The Only One In The World: 1917 Henderson Board Tracker By Bonhams

One of the most charismatic names in American motorcycling history, Henderson produced nothing but 4-cylinder motorcycles in the course of its 19-year existence. Founded by Tom and William Henderson in Detroit, Michigan in 1911, the firm passed into the co-based cycle maker Ignaz Schwinn, owner of Excelsior, in 1917. The Hendersons soon moved on to found the Ace motorcycle company – later taken over by Indian – and thereby had a hand in the design of all the major American-built fours.

Displacing 965cc initially, the air-cooled cylinders were arranged longitudinally in the frame and employed mechanically operated ‘F-head’ (inlet-over-exhaust) valve gear. There was single-gear transmission but the Henderson outclassed its rivals for convenience by having a free engine clutch and a hand-crank starter instead of pedals. The engine was enlarged to 1,064cc for 1913 while a shorter frame, folding kick-starter and three-speed sliding-gear transmission were all Henderson features by 1917. ‘The 1917 improvements soon demonstrated that the Henderson was really quite a motorcycle, able to outdo and outperform the several makes of big twins then on the market.’

The new 1917 spec engine and transmission was known as the Model G – improved in every way – to such an extent that it prompted Henry Ford to buy one – he paid full price –’electrically equipped.’ ‘This perfected four-cylinder motor, in conjunction with the basic advancements in design which are embodied in the 1917 Henderson, offers to the motorcyclist a generous value which we believe has never been equaled in the history of the industry.’ So resad a period advertisement.

In Jerry Hatfield’s seminal American Racing Motorcycles, Henderson covers but four pages (to Harley-Davidson’s 89 and Indian’s 58) and so clearly there is little ‘racing association for Henderson. ‘Although Henderson was never intended to be a racing motorcycle, the classic in-line four merits attention for its prominence as a long-distance record-setter. Born in 1912, the Henderson made its first mark within a year, as in October of 1913 Carl Stevens Clancy became the first motorcyclist to circle the globe.’ Such was the intensity record-setting on public roads was drawing criticism from the general public. One Wells Bennett, Henderson rider extraordinaire, was arrested while in process!

Paul Ousey was given the engine in this bike by Dale Walksler of the Wheels Through Time Museum. The transmission had been cut off the back of this engine to use it in an airplane, and thus Dale had no use for it. Ousey immediately saw ‘a project’ and had Billy Lane of Choppers Inc., Daytona Beach, Florida build a frame so that Ousey could race it in the Sons of Speed boardtrack racing event. The motorcycle now has a 3-speed Triumph transmission. Regrettably perhaps no racing class for 4-cylinder motorcycles ever came to fruition. And so, it is a bit of a flight of fantasy! However, make no mistake about its integrity for it was conceived, engineered and built by famed antique motorcycle restoration guru Larry Wood – also living close to Daytona Beach – the restorer of the 1910 Harley Single also in this sale catalog. The rebuilt Henderson motor and Triumph transmission is strong running and provides a disproportionate amount of excess excitement for rider and watchers. One might question ‘why lights?’ but no matter, this is a very special ‘special’, most comfortable in its uniqueness.

Engine no. 9866
· Legendary four-cylinder Henderson engine
· Beautiful piece of engineering
· Bike done and restored by Larry Wood
Report by
Tags from the story