EARLY MAICOS IN THE U.S.
By Jim McCabe
Maico motorcycles were first distributed in the US on a wide spread basis to the best knowledge of the author by, Whizzer International (yes the Whizzer Motorbike Company) starting in 1955. Kinder Cycle of Ft. Indiana got in a number of new Maico's including a new 56 250cc. scrambler. That was the first Maico scrambler purchased by the author and was titled as a 56 although the original cylinder was produced in late 1955 per its date stamp. (They were fairly popular in 1956 with the author sometimes lining up with as many as 4 other Maicos in a 8 bike heat in 56/57 in Ohio scrambles events.)
The first machines (scramblers) were 4 speed close ratio 250cc Earls fork equipped units with large high chrome pipes and effective mufflers. A cast iron loop scavenged cvlinder was employed with modified porting compared to either the road or enduro version. Maico rated these at 18 19hp. which was probably a bit high but in 56 nothing motored a 250 Maico.( though the 250 Adler Scramblers of 56/57 would for you younger chaps these were 250 cc. 2 stroke twins produced by Adler of Germany and later were copied by Yamaha for their twins). These Maico Scramblers were fitted with a 3.25 x 19 front and a 3.50 x 19 rear tire on WM1 and WM2 rims respectively. Rims were steel on the scramblers with 2 red pinstripes and the spokes were heavier than the road or enduro versions. I should mention that the 56 Enduro's at least utilized the same rear wheel and cushion drive as the scramblers while the later Enduros went to a lighter rear wheel which made tire changes faster with the smaller brake inside the sprocket/cushion drive carrier. The front portion of the frame was made of oval section tubing for greater strength compared to the round tubing of the road and enduro versions. Ignition was by a Bosch dc generator with a battery and the generator would drive conventional lights as it was the same as the road machine except for having 2 condensers which could be selected by changing a screw attached connecting wire. The generator had an automatic spark advance but a single plug. was all that was fitted. The scramblers had a 9 to 1 head initially with a plug that screwed in from the front while the Enduro and the road machine used a lower comp. head with the plug screwing in from the left hand side. This was probably due as much to the high exhaust on the scrambler though the Enduro shared the same high exhaust which ran on the right side next to the 3.3 gallon steel tank. (all chrome with no rubber knee pads.) The bike was the sarne as the one used to win the European 250 championship in 1957( which was the world title at that point in time).
The author was extremely successful with the original, despite having little 2 stroke experience. At 18, how much experience would one have gained from a 125cc Harley owned previously. Oh yes, carburation was by 26mm Bing with a gravel strainer air cleaner, and a choke that worked by closing the openings on the back of the aircleaner. Performance was astounding compared to the 200cc. James units, 125cc CZ road bikes and the 200cc Triumph Cubs. In fact, the first night after bringing it home, with no miles on it was ran against my brothers 750cc Harley K model. There was no comparison up to 70 75 mph. The little 250 would come off the line and run out in front until it peaked out and then the K model could pass it. Road Machines: I'm going to inject a little data here that has been brought to my attention as result of some calls I've received. I've mentioned the 250 cast iron engine with the Blizzard road machine basically using the same engine as an Enduro. The Enduro version had in many cases dual condensers same as the scramblers did in 56. But there were variations. For instance there was a odd ball 250 cast iron which used a special cylinder that contained the transfer ports entirely within the barrel itself with the flow being thru the piston out thru port openings above the wrist pit of the piston thru the port cast in the cylinder and back out above the piston top into the cylinder. To allow this the pistons are an inch taller roughly between the wrist pin and the bottom of the ring area (normal 3 ring configuration). This same porting configuration is found on the fan cooled Maicoletta Scooter engines. These were fan cooled electric start units in 250 and 280cc. versions which propelled a relatively large impressive motorscooter at speeds of 70 to 80 mph. rather effortlessly. Oh yes, the starter was different as it did not spin the engine over but rather rocked it back and forth until it fired and began running. Strange but it worked and not to badly either. Oh yes this scooter had a very sophisticated set of forks the aluminum sliders of which were fitted to the 66 67 Maico x 3 oval barrels and according to the factory literature some of the square barrels as well. About 5 & 3/4" travel with better dampening than earlier forks and leading axle. ( I converted a set of the 62 65 forks to leading axle without a real advange on those single loop frames which are point and shooters rather than sliders my term). Maico offered a cheap 200 with painted rims, black exhaust etc. as well as the 175cc. super sport with chrome, aluminum cylinder, etc. I have encountered 2 different variants of the 200cc. cast iron cylinder as well so it may be that a 175 CI was offered prior to 56 in Europe. The early 57 literatutre shows a 175 scrambler with a smaller cylinder outline than the alloy cylinder has. As mentioned, they used up parts left and an example was some of the odd ported 250 Blizzards sold as new bikes in 65 or 66 which were in reality 17S Supersport chassis with the obsolete 250 cylinders and high bars. The 250 Blizzards came with Earles pattern front forks right on thru from 55 to after 62 at least. We purchased and sold a new 280cc. Earles fork Blizzard in 1962 with a 280cc cylinder but as I mentioned I got along well with the importer. This was actually a 250 with a cylinder that allowed a 71mm. piston rather than a 67mm thus giving 277cc. The chap who won at Catalina Island in the 57 58 era was running one ofthose, I was told by the importer, although few knew they existed. With one of those cylinders and a 27MM Bing the 62 250's would run over 90 mph. even breathing thru a stock aircleaner and muffler but I had problems with piston seizure due to cylinder distortion.
