Not so very like a BMW

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Motorcycle Sport, April 1981

SOME YEARS ago a journalist on one of the Wednesday weeklies wrote an account of his trip to a Scottish Rally. He described dismal weather as he crossed London, lashing rain as he travelled north, and at Edinburgh the snow was thick on the ground. He told of the problems he had with rutted snow as he struggled with his borrowed BSA Bantam and arrived at the Rally site to a hero's welcome. What he forgot to mention was that the Bantam had been borrowed in Edinburgh, and the previous leg had been covered by aeroplane.
In the same fashion, I could tell you about my recent trip to Switzerland, and how my 1952 580 cc Condor used no oil at all, attracted lots of interest wherever I stopped and cruised effortlessly at 80. All perfectly true, but not quite the whole truth. My family and I had travelled over by car, with a dismantled trailer in the boot, with the intention of bringing back the bike, an ex-Swiss army model, which friends had brought for me.
There are a few Condors in the UK and having now run mine for a year, I feel in a position to give my short-term impressions. The flat-twin, shaft-drive features immediately suggest a BMW influence, but actually the bikes are no more similar than a Douglas Endeavour and a Velocette Valiant.

The Condor has a side-valve motor with hydraulic tappets. This feature is presumably to eliminate the need for valve clearance checking and adjustment. The accuracy of the machining that this calls foi is typical of the whole machine, Cost appears to have been of secondary importance throughout. The con rods have split big-end eyes carrying rollers in split cages (Ziindapp Bella style). This enables a replacement bearing to be fitted using only a 17 mm spanner for removing the six nuts at the cylinder base and an Alien key for the big-end bolts. After such a job the valve clearances would not even have been upset because the hydraulic tappets would have accommodated any variance. Simplicity itself. On the front of the crankshaft is a pancake DC generator, reminiscent of that used on S7 and S8 Sunbeams. Above it, driven from the camshaft, is a distributor. All electrics are made by Scintilla, well known for thier racing magnetos. Previously I had always considered Bosch electrics to be the best but now I have had to reassess the situation. Even the headlamp dipswitch is novel and well engineered. The handlebar mounted switch is actually a lever controlling a Bowden cable which activates a set of wipe contacts inside the headlamp shell. It probably cost more to produce than the complete electrical system on some of the Italian machinery I have owned. The clutch is driven at engine speed and is therefore very light in operation as it does not have the torque to transmit that one has on a clutch running at sub-engine speed. The gearbox is easily accessable for inspection since a cover on the top is easily removed to reveal a mass of king-size gears, and in my case a broken selector fork. which accounted for the low purchase price. The four pairs of gears are constantly in mesh and gear selection is by sliding dogs. The first motion shaft in the gearbox carries two gears on it; either one can be locked to the shaft, allowing the other one to run free. These gears mesh with the second motion shaft where all four gears are an integral part of it. The third motion shaft carries four free running gears, all meshing with the second motion shaft, and any one can be locked to the shaft by the selector forks which slide dog clutches in or out of mesh. Effectively this means you have a four speed box with an underdrive/overdrive, thus giving eight ratios.

The disadvantage of the design — large masses of metal whirling away constantly in mesh means a slow deliberate style is needed for upward changes. Downward changes are even worse — it's a dog's life in the gearbox. The downward change gives the feeling of a knife being pressed through a box of ball bearings; an improvement was noticed after Molyslip was added.

My broken selector fork seems to have been casued by excessive end float in the third motion shaft. This allowed the fourth gear pinnion to float half out of mesh with its mating dog on the selector. The slight rounding of the dog face cried enough and the dog was driven out of mesh, thus snapping the bronze selector fork. Brazing it up, squaring the edge of the hole in the gear face (which accepts the dogs), using spark errosion and shimming behind the bearing, seems to have cured the problem. Just as well as spares in the UK must be as rare as rocking horse manure.

The shaft drive is on the left side of the machine, and there is a rubber coupling between the shaft and the gearbox output spider — like a Ural or plunger BMW. It does differ, however, in that the shaft is enclosed in a cast-alloy tube which bolts on the housing of the rear-drive unit. The plunger rear suspension works well but when using the back brake on rough surfaces you feel the wheel's motion transferred to the pedal by the cable. The brakes are as effective as they are huge; and if you have driven down some of the Swiss passes you will know that this is an essential feature of design. The wheels are interchangeable and shod with 3.50-19 in Engelbert tyres. Fortunately, they do not "release me and let me go" (to quote their namesake).

