It’s a rare day when you get the opportunity to spend time in Tom White’s Southern California-based Early Years of Motocross Museum. Even rarer when you get to enjoy a personal guided tour by the AMA Hall of Famer himself.
And the rarity reaches new levels when you ask White to take a moment and select 10 out of the over 200 show-quality motorcycles in his collection that are his favorites.
“What?” White responded jokingly when asked. “Are you kidding me? Should you have a favorite child!?”
But that’s how it went down on a day in which Motorcycle.com Editor-in-Chief Kevin Duke and I were blessed to be invited to the Early Years of Motocross Museum located on the property of White’s home in Villa Park, California, to witness the special delivery of one of the 50 factory-built Indian Scout FTR flat-track racers available in the country today (see the video below). For me, it was also a special opportunity to catch up with a man who is truly one of my heroes in the industry, someone who I will forever be grateful to say advanced my career through his never-ending kindness and generosity.
It’s no secret that one of the sport’s greatest and truest friends is battling terminal cancer, and yet his bravery has not diminished, nor has the light in his eyes nor his love for his family, friends and the sport that has ignited his passion for life flickered or waned. To look at him, you might not even know Tom White is ill, and we were infected by his spirit as he walked us here and there to show us his 10 favorite machines from his immaculate collection. Enjoy!
We have to start somewhere, and for Tom White, this 1967 Greeves Challenger was the starting point of his immaculate collection of vintage motocross, off-road, flat track and roadracing machines.
“Back in 1984 we were at an event,” White relates, “and we saw this Greeves for sale. My son, Brad, who was about 6 at the time, said to me, “Dad, we should buy that bike and restore it,” White recalls. “So we did buy it. I never really thought it was going to be the start of what we have now. Later I just realized that when it came to preserving all of this great motocross history, nobody was doing a very good job.”
And when Tom White has taken on a project, it almost always ends up as a job well done. This 1967 Challenger is proof. Sort of the zenith of Bert Greeves’ competitive efforts, the Challenger was far ahead of its peers in terms of innovation if not always execution. The British-built machine sported components such as an aluminum I-beam frame and a leading-link fork that were considered radical for a production dirtbike in that era, and the brand enjoyed success in Europe with factory riders Dave Bickers, Bryan Wade and in America with Gary Bailey, who later became known as “The Professor of Motocross.” It helped to make Greeves the most popular motocross brand in America in the sport’s formative years, but the rest of Europe started to catch on, and soon lighter and faster machines from Husqvarna and CZ overshadowed Greeves, which went out of business in the early 1970s.
This 1968 Suzuki TM 250 is already as rare as hen’s teeth, but it’s also a reminder of a bike that Tom White just missed out on while amassing his collection.
Suzuki was actually the first Japanese manufacturer to produce a motocross bike. In 1966 the company sent two engineers and a road racer to Europe to begin development of a motocross machine, and two different models were put together during the effort: a single-cylinder and a twin-cylinder, both in two-stroke engine configuration. As the project moved forward, the twin-cylinder design was abandoned in favor of the Single, which Suzuki patterned after CZ’s World Championship-winning twin-pipe 250. Thus the Suzuki RH67 born, and Suzuki built approximately 200 of them in 1967, 65 of which made it into the United States. That’s the model that White missed out on buying.
However, the more production-based 1968 TM250 shown here, although still rare, was arguably the more successful model. While the RH67 floundered with poor handling and unreliability, the more sorted TM250 actually enjoyed some success in America in the hands of Preston Petty, Walt Axthelm, and Gary Conrad. Suzuki was also the first Japanese manufacturer to sell its motocross machine with a complete spares kit that included pistons, rings, replacement clutch parts, gearing and carburetor jets.
This TM250 may be the nicest example in the world, but if you happen to know where there’s an RH67 for sale, give White a call. He claims that he is finished with collecting vintage motocross machines, but…
Sort of a companion to White’s 1967 250cc Greeves Challenger, this 360cc version from the same year sports a much more conventional look with its telescopic front fork and low-mounted exhaust that features an expansion chamber design that would become commonplace as motocross engineers figured out that the exhaust pipe played a huge role in two-stroke performance. This Greeves model actually features dual exhaust ports.
However, looking more closely you can also see some of the design limitations that Greeves failed to improve upon, which ultimately helped to cause the demise of the company. At a time when even the big four-stroke manufacturers Triumph and BSA already switched over to lighter unitized engine arrangement that housed the transmission and combustion internals in the same cases, the Greeves continued to use a pre-unit engine with a separate transmission and separate clutch case. The entire works was bolted together and held in place with the use of alloy engine plates.
