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My Cousin Dewey's Suzuki: Remembering the One that Got Away

Cousin Dewey Stephens on his 50cc 1966 Suzuki M15.

Mom had lots of brothers and sisters, which meant I had lots of cousins. Such an abundance of cousins made for lively entertainment and vital opportunities for mischief when family got together. Indeed, it was rare for a visit involving cousins not to end in some sort of parental uproar or an ER visit. (Maybe one day I’ll share details on the “hatchet” incident.)

This story involves my cousin Dewey, a Suzuki, and my first ride on a motorcycle.

So what you were doing in 1966? I was a skinny 13-year-old kid living out in the farmland fringes of Wake County, North Carolina, desperately wishing that I was 16 with a driver’s license. Cousin Dewey, who lived 10 miles farther out in the sticks than I did, was about to turn 16.

Dewey and I both listened to the same radio station, the mighty WKIX 850 AM based in the Capital city of Raleigh. “KIX” was 10,000 watts of Awesome … at least until they cut the transmitter’s power back every evening. We country kids seriously envied the Raleigh city kids because they could hear their favorite DJs and pop songs well into the night.

The KIX top 40 playlist — think Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man” or the Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” — ruled every teenager’s attention. The DJs? Well, they were major local celebrities: You couldn’t open a new Buick dealership or even an A&P without their personal blessing and ribbon-cutting skills at the grand opening.

In our market, Charlie Brown reigned at the very pinnacle of the DJ food chain. He had the best time slot at the best station in the best market. Some said he was more popular than the governor. The arbiter of popular trends and the music we all listened to, he was clearly more important than teachers or parents.

Moreover, Charlie Brown had an edge over his competitors: he knew how to design and conduct the BIG RADIO CONTEST and he had enough juice to score fabulous grand prizes for his contests. In the summer of ’66, he surpassed every radio contest heretofore attempted by tempting his enormous audience with the chance to win a brand new 1966 Suzuki M15 motorcycle! Imagine: 50ccs of world-class Japanese 2-stroke exotica with 4.2 maximum horsepower @ 8,000 rpms, with an advertised top speed of 50 — count ‘em — 50 miles per hour.

Here’s the 50cc Suzuki Model M/15 as described by some of Madison Avenue’s finest:

The lightweight champion of the Suzuki motorcycle family. Packed with “extras” - such as self-starter, bright headlight, blinking turn indicators and oil suspension, these models are the ultimate in practical all-round transportation. The high efficiency two-stroke engine develops a maximum speed of over 80 kmph (50 mph) with outstanding acceleration. Easy-to-operate, its lightweight body of functional design gives fatigue-free handling and effortless power. Soft saddle and 17” tires provide excellent maneuverability and stability as well as maximum riding comfort. Whatever your age or occupation, you’ll be proud to own a Suzuki.

My 13-year-old brain simply whirled! I determined then and there that I would win this object of lust. Destiny — and a Suzuki! — would be mine! No one deserved a new motorcycle more than I did.

The object of my desire: The 1966 Suzuki M15.

The race is on

Thousands of other listeners in the city and out in the country shared that sentiment, among them cousin Dewey. Dewey also vowed he would win the contest. Given his extra three years of maturity, Dewey was wiser in the way the world actually worked.

The contest was a killer: Every day during the seven-week contest, Charlie Brown would announce one letter per day. Moreover, the announcement of the letter of the day would occur at a different time each day because every DJ at the station was in on this promotion.

Competitors first had to collect all of the letters. Then they had to assemble the letters into words that spelled motorcycle parts. The correct number of parts was never specified. With the parts identified, they had to submit their entry by the prescribed deadline.

Simple, right?

Wrong. As I learned, success meant listening to the radio all day, every day for most of the summer. For country kids, the nightly reduction of signal power added an additional challenge.

After three days, interruptions from parents and the intense, pressing requirements of a summer job (mowing grass), my chances were toast. I collapsed like a crepe paper streamer.

