1944 Whizzer Model H on a Lincoln-badged Schwinn

Perhaps no other American-made machine gave as many young folks their first taste of powered two-wheeling as did the Whizzer.

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by Kurtis Kristianson
A Whizzer engine kit provided economical personal transportation.

Whizzer Model H

Engine: 138cc single-cylinder, 4-stroke, air-cooled, 57.15mm x 53.98mm bore and stroke, 6.32:1 compression ratio, 2.5hp @ 3,700rpm
Top speed: 40mph (est.)
Carburetion: 9/16in bore Tillotson ML5B
Transmission: Twin V-belt, slip pulley clutch
Electrics: High tension magneto/no generator or battery
Frame/wheelbase: Tubular steel/45-1/4in (1,149mm)
Suspension: Knee-action Schwinn springer front fork
Brakes: 3-1/8in (79.4mm) Schwinn drum front, coaster brake rear
Tires: 2.125 x 26in Duro Block front and rear
Weight (wet): 100lb (45.4kg)
Seat height: 35in (889mm)
Fuel capacity: 5qts (4.7ltr)

close up of the dash of a bike with a silver engine

“Hey, somebody thought you might have a Whizzer project for sale.”

My friend Ron Nichols mentioned that in 2019 at the Millarville Vintage Motorcycle Swap Meet, and he wasn’t far wrong. I had, over the years, accumulated parts and pieces to put together a machine, but with other motorcycles taking up my time, I had half-heartedly advertised it for sale. When no one seemed interested, the bones of the project were hung on the wall in my Calgary, Alberta, shop. Initially, when Ron asked if it was for sale, I said no — it looked good up there. Thinking more about it, however, I decided to let it go to someone who’d see it to the finish line.

“I must be a child of the 1950s because I’m drawn to the style of the Whizzer engine in a bicycle,” Ron says of his attraction to the machine. “It’s not all that particularly useful, but what it gives back in smiles is incredible.”

right side view of a silver engine attached to a blue bike

Ron has been hands-on with mechanical projects since he was a youngster. Early on, he found freedom in the idea that he could take something that didn’t work and rebuild it, “with a skill set learned along the way through skinned knuckles and money spent where it shouldn’t have been,” he explains. “When you were done, this thing comes to life, and you can ride it — it just sets you free.”

Ron has restored many cars, from Volkswagens to Messerschmitts, but since he was 10 years old there’s always been a motorcycle in his life. He grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and his first ride was a 2-stroke Jawa he bought from a neighbor.

“I’ve always been drawn to the oddballs of the motorcycle world, including Suzuki rotaries,” he says, and adds, “the Whizzer just intrigued me.”

view of the left side of a silver engine attached to a blue bike

The Whizzer

Perhaps no other American-made machine gave as many young folks their first taste of powered two-wheeling as did the Whizzer. Just the name, Whizzer, smacks of excitement and independence. From the mid-1940s and through the early-1960s a Whizzer engine kit could be had for near $100. A reliable, 138cc 4-stroke side valve engine bolted snugly inside just about any boy’s or men’s balloon tire bicycle frame using uncomplicated clamps. A rear wheel sheave attached to the spokes and took a V-belt drive running from a slip-pulley clutch that mounted to the rear of the engine. A shorter V-belt provided the primary drive, and a stylish gas tank straddled the top bar of the bike frame. Controls — throttle, compression release and clutch — attached to the handlebars. And presto, a motorbike. That’s over-simplifying the Whizzer, as there were complete Whizzer motorbikes produced and sold such as the Pacemaker, Sportsman and Ambassador. For the most part, however, the Whizzer was sold in kit form, destined for installation to an existing bicycle.

man riding blue bicycle with silver engine

Way back when

Developed in 1939 by Breene-Taylor Engineering Corporation, a Los Angeles maker of aircraft components, the Whizzer engine was introduced and sold as an efficient form of transportation. The concept was unveiled in July 1939, but orders weren’t met until November of that year. Whizzer’s first attempt was dubbed the Model D, a single-cylinder side-valve engine with 2-1/4-inch bore and 2-1/8-inch stroke, with cases split vertically down the middle. Those dimensions provided 8.45 cubic inches, and 1-3/8 horsepower. The Model D utilized a friction roller, mounted just below the pedal cranks of a bicycle, to drive the rear tire. A lever, operating through a cable to the roller, was mounted on the left side of the 2/3-gallon gas tank. This provided a crude clutch, as a ratcheting device was used to hold tension on the roller. This tension, however, often caused the gas tank to twist, or the lever’s mount to break. Breene-Taylor introduced the Model E Whizzer in July 1940. This configuration offered a few improvements over the D, with a redesigned cylinder and an enhanced carburetor produced in-house by Breene-Taylor.