Of course, that didn’t stop the 360cc from enjoying success and popularity at the time. The Southern California deserts and early motocross tracks were chock full of Greeves in the 1960s. The last Challenger models were produced in 1968. Greeves stepped up with new models, the Griffin 250 and Griffin 380, in 1969, but they too featured the same old-school drivetrain layout.
Step back into the earliest years of World Motocross Championship history and you’ll find the premiere 500cc class title was not won by Japanese brands such as Honda or Yamaha, nor even by more popular British makes such as Triumph and BSA. Instead brands such as AJS and Matchless (England) FN (Belgium), Monark and Husqvarna (Sweden). In 1961, Lito won the FIM 500cc Motocross World Championship when 1959 500cc World Champion Sten Lundin of Sweden scored his second World Championship title.
However, history is always full of bizarre twists and turns, and that’s the case here, as the Lito 500 really wasn’t its own original design. It is based heavily on the Monark on which Lundin won his first World Championship. No matter. The booming Albin-manufactured 500cc four-stroke engine pumped out a rock-splitting 45 hp, plenty of power to allow the “The Viking,” as Lundin was called, to join fellow Swede Bill Nilsson as a two-time 500cc World Champion.
As rare motocross machines go, this one is a true Holy Grail machine. Estimates are that only 30 examples ever left the “Litoverken” in Sweden before the company closed in 1963. Your only chance to see one might be at Tom White’s Early Years of Motocross Museum in Southern California.
They don’t get any rarer than this 1969 Husqvarna. It’s the only one in the world, and it’s one of Tom White’s favorites.
As White tells it, the twin-cylinder 500cc project began when Swedish road racer Bo Grannath persuaded Husqvarna engineer Ruben Helmin to graft a pair Husqvarna’s 250cc cylinders onto a single case. The prototype engine was finished in 1968, but after testing it, factory motocross riders Rolf Tibblin and Torsten Hallman shied away from the 302-lb. machine, determining it to be too bulky and beastly for motocross. Even so, Husqvarna’s Gunnar Nilsson won the European FIM Motocross Cup on it in 1969.
Upon seeing its success, American Husqvarna importer Edison Dye felt that the engine could win the Baja 1000, so Husky rebuilt one of the roadrace engines to 492cc and shipped the machine over to Dye. In the hands of American team members Malcolm Smith, Carl Berggren, Gunnar Nilsson and J.N. Roberts, the Baja Twin lived up to its potential with a win in the 1969 Baja 1000. Dye then tried to convince the factory to build more of them so that he could sell them in the United States. Husqvarna declined.
Only 10 of the 500cc twin-cylinder engines were ever produced. Two were slated for roadracing and seven for sidecar racing, but this is the only off-road machine that ever existed. It languished in Dye’s San Diego warehouse for about 30 years before TwinAir filter company owner Frans Munsters bought the machine in 1998 and restored it to its former glory. White then obtained it, and today it sits in a prominent place in the Early Years of Motocross Museum for all to see. White has turned down offers of nearly $200,000 by other collectors wishing to purchase the bike.
This 1971 Bultaco Pursang Mk. 4 is one of several examples of the Spanish brand’s handiwork when it comes to building competitive motocross machines, and Tom White has beautifully restored copies of all the significant Bultacos in his Early Years of Motocross Museum. Many of them enjoyed far more on-track success and higher sales than the Mk. 4.
So why is this particular model so near and dear to White? Because he rode a similar scrambles model with support from Bultaco in America through his Novice professional year in AMA flat track in 1972. The Pursang Mk. 4 was sold in two versions, a scrambles model with a 19-inch front wheel, universal tires, and clip-on handlebars, and the motocross model shown here with a 21-inch front wheel, knobby tires and MX-style crossbar handlebar.
White also says that the Mk. 4, with its sleek fiberglass bodywork is the best-looking Bultaco dirtbike ever produced, and its useable torque and stout top-end power made it easy and fun to ride. It was a tough customer in motocross, and its long wheelbase, fork angle and low center of gravity also made it hard to beat in flat track competition even as Bultaco’s legendary Astro flat-track models were joining the model lineup.
The rivalry between Indian and Harley-Davidson in the 2017 American Flat Track Series is intense, and it goes back a long way to when the two brands regularly fought it out on the racetrack from the dawn of motorcycle racing up until Indian went out of business in 1953. While Tom White recently took possession of one of the 50 Indian FTR Scout 750s that will be produced this year, his love for the Indian brand was already evident in the Early Years collection, as he owns an example of the last factory flat-tracker that Indian produced, the Model 648 Scout.