But Dewey. Dewey was made of sterner stuff. Not only did he understand desire, Dewey understood strategy.

Since Dewey had a cushy summer job on the family farm, he called his own shots. Wherever Dewey went, so went his trusty transistor … along with spare batteries. In addition, he fortified his chances for winning by assembling a confederacy of “listening assistants.” And Dewey was nothing if not shrewd: he cast a very wide net by calling in favors far and wide from siblings and his parents and even a few aunts and uncles. Maybe he enlisted help from a girlfriend; I really don’t know. He doggedly covered gaps in his own listening and overcame the fringe reception issues that plagued all of us country listeners. And Dewey indeed collected all of the letters.

With the letters thus collected, the rest was easy. Dewey deciphered:

Handlebars, carburetor, kickstand, transmission and speedometer.”

He sent in his entry via US Mail and waited.

Radio station WKIX – “KIX” – hosted the contest to win the M15.

Surely Charlie Brown and his ad team had designed a killer radio contest. A prize as grand as that Suzuki M15 certainly ginned up interest in listeners far and wide. The advertiser, the local Suzuki outpost in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, got lots of positive, on-air mentions all summer for donating that brand new Suzuki M15. It was truly a win-win proposition.

Uh, not so fast. Did I mention that the dealer agreed to donate one Suzuki grand prize?

As it turned out, another clever teenager worked her own strategy that summer. From another “sticks” town on the other side of the listening market, this girl had also assembled a confederacy of listening assistants and chained herself to her transistor. Spare batteries were involved as well. She sent in her entry in on the same day Cousin Dewey did:

Handlebars, carburetor, kickstand, transmission and speedometer.”

We don’t know what happened next, but lawyers must have been involved to sort through the great anguish felt by both the radio station and the Suzuki dealer. Scapegoats were probably considered. Terminations, too. The concept of weaseling? Yep, likely discussed.

In the end, the principals did the right thing. Since the contest had generated two bona fide winning entries, TWO brand new Suzukis (suggested retail price: $349.00 each) were awarded!

At first, I was absolutely crushed and filled with jealousy. (Forget that I had quit within days of starting.) Someone I knew had claimed “my” Suzuki. Worse, my own cousin had perpetrated the theft.

Soon, however, I realized the magnitude of an amazing accomplishment. Not one, but two enterprising teenagers from opposite sides of the station’s fringe reception area had managed to outsmart and out-hustle the kids in the Big City Raleigh. This was the source of great pride in our large, farming-supported family.

Dewey’s mother, my Aunt Vandelia, had done her part to help Dewey win that Suzuki. Wicked funny and able to “own” every room she ever walked in, she was very kind-hearted.

She was also a serious gear head. During World War II, she served at Fort Bragg, working in the motor pool. She could fix or rebuild just about any device that rolled through the base. She understood, at the expert level, how mechanical things worked. In fact, she was the first female I ever knew who understood carburetors, something that impressed a young Randakk! I like to think that her mechanical ability nurtured a special bond between us and alerted her to my “tragedy” with the Suzuki.

Soon, a family gathering was arranged to see the new Suzuki and congratulate Dewey. Sensing that I might like a ride on that motorcycle, Aunt Vandelia engineered one of the best days of my life.  Did she get the idea from divine inspiration? Or perhaps my oblique hint: “Can I ride it?” No matter. In a blur of good fortune for me, she cajoled Dewey (after some effort) into letting his 13-year-old pest of a cousin have a ride.

Now, I knew exactly how to ride a motorcycle. Schooled up on bicycles, skateboards, go-karts, lawn mowers and tractors, I had practiced all the vital skills many times: clutching, shifting, throttle synchronization, braking, turning, etc. These were all second nature to me … in my imagination. Now it was about to happen for real.

Dewey’s family lived in a large, rambling farm house off the main road. A big driveway circled the house and a very long dirt drive connected the circle drive to the main road.