Maico twins; yes they made wonderfully well engineered 350 and 400 air cooled twins with duplex final drive chains running in aluminum housings in a full oil bathe with sophisticated features unlike any 2 stroke road machine I ever worked on or rode for another 25 years. But they are another story. However, the BMW dealer that I bought my 59 R 60 from also sold Maico and frankly questioned the going to the BMW as he preferred the Maico twin to an R 60 in many respects.
The basic bike remained unchanged as far as the frame through the 62 model which used a different rear frame and thus got away from the road type rear frame which derived it's shape from the incorporation of tool boxes in the area behind the swing arm pivot. Transmission ratios remained the same on the scramblers at 2.4 in low compared to 3.3 roughly for the Enduro and road versions. The major change was the telescopic fork option for the 250's in lieu ofthe Earls unit. As I recall the fork, 19" front wheel, fender etc. cost me about $130.00 when I converted mine in early 58. The 175cc version came along in 57 with the telescopic fork standard (4 &5116" oftravel) which was lighter, had less inertia when turning quickly and could easily be fitted with the 21" wheel if desired. In fact all of the 175s I owned were fitted with the 21" wheel from new. The fork was interesting in that it had an external hydraulic shock connecting the center fender brace with a bracket mounted to the top fork member. I left mine offand ran STP and grease on the fiber fork bushings and rode a lot of wheelies as with 4" max. travel you need to clear as many bumps as possible. The 175cc had an alloy cylinder with plated chrome bore, good porting and the same type bore/ stroke ratio's that the Bultaco's came alon~ with later. The first 250 scramblers were rated at 18 19 hp., while the 175 was rated at 16 17 hp. but would wind tighter (Later I was to fit 200cc Bultaco expansion chambers (McCabe copies, one of which was supplied the Maico Factory for test purposes). With the standard mid height exhaust as fitted to the 175's and the later cast iron 250's the bike performed quite well but did not have the strong mid range grunt of the 55, 56 pattern cylinders of the 250's.( All Maico riders with the mid heigth exhaust recieved burns above the ankle the scars of which I carry yet today.) With the expansion chamber and go kart 11112 to one heads, the 175 ran like a early 175 200 Bultaco though. (Maico produced and sold go cart versions of the bike engines which had no clutch or transmission, with a centrifugal clutch and rope starter being used)
So from 55 thru and including the 61 model the bikes are basically identical. During this period, comparable sized road bikes were also offered including a 200cc. cast iron utility model with the short telescopic forks, and a Earls fork Enduro version usually in the 250cc size. The 250 Enduro through 61 used a wide box, with a 17hp. rated engine and was fitted with the 200cc. pattern rear wheel which was less robust and lighter by virtue of it's size and the use of a smaller brake on the inside of the sprocket carrier. These were at one point used by the West German Army. In 62 they came out with an improved front fork with internal dampening and a frame with the different rear subfrarne. The early 62's had the sarne too steep fork angle ofthe 59 61 frames and without a 21' wheel handled terribly quick with little stability. I used to cut out a section of the top frame and change the fork angle by heating and bending the front down tube. for better handling in the late 50's and early 60's. With roughly 6" oftravel up front we thought the 62 MAICO'S with the improved fork angle( the fork angle changed very early in the 62 production run) were a great improvement. The engine remained the same although the porting of the cast iron cylinder was revised for better rpm characteristics. Actually, the change had been to some degree effecte earlier but with a muffler it did not respond like the 62 with the hollow muffler shell type of expansion chamber. Bendix magneto's were fitted to the scramblers in place of the Bosch 6 volt battery and generator. The 175cc alloy engine remained the same. The 