One of approximately 50 produced – and only in 1948 – the Model 648 was a cut above the standard Scout engine. Its “Big Base” crankcase-equipped 45 cubic-inch, side-valve, 42-degree V-Twin was capable of making over 50 horsepower, and that made it a thorn in the side of the Harley-Davidson camp and their factory WRs.
Right off the bat, Floyd Emde proved the 648 Big Base’s worth when he won the 1948 Daytona 200, while factory Indian Wrecking Crew riders Bobby Hill and Bill Tuman used an even more-specialized four-cam (lobe) versions to wrestle the AMA National Flat Track Championship away from Harley-Davidson for three consecutive years (Hill, 1951-52, and Tuman, 1953).
White’s Model 648 occupies a separate wing of the Early Years of Motocross Museum, which is located on the property of White’s Southern California home. The “flat track room” is actually the family rec room adjacent to the tennis court!
As a Novice racer, Tom White earned his one and only AMA National win at the Castle Rock TT in 1972, and this Redline Triumph is an exact replica of the motorcycle on which he did it. The machine is the centerpiece of White’s flat-track collection, which includes other Triumphs as well as Harley-Davidson XR750s (which he later rode), Harley-Davidson WRs and the aforementioned Indian Model 648 Scout.
Typical of the hot-rodded Triumphs that were competitive in TT competition into the 1980s, well past the brand’s prime, this machine is a purpose-built weapon that is simple and extremely eye-catching. Right down to such items as its Redline frame and Bates solo seat. Master fabricator Lynn Kasten and racer Mike Konle were graduates Trackmaster racing frame alumni when they struck out on their own to form Redline frames in 1971. They were successful as aftermarket flat-track chassis builders, but that success paled in comparison to their success in the exploding BMX bicycle market. The Redline name still lives on today in the bicycle business.
From a true performance standpoint, a stock Yamaha DT1 is nothing to write home about, and yet the model has been hailed by dirtbike historians as possibly the most important Japanese bike ever produced. Why? Because it is the first real Japanese dual-sport machine, an attempt by Yamaha to build a true all-purpose dirt/street machine that would attract new riders while also appealing to the hardcore motorcyclist.
“I’ll never forget my first setting eyes on a DT1,” Tom White says on his Early Years of Motocross Museum website. “It was December of 1967 at the Anaheim Cycle World show, and I placed an order the next day with my dealer, Rustan Motorcycle Sales. When the bike arrived in April, engine number 312, I polished it in the showroom for a week before Bob Rustan would let me take it out of the store.”
The DT1 did it all. In stock form, it was a mellow commuter or a casual weekend trailbike, but Yamaha also sold a GYT Kit (Genuine Yamaha Tuning) that would transform the DT1 into a competitive machine that could give just about any production scrambles, desert, or motocross machine of the era a real run for its money.
But like the famous Ford Model T, while countless DT-1s were produced, only a handful of pristine, stock examples exist today. Because of their desirability as a low-cost alternative race machine, many DT1s were shed of their lighting equipment and other non-essential accessories to be raced in just about every from of motorcycle competition under the sun. Thus, finding a completely unmolested DT1 is a real task. The example you see here has 45 original miles, and White managed to score it only after five years of pestering the last owner, longtime friend Wayne Meridian of PEP. This pristine DT1 is in unrestored original condition.
Husqvarna is primarily recognized for its significant contribution to the dirtbike world, but once upon a time the historic Swedish marque actually took part in Grand Prix-level road racing. Of course, you’d have to go back nearly a century to find out about it. Or you could go to Tom White’s billiard room.
While the machine you see here is one of the very few in White’s collection that is a replica and not a genuine sample, there’s good reason for that: Husqvarna built so few of the machines that they’re already nearly impossible to come by, and of the few originals ever produced, some have been lost in mishaps ranging from fires to sinking ships! While the factory Husqvarnas were able to threaten established British brands Velocette and Norton, both of whom dominated GP road racing in the 1930s, it failed to topple them.
This particular motorcycle is about as close as you’ll find to an all-new one, as it was meticulously constructed using all of the Husqvarna factory drawings – every last nut and bolt is a correct representation of an original Husqvarna 500 GP Racer. That includes its 50-degree, air-cooled, 498cc V-Twin engine, which is said to be capable of putting out around 44 horsepower at 6800 rpm. With a dry weight of around 279 lbs., the machine was good for about 120 mph, which made it more than competitive for its time and probably scary as hell considering its brake and suspension technology.
Frankly, it surprised us that of the over 200 motorcycles in Tom White’s collection, this is the last one he showed us, and it has a special place in his heart among his favorites. Who knew that a dirt-track and motocross guy could be so enamored with a roadracing machine?
Then again, once you realize just how much passion and enthusiasm Tom White has for the sport of motorcycling, it only makes sense.