Gary Littlejohn

Hells Angels on Wheels (1967). The Savage Seven (1968). Speedway (1968). The Cycle Savages (1969). Angels Die Hard (1970). C.C. and Company (1970). Angels Hard as They Come (1971). Bury Me an Angel (1971).

For any fan of the late 1960's - early 70's "bikesploitation" Roger Corman inspired film genre, Gary Littlejohn's name may not stand out immediately but his face should. And his bikes definitely should. He didn't just act in almost all of those movies alongside heavies like Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern, he did a lot of their stunts and built a number of the bikes themselves.
I mentioned his Cinderella Cart in the trikes article, but he definitely deserves more space in this blog: he's right up there with the other artists who inspired the cult of the chopper.

 Gary Littlejohn was born in Vermont in 1946. After what can generally be described as a rough childhood in the Northeastern US - cycling between farm work and State homes- Littlejohn joined the Navy at 17 then headed out to California in the 1960's to get in on the custom bike and car scene that was booming there. An expert welder, painter and fabricator who already had experience building hot rods, he soon made a name for himself alongside the other icons of that era such as Ed Roth and Von Dutch. When Roth ran an article on him in Choppers Magazine in 1968 he had a paint and custom shop going in Van Nuys, but by 1974 he'd opened a shop in Tujunga just north of LA dedicated to fabricating custom tanks and boxes.

Custom Chopper Magazine, October 1973

 "When I first got to California, I got into a body shop doing car stuff. I always loved motorcycles. One of the guys had a bike. We went to Hanson Dam and I brought a dirt bike. Riding it around I thought, "Man, that was easy." Then it stalled at the railroad tracks. Traffic was backing up behind me, so I gave it a healthy twist of throttle after restarting it and wheelied to get out of traffic. My buddy says to me, "I thought you didn't know how to ride."

Littlejohn's personal custom panhead. Got pipe?

Custom triumph pre unit

His paint work had introduced him to a number of people in the Hollywood crowd; when an AIP producer saw an article on some of his bikes -he was getting a lot of print coverage at the time and in fact became the custom editor for Motor Cyclist Magazine- they called him in to help coordinate the bikes in Roger Corman's Wild Angels and again in Devil's Angels to supply the bikes and teach actor John Cassavetes how to ride. He was soon pulling regular parts and stunt work as well as supplying bikes and finding extras: for the next decade he would build and coordinate machines for almost every biker movie done by American International Pictures. Since then he's been credited for stunts in at least 57 movies and has acted in 23 including Badlands and Caged Heat, and has worked on over 300 films in various capacities.

"I used to go down to LAPD with my friend Mike the mechanic. We'd pick up cop Harleys for $300 apiece, then chop them and sell them for $10,000. What was nice about California was there were chrome platers, coaters, and upholsterers on every street. You could make a complete custom for nothing. Now it's ridiculous. I like the older choppers much better."

1974 Custom Choppers Magazine article

The Cinderella cart, more pics in Whacked Out Trikes

Littlejohn and his partner Peter Murphy got a request to build a BMX frame in 1973, and by 1975 he had a full line of BMX bikes ranging from mono-shocks to rigids along with forks and sidehacks (a sidecar-mounted BMX bike): he is credited as the first manufacturer of a rigid BMX frame. He also sponsored early BMX riders such as Billy Wouda and Bill McIntyre. In 1976, much to the heckling of the industry, he made and advertised a 26 inch "Ballooner" (later to be dubbed a "Cruiser")--three years before BMXers would ever consider racing "beach cruisers."

Gary Littlejohn currently lives in Vermont and has continued his work as a professional stunt coordinator for the film industry. He still builds custom bikes and hot rods.


Renaissance Man Gary Littlejohn - Street Chopper Magazine, October 2010
nostalgiaonwheels.blogspot.com- October 2009
nostalgiaonwheels.blogspot.com -January 2010
Wild beyond belief!: interviews with exploitation filmmakers of the 1960s - Brian Albright


Motor Oil 101

I was gonna call this "facts vs. friction" but about 200 internet articles beat me to that. No such thing as an original idea anymore...

Oil Composition:

Two main components determine motor oil performance: the base oil and the chemical additives.

Base oils can generally be divided into two categories, mineral and synthetic.
Mineral oils are by-products of natural crude oil distillation, which is used to create gasoline and other products. This refining process reduces impurities but leaves the remaining chemical molecules in irregular shapes and sizes. Mineral oils break down faster during high-heat or heavy-load operation, partly because of impurities that can't be removed in the refining process.

Mineral based motor oils are the cheapest and most widely available automotive oils.