But there were warranty problems with those initial Breene-Taylor engines, and unfortunately, sales were slow. In 1942, the company was sold to Martin Goldman and Dietrich Kohlsaat. Rather than collapse the company and liquidate remaining stocks the pair decided to further improve and develop the Whizzer engine kit and started the Whizzer Motor Company. What needed to be rectified was the drive system, and experiments were made with both chain and belt power transmission. This was 1943 and war production played a significant role for many American manufacturers. Whizzer convinced the government their “New Model” engine kit was essential and were granted the opportunity to sell their product to war personnel as an efficient way to travel to and from work. The “New Model” introduced the now-familiar V-belt pulley drive system and the redesigned 5-quart gas tank that would be used throughout the rest of Whizzer’s production run.

side view of a blue bike with a silver engine attached to it

The Model F and beyond

In 1945, Whizzer started marketing their kits to the general public, and the “New Model” became the Model F. Sales were much better than before and became even more positive with the introduction of the Model H engine. Henry Schurict, an engineer from Breene-Taylor who stayed with Whizzer during the ownership changes, had redesigned the engine. What he developed was an engine with the same physical dimensions as previous units, but the crankcase was now one piece. All internal components were held in the deep-dish of the case and were concealed by a flat cover on the right hand side. A cast iron exhaust manifold pointed forward (rather than to the rear as it had on earlier engines) and accepted a flexible steel hose. Whizzer had begun subcontracting all manufacturing, and moved to Pontiac, Michigan, where Wilson Foundry, a firm that had produced Jeep parts during the war, began casting the Whizzer cylinders.

Several Whizzer engine models were made, including the H (1946-1948), J (1948-1949), 300 (1949-1952) and 700 (1952-1955). Each had its own improvements, but none of them progressed beyond the simple sidevalve layout. While the first engines made only 1-3/8 horsepower, the last models made close to 3 horsepower. It’s unknown exactly how many Whizzer engines were produced, but it’s suspected the number could be between 350,000 and 500,000. Production ceased in 1955-1956, but engine kits and parts were still being sold right into the 1960s.

bike with engine attached hanging on a wall with a black bike on a rack in front

The Model H engine featured a dual lever-style throttle and compression release that was affixed to the right side of the handlebars, while a lever on the left worked the clutch. It wasn’t until the J engine that motorcycle-style twistgrips, throttle on the right and compression release on the left, were employed. After using up the supply of Breene-Taylor carburetors on the early H engine, Whizzer switched between Tillotson and Carter throughout their entire production run. The Model 300 Whizzer engine bristled with bigger valves, a larger-finned alloy high compression head, and a taller oil breather. Whizzer’s last engine was the 700, which was pretty much identical to the 300, but featured an alternator and came supplied with headlight and taillight and a license plate bracket.

Whizzer did produce their own machines, sometimes in conjunction with famous bicycle makers such as Schwinn (WZ507), Hoffman, Columbia and Roadmaster. The bike could be purchased separately, or dealers would assemble the bike and engine kit and sell it as a complete machine, or it was sold as a Whizzer “Special”. Complete Whizzer bikes included the Pacemaker, introduced in 1948. The Pacemaker had 24-inch wheels, Sturmey-Archer drum front brake, and telescopic front fork.

The Sportsman was next in 1949, when the machine abandoned the bicycle pedals and came with a kickstarter on what the company called the 300S (presumably for Sportsman) engine. Wheels were much smaller at 20-inch, and the machine featured the Whizzer telescopic fork. The DeLuxe Sportsman came with a Bi-matic 2-speed automatic clutch. Lastly, the Ambassador of 1951 had many of the features of the Sportsman but came with a larger frame and 24-inch wheels. The engine now had the built-in AC alternator, and the bike came equipped with lights.

fender light on the front tire of a bike

No two alike

Because most Whizzers were purchased in kit form and added to a balloon-tire bicycle, no two machines will ever be identical as custom touches will abound. And that’s how I’d been piecing together the bones of the Whizzer project I sold to Ron. Several years ago, I’d bought from a friend in Montana the Schwinn-made Lincoln-badged bicycle frame with dimples to the inner rear chainstays for belt clearance. Included were the top and bottom motor mounts, complete wheels with the Schwinn pork-chop front drum brake and rear wheel pulley sheave. The handlebars and gooseneck were there, but I had to locate a Schwinn springer fork and Whizzer gas tank. I’d found a Whizzer Model H engine that was tired and very dirty, but it came with the clutch and carburetor, and all of this was loosely bolted together.

front brake on a blue bike frame with a silver engine top

There were no fenders, chainguard, seat, controls, or cables. In short, it was a good start, but still a long way from being a machine. Ron was happy, though, and loaded it up in September 2019 and went home to High River, a town just south of Calgary, to research what he’d gotten himself into.

rear rack and black leather tool bag on the back of a blue bike

Just for fun

“Of all the stuff I’ve bought, nothing has given me more giggles than this project,” Ron explains. “When I picked it up from you, I was beside myself with anticipation and excitement because I thought this is such a manageable project and so different from anything else I’ve ever done. My mind was going a mile minute and I wanted to find that pocket on the internet that has the knowledge, because I was a black hole that needed information.”

