Hand Shifted – Tim Kill’s Harley Davidson WLA
Earlier this year Return of the Cafe Racers teamed up with the crew from Fuel Tank to create the SIX ONE custom automotive exhibition. SIX ONE was designed to stir things up in the Australian custom scene. More art exhibition than auto expo its focus was to celebrate the craftsmanship and skill of Australia’s custom builders. The show wasn’t limited to any particular style or genre leaving it open to everyone with a passion for automotive to attend. SIX ONE was a huge success showcasing everything from cafe racers to land speed race bikes and they shared floor space with all manner of four-wheeled customs.
As one of the organisers of SIX ONE 2019, I had the daunting task of nominating the Return of the Cafe Racers pick of the show. This was no easy task considering I was the one who handpicked each of the bikes that went on display. Thankfully one of my favourite local builders made my life easier with his latest Harley Davidson WLA build.
Melbourne based luthier and custom motorcycle builder Tim Kill has a knack for turning everything he touches into a work of art. Unlike most enthusiasts in the vintage motorcycle scene, Tim’s not afraid to modify the bikes in his collection. This has meant he’s been a regular feature at all of the custom events I’ve run over the years and this year it was no different. Tim’s entry into the show was this stunning Harley Davidson WLA race bike that was built to satisfy his need for speed.
“I’m totally hooked” confesses Tim. “I’m a Luthier by trade and have what I like to call a healthy motorcycle addiction. I’ve been building and tinkering on vintage motorcycles for years and like to build at least one or two every 12 months. The vintage motorcycle scene is small in Australia so everyone ends up knowing each other. I was convinced by a few of the guys to get into racing ‘Hand Shifters’ and to have a go at beating those darn old Indians.”
Like many builders who are enamoured by vintage motorcycles, Tim has amassed a collection of parts and incomplete bikes in his shed. Sitting amongst them was a 1945 Harley Davidson WLA basket case which he conscripted for this project. “I’ve always had a soft spot for the WR and K model race bikes that Harley Davidson built back in their heyday,” says Tim. “but I wanted to put my twist on things and try something a little different.” Sifting again through his shed he decided it was time to use a pile a fibreglass resin and sheets he had lying around. These were gifted to him by his wife’s father who had been into boat building in his younger years. Although Tim has plenty of experience shaping wood and alloy his experience with composites was limited so he used this project to see what he could create with it.
First up the Harley needed a suitable fuel cell. For this, Tim picked out a set of early James tanks that had the WR vibe he was after. Getting them to fit meant cutting, reshaping and replumbing them. The hard work paid off with the new tank setting the tone for the rest of the build. Since this bike was destined to be raced Tim also invested some time in strengthening the WLA’s 60-year-old frame. He then fitted a set of shouldered alloy rims which are laced up to the WLA’s hubs.
“As the project started to take shape road racing Nortons and vintage Isle of Man bikes starting popping into my head,” recalls Tim. And this is where he found inspiration for the bikes unique tail. “The rear section is a combination of carbon fibre, fibreglass and aluminium laid over a foam core. It’s held in place with 5 bolts that can be removed really easily.” In typical Tim style, the choice of paint is understated and timeless. Something I’ve come to expect from his projects that look more like restored classics than one of customs.
As for the heart of this hand shift racer, Tim states that “The engine was left to last. I used a dummy engine for the mock-up so I could complete the build. For the engine work, I seeked advice from guys like Bill Brice, Ray Isles, Ross Bolding and “Animal” from the Australian vintage Harley scene. They have loads of experience tweaking these 45’s to really haul arse. It wouldn’t have come together without their help.” No race bike is complete without a decent set of pipes so Tim reached out to Jim Brownly of Sonic Choppers. According to Tim they work a treat and produce a sound comparable to a tornado.
Tim’s Harley Davidson WLA cut its teeth in the vintage racing circuit at South Australia’s Sellicks Beach Historic Motorcycle Races. Unfortunately, the rules prevented him from running the bike wearing it’s fibreglass bodywork so he raced it wearing a stock fender and solo seat. “It was a bit of kick in the nuts, but I got over it pretty quick as I just wanted to get out there and race.’ says Tim. “It’s now competed in the Historic Winton, Wakefield and Sellicks Beach races and received a few more modifications after each meet… but she was humming at Sellicks beach and performed better than I could have imagined!”
In preparation for next years racing season, the WLA is in parts again on Tim’s workbench. Vintage racers like these require constant work to maintain and he’s always looking for ways to extract more power from the old v-twin. We’re looking forward to seeing where this project takes him next. Knowing Tim it probably won’t be long before our trophy is joined by a few more from his racing exploits.
Photography by Nick Umek
“There are many people I would like to thank for this bike coming together and they all know who they are and a big hug goes out to them all.” – Tim Kill
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