Synthetic oils on the other hand are manmade compounds with evenly formed molecules; consequently synthetic oil has less friction. They also don't have the impurities found in natural mineral oils so they can perform better at higher temperatures. They are of course much more expensive, but they have a longer service life and offer some improvements in protection.

Regardless of the base oil, chemical additives are used to give motor oil desired characteristics depending on its intended use. Typical additives can make up 15 - 25% of the lubricant and generally  include such things as detergents, anti-foam agents, friction modifiers, viscosity modifiers, antioxidants  and others. Additives can impact a lubricant’s performance much more than the base oil: i.e., a mineral based oil with a very good additive package can easily outperform synthetic oil with a poor additive package. A variety of aftermarket additives are also available for specialist applications.

Rules of thumb:
Got an older machine that belches smoke, needs a tuneup and drinks oil like gasoline? Don't waste money on synthetics. Use cheaper mineral oils and look into aftermarket additives.

Got a nice newer model? Synthetics will reduce engine wear and possibly increase mileage. They'll almost certainly increase the time between necessary oil changes.

Got a well tuned old machine that runs like a top and doesn't burn oil?  Synthetics will usually increase your engine life, but they may not be heavy enough for air cooled engines.

Oil Weight and Viscosity:

In the early 1900s automotive engineers expressed a desire to have "free exchange of ideas" in order to expand their individual technical knowledge base, and in 1904 the the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) was founded in New York City. Today SAE International publishes more than 1,600 technical standards used in the automotive industry, including motor oil classification standards.

Oil viscosity refers to how easily oil pours at a specified temperature; thinner oils flow more easily at low temperatures, and heavier, thicker oils are better for maintaining film strength and oil pressure at high temperatures and loads. The oil’s viscosity is defined mainly by the size of the molecules. The larger the molecule structures, the thicker, or higher, or heavier the viscosity. As mineral oil ages, the molecular size and structure changes and hence, the resulting changes in viscosity over the service life of the oil.
The viscosity rating of a motor oil is determined by a SAE laboratory: the oil is measured and given a number, which some people also refer to as the "weight" (thickness) of the oil. The lower the viscosity rating (or weight), the thinner the oil. Viscosity ratings for commonly used motor oils typically range from 0 up to 50.

Technically Speaking:

Most oils are rated for multiple viscosities, i.e. 5W- 40.
The first number (in this case "5")  is the oils maximum low temperature dynamic viscosity based on cold cranking and pumping rates. This is not an absolute temperature reference, rather it's a designation based on multiple tests: i.e., a rating of 5 infers that the oil will have maximum cold cranking viscosity no greater than 6,600 mPa's at -30°c. and a maximum pumping viscosity of 60,000 mPa's at -35°c.

Motor oils rated for dynamic viscosity have a "W" after the number, which simply designates that they are rated for Winter (cold weather) applications.
Common cold temperature ratings:
5W: - 30°c. / -22°f.
10W: - 20°c. / -4°f.
15W: - 10°c. / +14°f.

The second number ("40") refers to the oil's minimum high temperature viscosity rating based on its shear rates at 100°c. and 150°c. This standard specifies minimum hot temperature viscosities to ensure that the oil will exhibit proper lubricating properties under the pressures and temperatures of normal engine operating conditions. A 40 grade oil will have a kinematic (low shear) viscosity of no less than 12.5-16.3 cSt at 100°C and a dynamic (high shear) viscosity of no less than 2.9 mPa's in the high pressure parts of an engine.

Some heavier oils are not rated for low temperatures, and simply have a single number which will refer to the high temperature viscosity.


Yeah, so am I and I just wrote all that crap. So here's a standard temperature based scale for common automotive motor oils:

Don't select a heavier oil in the mistaken belief it will provide better protection. Older machines were often designed for heavier oils, and high temperatures in air cooled engines may require something like a straight SAE 40. But most manufacturers currently specify light oil such as 5W-20: modern engines have incredibly tight clearances between parts and a heavier oil may not reach into these areas. The lighter oil also helps provide better fuel economy and decreases the load on pumping and circulating systems.

API Rating Donuts:

The American Petroleum Institute (API) sets another performance standard for lubricants, the API service classes which are divided into two general classifications; S for "service/spark ignition" (passenger cars and trucks using gasoline engines), and C for "commercial/compression ignition" (diesel equipment). Most engine oil sold in the USA has an API Service Symbol (also known as the "Donut") somewhere on the container.