Older cousin Danny — Dewey’s brother — took me out by the shed near the back door to coach me up for my ride. But Dewey disappeared, likely too alarmed or aggravated to watch the inevitable crash of his hard-earned prize.

Eventually Danny decided that I was ready, or maybe his curiosity to witness the impending carnage got the better of him. Who knows. Danny waved me off with a huge grin. Legendary Grand Prix road-racer Giacomo Agostini (my hero) never faced a green flag as intense as mine. The large group of spectators (five or six cousins plus a few adults) openly speculated on my fate. The consensus was: “He’ll crash for sure!”

To everyone’s amazement — mine included — I motored away smartly without stalling! My general plan was to lap the house, head up the long connector driveway to the main road, and then return to the starting point to begin negotiations for ride #2. Without hesitation I confidently shifted into second.

As I rounded the house, Dewey sprung from nowhere, blocking my path. I stopped immediately …expertly using both brakes. Dewey placed his hands on the bars and announced: “That’s enough. Get off, NOW.” He mounted the Suzuki and sped out of sight.

No matter: I was ecstatic. My first ride was a triumphant, no-drama success. Operating a motorcycle was just like in my imagination … only better. That my ride was only 50 yards or so didn’t matter. I was on par with the Wright Brothers in only 10 seconds, and I had successfully proven that I could ride a motorcycle! I knew this would not be my last ride. As history proved, it was not.

A very young, very 13-year-old Randall Washington.

Epilogue

Dewey enjoyed riding the Suzuki for several years. It was his main transportation for commuting to and from his first summer job off the farm at nearby Campbell College. On one memorable ride to Meridian Cycles in Fayetteville to get a new chain (at 43mph cruise speed) six members of an infamous, some say outlaw, motorcycle “club” came up from behind and surrounded him. As Dewey told the story, the riders were close enough for him to reach out and touch on either side.

The “club members” looked straight ahead and didn't speak, nod or wave, and Dewey rode with them in tight formation (at 43mph) for about five miles. Only 16 at the time, Dewey didn't know if they were going home with him for dinner, or what. He thought about what the newspaper headline might later say. Finally, they waved and sped away. How many 50cc Suzukis ever cruised with that bunch?

Dewey racked up many miles and memories on his trusty little Suzuki. Eventually, he sold it and replaced it with a bigger, faster Bridgestone.

Dewey Stephens lives near Angier, North Carolina, has grandkids, and is still an avid motorcyclist.


Randall Washington – aka “Randakk” – is the founder of Randakk’s Cycle Shakk: www.randakks.com

John Froude’s 1982 AMA Replica

John Froude’s 1982 AMA replica, built as an homage to the 1982 Freddie Spencer Daytona bike. Street legal, it currently runs a tuned CB1100R engine. Photo courtesy John Froude

AMA fan

I am sitting here in our London, England, motorcycle dealership reading the November/December 2016 issue of Motorcycle Classics. I have become a convert to the rag. The format was unusual at first but easy to like. I guess being in that “certain age” bracket is a guaranteed shoo-in to the content that always has something for everyone. But this issue personally delivers in bucket loads! There are (over on this side of the pond) still a huge number of good people who look upon the early 1980s AMA Superbikes with fondness and awe in equal measure. They were cartoon Superbikes on steroids with a superhero in the saddle. More of this please!

Condensing the AMA fans down a wee bit, there are some of us here who keep these legends alive by building homages to these hot rods. We have Klinzman Racecrafters Kawis, Moriwaki KZs, Lawson and Rainey reps, too.

I personally have a deep love of the 1982 Honda CB750Fs as raced by Pietri, Wise, Baldwin and Freddie Spencer. Shown is my personal AMA replica. Freddie actually rode the bike at Donington Park in 2012 and gave me some very gracious feedback and some nice words about the ride. — John Froude/via email

Bob Vail’s “Similaria” Motorcycles

Bob Vail

Builder extraordinaire Bob Vail and his “Similaria” BMW (left) and Harley. Photo courtesy Bob Vail

Rider: Bob Vail, Cleveland, Ohio
Age:
66
Occupation:
Construction management consultant
Current rides:
Too numerous to list!

