By Bill Hoddinott
last few years I'd been trying to acquire a genuine KVF TT
racing magneto for my Black Lightning Replica(depicted in the July 2001 MPH). These are scarce, and elusive. Recently, thanks to a want ad on Jim Baltusnik's thevincent.com website, and a response by Dutch VOC member Jan van Drenth, the one you see here came along.
Although the KVF TT was good enough to run the Burns and Wright Black Lightning to the F.I.M Official World's Motorcycle Speed Record in New Zealand in '55 at 185 mph, and despite millions and millions of successful road miles on all the standard B and C Vincents, it has long been the practice for some to deride and belittle the magneto. Since results count above all, I always thought most of that was unjustified.
This one is marked KVF TT 42201D 3-53 on the mounting flange. It has an un-painted diecast aluminum body which appears to be the same casting from which standard KVF mags were made.
The history Jan had on it was that a Series B Black Shadow was imported
to the U.S.A. in '49 by a Mr. Esch. The bike was Lightningized and
raced in the '50s. Later it went back to England, and into the hands
of Chas Guy of Conway Motors, who sold it to a friend of Jan's, two weeks
before his(Chas') passing in an accident. The bike, still Lightningized
with this mag, and racing pipes, probably among other things, then came
to Jan; he put it back into original form, and later sold it on to a
German enthusiast. Jan said this magneto was rewound a year ago by Dutch magneto specialist Toon van Daal. On receipt it was found in good working condition and passed the 'Official Briggs and Stratton spark test'. I mean, hooking the HT leads up to the little B&S air gap device used for proving lawnmower ignitions, which involves a gap of about 7/32" (about 4mm), and turning the drive spindle with the fingers, when a spark jumps the gap. One lead at a time is tested, while the other one is grounded to the mag body.
The above means that this mag would have been sourced in the mid-'50s from the U.S. Lucas spare parts system, unless some U.S. Vincent dealer happened to have it on hand.
Like many of you, I imagine, I always thought the KVF TT was something very glamorous, as a special fitment on the production Black Lightnings.
(Photo - Lucas "Bumblebee" Racing Plug wire from 1950's-60's. Mag control lever and cable are reportedly original Vincent items.)
Since the KVF TT has its own legend, lore and mythology, acquiring this one prompted me to try to do a little detective work to pin down what facts are available, to which I will add some speculation, in hopes this will stimulate some readers to come forth if they have better information.
"Go to the Lucas records" you may say. Well, we can't, since
rumor has it that since the Lucas establishment at Great Hampton Street,
Birmingham 18, England, closed up some years ago, their irreplaceable records
were thrown into a dump! Including, I fear, the records of the Racing
Magneto Section from whence these KVF TTs issued. The equipment and
craftsmen who made them, I assume, are scattered to the four winds. (Do
please note that word was received after this draft was composed that the
records of Joseph Lucas Ltd. were not thrown into a dump, but moved to
the Heritage Motor Centre, Warwick, England after JLLtd closed up. Unfortunately,
the HMC informed me that the records of the Racing Magneto Section were
not included, so we still don't know where they are. Bill. )
I possess a copy of "Lucas Quality Equipment and Spare Parts for Motor Cycles 1936-1957", the official period catalog. It should contain the KVF TT data, but unfortunately the 42201 unit is completely omitted there. This suggests that the number made is so small, that it didn't even warrant being included.
Readers may recall that in the Dec. '99 MPH, I had an article about Gunga Din, and included some info about the KVF TT that G.D.'s owner, Keith Hazelton, had sent to my pals Sid Biberman and Bill Jean for servicing. That unit was marked 42201A, had an Elektron casting with LUCAS imprinted in it, and was gold in color, with the LUCAS picked out in red.
A word about 'Elektron'. From what I've gathered down through
the years, Elektron is a magnesium-aluminum casting alloy that was developed
for aircraft castings possibly in the '20s or '30s. It was known
for being the best combination of strength and light weight commercially
available as a casting alloy. Vincent used it for racing brake plates,
and I assume that the same material was used by the famous English racing
mc factories for the crankcases and camboxes of their KTTs, 7Rs, G50s,
and Manxes. It probably only cost a little more than good aluminum
casting alloys, but saved weight. Its biggest fault seems to
have been its inclination to severe corrosion if not carefully painted and sealed from the atmosphere. I recall standing before a display case in the Science Museum in London in '64, gazing at a three-valve Works 7R AJS engine on a stand, and observing the little pile of Elektron dust that was forming under one corner of the crankcase from the said corrosion.