Ron dug into the lore of the Whizzer and discovered a very helpful group of people at The Classic and Antique Bicycle Exchange, or thecabe.com. He joined this forum, and Ron was offered some direction, and more importantly in the Classifieds section, a source of parts. But first, he wanted to determine the year of the Lincoln-badged Schwinn frame and posted some information on The CABE. Because the serial number was a bit of an oddity with a strange prefix, opinions varied, but the frame was most likely manufactured in 1944.

front view of a blue bike

Knowing that, he decided to build the machine as faithfully to the era as possible, but with custom touches that he wanted, including the front fender with the light that was only found on deluxe Schwinn bicycles. He began sourcing parts such as fenders, chainguard, rear rack, and bolts with the A/S stamp (for Arnold Schwinn). Most of these were found in The CABE’s classified section. As the pieces were bolted on, the project began to take shape and Ron turned his attention to the engine. He’d been getting help from Whizzer expert Al Tost of Shorewood, Illinois, and had asked about buying a piston and crank.

“Al said, ‘You know, I could rebuild your engine’, so I asked what that would cost. It took him some time to respond, and he finally said, ‘by the time you ship it down here you’d be better off if I sold you one of my rebuilt engines’. The cost wasn’t exorbitant, and I’d looked at getting the tools to rebuild my own and everything, but I figured this rebuilt H-model engine with a full guarantee was a no brainer.

“When I got it was like factory fresh. Everything was as it should be, with all correct hardware, and the Tillotson ML5B carb was set up and ready to go.” Ron used the old Whizzer engine for mock-up, and when the bike was disassembled for painting and plating, he sold the old engine to another local enthusiast interested in building their own machine.

rear view of a blue bike

Putting it back together

All cleaning, glass beading, and sand blasting in preparation for paint was done by Ron. The frame, fork, rack, chainguard, and fenders were delivered to Guy St. Pierre in Black Diamond, Alberta. He’s a retired painter who was intrigued enough by Ron’s project to be coaxed out of retirement. The handlebars and gooseneck were not rechromed, but the pedal crank, with its smaller cloverleaf chainring, which makes pedalling the bike much easier, was sent to Alberta Plating in Calgary.

“Assembling a bicycle is great therapy,” Ron says. “It can really be done in about an hour.”

Ron put the rebuilt engine into the frame and installed the drive belts and worked through all adjustments to ensure proper tension on the belts and the drive chain. It’s a bit of a dance, but he got there. And then, he had to learn how to start it.

man leaning against a red motorcycle with a blue bike with a silver engine attached next to them

“I got on it, I put the fuel on, put the choke on and started pedaling. Nothing,” Ron says. “So, I wondered what I was doing wrong, I got in touch with Al, and he sent me a video of how to start it. Throttle slightly open, choke on full, pedal to the top, decompressor lever pulled in and as you stroke through it close the decompression and you’ll hear a putt. Stop. Turn the choke off, bring the pedal up, restart and it fires every time. It was hilarious, and off I went on my first putt. It really rolls and is quite impressive.” Now adding break-in miles, Ron is getting close to 200 on his reproduction Whizzer accessory speedometer. Engine-builder Al suggested the rebuilt Model H have that mileage before changing the oil and aiming for the “magical 40 miles per hour it might go,” Ron laughs.

“I suspect it’s going to be my sunny day rider,” he says of the bike’s future. “It just makes me chuckle and anything that makes me smile and asks so little of me is something I want to keep around. It is just so different.

view from behind and to the left of a blue bike with a silver engine on it

“It’s obviously not a bike you buy to ride long distances, it’s a bike you ride to go get a slice of pie. And when you park it, the first people to notice it seem to be females who remark, ‘Oh my, that’s so pretty.’ The counterpoint to that are the old guys who come up to me and say, ‘I had one of those when I was delivering The Albertan,’ and they had paper routes and they’re waxing nostalgic for their Whizzer days. The combination is irresistible to me.”

He admits the brakes, rear coaster style and even the front drum, aren’t incredibly efficient but riding it around the town of High River isn’t much of an issue. And that’s where it should be, on the road, so I’m glad I sold the project to Ron.

“It feels like controlled chaos,” he says, and concludes, “You want your central gyro on, that’s for sure.” MC

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