The story of Bob’s “Similaria” motorcycles: “I like to make things and inspire others to make things. In particular, I like to make motorcycles that are at the intersection of form and function. Old motorcycles have an elegant look of gracefulness and simplicity, where nothing is hidden. The eye picks up the distinctive colors of brass, copper, aluminum and nickel. My goal is to make similar motorcycles with that old look, but capable of running continuously at 70mph, with good brakes, good lighting, enough electrics to use heated clothing and good for the next 20,000 miles.

“The Harley-Davidson is made to look like the 1914 era. The main features of Harleys I wanted to include were the flat-sided gas tank, handshift, thin, large diameter wheels/tires, an antique headlight, a springer front end, long wrap-around handlebars and the Prestolite acetylene gas bottle on the handlebars (to power the headlight), and belt drive.

“This motorcycle was to be ridden, so features I wanted to include that were NOT on these older models were good brakes, a bright headlight, a large bright taillight, and a good amount of electrical power. I started with a 1997 Harley Sportster 883 and transferred the engine to an Arlen Ness hardtail frame. The gas tanks (left and right sides, separated by the frame) and oil tank were my first attempts at building tanks. The headlight is an original B&L brass light, but it’s gutted, with an H4 halogen reflector and bulb installed. On the handlebars I fabricated a steel bottle made to look like the Prestolite, but it has a cut-out for my speedometer and tach. Effort exerted: 195 drawings, 273 fabricated pieces, 1-1/2-year build time, completed in 2011 and ridden over 10,000 miles, including attending the Motorcycle Classics ‘Ride ’Em Don’t Hide ’Em’ rally in Pennsylvania in 2016.

“The BMW is a similar story, but I wanted it to look similar to a 1928 R52. The main features of the real R52 I wanted to include were a frame that goes over the top of the gas tank, a distinctive wedge-shaped gas tank, a loop frame behind the engine to the rear wheels, a leaf spring front end, a cylinder-shaped headlight, handshift and footboards.   

“I bought a functioning 1974 BMW R75/6 and proceeded to cut the frame up, adding twin top frame tubes, and relocating the steering head. This time the gas tank was made of aluminum, hand beaten around a plywood form. The unique shape of the headlight was achieved thanks to two KitchenAid 8-inch sauce pans. The front brake is the perimeter type, custom made by HDW. I do have rear shocks on this bike, but I located them inside the rear frame’s loop to make them more obscure. 

“Effort exerted: 277 drawings, 257 fabricated pieces, 2-1/2-year build time, completed in 2015 and ridden over 3,000 miles.

“For both bikes, I started with the wiring harnesses and made the needed modifications. To keep track of the changes, I made a digital copy of the original 8-1/2-inch x 11-inch black and white wiring diagram from the manual, then digitally added the color to each wire. I saved this original file, then added the changes I made to these bikes, and printed it 24 inches x 36 inches. This is quite time consuming, but well worth it for building and future reference. A big thank you goes to my wife, Lynn, for her support of the time I spend building in the basement and out riding. Riding these motorcycles is great fun, and the handshifting adds a mellowness and rhythm to the journey — and takes me back to a time long ago.”

900 Dual-Sport Miles on a 1972 Honda XL250

Ted Guthrie

Ted Guthrie (left) and his 1972 Honda XL250 Motosport. Photo courtesy Ted Guthrie

Your last column really hit home. Vintage bikes do indeed provide at least the potential for some diversity in the motorcycling experience. A couple of friends and I take a weeklong dual sport ride in a different part of the country each year. This year the ride was scheduled for the week following our Ohio Valley BSA Owners Club Spring Rally.  Unfortunately for me, a mechanical issue sidelined my modern dual-sport bike during the course of the rally’s Reliability Run Dual-Sport Ride, just hours before we were scheduled to head out on our trip.