So we have this factual evidence that up to January '52 at least, when
Keith's KVF TT was made, the castings were made of Elektron. By March
'53, Lucas had changed over to using the normal diecast aluminum body as
a basis. I can further tell you that when I purchased a unit from
the U.S. Lucas parts system in about '61, it had a silver-painted diecast
aluminum body. In those days we did such transactions by letter (imagine
that, not phone, fax or e-mail) and I well recall that the Lucas rep
stated that it was the last one they had, and to clear it out they offered it for a special dealer's price of $75. So I grabbed it, and fitted it, but soon found that it was not very practical for my road-going Black Shadow, since it didn't want to let the engine idle down quickly or slowly, which destroyed the road manners. I soon passed it on to another fella who wanted to race a Vincent, for the same price, so two young lads got a steal, one time long ago.
The very first Black Lightning, which has always been displayed in the
Rider's Handbook, did not exhibit the screw-on cap characteristic of all
other KVF TTs seen since, so I assume Lucas made up a special manual mag
for this one, and then got busy and planned to make it in small series
production. For several years with the special Elektron body, then
reverting to the aluminum as noted above. Since it was a clockwise
unit, and needed a left-hand(they figured it looking at the drive
spindle end) manual retard control unit for a slack-wire advance, all the KVF TTs have always looked the same in general, apart from the body type. The aluminum- body model has no large LUCAS imprint, but it retains the arrow indicating rotation, that standard KVF mags don't have on the body.
As noted, the 42201 KVF TT doesn't appear in the Lucas catalog.
But, the 42324 K2FR DOES appear. This was a vertical twin racing
unit used on many serious racing Triumphs, BSAs, and a few Nortons, for
AMA Class C racing in America, and in England on, I understand, the G45
Matchless, and perhaps even the Porcupine AJS GP twin, as well as probably
many humbler racebikes for the Isle of Man, etc. The 42324 rotates
opposite to the Vincent mags, and would have its manual retard control
on the other side, but 42324 was also produced as 42206, a K2FR of clockwise
rotation with the left-hand control for the '51-'52 Douglas Plus 80 and
90 opposed twin racer. I speculate(never having seen one) that this
42206 looked just the same as our KVFTT. I did own what I believe
was one of these 42324 K2FRs, thirty years ago, which was said to have
originated with a racing BSA twin, since blown-up, and yes, it had an Elektron casting, by then painted black.
Now, it was about '48-'49 that demand started up for numbers of these
twin racing mags, and I am going to speculate that our 42201 KVF TT was
viewed by the Lucas Racing Magneto Section as merely one of the same family
with these even-firing vertical twin jobs. We know that the armature
for the Vincent is the same as that for the vertical twin Lucas mags, except
the slip ring is different to suit the Vin firing order and rotation.
We also know that these KVF TT and K2FR mags have a special
armature with the end cap and drive spindle formed in one piece of steel, unlike the standard equivalent which has a steel drive spindle cast(?) into a brass end cap. There is a bit of lore somewhere that Lucas went to this when the Porcupine AJS twin lost the Senior T.T. in the late '40s through the spindle coming loose in the end cap.
It appears that the KVF TT and K2FR were made for about ten years, from maybe '49, to '59, when the K2FR was still listed (in the next Lucas catalog to that cited above, also here) as a racing part for Triumph twins.
How did they look? I consulted a number of my Vincent friends to answer this one for you, by phone and e-mail. Bill Martz said flatly that the KVF TT that came with the '52 Black Lightning that he and Tom Auger raced for years in Southern California in that era, was painted gold, with the LUCAS imprint picked out in red. Keith Hazelton said the one he has for Gunga Din, which was made in January '52, and came from California, was also gold with the red letters, as it is today.
Somer Hooker said that of the few he has seen, some were painted silver, and some were left natural, like the one I have here now. Bob Kizer, who has a mag shop in Texas, said all those he's seen, were silver-painted. Vaughn Greene, well-known in the VOC as a monthly columnist for many years, said those he's seen were silver. So there you have it. Apparently up to sometime in '52-'53, they were gold, after that, either painted silver or left natural. And the gold ones were probably all with the Elektron casting.
