1954 Sears Allstate Puch 125
The magicians at Retrospeed in Belgium, Wisconsin, revive an inherited 1954 Sears Allstate Puch 125.
- Engine: 125cc single-cylinder, 2-stroke, air/fan-cooled, 52mm x 56.9mm bore and stroke, 6.6:1 compression ratio, 5.5hp @ 5,300rpm
- Top speed: 45mph (est.)
- Carburetion: Fischer Amal 19E1K
- Transmission: 3-speed, oil bath disc clutch
- Electrics: Flywheel magneto, generator coil
- Frame/wheelbase: Tubular steel frame/46in (1,168mm)
- Suspension: Hydraulic telescopic front fork, rigid rear
- Brakes: 6.25in (158.75mm) drums front and rear
- Tires: Heidenau 2.75 x 16in front and rear
- Weight (dry): 282lb (128kg)
- Seat height: 28.5in (724mm)
- Fuel capacity: 2gal U.S. (7.6L)
- Price then/now: $298.50 /$2,000-$5,000
When Jennifer Tremaine learned she’d inherited property from her late Aunt Winnie, she wasn’t quite sure what to do.
It wasn’t thousands of dollars, nor was it real estate. The object left behind in the will was a 1954 Sears Allstate Puch 125, which, as it turns out, is a rather rare and unique machine.
It wasn’t that Jennifer was a stranger to motorcycles. That’s not why she didn’t know what to do with the bike; there were other reasons, and we’ll get to them soon.
Just a farm kid
Jennifer is a self-described farm kid from Wisconsin. By the time she was four years old, she’d learned to walk, play hockey, and ride a Honda 50. “I was the youngest of six kids and spent so much time tagging along with my brothers,” she explains, and adds, “we all had bikes.”
At the tender age of seven, she got pulled over by the police for riding her Honda through a subdivision. The officer didn’t give her too much trouble, just asked her not to do it again. By nine, she was racing Class C flat track aboard a Yamaha YZ125. At 12, her first legitimate on/off road machine was a Honda XL100. The bike served her well. She took her learner’s permit on it, rode it daily the six miles from home to the Oconomowoc High School and back, and still has the machine.
“There weren’t many girls riding motorcycles to school at the time, and I thought I was pretty cool,” she laughs, and says, “Bikes never got out of my system.”
Department store motorcycles
Back to the Sears Allstate Puch 125, and just what makes up that name. And yes, we are talking about Sears the department store. Starting in 1893, Sears began publishing a catalog to market the company’s watches and jewelry. In 1896, that catalog expanded to include more general-purpose items that could be ordered, shipped, and delivered by mail to just about any address.
Sears even offered catalog homes in 1908, but of special interest to motorcyclists was the addition in 1909 of the Model Sears Auto-Cycle. This 4-horsepower machine was listed for $169 and was a rebadged single-cylinder Thiem. In 1910, Sears offered rebadged Thor motorcycles, and around 1912 began selling models powered by either a single or a V-twin engine produced by the F.W. Spacke Company of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to write definitively about the Sears machines. Different sources supply different histories, but according to the seemingly well-researched site Sears Allstate Riders, Sears stopped selling their motorcycles in 1914. Other sources, however, claim 1916.
Bikes back again
It wasn’t until the early 1950s that Sears would dip its toe back into the world of powered two-wheelers, and in 1951 began marketing the Allstate Motor Scooter, essentially a rebadged Cushman. Other Allstate scooters, manufactured by Piaggio, followed.
In January of 1954, Sears reintroduced three motorcycles, a 125cc machine, and two 175cc models. On searsallstateriders.com, a time line features several newspaper clippings. A story in the Shreveport Times of September 16, 1954, appears with the headline ‘Allstate Motorcycles Popular Sears Items.’
“Featuring three models in 5 to 10 horsepower, Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s recently introduced line of imported lightweight motorcycles is being displayed in the local Sears store,” the story explains. “The new line, which is being manufactured in Austria for sale under the Sears brand of Allstate, includes the ‘125’ 5-horsepower unit and the ‘175’ 10-horsepower standard and deluxe models.”
These machines were produced by Puch, a company founded by namesake Johann Puch in Graz, Austria in 1899. The first Puch motorcycle was built in 1903, and production of a variety of motorcycles, mopeds and scooters continued for decades following.
