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Bike of the Month

September 2020

1949 Powell P-81

By Rodd Lighthouse

I have always had a hankering for a scooter so when a friend sent me a photo of a Powell rolling chassis a few years ago, ideas started running through my head. At the time, I had no idea what a Powell was, but after some quick research on the world wide web, I found out that Powell’s were manufactured in Compton, California. Being from Compton, I had to have it.


The rolling Powell chassis, which was a 1949 Powell P-81 Deluxe model, was sitting in an antique store in Boise, Idaho and it consisted of a complete frame, forks, seat, fenders, wheels, handlebars, headlight, tail light, bumper, chainguard, center stand, engine center cases, side case, and broken cylinder head. After some minor negotiations, a deal was struck and my buddy purchased the scooter for me.


Prior to purchasing the Powell roller, I should have performed more research, but I was sure that somebody would snatch it away from me, so I purchased hastily. Additional research revealed that Powell’s are rare, parts are hard to find, and they are not necessarily in high demand. I screwed up and now I had to live with it.


I immediately went to work looking for parts and found a guy with a tank for sale. A few months after purchasing the scooter, I attended the 2017 Fort Sutter Chapter AMCA National show and swap in Dixon, California. As luck would have it, a Powell engine was being offered for sale by a vendor, which I snapped up. Additionally, Comstockers were commissioned to be on the lookout for parts and contacts, and Charlie Stewart came through with a great engine parts source. Slowly but surely, I acquired most of the parts that I needed to complete the scooter.


The engine was disassembled and magneto was sent off JM Carousel to be rebuilt. New main bearings, rod pin and bearing, piston, piston rings, wrist pin, wrist pin bushing, valves, valve guides and springs were sourced from Ernie Banducci and Leo Tracy, ex-Powell engine builder guru. Cylinder was sent off to U.S Chrome of Wisconsin to be bored and plated back to standard bore using nikasil. Crankshaft was rebuilt by a Bill Botelho. Cases were sent to Gasket King to have gaskets made. Cylinder and cylinder head repairs were made by Reno KTM. Brakes and clutch were relined. Clutch covers were made by David Wheeler. Magneto cover was sourced from David Brown. Muffler was sourced from Hitchcock Motorcycles in England. Clutch was purchased off of eBay.


The chassis was disassembled and the body work was straightened by Accent Auto Body. Tank, fenders, front fork and chainguard were painted by Tom Keith. Striping was done by Weber Graphics. Frame and chassis parts were powder coated by The Powder Man. Nickel and chrome plating was performed by ABC Plating. Wheels were vapor blasted. Hand grips were sourced from David Brown. Tires, tubes, wheel bearings, steering head bearings, and throttle cable were purchased off of eBay.


With everything cleaned up and prepped for assembly, I started assembling the Powell last November. I have had a few hiccups along the way, such as a motor that would not turn over due to the incorrect piston hitting the head, but completion is near. After completing the wiring and a little tinkering a couple of weeks ago, the Powell came to life on August 15. Some final carburetor and clutch adjustments need to be made and the she will be ready to ride to coffee and other events. With the exception of the pipe restoration, and the final adjustments, the Powell restoration is complete.

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