Almost Famous: The 1958 Ariel Cyclone

Garth Clare’s 1958 Ariel Cyclone restoration and the story of Ariel’s brush with fame with Buddy Holly.

| September/October 2015

1958 Ariel Cyclone
Claimed power: 40hp @ 6,300rpm
Top speed: 104.5mph (period test)
Engine: 646cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin, 70mm x 84mm bore and stroke, 8.3:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet): 432lb (196kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 4.5gal (17ltr)/56.8mpg (period test)
Price then/now: NA/$10,000-$15,000

In May 1958, Buddy Holly and the Crickets — Joe Mauldin and Jerry Allison — had just returned to Dallas, Texas, from a world tour. That’ll Be The Day was tearing up the charts, and they decided to buy three Harley-Davidsons to ride the 320-plus miles back home to Lubbock, Texas.

The story might have ended there, because the Harley dealer failed to recognize Holly and his band mates, and, thinking they were just time-wasters, refused to sell to them. Instead, the trio ended up at Ray Miller’s Ariel-Triumph dealership on West Davis Street in Dallas. Miller knew who the teens were, and sold bass player Mauldin a Triumph Thunderbird and drummer Allison a Triumph Trophy TR6A. Holly chose a new 1958 Ariel Cyclone 650cc twin. Whether or not he knew how rare the Cyclone was even then is lost to history, but it must have made a big impression. It’s said the trio returned to the Harley dealer to do burn-outs in their parking lot before riding to Lubbock in a thunderstorm.
It was early on the morning of Feb. 3, 1959, that Holly, together with Jiles P. “Big Bopper” Richardson and 17-year-old Ritchie Valens climbed on board a Beechcraft Bonanza for a flight from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Moorhead, Minnesota. All three (and the pilot) died when the plane crashed in a snowstorm.

The Crickets had broken up late in 1958, and Holly’s new band featured bassist Waylon Jennings. Jennings opted to travel to Moorhead by road, avoiding the crash, and for many years suffered from survivor guilt. The Cyclone stayed in Holly’s family until 1970 before passing along to a new owner and then being purchased by the two remaining Crickets in 1979 as a 42nd birthday gift for Jennings. In October 2014, 12 years after Jennings’ death, his family listed the Holly bike for auction. An unnamed buyer paid $450,000 for the Cyclone, which is now displayed in the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas.

Ariel twins

Launched in 1948, Ariel’s first parallel twins, the models KG and KH, used a 499cc engine with 63mm x 80mm bore and stroke. Designed by Val Page, the engine had two separate camshafts, one intake, one exhaust, both driven by duplex chain. The one-piece crankshaft was supported on a primary-side roller bearing and a white metal bushing on the timing side. Drive to the dry multiplate clutch (in a separate housing inside the primary) was by single-row chain. The gearbox was a Burman 4-speed.

The 6.8:1 compression KG powertrain fitted into essentially the chassis and running gear of the 350cc and 500cc Ariel singles, the “de luxe” NG and VG. The “bench-tested” KH engine, with polished ports and heads and 7.5:1 compression, became the Red Hunter 500, with red paint over a chrome gas tank and gold pinstriping. Front suspension was by Ariel’s own hydraulic fork with a rigid rear, although Ariel’s odd Anstey-link plunger rear suspension was available as an option.

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