I purchased my 1983 SP1000 in the fall of 1997 from a fellow in Michigan who was the second owner, having gotten the bike from a man in Florida. The bike was never ridden very much. The odometer had recorded only about 4,000 miles when I got it. I bought it with the intention of turning it into a sidecar outfit. I had been kicking the idea around for the past several years and had pretty much settled on getting a sidecar from Unit Sidecars in the UK. For quite a number of years they have been producing a beautiful sidecar called the Hedingham SS Sport, which looks somewhat like a midget racer with very nice lines. I had considered putting one on a 1990 Mille that I had, but couldn't afford the sidecar then. I finally decided if I was ever going to do this I should do it soon so I could still enjoy it and have some fun. So after getting the SP and after many, many conversations, faxed letters and literally dozens of questions to Keith Wash, the owner of Unit Sidecars who produces the Hedingham, I ordered one in December of 1997. I have to tell you I was a bit uncomfortable doing business over such a long distance, but Keith had an infinite amount of patience and understanding and answered every question I could dream up and was a fountain of knowledge to set my mind at ease.
Back to the bike - even though the SP ran rather poorly it had few miles and was cosmetically nice. It suffered from lack of attention. I worked on getting it to run right before I got the sidecar. The carbs have now been rejetted using a kit from Moto International, K&N's have been fitted, new brake pads and a few other odds and ends were done. Finally it was running reasonably well. While I was doing this, Keith and his crew at Unit were building the sidecar. At the time, Keith had an earlier SP which was fitted with an SS sidecar (on the right, of course), so he helped me a great deal with the set-up of my sidecar by marking the clamps on the perimeter frame of the sidecar, as well as taking a few photos of his rig with my sidecar frame next to it with the mounts positioned properly. The sidecar arrived in late March and I trundled off to customs in Cleveland to pick it up. Needless to say I had all sorts of visions of problems getting it through customs, but there were none. It was a very simple process - much simpler than the project I was about to tackle. Back at the bonded warehouse I got the sidecar released from bondage (small joke) and loaded by a forklift onto my three rail cycle trailer for the 45 mile journey home. I arrived home safely, despite putting along in the slow lane on the local expressways. The crating was expertly done everything arrived in perfect order. My sons and a friend, Joe Deucher, helped me uncrate and unpack everything so that I could begin the disassembly of the bike and assembly of the sidecar outfit.
I spent all of my spare time for the next five or six weeks removing and assembling things. I worked at a slower pace just to make sure that I did everything right. I ordered a leading-link front fork from Unit as well as new wheels and tires for the bike. The front tire is a 16 inch, wire spoked Akront with a Metzler 110/90V16 Laser tire, and the rear is a 15 inch, wire spoked Akront with a Firestone F560 125R15 automobile radial tire. The sidecar carries an Avon 350S16 on a wire spoked rim. I mounted the rear wheel up and ran into some spacer problems. The Guzzi hub that Unit used required spacers to properly work, which I didn't realize at first. The stock cast wheel from the SP did not need any. I switched the rear disk as well as the cush drive from my stock wheel to the new midget rear wheel and after getting the proper spacers, everything was all set back there. The new smaller rear wheel changed my final ratio by a little over 15% which allows the outfit to move from a stop without excessively slipping the clutch. Of course my speedometer and odometer are confused more than before, but that's pretty minor. At the front end, the leading link forks were a chore to slip into the stock triple clamps. I needed to remove the painted finish on the upper portion of these forks to slide them in place. I guess the yokes are a "small" 35mm diameter. I replaced the brake lines for the front brakes with braided lines and bolted the new wheel and tire and my stock calipers to the new fork. The fork came with a different front fender to fit the smaller wheel. The bike now carries heavy duty Koni shocks all around. These came with everything else from Unit.
I lined up the sidecar with all the fittings in place as Keith had marked, and I proceeded to mark off the spots for the tabs to go on the motorcycle frame. I had to remove the SP lowers to gain access to the front upper mount. I've not remounted the lowers because I thought I would get some additional cooling without them, and I couldn't bring myself to cut away the plastic necessary to clear the attachments. After several tries at lining things up I was ready to bring the stripped bike, together with the sidecar frame and wheel, to a welder for the attachment of the mounts. Both front mounts and the upper rear mounts are tabs welded in place on the frame.
The lower rear is a heavy bracket which takes the place of a plate that fits between the frame and the right footpeg bracket. My friend Joe knew of a top notch welder who could do the job. So one Saturday morning in late April we loaded up everything and brought it in for welding. We lined up everything so the welder could get the tab positions properly, cleaned the frame of paint, clamped the tabs in place and the welding began. It was like watching someone undergo major surgery; I was really nervous. Despite my apprehensions the welding turned out magnificently. The welds were so beautiful I hated to paint them black. Upon arriving home, I was pretty much ready to bolt everything together and make some final adjustments. I set the toe-in at between 1 1/8 and 7/8 inches with no lean out. I've since reduced this to between 3/4 and 1/2 inch of toe-in because it seemed as if the sidecar tire had scrubbed too much. I bolted the sidecar to the motorcycle frame, mounted the sidecar body to the frame, and I was sort of ready (no sidecar brake or tights hooked-up - I couldn't wait any longer). The tire pressure was set at 32 front, 40 rear, and 30 for the sidecar tire. I put about 75 pounds of weight in the sidecar for ballast and went on a maiden voyage. It felt light, a bit quick steering and it had reasonably good throttle response. The brakes were fine, virtually negligible pulling to right on acceleration or the left on deceleration, and there was no head shaking. Earlier I had slightly tightened down the steering head bearings and snugged down the steering dampener. I was really happy with the way it all worked together - quite a bit of difference from the R60/2 Ural outfit I owned some years ago (no power, no brakes but didn't handle too badly). After a month or so, I worked down the ballast in the sidecar to just some tools I carry.
Last summer everything worked well with the outfit and we enjoyed it quite a bit. This past winter I had paint work done by a local fellow who is well known for his restoration work on Indians and Harleys. We worked up a nice simple scheme to match with the white/red (or is it red/white?) paint of the SP. It turned out really nicely. He painted or repainted everything except the tank and the right sidecover. My SP came with one side cover in white/red and the other in red/white so I fixed that (see Guzziology page 15-36 for this story - funny!). The painter, Larry Medwig, also fabricated a patch to insert in the right side of the fairing to blank out the turn signal - this also turned out nice. I changed the 1983 SP taillight, which was the same as the LeMams III, to the earlier semi round type to better match the taillight of the sidecar better. I removed the stock rear turn signals and remounted a new square left turn signal light on a mount my friend Joe fabricated for me. (Joe, I couldn't have done all of this without your advice and good counsel. Thanks!)
One of the major jobs (for me at least) this past winter was to replace the clutch and transmission input splines. The clutch had failed prematurely this past summer, and it was impossible to release and shift into neutral at a stop - very scary. This job was complicated because of the attached sidecar and took much longer than I would have liked. The folks at Moto International were a big help and were very patient, as usual. I've replaced the stock exhaust system with a stainless two into one system from Moto International. It exits off the right side - moving it out of harms way for a passenger entering or exiting between the sidecar and bike. While the exhaust is a bit louder, I think it's an improvement.
We recently returned from the West Virginia rally. where we spent a few hours visiting. The outfit received some smiles and some kind words from some of the folks there - thanks. One thing that does happen with a sidecar is that you certainly receive a lot of smiles and even waves from people who would ordinarily turn an evil eye toward a solo bike. Kids especially seem to be entranced by them - probably because they look like something that just broke loose from an amusement park. I still have a few more things to do - eventually hooking up the sidecar brake, the driving light, redoing the seat, etc., etc. I can see that I will be tinkering with it for quite some time to come.
If anyone is interested in contacting Unit Sidecars, here is their address and phone number. Keith Wash, by the way, has since gone into semi retirement and is acting as Unit's goodwill ambassador promoting the Hedingham and their leading link-forks everywhere he travels throughout Europe and the UK.
Unit Sidecars Ltd.
Essex CO9 3LB
Phone: 011 441 787 46 1000
A fax can be sent to them at the same phone number. They don't have an email address as yet, but the Hedingham Sidecar Owners Club does: http://members.aol.com/hsoclub/
I'd be happy to answer any questions MGNOC members might have on any of this. If you have a PC, my email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org , or you can write me at 7211 South Meadow Drive, Concord, Ohio 44077.
When I started this I thought my contribution would amount to a paragraph or two. I guess there's a lot more to share than I thought. Thanks for your interest in my outfit, Frank, and for the terrific job you're doing!