The only other bike I have which was prepped, licensed, insured and ready to ride was my 1972 Honda XL250 Motosport. Stone-stock original save for aftermarket shocks, I strapped luggage onto the back of the seat and hit the road.

Nine hundred miles later, following a week which featured plenty of gravel roads, some weather challenges, and a lot of great riding, the old Honda came through with flying colors. Started within the first one to three kicks every single time, and never once even hiccupped. Kept the chain lubed, and didn’t even have to adjust it. The only mechanical attention required the entire week was the need to once snug up the headlight adjustment screw. So while this particular experience did not include need for any roadside repairs, the fun, enjoyment and pleasure of riding a vintage bike is undeniable. Additionally, I received many, many favorable comments on the bike everywhere we went. This ride certainly reaffirmed for me that old bikes are perfectly viable for touring and adventure. – Ted Guthrie/Toronto, Ohio

Robert Drews' 1977 Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

Robert Drews

Dad and I at the Vintage Motorcycle Show in Golden, Colorado, in  2015. Photo courtesy Robert Drews

Rider: Robert Drews, Englewood, Colorado
Age:
35
Occupation:
Marketing manager
Rides:
1977 Honda GL1000 Gold Wing, 2004 Kawasaki ZRX1200

Robert’s story: “I wanted to say thanks for the feature on the Honda GL1000 prototype in the July/August issue. It was nice to see such an iconic bike get coverage in the pages of your magazine. I am the proud owner of a 1977 GL1000 and love the machines greatly. 

“My bike’s story is pretty noteworthy — in my book at least. The bike was purchased new in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1977 by my father. It didn’t leave the dealership until it was fitted with the Vetter fairings and bags (still aftermarket add-ons in those days). My father used the bike as a daily rider while he and my mother raised a family of three kids in the early 1980s in Colorado. With only one car at their disposal, my father rode the bike year round. In 1989 he bought a pickup and the bike got ridden less and less. At one point around 1990 it was as good as sold to a buddy of his, but second thoughts kept the bike in the family. During the early 2000s the fairings were removed and it was returned to its original showroom state. I was fortunate to buy the bike from him for $1 in 2009 with a shade over 50,000 miles on the odometer. I had been talking about buying my first bike at the time and I think my dad would have rather I spent my money on a wedding ring for my wife than a motorcycle, which I in turn did. 

Robert Drews 

Dad with the bike in 2014. Photo courtesy Robert Drews

“In 2012 I rode it up to Yellowstone from Denver where I encountered some issues with the electronic ignition, which resulted in it intermittently dropping a cylinder. Looking for some advice I called my father, and though not expecting to get bailed out, he was in the truck with a trailer in tow almost before I could hang up the phone. I felt bad about him driving through the night to pick me and the bike up. I felt like it was my duty as a motorcyclist to find a solution on my own.

“I asked why he’d done it after almost begging him not to come, and he told me about a time he’d broke down on his 1971 Kawasaki 175 several states away from home and wishing he could just call someone to come get him. Being that he was in a position to do that now, that’s what he did without even thinking twice. 

“Today I work on maintaining the bike that my dad so meticulously cared for. The bike is all original save for the blinkers and parts lost during the original kitting. The bike gets taken out for day rides in the mountains of the Front Range and to bike nights and vintage shows around town, where it always gathers a crowd. It’s a pleasure to show others Honda’s original vision of the Gold Wing as it’s much different than what the name conjures up today. The false tank is always a surprise to those less familiar with the model. GL1000s are as much a pleasure to own as they are to ride. 

Robert Drews 

My dad and I on the GL1000 circa 1983, fully dressed with a Windjammer and a CB radio. Photo courtesy Robert Drews

“I just wanted to share my story as the bike means so much to me and my father. Its continued care and enjoyment is a thrill for us both. We are currently hoping to find a 1971 Kawasaki F7 175 to work on restoring together.”