How many were made? Since we know that probably all production Lightnings had them (about three dozen), and we know that the Lucas spare parts system stocked a few to sell to people who wanted to race other Vincent Twins, I would hazard a wild guess of 50-75 KVF TTs.
How good were these mags? Well, in my mind the World Record says
it all. In his unpublished manuscript, "World Record-Breaking on
a Shoestring" Bob Burns tells us that the Lightning was geared for 6000
rpm at maximum speed, and was "a lovely great mill". And in K2FR
form they ran many a vertical twin for long periods at 7000 rpm, and probably
more. It's fair to say that the rotating armature mag is more prey to electrical troubles than the rotating magnet type which has predominated in the world's racing magnetos. All those windings, the condensor, etc. must be under a lot of stress at high rpm not only from the centrifugal force, and constant blipping up and down the rpm scale, but from the considerable engine vibration, and the pounding over the bumps when the bike jumps three feet in the air and crashes down in the Isle of Man,
Today, 50 years later, there is some disagreement about what condensors, etc. to use for repair work. My approach to a magneto that showed any signs of malfunction that I couldn't cure by attention to the contact breaker, pickups, etc., would be to entrust the job to a reputable mag repairer and let him handle it. The armature, I think, is nothing for an amateur to delve into.
That's about all the lore I have on the KVF TT, if you have something to add, or correct, don't hold back!! 2/5/03
The drive housing on pre-50 KVF magnetos was 15mm, and hardly enough meat (brass) to hold the steel tapered drive shaft. Like the Porcupine, there were many Vincents whose drive shafts became loose or came out after many many miles. In 1951 Lucas enlarged the drive to 18mm. The KVFTT used a non-magnetic stainless steel drive end housing to avoid the problem of the shaft coming loose. Lucas would not sell these armatures but only used them in production mags.
I've seen and or worked on about a half dozen KVFTT and it was obvious
there were slight differences in all of them. This would certainly
indicate they were made in small batches, which is why they weren't cataloged
by Lucas. The word LUCAS appeared to be engraved, maybe by pantograph.
All had a LT###### number (Laboratory Test) so there must have been a log
book on them. I personally know the chap who bought out the Lucas
magneto dept. and he has no records, only the tooling and parts.
I was able to find the correct body as used on the KVFTT and was able to
build a "replica" that was correct in every detail. The manual advance
end housing (containing cam ring) had to be made of billet, but it looked
The mag was correct enough that only an "expert" could tell the difference, if he took it apart, and if he knew what to look for. Good enough for a replica Lightning.
The Lucas catalog does not list every part on "racing" magnetos. They only list common replacement parts as they expect you to send the mag to them for major work.
Bill, thanks for your very informative article. Bob Kizer 2/9/03
Since the appearance of the first article in the Feb. '03 MPH, KVF TTs have been popping up like the proverbial flowers in May! Many Vincent friends have contacted me with information and way more photos than Robert can use. Many thanks to all who have contributed to this research.
I have been asked to use xx in the last two numbers here in an effort to combat the felonious practice of counterfeiting that I understand goes on out there to a degree.
I was wrong to state in Part 1 that the early KVF TTs with Elektron bodies were all painted gold with LUCAS imprints and the rotation arrow picked out in red. Some were indeed gold, but a number of others have now come to light that were painted silver with the red letters and arrow. There is also one report of a silver one with yellow letters and arrow, but anything can happen over the years.
I was incorrect to say that the special racing armatures of KVF TT and K2FR mags had a steel endcap cum spindle. Of course, they have a non-magnetic stainless steel endcap with drive spindle in one piece.
Quite a few amusing/interesting case histories arrived, so, in no particular order, let me relate them to you.
Jim Gattis of Arkansas has been a Vincent rider since the '50s.
He told me by phone how he acquired a shabby Vincent cheap in a California
trailer park in the '60s, which he still rides today. And this beat-up
Vincent had a KVF TT mag, KVF TT 42201A 5-51 LT 115xx! This is one
of the Elektron ones, big LUCAS imprint, dull-silver with the name and
arrow picked out in yellow. Jim said he has used this mag on his
road Vin for about 75K miles, with every satisfaction. Long ago he
the retard lever by the twistgrip and perfected a technique of retarding the spark with his thumb every time he stopped the bike, to get the engine to idle down. Otherwise, of course, the engine will idle faster than you want it for street use.