175 and 250 shared the same cases etc. except for a different primary ratio to allow the extra rpm to be used without going above a 70 tooth sprocket (no. 40 chain) on the rear wheel. The original chains were very high quality but sold for $35 back in 57 58. The stroke was different but the flywheels were the same size as were all the other parts. Up until the 62 model Maico had continued to use the same seat as fitted for the two place road bike. Then in 62, they fitted the bikes with a short scrambler type seat, a small metal gas tank and a semi tuned exhaust. Actually the previous muffler body sans any baffles and with a restrictive washer resonance deflector welded to the outlet. With the change in porting, and the exhaust they claimed 22 hp from the 250. This made it competitive with most ofthe comparable 250's although even my modified 250 alloy 63 model had all it could do with Ted Boody's modified 250 Greeves . (The Ted Boody ( uncertain of the spelling) is the father of the late Ted Boody, who was killed racing at Ascot I believe, a few years ago.)
The 56 57 and most ofthe 58 250 scramblers had the Earls fork 18/19 hp. cylinder 58's and 59's were still basically the same although the telescopic fork was optional after 57 as I recall. So these bikes are all the same as far as frame etc. Most ofthe 59's, that I was around, had the telescopic fork as did the 60's and 61 's. The cylinders were I believe improved as far as porting in the late 50's although we were not told at the dealer level of what mods. were made that I recall. Looking at the cylinders I still have in stock, the easiest way to check the cylinder for suitability is the measurement down to the top of the exhaust port. the 62"s were an 3/16" higher roughly as I recall. Those of us racing Maico's were, in the mid west, limiting our changes to higher compression, matching the ports, changing the port timing by notching the top of the piston and in my case as early as 1957 bigger carbs. ( a 30mm Amal TT on the original 56 cylinder.) for the most part. At least that's what I did and mine ran with any I encountered here in the mid west. Because Maico was small firm, changes were made mid season etc. such as, the heads on the later cast iron scramblers coming already machined offfor a 12 to I ratio with different thickness copper gaskets to lower it to stop detonation.
The 62 version of the 250 still had the 27mm Bing Carb and the cylinder was the re ported cast iron road machine cylinder from the mid 50's. For 63 a special alloy cylinder became available, with the author obtaining one of the first 6 brought in. These first were a special casting along the lines of the 175 with a chrome lining and employed a 30mm Bing. The later 63's were available with the cast iron lined alloy cylinder, which was better and more durable. It could be rebored up to 2 mm oversize. With these alloy cylinders, the bike put out enough power to be competitive with the Challenger and the hotter Sprints etc. Still the exhaust held it back as it lacked a good expansion chamber. Transmission was still the same as the 56 up except for the fitting of a 5 plate clutch to accompany the alloy cylinder. In my opinion, all of the cast iron Maico's are competitive with each other through 65 if the T' travel forks are fitted. The later port timing from the 62 should be used though. Fork angles were adjusted back then as well as modifications to the swing arms, which are legal today by AHRMA rules. However, it takes an alloy cylindered 250 to run with the later 250's such as the Challenger, hotter Sprints etc. at least it did back then.
The alloy cylindered 250 in the single loop frame was succeeded by the same engine in the double loop X 3 frame which it shared with the oval barrel 360 version starting in 1966. The first X 3 versions were fitted with the alloy sliders from the Maicoletta Motorscooter along with better dampening and much wider spacing of the fork tubes providing S and 3/4" or so of travel. These 360's came with heavier gears and different gear ratios 2 l low gear ,which lowered the load on the sleeve pinion driving the output sprocket. This is still an engine with transmission centerlines laid out for a 125 remember.