The 1954 Sears Allstate 125, known officially by its model number 810.94150, appears to be based on Puch’s 125TT of 1950 to 1952, which has a similar overall aesthetic with a rigid rear end but a different powerplant. In the Allstate, the 125cc single-cylinder 2-stroke engine is from the Puch RL125 scooter.
Here’s how Sears described the bike in a period catalog.
“Powerful, light, easy to handle and one of the most economical cycles you’ll find! Full 5.5hp (5,300rpm) … get up to 47mph, 85 miles per gallon. Front and rear brakes for greater safety. Bridge braced tubular steel frame with telescopic spring-type front fork. Fly-wheel magneto; 2-beam headlight, tail light and stoplight. 2-gal. gas tank. Finished in red baked-on enamel and bright chrome.”
The wheels were 16-inches in diameter, and the engine with its 2.05-inch by 2.24-inch (52mm x 57mm) bore and stroke featured a fan blower for cooling. Although it features a rigid rear, the seat is uniquely suspended on a pair of chrome-plated springs that are in a near horizontal plane.
The Allstate 125 was marketed only in the United State, and in 1954, 1,610 were produced. The model was sold until 1959. Apart from the 125, Sears went on to sell a remarkably diverse selection of other powered products, including motorcycles such as the Puch 250 “Twingle,” mopeds, mini-bikes, and bicycle engines. Some of the last products sold in 1982 were Manco mini-bikes.
Aunt Winnie’s Allstate
Jennifer does have a long personal history with Aunt Winnie’s Allstate, having first met the bike when she was eight. In 1978, the entire family loaded up and headed to Tampa, Florida, to visit Aunt Winnie, and that’s where Jennifer discovered, buried deep in the garage, the derelict Allstate.
“It had been her late husband’s bike, and he’d bought it new in 1954,” Jennifer says. “After he died, it just sat in their garage. When we got there, the bike we saw had been sort of patched together and it really wasn’t in very good condition. The original fenders were missing, and it was banged up pretty good. But, as farm kids, my brother and I dragged it out, hosed it off, and put starter fluid in the carb.”
Image Greg Williams
With Jennifer at the controls and a push, the bike fired to life. The ride was short lived. This Allstate has a left-hand twist shift mechanism that connects to the 3-speed transmission through a series of rods and bell cranks. That took Jennifer a minute to coordinate and by the time she had, the inoperable rear brake and a looming obstacle meant she took a header. She has the scars to prove it, too. At that point, it went back in the garage and Jennifer never really thought about it again. In later years, even when Jennifer visited Aunt Winnie, the bike never entered the conversation.
So, eight years ago when an attorney called to say Aunt Winnie had left her the Allstate, Jennifer’s first thought was, “I remember the bike, but what the hell am I going to do with it? The attorney asked me if I wanted him to dispose of it, but after thinking about it, I contacted uShip instead and had it sent to me.”
When it landed at her house in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, where her garage brims with other machines including a 2007 Yamaha V-Star and a 1997 Buell Cyclone, she wasn’t sure she’d made the right decision. “It looked like a piece of crap,” she laughs. “But I put it in my shed and started doing some research.”
Her first call was to Matt Quirk at Motor West, Inc. in Milwaukee. Motor West specializes in BMW and Puch motorcycles built between 1940 and 1985. They did at one time perform restorations but had stopped doing them to focus solely on parts supply.
“Matt told me it’s a pretty rare bike, and that they’re considered collectible,” Jennifer recalls. “I sent him pictures of the bike, and he said I could probably get it going but there was a lot of it missing. That’s when I asked if he’d take it on, but he said they’re only selling parts now — if I decided to restore it, though, he could help with some of the pieces.” Jennifer adds, “I’m an enthusiast and I’m a farm girl, but I’m not up to restoring a bike.”
Searching for help
Undeterred, she contacted an enthusiast in Florida who was able to sell her a set of original fenders, a chain guard and rims. And, in the interim, Jennifer picked up another Puch, this one a 1968 250 Twingle. She’d ride it to bike nights in Kenosha, where she’d talk to anybody who’d listen about the ’54 Allstate. A couple of Puch aficionados looked at the pictures, but didn’t think it was anything they could tackle, either.
On another call to Matt at Motor West, he recommended Jennifer contact Brady Ingelse at Retrospeed in Belgium, Wisconsin. She sent him some photos, and Brady turned the job down as well.
Brady picks up the conversation, and says he told Jennifer, “I know somebody who can do the job better than me, and that’s Matt Quirk at Motor West, you should get in touch with him. And she said, ‘That’s funny, because I showed it to him, and he said to get in touch with you.'”
After volleying the idea back and forth with Matt for almost six months, Brady finally said he’d take it on if Motor West could supply the parts.
“Matt basically said, ‘Game on — I’ll fill your van with parts’, and the parts he wouldn’t have just didn’t exist,” Brady says. Brady called Jennifer back, and told her they’d give her Allstate a chance at redemption. She delivered the Allstate, and basically left him alone.
“I trusted him and didn’t ask him any questions,” Jennifer says. As delivered to Retrospeed, Brady says the Allstate had been used, hard, and home modified. Some of these modifications included a tab welded to the frame to fit a side stand, a feature the Allstate never had as it came equipped only with a center stand. As well, the tabs to hold the air pump on the left side of the front frame downtube had been removed and the steering stop was broken. Other frame repairs had been crudely welded in a bygone era, and these grinding and welding jobs were some of the first items Brady addressed before he could make progress at fitting fenders, chainguard and other components to ensure everything fit properly.
Image Greg Williams
In the meantime, the engine was completely dismantled, cleaned, and inspected. The cylinder was bored to fit a new piston and rings, and the crankshaft and mainshaft roller bearings were renewed. All these pieces were supplied by Matt.
“The entire transmission runs on loose needle bearings, and is really well designed,” Brady says of the 3-speed gearbox that is built in unit construction with the engine. The carburetor is a Fischer Amal with an air-strangler style of choke — rotating a disc on the air filter closes and opens the intake.
Simple, yet complex
As simple as the Allstate is in some respects, with its painted rims and what should be a non-chrome plated muffler, the machine is incredibly intricate in other details. For example, consider the rod-operated hand shifting mechanism, with its integrated clutch lever and various cadmium and chrome-plated linkages. It’s a work of art, Brady says, when it’s properly set up.
Image Greg Williams
Two features of the Allstate 125 that stymied progress for a spell were the intricate engine fan shrouds and the header pipe. Those shrouds were originally thin aluminum, and on Jennifer’s bike they were too far gone to reclaim. Finally, Brady wondered if they could be replicated in fiberglass. He enlisted help from Bill Bowles, a local who is handy working with fiberglass. Bill looked at the ratty aluminum shrouds and said he’d have no problem creating a set.
“He knocked them out of the park,” Brady says of the result.
And the header pipe with its multiple bends and varying radiuses was another tricky item to reproduce. James Johann, another friend of Brady’s, took on the job. James learned how to bend pipe working for his father’s shop, Johann Tube and Pipe Bending. The shop is closed, but he still has all the bending equipment and dies. “You couldn’t tell this is not a factory-made pipe,” Brady says of the piece that’s capped off with a muffler from Matt’s stock.
Image Greg Williams
Finally, the gas tank that came with the bike was beyond repair with several issues. The Allstate emblem is not simply painted on, and it’s not a decal. It’s embossed directly into the sheet metal, and on Jennifer’s original tank, that logo area was dented on both sides. While Brady says most dents can be dealt with, those would have been very tricky to work around, and a used replacement tank was sourced. Finally, a correct headlight shell with an NOS speedometer in kilometres per hour was supplied by Matt and the entire machine was painted a non-original green color.
A new color
“Jennifer had asked me early on if we could paint it a color other than red,” Brady says. “The seafoam green was a Puch color from the late 1940s, but it wasn’t used on this model. Usually, we like to stick to stock colors, but this helps the 125 look far more beautiful than it ever did in red.”
Brady had completed the restoration about two years ago, but due to some health issues, Jennifer wasn’t able to reconnect with the bike until earlier this year. Jennifer couldn’t be home when Brady dropped off the bike, so he filmed the starting and riding ritual for her to study. “It’s simple to fire up,” Jennifer says. “Just turn on the gas, tickle the carb, close the choke, and kick it four or five times. After that, you open the choke and take off.
“The handlebar shifter is easy to use, and a safe top speed in third gear is about 35mph. I’m 5-feet 9-inches tall, and I look like a clown on this thing but I’m smiling ear to ear the whole time I’m riding it, and my neighbors are, too. Brady far exceeded my wildest expectations with the restoration.”
She concludes, “I’m so glad I kept it, because it’s the coolest ride ever.” MC