— Thanks for sharing your story, Robert!

Peter Brunner’s 1953 BMW R25/3

Rider: Peter Brunner, Ashland, Oregon
Age:
Pushing 74, riding since 1964
Occupation:
Retired
Rides:
1953 BMW R25/3, 1971 BMW R75/5, 2005 BMW R1200GS

BMW R25/3 

Peter Brunner's BMW heaven: An R25/3, R75/5 and an R1200GS. Photo by Peter Brunner

Peter’s story: “In 2013 I was looking for a winter project and found this 1953 R25/3, which had been stored in a garage since 1993. The bike was originally brought to the U.S. by a G.I. in 1976, then sold to the previous owner in 1992, who started a serious restoration soon after. I have a stack of parts receipts from the early 1990s, including receipts for an engine and transmission rebuild by my local BMW dealer. I started on my ‘winter project’ in the fall of 2013, but soon became sidetracked selling my house, then buying a house built in 1904 that needed a substantial remodel. As part of that project I built my 900-square-foot dream garage with a rental apartment above. When I was done with that I went back to the BMW in 2015 and finished it in 2016. Along the way there were the usual dead ends and hiccups, including discovering that the transmission would only engage one gear. Hansen’s BMW in Medford, Oregon, had done the rebuild in 1994, and they fixed the transmission for free when I brought it to them — how’s that for a 20 year warranty!

BMW R25/3

Peter's 1953 BMW R25/3 before restoration. Photo by Peter Brunner

BMW R25/3

Peter's 1953 BMW R25/3 after restoration. Too cool. Photo by Peter Brunner

“The new high-gloss black paint and hand striping looks great, particularly on the ‘elephant ear’ front fender. Mechanically it is stock, except for a PowerDynamo 12-volt conversion, and it puts out 13 horsepower. The bike starts on the first kick (when done right) and plonks along comfortably at 55-60mph in top. A friend challenged me to a race on his riding mower, and I easily beat him. BMW claimed a top speed of 74mph with the rider crouched, but I don’t think I’ll try that. This model was the everyman’s daily transportation in the Fifties, and with over 47,000 units produced it is BMW’s highest-selling model ever. Many were used with a Steib LS200 sidecar, which is the next item I’m looking for. It’ll make grocery shopping easier.” MC

Malcom Gruver's 1970 BSA Thunderbolt

Rider: Malcom Gruver, Wichita, Kansas
Age: 75. Malcom’s been riding since he was 14
Occupation: Retired
Rides: 1970 BSA Thunderbolt

BSA Thunderbolt 

Another BSA saved: Malcom Gruver's 1970 Thunderbolt as found. Photo by Malcom Gruver

Malcom’s story: “Four years ago, after unloading at a power plant in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I pulled out of the loading dock, looked across the street, and saw a half-covered bike under a tarp by a garage. It was a 1970 BSA Thunderbolt. I contacted the owner, made a deal on price, loaded the bike that was missing the tank, seat, bars, one wheel, and three milk cases of parts into the trailer and headed back to Wichita, Kansas. Over the next three years I located parts, had the frame powder coated and started the restoration process. The engine and transmission rebuild and restoration were done by Barnyard Restoration in Baldwin City, Kansas, the chrome and paint by ACC Co. in Haysville, Kansas, the pinstripe work was done by Signworks in Park City, Kansas, the polishing by Choc Taw in Clearwater, Kansas, and I got all my parts from Klempf’s British Parts. I saved approximately 14 pounds using a 2-into-1 exhaust and a dry-cell battery. This has been a joy for me, as I have been riding since I was 14 years old, almost 61 years ago.”

BSA Thunderbolt 

Another BSA saved: Malcom Gruver's 1970 Thunderbolt today. Wow. Photo by Malcom Gruver.