Jim has always favored the original platinum cb points. He made the interesting observation that if your mag condensor goes bad it will fry only the contact on the small adjusting screw. And there is, he said, a simple fix for this. Any old-fashioned jeweler that does repair work has 1/32" platinum sheet on hand, and will cut off a small square and braze it to your adjusting screw for a replacement. You can then very easily round it up again in a small lathe and you're good to go.
Herb Harris of Texas has four KVF TTs. Two are loose spares that
Herb says are ex-Chip Perry, ex-Coburn Benson, ex-Harry Bellville, and
(probably) ex-Burns & Wright spares from their World Record program
in the '50s. The first is an aluminum one painted silver, with a
rotation arrow and no LUCAS. One flange is marked KVF TT 42201D 4-53.
flange is marked LT 178xx(perhaps this should be 118xx. BH). Just beneath the Lucas Racing Magneto tag is stamped 5278. Red pickups.
The second ex-Chip Perry mag has the Elektron body, dark material underlying silver paint. It has LUCAS imprinted on the body, and the rotation arrow, picked out in red. On one flange appears LT 16xx. On the mag body beneath the Lucas Racing Magneto tag is first an upside down 2(Vin cylinder no. BH) with a line under it, next to that, KVF TT; immediately below that is 42201A 5-52. Red pickups. So this one and Herb's first above both have their ID letters and nos. in unusual places.
Please note, some of the LT numbers reported here and elsewhere are incongruous, or the Lucas Racing Magneto Section (RMS) had more than one Lab Test Log Book!
Herb's third KVF TT is on the Reg Dearden supercharged Black Lightning, which he acquired from the previous owner in Pennsylvania. This one has the Elektron body painted silver with LUCAS and the rotation arrow painted red. It has KVF TT 101xx 9 50 stamped on the mounting flange, red pickups, the Lucas Racing Magneto brass tag, but no other markings. So this one does not display a Lucas part no. like all the rest.
Herb's last, presently painted black, is on the ex-Marty Dickerson blue AMA Bonneville Class C Record(147 mph in '53) Rapide. It appears to be Elektron, very similar to the Dearden unit, and the mounting flange is marked KVF TT 42201A 3-51. LT 104xx appears stamped beneath the Lucas Racing Magneto tag.
John Lagdon of I believe Australia, has today the ex-Ed LaBelle dragbike built from a B Rapide by Al Holloway, known as the Smoker. John kindly informed me that this bike carries KVF TT 42201A 1-52 which is painted gold, with the LUCAS and rotation arrow on the body. Under the Lucas Racing Magneto tag is stamped LT 115xx. This would be an Elektron body.
John Hanson of Los Angeles, as noted in Part 1, has the ex-Martz-Auger Black Lightning under restoration. Since the original mag for it now belongs to Mike Parti, John obtained a replacement KVF TT from Jim Baltusnik, which was a spare with the 1C/4439 BL Jim imported some years ago from Australia.
John had Bob Kizer of Texas restore this mag, which is marked on the
flange KVF TT 42201A 5-52, and is one of the Elektron type, now painted
silver with LUCAS on the body picked out in red, and the rotation arrow
left silver. John has a replica KVF TT Bob made for him, and just
for fun John weighed the pair of them on an accurate scale, complete minus
the screw-on endcaps. The standard die-cast aluminum replica weighed 4 lbs 5 ounces, and the genuine Elektron one, wait for it... 4 lbs even! On a racer, every ounce counts!
As many know, Jim Baltusnik runs the Internet website thevincent.com,
and very well done it is, too! He keeps a good free classified service
there, plus quite a few interesting items. Among them in his Black
Lightning section, is a photo of a KVF TT which is devoid of paint, and
is one of the Elektrons, but unusual in that no LUCAS imprint is visible.
Jim told me this one was on 1C/4439, and the mag was later restored by
Perry Gerhart of Pennsylvania. The BL bike was completely restored
by Mike White, and later sold on by Jim to Virgil Eling. Also on
thevincent.com is some magneto info by Somer Hooker, together with
Somer, of Tennessee, sent me jpeg photos of the same three KVF TTs and
the NOS Scintilla in his stash. One KVF TT is an Elektron in silver
with a red LUCAS imprint, one is silver with no imprint(date-stamped 6-56
on the flange I believe) and the third was reportedly Vincent factory-installed
on a special '52 Black Shadow he owns. The latter Elektron original
is painted silver with the LUCAS imprint in red, but the rotation arrow
painted over in silver. This one has black pickups, unlike most KVF
TTs, which have red. But bear in mind that the pickups are molded
in a black plastic material, and painted red in original
manufacture. Dave Lindsley uses Ford Terracotta Red to repaint them nowadays, of which more later.
