I‘m often asked how I find such rare motorcycles; the answer is being ready to buy when the opportunity arises, and by keeping my eyes open. I found this 1923 ohv 600cc Douglas racer on eBay of all places. I was the only serious bidder; perhaps no one else recognized this seemingly rusty hulk for what it was. I knew that an intact overhead valve racing bike from the early 20’s was extremely scarce proposition, especially in basically unmolested condition. I was reminded of my purchase of a 1925 Zenith supercharged JAP twin, in similar condition: a little rusty on the surface, yes, but Australia has a dry climate like Southern California, and metal might have a haze of red, but it doesn’t grow real rot, and can easily be cleaned up.

The 1923 Douglas OB/OC racer as advertised on eBay. [Paul d’Orléans]

The seller knew the bike had been raced on the dirt tracks near Sydney in the 1920’s and was able to provide a photograph of the machine in the day – ridden by a fellow named Ted Reese. I’ve subsequently found a photo of an identical machine, ridden by an L.C. Peterson; the bikes are so close in spec and geography that I have to think they are the same machine – that droop of the silencer is distinctive. Both photos were taken near the Newcastle track – Peterson is shown after winning a race on his Douglas. The OC engine of 600cc is from 1924, and would have been a capacity increase, and/or a spare engine!

Original owner! And racer, Ted Reese of Sydney, Australia.  Dirt Track racing, which later became Speedway racing, was the most popular motorsport in the world in the 1920s, surpassing Board Track Racing as that sport died down during WW1: the world had seen enough carnage. [The Vintagent Archive

Douglas was almost alone in 1923 in offering an overhead valve racing machine; almost universally among other manufacturers the norm was a sidevalve engine, as the overhead valve system was considered fragile and unproven. Douglas led the way with successful efforts at Brooklands and the Isle of Man, winning the senior and sidecar TT races in 1923 with machines very similar to this bike (Norton’s Model 18 was also introduced in ’23… and they fetch astronomical prices). The OB/OC used a total-loss oiling system, with an oil pump driven by the camshaft (inside the airbox). It uses two Amac TT carbs, which are linked by a rod system for synchronized slide movement.

One of legendary racer Freddie Dixon’s innovations was the ‘still air box’ for the carburetors. Note the twin AMAC TT carbs feeding into the box. [Paul d’Orléans]

The airbox was a Freddie Dixon innovation – he reckoned that motorcycles would breathe better using a ‘still air box’, rather than sucking from a swirl of moving air. He was right, of course, and big ugly airboxes can still be found on motorcycles for the same reason; they make better power breathing still air. The airbox also makes a convenient air filter housing for dirt-track racing, which must have increased the longevity of the piston rings. Douglas made their own 3-speed gearbox, and the clutch is housed within the external flywheel. Two ‘dummy rim’ brakes, and an EIC twin-spark magneto complete the picture.

The external flywheel houses the clutch, which connects by chain to a Douglas 3-speed gearbox with a cush drive. Final drive is by chain, and all braking is by ‘dummy rim’. [Paul d’Orléans]


Another Douglas racer of the same period/location. These early OHV Douglas racers were the hottest machines on the planet at the time. [Paul d’Orléans]
Beneath that red dirt (not rust as it turns out) is an original-paint 1923 Douglas racer. [Paul d’Orléans]
[This article was originally published on TheVintagent.com on January 7, 2007.]
Paul d’Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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