Salt Addiction: Max Lambky

June 21, 2012
Rocky Robinson
Rocky Robinson
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Having raced everything from Flat Track to Trials, Rocky Robinson now pilots streamliners at the Bonneville Salt Flats and currently holds the ultimate land speed record at 376 mph aboard the Ack Attack streamliner.

Max and his riders  Hartmut Weidelich and Don Angel. Over a 100 years of motorcycling and racing among them!
Max (center) and his riders, Hartmut Weidelich (left) and Don Angel (right). Over a 100 years of motorcycling and racing among them!

Max Lambky, a career Navy man, had a basket case Vincent when he arrived in St. Joseph, Missouri for his first tour of shore duty. There he met a ‘Seabee’ named Kenneth Sharp. Ken owned a 1949 Triumph Speed Twin, so it was instant camaraderie. Remembering the source of that friendship, Lambky says, “We both spoke the same language, British Iron.”

The two decided to turn the Vincent into a drag bike. Local hotshot Larry Nance held the AHRA drag record at the time with a 73 cubic inch nitro burning Harley Sportster in a magnesium frame. “Ken and I felt we could build a Vincent to smoke Larry,” says Max. And the Vincent project did just that.

“I built a magnesium frame, 93 cubic inch, one gear only drag bike capable of running 85% nitro,” recalls Lambky. “Kenneth rode the bike in St. Louis, Missouri to a speed of 162.36 mph, with a 9.25 ET. It was sheer bliss to see and hear the roar of the mighty Vincent abusing the tiny Avon 4-inch slick. Over the loud speaker came the words, ‘Mad Max’. The handle stuck. It’s been with me ever since.”

After his shore duty tour in St. Joseph, Max received orders to Vietnam to serve in the Mekong Delta aboard the U.S.S. Caddo Parish. From there the Navy sent him to Pearl Harbor, stationed aboard the U.S.S. Grapple. During that time he finished building a two-cylinder motorcycle engine out of a 392 Chrysler Hemi by sawing the first two cylinders off. He called it the “Quarter Hemi”, and raced it at Hawaii Raceway Park.

“They had a newsletter, and from my entry forms which said ‘Home: Kansas’, the paper gave me an addition to my handle. From that time on I was known as, ‘Mad Max, the Kansas Bad Man’.”

Black Lightning  a twin engine Vincent powered streamliner is poised and ready for action.
Black Lightning, a twin engine Vincent powered streamliner is poised and ready for action.

Max is known throughout the LSR community for campaigning Black Lightning, a twin-engine Vincent powered streamliner. (See Salt Addiction – August, 2008) Some major changes have occurred in his program since our last visit, namely the addition of a sidecar. Here’s his take on why the new addition:

“In 1997 Stu Rogers, an English Vintage road racer, rode the bike, and on his first pass went down at the mile and a half marker causing lots of damage. After another year of work and a lot of money, the liner was back on the salt, Don Angel riding. Donny was making his licensing runs when the liner again went on its side, pencil rolled, and went airborne in the process. This is when I first thought about putting a sidecar on the liner.”

Max set an AMA Vintage Class record before adding the third wheel. Meanwhile, Dave Campos’ 322 mph record was being upgraded to a point where the Vincent streamliner’s 65-year-old engines were now competing against modern day horsepower, and the technology that goes along with it. Max concluded it was definitely not a ‘shoot from the hip’ decision to make the change.

For the record, the sidecar class has become quite competitive over the years. Top guns like Larry Coleman, John Noonan, ‘Peg Leg’ Craig Anderson, Fritz Egli, and John Renwick have pushed the envelope to the point that 200 mph is no longer considered unobtainable, and in fact has already been surpassed by a few. Mad Max has every intention of seeing Black Lightning at the top of this list, and is determined that his vintage machine is capable of 300 mph and more.

At some point, one might ask, Max, why Vincents? I did, and here’s what I got:

Close up of Vincent engines. At one time Vincent motorcycles boasted in their ads that they produced the Worlds Fastest Production Motorcycle.
Close up of Vincent engines. At one time Vincent motorcycles boasted in their ads that they produced the “World’s Fastest Production Motorcycle”.

“Back in the 50s, a guy called Rollie Free took a Vincent to Bonneville, put on a bathing cap, trunks and tennis shoes, assumed a prone position, and scorched the salt with a 150+mph run. This captured the imagination of the motorcycle world. You could buy a new Vincent Black Shadow for about $1200 that would literally smoke the Ford V8’s and the Chevy six-cylinders the cops were using at the time. A 100 mph Ford and a 125 mph Vincent made it a ‘no choice’ for many. Factory Lightnings (very few of which were built) would nudge the 150 mph mark. They advertised, and nobody ever challenged the advertisement, which said, ‘The World’s Fastest Production Motorcycle’. It held that title until Kawasaki came along with their two-stroke Triples.”

Max’s passion for the Vincent marque runs deep. He’s restored 35 Vincent motorcycles, built nine iterations of Black Lightning, his twin-engine Vincent streamliner, and campaigned his unique speed machine no less than 12 times at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

“I remember the first time we took the streamliner to the salt. Don Vesco was the rider. I recall a conversation with him and a couple of his buddies who showed up. His buddies asked, ‘Don, why are you messing with these 45 year old antiques?’ He answered, ‘The horses in those antiques don’t know they’re 45 years old’ and grinned.”

“Actually I started the project some 23 years ago. The Vincent engine wasn’t that dated at that time. There were no Hayabusas, and the multi Fours could be handled with ease with a well running Vincent. I intended to make some serious horsepower to beat current record holder, Dave Campos with the Harleys. Within the Vincent community there have been no less than 38 Vincent racers built with superchargers. The strength of the engine is uncanny. We’ve made as much as 573 horsepower on the dyno with the pair. That ain’t bad.”

“Anyway, there’s always been a Hatfield and McCoy thing going on between the Vincent guys and the Harley guys. Harley had the outright Motorcycle Land Speed Record at the time. I was a Vincent guy with the wherewithal to go after it, so I did.”

Black Lightning with the upper body panel removed at the end of a run. Notice the close quarters where the two Vincent engines reside…
Black Lightning with the upper body panel removed at the end of a run. Notice the close quarters where the two Vincent engines reside…

This racing season almost wasn’t to be. Ol’ Max was starting to run out of steam and the mere thought of another rebuild and major overhaul was more than he could handle. He contemplated throwing in the towel, but, thankfully, those that have supported Max over the years came to his rescue so he could give it one more good go. For those of you that didn’t know, Max received financial donations from all over the world for the last 15 years, numbering some 600 donors. In particular, there’s a K Club. These financial donors have contributed over $1000 or have contributed in some other special way.

In addition to the financial support, Hartmut Weidelich, one of Max’s riders who lives in Germany and is one hell of an engine builder, took over the duties of engine and transmission overhaul, and promises to have Black Lightning running stronger and faster than ever before. Max will continue on developing the chassis, and the team will be reunited one last time in 2012 to once again take on Bonneville’s Great White Dyno…