Paul Norman of England went to a great deal of trouble to forward this research, and made several valuable contributions. To begin, he sent me a jpeg of a KVF TT minus the manual retard cable, in place on George Brown's Nero when his son Tony had it out to a vintage sprint meet about 12 years ago. This one is a later diecast aluminum with a rotation arrow, painted silver, with red pickups.
Paul also photographed the KVF TT installed on the Black Lightning in the National Motorcycle Museum, Birmingham. This one is Elektron, painted gold with LUCAS imprint, and marked on the flange KVF TT 42201A 5-52. On the other end is stamped LT 116xx.
Paul visited Andy Walker and photographed Andy's nice collection of mags that accompanies this article. The two KVF TTs seen are both Elektrons in silver, possibly with a clear overlayment, with LUCAS imprints and rotation arrows in red as you see. One is marked May '51, the other Dec. '50, and Andy is sure the latter is brand new, as it came to him in a wrapper.
Andy also shows here a Lucas Racing Magneto for the Vincent Single, made in KVF TT form. Now this little jewel, I never saw or heard of before! Possibly the RMS made it for a favored customer, and it may be unique for all I know, since we are told that the Grey Flash was always fitted with a racing BTH. So there IS something new under the sun!
Paul got some good views of Andy's Scintilla(probably ex-Picador), which is marked on the body NA2V50(degree symbol)R10xxZ with 12M under the R. These figures appear on a pad next to SCINTILLA and a rotation arrow is under the A of Scintilla.
A few words about Scintilla AG, an old-line, world-famous Swiss electrical
firm. A glance at their website will show that though nowadays a
division of Bosch, Scintilla still boasts that their aircraft magnetos
powered Lindbergh from New York to Paris in '28, as well they might!
Scintilla partnered with Bendix Aviation of New York in the '30s-'50s period
and Bendix-Scintilla aircraft mags were made literally in the millions
for American warbirds of all kinds then. Scintilla
designed and manufactured their famous Vertex magneto for automotive, marine and industrial use in the mid-'30s, which has been successful ever since in racing, and is still made today in Missouri, essentially unchanged for 70 years. And of course they made a few dozen units for the Vincent Picador, including the one shown.
Paul also reports that he observed, but couldn't photograph, the '60s blown Vincent sprinter "Methamon" in a museum. He could see that it had a silver KVF TT on it, just as last used.
I might add here that Paul has a website of his own, www.racingvincent.co.uk,
for those who are on-line. If you aren't, I
daresay you should be, there are many benefits awaiting you there!
Finally, Paul phoned Dave Lindsley, long-serving rebuilder of Vincent mags and dynamos, for his input to this article. Dave freely told what he knows of KVF TTs and Scintillas. Perhaps a dozen of each have been through his shop over the many years. Dave has never seen any Lucas documentation on the 42201 KVF TT(and it may not exist, but obviously the Lucas RMS had manufacturing drawings for everything). He can make up the special armatures with stainless steel endcaps for customers to special order, and he reproduces the special hex bolts in stainless.
Dave did visit the RMS at Lucas in Birmingham in the old days, and recalls that the front office was controlled by a nice lady named Mrs. Edwards, but everything that went on behind the rear door was a deep, dark secret and NO-ONE was allowed in!
I note that almost all the KVF TTs have screw-on cb end caps(save one or two with clip-caps), and most of these are plain aluminum with six small vent holes. But there are several other patterns that were also originally fitted, kill-button fittings, banjo-bolt for a small hose, one with a black plastic insert, etc. So it is evident that the RMS made them with detail variations, possibly according to what pieces were handy at the time of manufacture. Evidently 42201A refers to the Elektron body, and 42201D to the diecast aluminum body. But whatever happened to 42201B and C? Shall we ever know?
That's about it for now on your KVF TT lore, unfortunately no-one has
come forward with any Lucas 42201 documention, and perhaps nobody ever
will! But that's okay, we know quite a bit about them just the same.
I hope I got everybody's details right, if there are any important errors,
you can reach me at email@example.com. Thanks again to all who