Known affectionately as the Michigan Madman, farmer’s son Elon Jack Potter was possibly the first person ever to look at a Harley-Davidson and think to himself; “you know, what that really needs to make it go, is a nice, big Chevrolet V8”. And then actually go and make the necessary arrangements!
The Widowmaker, as the bike, quite justifiably, became named (which must have impressed his wife!), was fettled and fiddled with until capable of pulling over 500bhp. But EJ could never get his hands on a clutch that could reliably deal with all the power. And when the centrifugal clutch purloined from a combined-harvester proved as useless as all the others, he decided that if you can’t fix it, then don’t have it. And the Widowmaker found itself hastily re-configured with direct-drive.
To deal with obvious the shortcomings of the new arrangement, a startling new starting technique was devised. EJ would gun the engine as hard as he could, with the back wheel raised off the ground on a stand. Then when he was ready, an assistant would kick the stand away, and he’d be off…. Snaking and smoking his way into oblivion!
It has to be admitted that the technique lacked a certain finesse. But the crowd loved it. EJ took up so much room as he fought the bike into a straight line that he had to be allowed the whole drag strip to himself! Which effectively disqualified him from competitive racing.
Many disapproved of his antics altogether. Especially the NHRA (The National Hot-Rod Association), which sanctioned the upper-echelons of drag-racing in the USA. They refused to allow him anywhere near their back-yards, and made doubly sure that their well brought-up daughters were well locked-away too. But many other organizers were perfectly happy to pay generously, for the opportunity to treat their audiences to the spectacle of the Michigan Madman in his full feathered glory.
In 1966, EJ even came to England and spent several days hawking-his-mutton before the crowds at Santa Pod. Until a poorly secured rear wheel sent him barrelling down the barriers, and left him festering for a bit in Northampton Infirmary!
But don’t go thinking that old EJ was just a one-trick-pony. Despite being a motorcycle man through-and-through, he wasn’t afraid to test his metal in other arenas.
From somewhere, a giant V12 Allison aero-engine had been acquired. And it only seemed natural to install this is 08. in a relatively innocent looking 1957 Plymouth sedan. The result is often held up as one of the first true examples of a 'Funny-Car'. ie a full blown dragster, based, very loosely, on the under-pinnings of a stock road car and highly successful it was too.
But it all went wrong when the engine let forth with a massive backfire, one day in mid-race. EJ was left looking a bit crispy as a result. But refused to stay at home and let his burns heal. Not when there was still money to be earned out there, plying the drag-strips of the nation.
His gloves were a bit of problem for a while though, because they were inclined to stick to the raw burnt flesh of his hands. But he solved that easily. By soaking them lavishly in (inflammable!) alcohol before each run!
The Plymouth though, wasn’t re-built. Instead, he acquired a brand new Dodge station wagon and installed the Allison there within. Only this time it’d be completely enclosed in a fire-proof, steel box!
It has to be admitted that EJ spent quite a bit of his time in the presence of medical personnel, and his jet-powered trike would give him the opportunity to get even further acquainted.
Based around a road bike frame and forks, EJ applied his philosophy that “Ignorance is a powerful tool, if applied at the right time. Even usually surpassing knowledge”, and equipped the resulting confection with a compact Fairchild J44 turbojet and a tractor seat to stop him from burning his backside! He then went forth to do battle with the forces of Evel (Knievel that is. With whom he regularly appeared at the same shows. Asked about the differences between himself and Evel Kneivel, EJ said “I get paid for what I do, whereas Kneivel gets paid for what he says he going to do!”).
Even by EJ’s standards though, this one looked a bit shaky. A concern that that was to be born out almost immediately, in a most spectacular caramboulage. That one left him a bit paralyzed for a while, but it soon passed and it was back to business as usual!
An electric dragster came next! Taking an unsuspecting, 1960s BMC 1100 of all things (offered as an Austin America to the Western Hemispherics as they mostly resisted the opportunity to engage in ownership for themselves), EJ installed a 200HP, aircraft starter-motor on each wheel.
It wouldn’t be powered by batteries though. Instead, two strips of copper were laid the entire length of the drag-strip and electrical energy was lapped up, slot-car style, as it sped along! A massive generator (Allison driven, naturally!), roared away in the back of the paddock, wringing out the necessary juice from its plentiful supply of electric currents.
Apparently it was startlingly quick too. But it didn’t attract enough interest, and was soon cast aside.
EJ’s final diversification was into the realms tractor-pulling. Providing further employment for the inevitable Allison V12, his initial tractor, called imaginatively, Tractor, startled even the most hardened of the regulars with its, ironically, agricultural appearance. And it successor, Ugly Tractor, looked, as the name suggests, even worse!
The final version, Double Ugly, was endowed with an experimental, 56-litre, W-24 Allison V3420! And some idea of the power contained within this beast, can be caught from this startlingly animated capture of Double Ugly in full, shuddering flight!
Despite having earned a long standing, personal invitation to do otherwise, EJ Potter nonetheless survived to see in a shiny, new century. And at nearly 70 years of age, was still to be found plotting his next project...another Chevy powered bike and not discounting the idea that he might have wanted to keep the glory of riding the thing all for himself!
But it wasn’t to be. In April 2012, old Hades finally showed himself to be the banker that we all suspected. And, refusing to underwrite EJ’s overstretched, underworld, overdraught facility any longer, rubber-stamped the closure of the Potter personal account with immediate effect.