During 1928, Joe Petrali (who switched back and forth between Harley-Davidson
and Excelsior) was joined by Gene Rhyne as a factory rider for the Schwinn
company. The two teammates won both flat track and hillclimb events
for the Chicago manufacturer who, for the most part, had ignored competition
since Bob Perry's death in 1920. His interest in racing rekindled, Schwinn
instructed his chief engineer, Arthur "Connie" Constantine (designer of the H-D
"Peashooter" and the Super X) to build an overhead 45 that could successfully
compete with Indian for the 1929 National Hillclimb Championship.
Using a standard Super X as the basis for his motor, Constantine
changed the ratio between the bore and the stroke and designed hemispherical
combustion chambers with oversize valves (the old Excelsior strategy).
The overhead-valves were compressed by double chrome vanadium wire
springs, each cylinder exhausting through twin ports. The new motor
(with a compression ratio of 10:1) was designed to run on alcohol-benzol
fuel, and when dyno-tested was said to develop one horsepower per cubic inch!
In addition to riding for Excelsior, the mechanically-gifted Petrali did some
engineering for his Chicago employer. In 1928, one of Petrali's projects
was a 61 cubic inch hillclimber that he developed by mating the earlier "M" type
cylinder to the Super X crankcase; this was the cylinder that was first
developed in 1921 for use by Paul Anderson and Maldwyn Jones on their 1/2-mile
dirt track machines. Petrali's new "Climber" was affectionately called
"Big Bertha," and together with Constantine's new overhead-valve 45 presented
a formidable challenge for the Springfield and Milwaukee companies.
By 1928, Harley-Davidson could no longer ignore the potent 45 cubic
inch motors fielded by their competition. Two years earlier, Excelsior
had demonstrated race-sustaining speeds in excess
of 107 mph with their 45 cubic inch Super X, and in 1928 Indian
overhead 45's took the lead in National Championship events at speeds
in excess of 111 mph.
Harley-Davidson did not have a motor with which to compete in the new 45
cubic inch class of racing. The company's initial effort was to modify
their 21 cubic inch "Peashooter" OHV top end and combine it with their race-proven,
61 cubic inch 2-cam motor. The result was a hybrid 2-cam overhead-valve 45.
Although the Milwaukee company fielded several examples of this motor in 1928,
the H-D "hybrid" was not competitive with the Excelsior and Indian entries.
The Davidson brothers and William Harley watched helplessly as their Springfield
rival won every National Championship race contested that year. Even the
greatly diminished Excelsior company was able to advertise significant victories in
both flat track and hillclimb events.
With a resurgence in motorcycle sales as an incentive, H-D authorized
the design of an entirely new 45 cubic inch race motor with the hope of
regaining their formerly dominant position in American racing. Harley's
new motor, an overhead 45 cataloged as the "DAH," made its
debut at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hillclimb in July of 1929. With two
stubby exhaust stacks exiting each cylinder and Schebler barrel-valve
alcohol carburetor, the new H-D entry announced Milwaukee's
Indeed, Bill Ottaway's presence at track side, conjured up the vision of
year's past when Harley-Davidson, in any given race, was favored to receive
the checkered flag at the finish. Maybe Ottaway's presence brought the
Milwaukee company good luck. John Grove, aboard the new machine, won the
Pittsburgh hillclimb's 45 cubic inch expert event, giving H-D their first significant
victory of the past two years.
Excelsior and Indian, however, continued to dominate American racing
for the 1929 season. For the 2nd year in a row, the Springfield company
won every National Championship track contest, and Excelsior
brought home the honors in the popular and important hillclimbs.
Constantine's efforts had been successful, both of Schwinn's entries were
victorious in the 1929 Hillclimb Championship. Petrali was the overall National
Champion, and his teammate, Gene Rhyne, was the runner-up.
In 1930, the manufacturers went all out. Petrali and Rhyne's victories
had provided Schwinn's company with reams of advertising copy, and
both Indian and H-D were anxious to claim the Championship and the
publicity for themselves. Once again, the "title event" was held in Muskegon,
Michigan, on the 328 foot hill known as Mt.Garfield. As expected,
thousands of spectators thronged to the event in order to see for themselves
who would be crowned "king of the hill." Excelsior brought its winning
combination to defend their "crown;" while the Springfield company
brought their "Altoona" overheads along with their star "slant artists,"
Orrie Steele and Howard Mitzell.
Although Harley-Davidson brought both their 61 cubic inch
2-cam as well as their new 45 overhead, the Milwaukee
company was still a year or two behind the competition in the
final development of their professional race equipment.
As it turned out, the 1930 hillclimb championship came down to a
contest between Indian and Excelsior. Gene Rhyne, Excelsior's
runner-up for the 1929 title, jumped into the lead by winning the 45
cubic inch professional event in 14.06 seconds. Then Gene made a
run in the 61 cubic inch pro class with a time of 14.13 seconds.
As the remaining contestants completed their runs, it began
to look like Rhyne had the event won for Schwinn's Chicago
company -- then Howard Mitzell came to the line on his factory-prepared
Indian overhead. The following is an account of the action that followed
as reported in MotorCycling Magazine: