Dave Degens is a survivor. He began racing and then building motorcycles
over40 years ago and is still thriving.
From racing in the early 1960s, Degens progressed to building Tritons for the cafe racer
era, to short circuit racing, to winning the Barcelona 24-Hour Race (in 1965 and 1970),
and then into a new era with Japanese-powered specials during the 1970s, when his success
in the Barcelona marathon led to the Paris-based Japauto concern asking him to build an
endurance racer around the four-cylinder 750/900 Honda engine.
Don't disturb this man when he is
|In 1972 this collaboration resulted
in the famous Bol d'Or win by the pairing of Debrock and Ruiz riding a 969cc Japauto
housed in a Dresda chassis and weighing only 170kg (3751b).
This success was repeated in 1973 against a vast array of works opposition: quite some
achievement, and one which firmly established the Dresda name.
|Today, the continuing enthusiasm
for classic machinery, together with a fresh interest in his first creation, the Triton,
ensure that Dave Degens' talents remain in demand.
wrote this report entitled GOTHIC REVIVAL in Classic Bike Magazine
in August 1986
When Japanese multis left the Triumph twin behind in the seventies,
Dresda Autos changed with the times. Proprietor Dave Degens moved
away from his legendary Triumph Engined specials to build cycles
around the engines that had made them appear obsolete. He was
successful too, as many wins in endurance racing on Dresda products
have proved, but the last couple of years have seen an amazing swing
back to British-engined products at the company's factory near
Ironically, it was interest from Japan that prompted the return of
Dresda Triumphs and Tritons. classic racer Tetsu Ikuzawa won an
historic machine championship there in 1984 using a Degens-prepared
Triumph. Several Dresda twin cylinder specials were subsequently
built to be shipped east, and with Degens himself returning to the
track -where he was a top runner in the sixties-to ride in CRMC
races, word soon spread that the classic Dresda was available again.
Road and racing machines are being built to meet demand from Britain
and abroad. The custom-specification specials use 500cc, 650cc and
750cc unit and pre-unit engines in either the Norton Featherbed
frame or the Dresda lightweight chassis. Typical of the eye catching
exotica that Degens produces for his customers is a Dresda Triumph
that was undergoing final assembly when we visited the works.
Originally unit construction Bonneville, its engine is heavily
modified internally. A Norton Atlas crankshaft with lightened
bobweights has been machined to run in standard Triumph main
bearings. Polished T140 conrods give a capacity of about 840cc and
the flywheel has had its periphery skimmed to give clearance for the
lobes of T140 camshafts timed for optimum mid-range torque. The 10
stud cylinder head has been converted to stub exhaust fittings
instead of the troublesome push-fit system, and sweptback pipes
carry BSA Gold Star pattern silencers in traditional Dresda style.
Although of dubious benefit on the road, centrally-disposed spark
plugs are fitted in keeping with the unashamedly cafe-racing image
of the machine. Boyer Bransden electronic ignition triggers a Nippon
Denso double-ended coil, and carburation is by a pair of 32mm Amal
Concentric MkII's complete with spun-alloy bellmouths.
The awesome double-sided four leading-shoe front brake was developed
by Degens and used by him for endurance racing. Marketed for a time
under the CMA brand name. the l0¼in drum is still obtainable from
Dresda Autos while stocks last. It's claimed to be no heavier
than two discs and calipers. Two operating cables run to a double
pull lever, which, like the clutch lever, is an Italian Cuppini type
incorporating a click-stop cable adjuster and mounted on a
Tommaselli clip-on handlebar.
Veglia instruments are carried on an alloy facia with switch gear
and warning lights. Twelve-volt electrics run off an alternator with
the rectifier and zener diode bolted to an engine plate. The battery
is carried in a forward extension of the oil tank where it can be
checked and topped-up whilst in place. The headlamp is a French
Auteroche halogen unit secured in the half falling of the type
favoured by Degens since he found through experiment that the lower
part of a dolphin falling plays a minimal role in streamlining. Like
the fairing, the petrol tank is in fibre-glass. The same craftsman
has been laminating this material for Dresda since the sixties -
lightness fanatics can order tanks made using carbon fibre in the
resin, which weigh only ounces. A small but important detail that
Degens points out on his petrol tanks is their generous recessing
underneath to allow smooth runs for control cables and wiring. The
machine's paintwork is firmly traditional, except for red
coach-lining on the frame tubes - slightly over-decorative for some
tastes, perhaps, but it is what the customer ordered. Typical
cafe-racer gothic lettering adorns the tank.
Hidden under the hump backed seat on this model is an ingenious
telescopic arrangement to allow the rear frame loop to extend,
moving the seat back to give more room for two-up riding.
How much does a machine like this cost? (webmaster
note these were 1986 prices ) Degens estimates a minimum
of £1,000 for labour on most jobs, with total bills of around
£4,000 being average. Much depends on the proportion of raw
materials supplied by the customer and how much work that needs
before it meets Dresda standards. Getting an old pre-unit engine
into shape can cost more than a fairly sound, and much newer, T140
motor,' says Degens. 'Half the pre-unit engines we see haven't got
the thrust washer behind the mainshaft pinion when we strip them so
the crank hasn't been located properly in the mains' He points out
an early T100 bottom-end in the workshop: 'That's cost £350 so far,
and we haven't got to the top end yet.'
polyurethane toothed-belt transmission replaces chain primary drive
and a T140 five-speed gear cluster is operated from the right.
thanks to pre-American legislation T120 crankcase castings. The
latest Triumph oil pump is installed with an oil cooling radiator
stowed in the fairing. Lubricant is conducted to and from the cooler
inside the frame, a neat arrangement which adds capacity to the 5
pints carried in a rubber-mounted alloy central oil tank.
Degens began making his own frames in the late sixties - initially
because he thought the compact 500cc Triumph Daytona engine didn't
look quite right in a Featherbed chassis. Originally inspired by the
geometry of Aermacchis he raced for importer Syd Lawton, Degens'
lightweight chassis are made from Accles and Pollock T45 tube, which
is preferred to the traditional Reynolds 531 for its greater
elasticity. 'Remember that 531 was designed for bicycles, which
don't vibrate like motorcycles,' he explains. 'That's why the Manx
Norton frame was meant to be annealed every couple of seasons.'
The frame on this machine weighs about 18lb, and its duplex loop has
the tubes behind the engine sloping forward where other Dresda
frames have vertical members This mainly cosmetic change was first
made in the seventies to blend with sloping cylinder blocks on
The Dresda box-section swinging-arm has helped tame many a flexing
Jap monster: Degens originally devised it to accommodate wide rear
tyres for racing. The rear hub is a lightweight conical type
designed for off-road machines, and rear suspension is by Italian
five-position spring and damper units.
The front forks are based on Norton Roadholder, but with several
special Dresda features such as the yokes - both in steel, although
alloy top yokes are available - and multi-rate Manx pattern springs.
Where the standard nearside bottom slider has a pinch-bolt to clamp
the front wheel spindle, Degens has converted it to a split clamp
with two bolts. 'Nearly all the Norton forks we get have cracked at
this point,' he says. The conversion costs £25.
of some Triumph and Norton parts have been maintained at Dresda over
the years, and essential engine-to-frame templates that could easily
have been discarded were preserved. Full order books mean there is a
waiting list for complete machines, but special Dresda parts and all
the propriety equipment used on the bikes are
available from the factory by mail order.