Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Motorcycle Years from "Motorcycle Design" by Craig Vetter

This is from the manuscript of a new book on the History of Motorcycle Design after 1939
by Craig Vetter, motorcycle designer and now historian and writer.

Preface to Wixom
May 24
1662 words
1967: The “Summer of Love”. I rode my 350 Yamaha from Illinois to LA to
interview people who had already done the kinds of things that I wanted to do. I
scheduled visits with Floyd Clymer, Bruce Meyers, Bill Van Tech and Dean
Wixom to ask them what advice they could give me so I would not make the
same mistakes they made. Well, I wanted take a trip too. All right, I also wanted
to check out Haight–Ashbury in San Francisco..

Floyd Clymer, founder and owner of Cycle Magazine, was ornery and
uncooperative. He wouldn’t even let me ride his Munch Mammoth. Bruce
Meyers, inventor of the Meyers Manx dunebuggy, advised me to spend all my
efforts on molds: “Get them as perfect as you can”. ( Bruce was forever haunted
by a crooked rear fender on his Manx ) Bill Van Tech must have made a some
kind of mistake because by the time I got to LA, he was employed by Grant
Industries and “unavailable”. Dean Wixom, fairing designer, was a real
gentleman, taking me under his wing, even inviting me to stay at his home.
We had taken two very different approaches to fairing design. The Wixom fairing
mounted to the handlebars while the Vetter fairing mounted to the frame. Dean
could see that I too had designed for the American riding style. “Really”, he said,
“the only advice I can give you is that very few people are going to pay $100 for a

I couldn’t do that. It cost me too much to make! I was counting on the fact that
there would be a place for my design too.

We became friends and competitors in the fairing business. But, it wasn’t until
researching for this book that I learned just how far his influence extended
through motorcycling.

I am honored to tell of his contributions to motorcycle design.

America’s first fairing designer, Dean Wixom
May 24, 2005

Dean Wixom was an industrial arts student in Long Beach in 1960.
He rode a BMW with an English Peel fairing, which he recognized as not being
right for the American riding style. Dean had learned fiberglass at a summer job
in high school. You know what came next.
By 1964, Dean Wixom was getting America warmed up to fairings.
Dean Wixom was a motorcyclist. He understood materials and he had a good
sense of design. And he was industrious. He had all the ingredients for success.
Dean designed and made what he wanted on his motorcycle. In so doing, he
made what many American riders wanted too. Brother, Stan left his job at IBM to
invest in the venture. Wixom Brothers became the biggest fairing manufacturer in

There were challengers
Avon and Butler, the major fairing companies in England, now set up distributors
in the US to sell Café Fairings - which were street versions of streamlining they
saw on the tracks.

They were called cafe fairings because the English Rockers of the era used them
as they raced from café to café. Americans thought they looked cool, but we did
not ride from café to café. We rode from coast to coast. The Wixom Brothers
understood that. They made real touring fairings for the way Americans rode:
The Wixom Brothers struck gold in 1966. When the Wixoms put their fairing on the Harley Big Twin, they hit the mother lode of the fairing business.

The Wixom /Harley combination became one of the All time Classic Designs of
motorcycling. Forty years later, Dean’s design lives on in the Harley Davidson

1967: The Summer of Love and Airflow

Dean Wixom’s motorcycle career is entwined with that of famous engine
designer, Jerry Branch. When Dean was beginning, Jerry was working as a
mechanic at a local Harley shop, learning how engines breathed – or “flowed”.
Legendary Harley Racing Manager, Dick O’Brien had come to rely upon Jerry
Branch. In 1967 Jerry Branch set up shop flowing engines above the Wixom
Brothers’ fairing factory on Signal Hill in Long Beach, CA.

In 1967, Dick O’Brien told Jerry that Harley wanted to win Daytona in 1968.
Think about it: The OHV Triumph had won in 1967. In 1968 the Yamaha 350
would be here, ridden by the best Americans and international riders from
Europe. How could they possibly make their old, 1953 flat-head design

Jerry Branch knew what to do with the engine and he knew just where go for the
right fairing design.