The API Service Category is based on your engine model year (among other things) and can be a useful guide when deciding what to use in your car or truck:
  • SN: gasoline engines 2010 - current 
  • SL: gasoline engines 2004 - current
  • SJ: gasoline engines made prior to 2001
  • SH: gasoline engines made prior to 1996
  • SG: gasoline engines made prior to 1993

Motorcycle Oils:

There are some particular issues for motorcycle oil. Most modern bikes have wet clutches, which means the motor oil runs through the clutch; if the oil has too much molybdenum in it there are concerns by some manufacturers that the clutch can start slipping. If the donut" certification stamp on the back of a certified oil container says "energy conserving" in the bottom half, it  contains the additives that could cause clutch slipping. Most 0w-20, 5w-30 and 10w-30 oils are energy conserving and should not be used in wet clutch motorcycles.

Also, most motorcycles run the engine oil through the transmission and those gears are tough on the oil's VII (Viscosity Index Improver) additive package, causing the viscosity to break down prematurely. Standard car oils are only good for typically 1500 miles before they've lost about half of their viscosity. In particular 10w-40 oils contain a lot of VIIs and should be avoided, and you can't use 10w-30 with a wet clutch because of the friction modifiers.
This doesn't leave much: commercial 15w-40 oils are a reasonable choice because they have relatively few VIIs.

Some people only ride sporadically, which allows the oil to drain completely into the sump leaving the bearings dry. The first start after a long period of non-use can be particularly hard on an engine, so film strength is very important if you're not starting the bike regularly. Synthetics have a much higher film strength than petroleum oils, so it takes a lot longer for the oil to drain completely off your bearings and into your sump.

There are several key advantages to using synthetic oils: synthetics typically don't contain much of a VII package, so shear is not as big an issue. Also, synthetic oils have a higher viscosity index and better resistance to temperature related viscosity changes. They have little or no VIIs and last longer in service without radical changes in viscosity.


Understanding the SAE Motor Oil Viscosity Standard
ACEA European Oil Sequences
All About Motor Oils
How To Pick The Right Motor Oil For Your Car (Popular Mechanics)
Engine Oils at the Car Bible 


Balkans Burn

On August 5th, 2008 Pera Baity and I set out to explore the Balkans. We were riding antique Russian motorcycles; mine is a 50's vintage M72 and Pera's on an 1960's Ural M61. The journey would take us over three thousand kilometers, from my home In Varna bulgaria down the Black Sea coast then inland to the Greek border crossing near Svilengrad, From there we travelled further south to the coast of the Aegean before riding west through Thessalonia and into the Pindus Mountains. We turned north from here and crossed into Albania, then eastwards through Macedonia and back across Bulgaria: after a brief rest I continued up into Romania.

Over seventeen days of constant movement, through five countries. Part of our goal was to explore the Vlach culture that still lies hidden in the small mountain villages, but mainly it was just to ride....

3,000+ Kilometers.
17+ Days.
5 Countries.
2 Antique Russian Motorcycles.
$20 Film Budget.
0 Support Vehicles.
0 Film Crew.

Lots of beer.

The free, full length video will be released here in 10 - 15 minute segments, and will also be available on my website at Goodkarmaproductions.com as production is completed.
Click here to view the journal and photos from the trip.


Motorcycle FAIL....

Yeah, you've been watching old reruns of American Chopper (badly translated into your language of choice), and you're thinking "shit man, I've got my grandpa's old Izh back in the barn- I can customize that baby and sell it for a fortune !!!"
Of course you ain't got no cash, and the cameras ain't rolling... so you make do with the scrap laying around the farm. After a few months work and a coat of housepaint, VOILA! Your own custom....erm, "chopper".

So this one's dedicated to all those guys who shouldn't be allowed to play with wrenches:

Step 2- learn how to paint flames... 50cc Simson

Step 3- Learn how to paint flames that don't look like barf after a gallon of cheap red wine. The BMW sticker adds a nice touch though.
If this guy lived near me, I'd be worried.

Nice chain on an extreme lowrider. Probably not safe to take off the sidewalk.
The King of Bling

Harley owner with a Vespa fetish...

Currently known as "Jobody the Legless Wonder". 99% sure this is Photoshop, but...
Fuck fiberglass...
I don't even know what to think about this. I'm almost hoping it's a photoshop job.
What NOT to do to a Triumph.
When you can't find scrap metal, use firewood.

Of course, even the "Pros" have some days when the design team and the mechanics are mixing different classes of drugs....  

Yellow wheels are innovative. The rest of it looks like they mixed too much broccoli with some bad acid.
What do ya mean ya ran out of chromium for the plating tank ???
I think the one with the freaky mannikin inspired this...
And almost sure this one was cut out of the back of a Japanese breakfast cereal box.

I could probably add 90% of everything Paul Teutel Jr. ever touched, but that would just be monotonous.

REMEMBER KIDS: Just because it sounds like a great idea after the 5th bong hit, that doesn't mean it is a great idea ;)