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

“We played with everything on that CSR,” Menzie remembers. “Timing, gearing, carburetion… We took the shocks off and put struts on it; one time we even swapped engines with Don’s roadracer to see if it went any faster. It didn’t. I just wasn’t a very successful bike.”

Rayborn, of course, wasn’t about to let an uncompetitive bike slow him down. No one remembers the Matchless ever winning a race, but the Cajon Speedway program from August, 1962, shows that Rayborn set both the four-lap and 30-lap track records on this bike. Setting records on such an underdog motorcycle—Open TT was a 900cc class, so Rayborn was riding this overweight, underpowered 500cc single against 650cc Triumphs and 883cc Harley-Davidsons—didn’t go unnoticed. This was exactly the sort of performance that brought Rayborn to the attention of Southern California dirt track legend and San Diego Harley-Davidson dealer Leonard Andres. Rayborn quickly earned his expert plate and moved straight from the Matchless to Andres’ Harley-Davidsons. Success on Andres’ equipment caught the attention of Dick O’Brien at the Harley-Davidson factory, and the rest of Rayborn’s racing career is history.

Except for those who were part of San Diego’s early ‘60s dirt-track scene, few are even aware of Rayborn’s Matchless-riding roots. Rayborn’s professional career is so closely entwined with Harley-Davidson that most fans think he emerged from the womb wearing orange-and-black racing leathers. Even Iannucci—an unabashed Rayborn superfan since seeing him race at Loudon in 1973 and a Matchless expert extraordinaire—had no idea about this bike until he learned of it from Don Vesco in the early ‘80s.

Iannucci purchased this bike in 1985 from another San Diego motorcycle personality, Sonny Angel, who had the bike disassembled in the basement of his National City dealership—another of Rayborn’s old haunts—since the mid-‘60s. Iannucci sat on the project for over 25 years, unable to find any photos or other documentation to guide him in restoring the bike to as-raced-by-Rayborn condition. Finally, in 2011, McMurren supplied him with two original Cajon Speedway event programs from the collection of Don’s wife, Norma Vesco, which showed Rayborn in action aboard #286.

Rayborn could ride the wheels off even the worst racing bikes. He learned how to do that by riding this very Matchless G50 CSR TT ...

Using these programs for reference, Iannucci and Roper reconstructed #286 in exactly the form that Rayborn last raced it. The 496cc single is all original except for a modern air filter and NOS piston and liner—the flywheels and rod have never even been removed from the cases. It’s fit with the correct 36mm Amal GP1 carb and Lucas Magneto ignition, to produce 52 horsepower at 7000 rpm. The “telehydraulic” forks are original spec—and still too long for TT racing—as are the extended Girling shocks. Period racing accessories like the “desert” seat, folding pegs, and megaphone exhaust—all from Bates—plus Flanders grips complete the package. All the chrome and cad plating is original, Iannucci says, and so is half the paint.

Iannucci reintroduced the machine at last summer’s Ascot Flat Track reunion in Pomona, where it was seen in public for the first time in almost 50 years. For many Rayborn fans, seeing this motorcycle opened a previously unknown chapter in the racer’s legendary life story. For Iannucci, seeing the bike in the light of day—and especially seeing it circulating a racetrack again, under our very own Thad Wolff—realizes a dream almost 30 years in the making. This one unlikely motorcycle is the thread that connects the Matchless, Harley-Davidson, and Rayborn areas of his collection in a most unexpected way. To bookend one of Rayborn’s first racebikes, this Matchless, with the XRTT, one of his very last, is a special thing indeed.

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