What started as a passion for speed, grew into the best known company name in the V-Twin high performance aftermarket. George Smith Sr. had to build his own parts to make his motorcycle faster. Now the company he founded manufactures the most prestigious line of “go fast” v-twin engine parts in the world. S&S Cycle was started in the basement of his home in Blue Island IL in 1958, and moved to Viola, WI in 1969. In 2004 an additional facility was opened in LaCrosse, WI.
Yesterday, I got a chance to visit the very impressive manufacturing plant in Viola, WI and also to experience the newly remodeled S&S museum (open during business hours nearly anytime during the year) telling you the story of S&S Cycle from the 1940’s to the present day. Historically significant motorcycles, machines, trophies, and memorabilia, along with familiar and never seen before photographs, give the visitor a sense of the hard work, perseverance, and innovation that made S&S what it is today.
First, a video to say thank you to S&S. Then, below the video, I am glad to share with you the timeline and some of the historic pictures provided to me by S&S Cycle management with a couple more I took during my visit at the Viola plant (picture legends at end of this feature)
1952. George Smith Sr. With the support of his family, George Smith Sr. built the special racing parts he needed to win the trophies proudly displayed on this 1952 photo.
1958 Pushrods The first product that George Smith and Stanly Stankos offered for sale in 1958, was a set of light weight aluminum pushrods that converted hydraulic tappets to solid lifters. This upgrade in the valve train of stock engines of that day resulted in the ability to operate at higher rpm resulting in more available power.
1958 S&S formed. George Smith (S) and Stanley Stankos (S), offically started the company in Blue Island, Illinois, a suburb just south of Chicago. A year later George and his wife Marge, bought Stanley’s interest in the business and began to run S&S out of the basement of their Blue Island home.
1959. Marjorie Smith, First Lady of Fast Motorcycles A large portion of the credit for the success of S&S® Cycle belongs to Marge Smith. A fact that is often overlooked, is that Marge Smith was a full partner in the business with her husband George. George’s technical skill and his accomplishments at the race track often overshadow her contributions to the business. Marge was a rider herself, so she was no stranger to the sport or the people who pursue it. She definitely pulled her own weight as she took care of the office chores and did the bookkeeping, but she also worked in the shop and could talk tech with the best of them. Long time S&S customers remember her with fondness and respect, and more than a few chauvinistic male callers were surprised and perhaps a little chagrined to have their technical problems solved over the phone for them by a woman. After George Sr.’s death in 1980, it was Marge’s strong will, leadership, and knowledge that kept the company on track and growing well into the 1990s.
1969. Speed. Quoted on the cover of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Choppers Magazine in 1969, Smith said it most simply himself— “I want to make all bikes go faster.” This is precisely what George Smith spent the major part of his life doing – making Harley-Davidson® motorcycles faster. This basic idea of going faster was the motivation behind many of George Smith’s endeavors—not greed, fame, or success—simply going faster on Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
1969. Viola, Wis. Despite a ful-time job and the demands of a fledging business, George and Marge felt drawn to the countyside and the tug of another passion—farming and ranching. Family trips took them through the Kickapoo River Valley, a scenic area sometimes called God’s Country. They were so taken with the beauty of the land, that they vowed to settle here when they found the right spot. Which they did in 1969. The Smith family home, nestled in a wooded valley just outside Viola, Wisconsin, became the site of the S&S Ranch as well as the new company headquarters for S&S Cycle.
1970 Fuel Wizard. In 1970 George Smith helped the Harley-Davidson sponsored streamliner achieve a 265.492 mph land speed record, and earned himself the title of “Fuel Wizard” for his knowledge of nitro burning engines.
1976 Birth of the Sidewinder. By 1977, S&S Cycle offered both high performance rod sets and big bore cylinders. As always, Smith was providing simple yet efficient solutions to the problems of building large displacement Harley-Davidson® motors. Now the S&S customer could order stroker flywheels, big bore cylinders, pistons, and many related parts. The “Sidewinder” motor had been born.
1985 Tramp III Tramp III was an open wheeled motorcycle, built to test engines for the upcoming streamliner project. Rider Dan Kinsey test drives a dual-carb shovel motor at Bonneville in 1985.
1985 Dan Kinsey and Tenacious. S&S rider Dan Kinsey piloted Tenacious, an S&S powered motorcycle streamliner to a USFRA land speed record of 276.51 mph. A record that stands to this day.
1986 The “great white dyno” George Smith Jr. and rider, Dan Kinsey prepare to conduct a 200+ mph test on the “great white dyno”: the Bonneville salt flats.
1995. Hubba Hubba. Andy Gotsis set a record of 7.016 second ET at 200.31 mph on May 6, 1995 aboard this supercharged, fuel injected, nitro burning drag bike, campaigned by the S&S sponsored Hubba Hubba race team under the leadership of George Smith Jr. This was the first v-twin to exceed 200 mph in the quarter mile.
1996 Riders Jody Anderson and Tim Culver at Bonneville. Dan Kinsey, now crew chief, waits at the starting line with Jody Anderson and Tim Culver. Jody’s first record of 171.318 mph in the 2000cc modified class was faster then the existing record in the 2000cc partially streamlined class, so with a large plastic funnel and a roll of duct tape he “streamlined” his bike and set another record of 171.962 mph in the partially streamlined class. Likewise, Tim picked up three records, 156.920 mph in the 1600cc modified, 156.439 mph in modified fuel, and 157.811 mph in partially streamlined gasoline classes. All with out the funnel.
1998 Manufacturer of the Year. In 1998, S&S Cycle was awarded the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year for Relentess R&D.
2002 Tom Bradford. S&S sponsored racer Tom Bradford, has the distinction of having the quickest V-twin in AHDRA Prostock with a record of 7.47 seconds and 178 mph in the quarter mile. Tom runs an S&S 160 C.I. Prostock engine.
2004. 500,000. The S&S® Super E carb was a ground breaking development when it was first introduced in October of 1990. Since then it has become the best selling performance carburetor in the v-twin aftermarket, and has remained so to this day – in mid 2004, S&S produced the 500,000th Super Shorty carb.
2007 X-Wedge® An all new proprietary v-twin engine called the X-Wedge® was introduced. This clearly defined S&S as an industry leader. 49-State and 50-State Emissions Compliant Engines & Performance Engines. The X-Wedge® engine (pronounced Ex-Wedge or Cross-Wedge, take your pick) is an S&S® designed 56° pushrod v-twin with three belt driven cams in a unique configuration that provides nearly straight pushrod angles to all valves.
2011. KN-Kone takes first place at the 2011 V-Twin Expo. It’s a cool combination that looks like a knucklehead top end grafted to an alternator style shovelhead crankcase. And it combines the extensive selection of high quality vintage engines and components in the Flathead Power product line.
2013. 55th Anniversary. More performance products and speed records to be announced…
From left to right and top to bottom. 1- George J. Smith and Stanley Stankod. 2- Marjorie Smith on Merle Smith’s 1941. 3- George J. Smith machining flywheels circa 1968. 4- George J. Smith drawing blue prints, circa 1979. 5- George J. Smith demonstrating the “tuck in” position. 6- George Smith assembling carburetors, circa 1968. 7- George B. Smith machining flywheels. 8- S&S Machine Shop in Viola, circa 1979. 9- View of S&S Ranch, circa 1975. 10- Tramp III with dual carn.Shovelhead “Funny Motor”, circa 1983. 11- S&S engines line-up at Viola facility. 12- Trophies galore… 13- S&S 160+ engine.