The alloy engined single loop units had more power stock than the cast iron variant and continued to produce it on a hot day but were limited by the handling which was no better if as good as the 56"s fitted with telescopic forks except the later fork had another 1 1 1/4 of travel. The rpm range the motor peaked at moved up as well and the power was good for the era. Dick Lyons out of Dryer Cycle and I had some good races at Mt. Meridian with him on a 250 Yamaha twin and myself on the Maico in 63 & 64 before he started riding TT's at Peoria etc. These bikes were and are not good sliders. I had my best success riding deep into the corners, locking up the large front brake and then cornering sort of a brake hard, point and shoot style.
Durability, I raced a 56 cast iron 250 for 7 seasons and the maintenance consisted of yearly rebores until a good dry aircleaner was fitted, one connecting rod assembly, orig. mains were still good, 2 small gears in the trans. 2 primary chains and one set of clutch plates and a clutch hub assty. After all of this the engine was sold and raced in a micro midget. The 63 alloy 250 ran 3 seasons of TT scrambles and short track on the original bottom end, transmisson, primary chain, piston etc. I did have to put a 5 plate clutch conversion in as mine was an early one converted as mentioned to the alloy cylinder. The original parts were still in use several years after I sold the bike when I last knew of it. In short, early Maico riders were like the Maytag repairman as far as machine durability, assuming you mixed the oil and knew a little about jeuing. The only real problems, on the early machines, were commonly from taking a scrambler on the road and sticking the piston in Enduros. Just too many R's with out jeuing compensation, in a cast iron cylinder that expanded slower than the aluminum piston and distorted some in the process. The first time I took my cast iron scrambler and actuaslly tried to win an Enduro, I stuck it up 3 times in the first mile after I hit the road.(I had just won my class and finished 27th or something over all at the 500 mile Jackpine on a 500 Indian Woodsman the previous fall.) After that, it was choke and kill button when running hard with the cast iron cylinder on the road. Oh yes, doing that I finished the 120 mile enduro and picked up a second in "B" class 250 after locking the rear wheel up several times as mentioned. Those Maico pistons were pretty tough.
The 62 thru 65 single loop Maico's with alloy cylinder can run with the Oval barrel X 3 with minor legal improvements to the frame but will not match the handling qualities of the X 3. Bear in mind, that we were able to mix and match Maico parts as needed and did routinely fit the later cylinders, forks, clutches and gear sets to earlier bikes as replacement parts were needed. The X 3 gears gave way to better designed and heat treated gears from the X 4 and X 4a. At Hoffy's (the shop I rode out of at the last of my racing career), the relationship with the importer was such that later interchangeable parts were routinely used and thus it was possible and was routinely implemented, where old bikes were substantially upgraded. But the real result was better reliability, as the key to Maico power was always in the cylinder fitted, carburetor bore, along with the head employed. This was & it is true yet because thru all the years of the 2 shaft trans. Maicols the changes to the bottom end resulted in no stroke or bore changes on the 250 version. The 250 alloy units were in our shop sometimes fitted with modified 175 alloy heads. I once had 290+ pounds compression on the gage kicking over a freshly assembled 175 engine. It must have been a bit over 9 to l compression I guess ( wouldn't you?).
Based on the experience and familiarity with the Maico's and the other bikes I requested and got approval for the current placement ofthe cast iron and alloy 250's. Unfortunately the number of bon a fide early Maico's 62/65 on back seems to be very small. I have sufficient parts to put a couple of original 56 250s back on the track . But they with the Earls fork and the earliest cast iron cylinder are not competitive with the majority of the later bikes in the class. Thus I'm riding a 62/63 cast iron 250 with a 21" front wheel. Truthfully though, I never ran a 21" on the scrambles tracks back then using a 3:50 x 19" to get the larger front brake.
Double loop frame Maico's are a much better handling unit as compared to any of the earlier units with rare exception. I went back to a single loop frame for National Enduros for several years running a 326 version oval barrel engine with the optional McCabe comb. gear box. These bikes so configured provided substantially increased power compared to a 250 while outwinding the 360 oval barrel which it in truth was. The combination box used the first three gears from a scrambler and the countershaft and sprocket driver gear from an Enduro. This gave a 2.9 to 1 reduction in low. This with the shorter stroke viberated much less and allowed a reliable75 mph cruise for making up time in the Enduro era before resets. The original Enduro gears produced a drop from 6000 rpm in low to 3300+ in 2nd at the same speed, while the close gears in my boxes elimated that drawback. For any application where the width and ground clearance of the double loop frame was not a major handicap there was no question as to its handling advantage.
