine like this cost? (webmaster note these were 1986 prices ) Degens estimates a minimum of £1,000 for labour on most jobs, with total bills of around £4,000 being average. Much depends on the proportion of raw materials supplied by the customer and how much work that needs before it meets Dresda standards. Getting an old pre-unit engine into shape can cost more than a fairly sound, and much newer, T140 motor,' says Degens. 'Half the pre-unit engines we see haven't got the thrust washer behind the mainshaft pinion when we strip them so the crank hasn't been located properly in the mains' He points out an early T100 bottom-end in the workshop: 'That's cost £350 so far, and we haven't got to the top end yet.'

Hayward polyurethane toothed-belt transmission replaces chain primary drive and a T140 five-speed gear cluster is operated from the right. thanks to pre-American legislation T120 crankcase castings. The latest Triumph oil pump is installed with an oil cooling radiator stowed in the fairing. Lubricant is conducted to and from the cooler inside the frame, a neat arrangement which adds capacity to the 5 pints carried in a rubber-mounted alloy central oil tank.

Degens began making his own frames in the late sixties - initially because he thought the compact 500cc Triumph Daytona engine didn't look quite right in a Featherbed chassis. Originally inspired by the geometry of Aermacchis he raced for importer Syd Lawton, Degens' lightweight chassis are made from Accles and Pollock T45 tube, which is preferred to the traditional Reynolds 531 for its greater elasticity. 'Remember that 531 was designed for bicycles, which don't vibrate like motorcycles,' he explains. 'That's why the Manx Norton frame was meant to be annealed every couple of seasons.'

The frame on this machine weighs about 18lb, and its duplex loop has the tubes behind the engine sloping forward where other Dresda frames have vertical members This mainly cosmetic change was first made in the seventies to blend with sloping cylinder blocks on Japanese engines.

The Dresda box-section swinging-arm has helped tame many a flexing Jap monster: Degens originally devised it to accommodate wide rear tyres for racing. The rear hub is a lightweight conical type designed for off-road machines, and rear suspension is by Italian five-position spring and damper units.

The front forks are based on Norton Roadholder, but with several special Dresda features such as the yokes - both in steel, although alloy top yokes are available - and multi-rate Manx pattern springs. Where the standard nearside bottom slider has a pinch-bolt to clamp the front wheel spindle, Degens has converted it to a split clamp with two bolts. 'Nearly all the Norton forks we get have cracked at this point,' he says. The conversion costs £25.

Luckily, supplies of some Triumph and Norton parts have been maintained at Dresda over the years, and essential engine-to-frame templates that could easily have been discarded were preserved. Full order books mean there is a waiting list for complete machines, but special Dresda parts and all the propriety equipment used on the bikes are
available from the factory by mail order."

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