Cal Rayborn’s Lost Ride

Uncovering the Brit-Bike Beginnings of Cal Rayborn’s Otherwise All-American Racing Career

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

Team Obsolete’s collection of more than 75 historic racing motorcycles is both stunning and stunningly diverse. There are so many marquee bikes: ex-Agostini MV Agustas (yes, more than one), an ex-Redman Honda six, the ultra-rare AJS 7R3 “Triple-Knocker” and E95 “Porcupine,” and, of course, all those Harley-Davidson XRTTs—including the ex-Cal Rayborn “final edition” we recently rode (“Calvin & Rob,” MC, Oct. 2010). But even among such distinguished company, Matchless G50 racing singles hold an extra special place in team owner Rob Iannucci’s heart.

That’s because Team Obsolete essentially began with a Matchless G50—specifically, the G50 CSR featured on the cover of the April 1962 issue of Cycle World magazine. “My first motorcycle was a Norton Commando,” Iannucci recalls. “Through that I got involved with some Brit bike guys here in New York City. This was the late ‘60s. One of them showed me that Cycle World and that was it. The article included an exploded view of the G50 engine, and it was just so beautiful—from an engineering standpoint, from a mechanical design standpoint, and as a piece of art. It just blew me away.”

Iannucci decided then and there that he needed a G50. It took until 1975, however, for him to finally locate an available one on a ranch in Nevada—coincidentally, a 1962 CSR just like on the magazine cover. It was converted for desert racing but came with all the stock street equipment, which Iannucci promptly reinstalled. That CSR served Iannucci as daily transportation throughout law school, and he and his bride even rode it to the altar on their wedding day. He still owns it today, along with “quite a few” other G50s, including roadracers once belonging to Dick Mann, Bob Hansen, the Arter Brothers, and, of course, the ex-Al Gunter “1709” bike Team Obsolete’s Dave Roper rode to victory in the 1984 Isle of Man Classic TT (“Me & My Bike,” Jan. 2012).

Iannucci has probably bought, sold, rebuilt and raced more G50s than anyone else in the world. Each has an incredible history, but perhaps none is more fascinating than the blue-and-gold #286 shown here. How can that be? Purists might claim this isn’t even a “true” G50—it’s only a CSR model, the streetbike hastily pieced together by Matchless to homologate a machine for American competition. It was raced for less than two seasons, by an amateur rider, and it didn’t win any major events—in fact, it may not have won any races at all. It’s an unremarkable machine in every way but one—that aforementioned amateur was Cal Rayborn, and this very Matchless G50 CSR was the springboard that launched Rayborn onto the factory Harley-Davidson racing team.

This we know about Calvin Rayborn II—he was perhaps the most talented motorcycle roadracer America ever produced. He won the Daytona 200—then the world’s most important motorcycle race—consecutively in 1968 and ’69, both times riding the ancient, flathead-powered Harley-Davidson KR750TT against modern, overhead-valve European twins and ferociously fast Japanese two-strokes. In 1972 he dominated the Trans-Atlantic Match Races, winning three of six races against the very best British and American riders, on tracks he had never visited before, again riding an outdated Ironhead Harley-Davidson XRTT.

What we will never know is just how good Cal Rayborn could have been. Tremendous loyalty to the Harley-Davidson team meant Rayborn never enjoyed competitive machinery. It wasn’t until 1973 that he finally became frustrated enough to leave Harley-Davidson for better opportunities, reportedly agreeing to race for Suzuki in 1974. Rayborn, age 33, was killed on December 29, 1973, during the first lap of a tune-up race at Pukekohe Park Raceway in New Zealand. His Suzuki TR500 two-stroke seized and threw him into an unprotected guardrail at better than 100 mph.

“What Calvin could have done” remains one of motorcycling’s greatest unanswered questions. What Calvin did do, however, has become the stuff of legend. Rayborn could ride the wheels off even the worst racing bikes. He learned how to do that early in his career. To a large extent, he learned how to do that by riding this very Matchless G50 CSR TT bike.

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