The X 3 oval barrel 360 Maico's were very impressive as to torque and handling was great for the era. I found that then just as now a good 30:50 Triumph, Velocette or Matchless let a lone a Gold Star would whip you badly where the track was not really rough. They were and are 10 EIP. down from the full 500 4 strokes. I did not compete that much with the 250 oval barrels on tracks, in the double loop frame but they were competitive on power thru 66 as I was still riding the 63 model 250 with it's single loop frame on the TT scrambles tracks, riding the 360's and later the 326 variant on the tracks and the woods runs respectively. Compared to the X 3 the X 4 square barrel put out a bunch more power. The oval barrel 360 casting is tied to the exterior dimensions of the 250, and just does not have room for decent transfer ports, thus it dooes not like to wind. Additionally, the oval barrel head retains the combustion chamber shape of the 56 250 cast iron scrambler. The improvement in port area and timing in the square barrel produced dramatic results. These first X 4s we received were fitted with longer travel forks and a longer swing arm which made the bike faster, although I rode an oval barreled X 4 to win the 1967 expert class IN.St. Champ. motocross.
Going back into my old literature, the first square barrels had the same Maicolleta (scooter) based front fork as the oval barrels and indeed per the factory literature came initially with the approx 52' wheel base. Our cost was $100.00 more for the square barrel versus the large barrel as Maico advertised the oval barrel in 68. The oval barrel had less power but was easier on really slippery going. At that time, we were able to get about any combination we wanted from Gray International as I was personal friends with Nick Gray him self and knew his family. Anyhow, the X 4 frame had a better airbox setup and better handling, typically a longer swing arm and usually came with a square barrel engine either 250 or 360 but was also sometimes fitted ( as a dealer option on occassion) with the oval barrel engines. Summarizing, then the real key to any of the double loop frames with AHRMA rules being what they are as far as swing arm modifications and equal fork travel is the length of the swing arm. The fork angle is close enough on the X 3, X 4, and X 4a variant that any can be name to handle the same by juggling swing arm lengths or what ever. the stock X 3 I'm racing is fitted with 7" Maico forks, but retains a stock 66 length swing arm.
By the same token, I was running lengthened swing arms on my 63 Maico's in enduros back in the 60's though usually 2" longer or less. It just happened that the Maico X 3 oval barrel I'm riding is as ridden in 66 except for the T' forks and the swing arm was never lengthened because the bike stock handled much better than the single loop frame. So, yes running completely stock the X 3 frame is not as good as a X 4 or X 4a but with AHRMA legal mods there is little appreciable difference. Biggest disadvantage is the provision for air cleaner installation. The X 3 and early X 4 frames will accept either oval barrel or square barrel engines with out modification. However, the X 4 frame was set up with a high (leg burning ) tuned pipe rather than the low pipe of the X 4a. A low exhaust kit was available for dealer assembly (welding) back then. I still have an unwelded kit in stock as I write this. The X 4 A frame( and again Maico used up stocks of existing parts during transitions so sometimes there were some deviations from the norm) was marked by the narrower front lower tube spacing which improved ground clearance during cornering etc. As a result with the later X 4, the geometry and wheel base is optimized for better handling and to keep the front wheel down as the power kept going up. As I recall the early bikes are only a 50" wheel base, thus the comment about" McCabe's got a Maico belly that keeps the front wheel down on his Maico's ."
