Far Out Fiberglass: Tracy's Whaky Fiberglass-Bodied Motorycles
Words: Geoff Baldwin Contemporary Photography: Luke Ray Illustrations: Jim Phillips.
In the early ‘60s the Surf scene in California was peaking. Skilled fiberglass workers were in high demand by up and coming surfboard brands. A job building surfboards offered one fiberglasser by the name of Tracy Nelson the opportunity to launch a business building fiberglass components for motorcycles. From here Tracy went on to build a brand that became one of the biggest manufacturers of motorcycle body kits in the USA, Tracy’s Fiberglas Works. Renowned surf Illustrator Jim Phillips (the man behind the Santa Cruz screaming hand design) worked closely with Nelson throughout the life of the company, creating artwork for marketing, branding and products. We got in touch with Jim and he shared his story of Tracy’s Fiberglas Works with us.
"Within a year Tracy moved to a larger shop, then a cannery with 150 employees. That’s when he came two blocks over to my room at Overlin’s Surfboard shop, where I was doing pen & ink artwork on surfboards, and asked if I wanted to come over to the art studio he was building and do art and advertising full-time for him with considerably more pay. It didn’t take long for him to convince me. I liked my job doing art on surfboards with plenty of time to surf but I jumped at the chance to work in an art studio, the pay raise made the difference.
"TRACY was the new logo I designed for Tracy’s new empire. We made stickers alright, but it was a fitting emblem for Tracy, like Superman, because Tracy was super, everything he did was super. He had me paint a mural of his factory and I represented him like Superman, bursting through the door handing designs to the draftsmen. He was a certified genius with motorcycle designs and promotion. He was like an impresario. Bank of America was featuring him on national TV ads extolling Tracy as a successful young entrepreneur using their services. Tracy opened Bike Shop West, a glitzy retail showroom in Santa Cruz, to be the first of many locations.
"I worked upstairs in the art studio with Geoff McCormack a longtime surfer friend. I mostly drew motorcycle illustrations and cartoons, and Geoff would put them in ads and catalogs. I had an open field and so I just plowed ahead with whatever idea struck me, there were very few restrictions. Tracy was stoked with everything I threw at him, I did illustrations of everything I could think of on bikes. Occasionally Tracy would transmit his body design concept ideas to me while I sketched. That was super exciting to me. Tracy also liked to broker our services around so we did some contract work for other motorcycle accessory manufacturers like Cycle Shack. I did a lot of work for them, including hand-illustrating every part in their catalog.
"The dark days for the Fiberglass Works ensued Tracy’s, with his beautiful wife Randy’s tragic death on a rainy night, on the notorious twisting turns of Highway 17. Tracy lost his mind, the business and most everything else. I can only imagine what Tracy would have built from the momentum that he had established there. Eventually, Tracy recovered, started a new family and has been involved with many innovative projects over the years.
"Tracy’s turned my life around. With the advertising skills I learned at Tracy’s I was able to start a very prosperous freelance art service which lasted my lifetime, with clients such as Harley Davidson, Santa Cruz Skateboards, Independent Trucks, O’Neill’s, Fillmore Auditorium and many more.”
In 1974 a full Tracy body kit could be acquired for around $170USD and for a measly additional $70 your kit could come with a one of a kind custom paint scheme by the Tracy paint shop, ‘Tracy and Friends‘. Paint was laid over either a crushed polyester mirrorflake or pearl white base to your own colour and style specifications and featured Tracy’s own blend of fuel and weather proof acrylics to ensure longevity. As the Tracy catalogue stated you could order “flames, scallops, cobweb, fishscales, lace, flags, graphics, scrolls, ribbons, explosions, or any combination of each and never see a duplicate anywhere”, who could resist such an offer for 70 bucks!
The ‘Eliminator’ was a café/street racer styled tank/seat/fairing combo that had clear similarities to the Triumph Hurricane bodywork designed by Craig Vetter. When Vetter and Don Brown presented their body kit to BSA in ’69 they described it as being designed to “show the Brits what Americans wanted their motorcycles to look like”. Tracy’s Eliminator proved Vetter’s theory by being the most popular kit in the Tracy range available as a “bolt on” modification for the Honda CB 450/500/750, ’71-’73 Norton 750, Triumph Trident & pre-’71 650s, BSA 650, Yamaha XS650, Suzuki GT750 and Kawasaki 750. The kit wasn’t merely a showpiece though. Tracy designed the Eliminator to lower the bikes center of gravity to provide “superhandling” and despite their narrow profile and lightweight construction could hold a similar capacity of fuel to each bikes stock tank. Included in the price of each body kit was a custom diamond stitched or rolled leather seat with a hinged base to allow access to battery or oil filler depending on the model purchased.
Other Tracy kits included the ‘Time Machine’ Chopper kit with concealed wiring, 9.5 liter fuel capacity and frame concealing design, a universal, 3 piece (seat/tank/race fairing) Café Racer kit, the ‘Excalibre’ touring rider fairing with a huge 19 liter fuel capacity and the out of this world ‘Intruder’, “Tracy’s total solution to a cyclists needs”. The Intruder was a space aged, uni-construction fairing (one piece from the headlight through to the rear fender) designed for the Honda CB750. It held a massive 19 liters of fuel, had a rolled seat that ran from the dials back to the bum stop and concealed the riders arms inside the front fairing while riding. Totally rad!
We found this Tracy ‘75 Kawasaki Z900 at Antique Motorcycles in Cheltenham, Victoria. The bike, which was originally built in California in the seventies then rebuilt 5 years ago before making it’s was to Australia. The Eliminator bodywork has been finished in purple/blue over silver flake and looks like it’s come straight out of the seventies. While the Tracy body is certainly the most noticeable addition to the bike it’s list of custom modifications goes well beyond the bolt-on kit. The Z900 boasts a WISECO big bore top end which increases capacity to around 1154cc, a Grabber clutch, 4-into-1 exhaust, Mikuni flatside carburetors, Tuned cam and lightweight racing crankshaft, making it a real straight line beast. Kawasaki H2 disks and calipers on a 19 inch front wheel and a Lockheed set up on the rear 18 provide plenty of stopping power and a damper helps to manage the steering. Other trick parts from the seventies include air feed balanced front forks with pressure gauge, a push-pull ¼ turn throttle, Street racer bars and a trick adjustable rear swing arm with 3 set positions for various drag or street riding styles.
Forty years on Tracy body kits are becoming highly sought after with good examples fetching upwards of $800USD. You can identify a genuine Tracy kit by the card molded into the underside or inside of the tank channel which can be seen through the filler hole. Unfortunately fiberglass of this age can crack and leak quite easily but for those who are willing overlook those challenges a Tracy kit would make an awesome addition to any 70’s inspired custom build.
You can see more of Jim’s work Tracy’s in his first book, Surf, Skate and Rock Art of Jim Phillips, available at www.jimphillips.com
This article first appeared in Tank Moto issue 01.