It was that summer that I met Dean and Jerry on Signal Hill. Dean hinted about
something exciting they were working on but could not talk about. Thirty eight
years later they talked.

Dick O’Brien had told them he was prepared to do whatever it took to win
Daytona. He began by buying a block of time at the Cal Tech wind tunnel. The
AMA had not allowed streamlining on Class C road racing machines until a few
years earlier in1962, so nobody in the US really knew how to tell a good race
fairing from a bad one. Dean and Jerry were about to find out.

The cuurent H-D racer had xxx hp would go 135, not enough to win
Daytona any more. Dean tells of the hours they spent, adding clay here and
there - finally giving up and building a new fairing from scratch.
Until they spent their time in the wind tunnel, everyone had assumed that a
skinny fairing was better. Everyone was wrong. The fairing and seat, they
discovered, needed to be as wide as the man on the bike to help the air flow by
easily. One of the surprise sources of air drag, incidentally, turned out to be the
“whetted area” of the air entering the engine opening. When they taped over the
opening, the drag went down measurably. Each time the air slams into
something – the forks, the frame tubes, the engine cases, the fins - it causes

Besides shaping the fairing and seat, Dean sculpted the beautiful new 6 gallon
fuel tank while Jerry focused on getting the fuel/ air mixture into the engine and
getting it burned. Jerry upped horsepower to xxx. Dean did the “big air” while
Jerry did the “little air”. The top speed rose to over 150 mph.

As Don Emde, fellow road racer, says in his book: The Daytona 200,
“When they arrived in Daytona for the 1968 races, the team bikes did not even
remotely resemble the machines of the year before. They were all painted in
identical Harley orange, black and white colors”

Harley did indeed win Daytona in 1968, and again 1969.
Cal Rayborn shocked the world winning the 1968 Daytona on that old Flathead KR TT.

Vetter Design Truth #10: “There is no more new frontier… We will have to
make it here” … is bunk.
(Eagles, Last Resort”)

Designers get to work in new frontiers.

Dean and Jerry agree that he FIM streamlining rules of 1957 which require the
rider and wheels to be exposed, make it virtually impossible to really streamline a
racing motorcycle today. The biggest area of improvement, they found, was to
help the air flow smoothly over the rider’s back. This was so important, Dean
says, that he flew to Daytona a few days early to personally hand-cut each
windshield to fit each individual rider in the Harley team!

Wixom had designed the best road race stream;ining possible. Period. Any deviation from
this design would be contrived just to be different. It seems unlikely that it could
be more efficient.

The story is not over
Harley had found One-Stop Shopping on Signal Hill. After their 1968 success,
Dick O’Brien brought over the first XR 750 chassis for the Jerry and Dean to
finish up. Again, Dean designed and built the tank and seat while Branch made
the heads flow.

1970 Harley XR 750 (picture)

Wixom and Branch had produced another classic, being produced until xxx.
Maybe the most rewarding part of this venture is, according to Dean, that Willie
G. Davidson, in charge of Harley’s design, simply rubber-stamped it.

The last fairing that Dean designed before selling Wixom Brothers ended up as
the ubiquitous CHP fairing made famous on the TV show, Chips.

The brothers sold their fairing company in 1977 and went on to design another
classic, the Nor’sea 27 sailboat.

This fibreglass sailboat has been in production longer than any boat in history.

Dean now enjoys a third career inlaying gemstones, in a process called
“Intarsia”. Only a handful of artists produce intarsia in the US.

In 2007 Dean won the coveted "Gemmy Award" this country's highest award for the Gemcutting Arts. .

You may E-mail encouragement to him at:

Stan Wixom died in 2004.

Jerry Branch is the world’s youngest 80 year old. (See Jerry Branch )

Dean Wixom was nominated to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2007

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