Summarizing, I could convert a X 4 a and later frame back to accept the Oval barrel as well as the square barrel engines and the handling, airbox and length of swing arm would be a substantial advantage compared to running a stock X 3 oval barrel frame. The newer unit came with a lighter rear wheel etc., therefore the question in my mind becomes on of how far do we go on building the ultimate oval barrel class Maico. In my case, give me the spec and I can build it out of inventory but what about the guy who wants to race a X3 and does not want to modify the bike extensively to compete with a modified X 4a unit. I suggest then that the chap who modifies a X 4 frame be limited to a swing arm that provides a wheel base as fitted to the oval barrels originally rather than the 5" stretched unit. This would allow the chap with a square barrel to shorten his swinging arm, widen the front frame and down grade the engine to an oval barrel and race heads up with the X3 owner on an equal basis
This was intended as a brief explanation of the early Maico's sold in the mid west in the 50's and 60's and with the importer based in Detroit, we probably got more of the bikes than many areas of the country. I apologize for not having edited this write up better and reorganized but with some feed back I can expand it as necessary to cover questions which have not been answered. It really came about as a result of the urging of Jim Weber, who is very familiar with the mid seventies up Maico's but had never been around the earlier ones. So for those of you who get a copy of this and have questions I'll be glad to share what knowledge I have with you. I sincerely hope that AHRMA continues to provide the opportunity and incentive for the operation and preservation of these old bikes both Maico and others in a near standard form so that these 45 year old riders can see what scrambling was in the 50's. Actually, I would be interested in running a completely stock 56 Maico, and a stock 51 500cc. Triumph trophy occasionally in a parade type situation just so people could see what some of the old bikes with Earls forks, sprung hub, Greeves forks, Dot Earls type and the like really were. The really early mid 50's on back are getting a bit scarce for full blown competition and the T' travel late forks tend to make them all handle/look some what alike. I think the thought behind Vintage Racing should be to maintain the character and soul of the bikes as originally raced to the extent feasible. I really almost question the change in forks on the early bikes. The Greeves of the " 60"s were known for their handling with the leading link etc. If to many mods. from the original as for instance a 5" or 6" stretch of the swing arm are OK then the result are a bunch of "old" but highly optimized bikes which meet the rules but sure as heck don't handle or run like they did originally.
I know in my case, that much ofthe fun riding the old Maico's is having people see what they really were like back then. Anyone that seen me fighting the 63 250 in the mud at Mt. Meridian could tell it did not handle like a new one or one where I had stretched the wheel base and changed the fork angle. Granted, there is no way to police optimization of the old bikes if it was desired, but if I beat John Easton's 500 Triumph for instance, with basically the bike I rode in 66 67 I'm going to get a lot more satisfaction than if I employ all that I know how to do now. I am getting feed back about the 360 oval barrel being campaigned on the west coast with a cut down sqare barrel head and questionable expansion chamber. I guess if everyone else is stretching the rules then maybe the rider is just fighting mods. with mods., but I can assure you that if he runs like a square barrel then he damn well isn't a near stock oval barrel and he belongs with the square barrels. In my case, I could build up a Greeves Challenger or alloy cylindered Villiers Greeves to Silverstone engine specs, machine from aluminum billets heavier cases for the trans. etc., fit 7" forks, WP shocks and optimize the bike and it would run with nearly anything in the class almost regardless of the owners budget.
My point being that the cost of racing in that fashion escalates considerably compared to the low cost Maico I pulled from the corn crib so to speak. There will always be those with more funds to expend or in the case of some of us the ability and facilities to build/fabricate that which is required to optimize the equipment compared to what the average rider may be able to purchase. I received a call from a Maico enthusiast on the West Coast last year who talked of $4,000.00 per bike expenditures on the racing Maico's he prepared. That's a far cry from what I'm investing, even in the Triumphs I'm putting together. I have been most impressed with the genuine friendliness of the competitors etc. and applaud the efforts of those who have put this operation together. I make the above comments only to express the importance in my mind of keeping the competition affordable and fun for everyone. And currently I think it obviously is just that. Logically, if a bike, due to optimization (my term), application of current state of the art porting or what ever gets to where it's obviously a substantially superior machine compared to others in the class it should be bumped up to the next one. That is the only effective prevention for over optimization as I see it in the older classes.
This is not voiced as criticism but just an expression of a concern on my part having seen the friendly scrambles events ofthe mid 50's develop into sponsored win at what ever cost efforts by the 70's. And gosh it really was a lot of fun in the early days ! In 63 67etc. we rode hard, apologized after the race if we accidentally bumped some one, and in general enjoyed a close friendship with even our toughest competitors and for those who could not ride like gentleman and win on the basis of ability, well occasionally feet were known to slip from the brake pedal etc. and they went off the track or were T boned. Usually, the overly rough got the point after one or 2 such incidents while those who persisted usually lost interest in motorcycle racing entirely after a season or so.
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