The tank has an effective bowl filter for easy cleaning — a large filler cap which opens with a quarter turn of the wing nut in the middle. It is easy to operate it in heavy gloves and over mittens; tank capacity is around three gallons. The rubber saddles give a comfy ride and work on a cantilever principle against tension springs. These can be pre-loaded to alter the ride. The passenger's seat is so much higher that he sees over the rider's head which gives him warning of hazards ahead, allowing him to brace himself for braking against the big grab handle at the front of the seat. Failure to do so can lead to unpleasant anatomical results, and really ought to carry a government health warning.

The centre stand is a masterpiece of design. The smallest rider has no problem putting the bike on or off the stand. The prop stand can be used conventionally or, by a cunning latch type mechanism, as a fly-up type for quick getaways Mudguards are deep and effective. The front one's lower stay can be used as a front-wheel stand, the rear one hinges up for wheel removal after two wing nuts are loosened. These nuts are fitted to the silencer outlets which are high-level, chromed pipes. Before reaching these, the gasses pass through silencer boxes having entered them at low level. The note produced is very pleasant and civilised without appearing stifled.

Riding the machine is very much what one would expect. Like something evolved from a Ural, an LE, a Triumph TRW, an early BMW and a Sunbeam S8. . . . The handling is better than I had expected and the steering damper is not needed solo. I sometimes use the machine to haul the family Steib, and then the damper is needed, as I found on the Island during TT practice week when the damper bracket fractured.
The gearing is on the low side for solo use but fine with the sidecar. Solo it will reach 120 kph and maintain that. At 80 kph (approximately 50 mph) it is in its element. For seeing the country it makes the ideal tourer. I deliberately avoid motorways on it and find the longer, slower journeys very pleasant. My nine-year-old son is attached to it because he can start it himself and that carries great Kudos within our village lower school.
The kickstarter is on the right-hand side and operates in the conventional fashion, unlike some of the Russian and German flat twins. The gear lever is on the right and operates on a down for up movement. Neutral is at the end of the travel and is easily found, even at standstill.

The single carburettor, lurking under a cover which is quickly and easily removed, is a butterfly type and is light to operate. The conventional type twistgrip is clamped to the handlebar by two screws, but also a split pin passes through the two halves of the clamp and the bar. Should the screws fall out, the twistgrip would still function.
Although it's a fairly heavy bike, my wife, all 5ft 3in of her, can manage it and rides il solo without any bother. However it did let her down on the Bedfordshire Section's VMCC Bendish run when it stopped "sparking. As it is a coil ignition job, it did not take long to trace the problem to the Scintilla distributor. The rotor arm had sheared the locating key so that it stayed in the same position even though the shaft of the distributor was turning. Forcing it on, wedged in position with a piece of sand paper folded double enabled her to restart and take the ladies' award. This merely bears out the story of my life — other people are always more successful on my bikes than I am.

We are off to Switzerland again early in 1981. Now we need the rotor I have an excuse to go, albeit a weak excuse when judged purely in' financial terms. Our motorcycling friends there are fine hosts and it gave me a bit of a kick to lend them our Condor this year to go to the Manx Grand Prix. Coming from a country where road racing is banned they go to extraordinary lengths to see bikes, especially four-strokes, used on real circuits like the Island. The find the freedom we enjoy astounding. Type approval over there has reached the stage where frequent road checks include scrutinising the machine to make sure no illegal mods have been made. The police even have photos of the original silencers fitted to modern models to check against. Fines are heavy, but motorcycling in Switzerland is not for the impecunious. Third-party insurance costs about £830 a year for a big bike, even for a well experienced rider past the first flush of youth. Vintage machinery is a rarity on the roads there — small wonder, as their insurance is just as penal for machines of mediocre performance. That partly explains why Condors are available at reasonable prices and how I now have a veteran vee-twin Moto Reve in my workshop awaiting restoration. Mutual aid is a two-way thing, so if anyone can help me find a pair of girder forks for a mid-30s 600 Ariel Square Four, he would be helping Anglo-Swiss relations! — G.B.R.

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