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Sonny Angel - Yamaha Pioneer
Samuel "Sonny" Angel II operated "Sonny Angel Motorcycles" in National City, California for 61 years. In 1958 Sonny was a well known mechanic, tuner and racer, so when in October 1958 when he applied to Yamaha to become a dealer it was a logical choice that Yamaha should have chosen him (along with Gene Wise and George Caswell) to take custody of several of the works machines shortly after Catalina. He had the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm, as well as the established facilities to successfully continue to run the bikes and promote the company on the track as well as on the street.
Above. A colour shot of Sonny Angel on a machine which appears to be the "Catalina prototype" YD-A # P51 as there are no signs of any bottom foot peg mounts. The bike has low pipes as used Asama and the frame is still grey with a red tank, so is certainly soon after Catalina, before the bike was repainted with a black frame.
Sonny sponsored several including most notably, Cal Rayborn at events such as the El Cajon TT (on PQ47 & P51) and Bud Wright at the Greenhorn Enduro (P51).
It looks as if PQ47 was was developed for TT and dirt track races, whilst P51 was later developed for road racing. PQ47 was found to have retained its original grey paint.
1958 Paradise Mesa. Sonny's NSU-Norton in the foreground with one of the YD's still fitted with Catalina high pipes, but now with high footpegs replaced by rear sets flat bars fitted. The colour scheme now changed......
Below, the same bike in glorious colour ! This time at Willow Springs early 1959, bearing Gene Wise's #7.
Below. Shots from another Willow Springs event in 1959 and riding another of the YD's ridden by Gene Wise, sporting the original Asama low pipes and clip -on handlebars.
Above, Gene Wise on his #7 YD. Below, Another great colour show showing the YD on his trailer at Willow Springs.
Below : This great shot shows 2 of the team Yamaha's circa 1959/60. The machine on the right is 1 of the YA 125 Asama single cylinder racers. Up until uncovering and identifying these photo's, the YA machines were previously not known to have existed outside of Japan.
Bottom: A great 1960 or 1961 period shot of Sonny and Gene's pit area at an event, showing that Sonny had was still running one of the YD's at the same time as one of the new" YDS1R's (in the back of the truck) and even more surprisingly one of the YA Asama 125cc's can be seen (with the orange number plate).
1) #96 YD with a silver tank, with engine out, in the rear of the shot.
2) #7 with orange number plate and orange tank is the YA 125cc. Note: This bike has YDS1 forks fitted.
3) #7 in the foreground, now with YDS1R tank fitted. Due to the fitment of this fairing it is possible to identify this machine as YD-A frame number YD21, the machine I am currently restoring (see following pages of restoration).
A real big thanks goes to Sonny Angel and his Son-in-law Mark Brush, who have kindly given me permission to use these photo's and have helped me to unfold a huge unknown void in the history of these very first Yamaha racers, as well as supplying me with several parts from my my actual YD that were still sitting his basement !
Below: Sonny circa 1980's and one of the YD Racers that was stored in his workshops, which appears to be bike with eng # PQ47. Note the YD1 gas tank which looks likes it was last raced by Cal Rayborn.
Following on from his successes with the the ex-works YD's Sonny Angel developed his own YDS1 racer as soon as the new model became available in 1959. As one of the pioneerng Yamaha dealers and racers he was sent pre-production photo's and other promotional material long before the public had had a chance to see them.
His first of the new "production" models was a kit converted YDS1 upon which he designed and developed his own special features including fitting a Manx Norton front wheel and mudguard, his own unique seat and fairing, single dellorto float bowl and as well as this he fitted his own footrests and gear change lever and rear brake lever assy and tachometer adapted from the YD-A's.
Above: The original promo photo of the YDS1 racer sent to Sonny from Yamaha by Yamaha International's "Jimmy" Jingu. This photo is now in my "Sonny Angel Yamaha Archive" of original documents, which if you are interested, please do get in touch.
Sonny had big plans for Yamaha and he must have been well respected by the team at Yamaha International as Yamaha agreed to supply and back him with 2 factory prepared YDS1 racers to become the 1st Yamaha rider to race at the Isle of Man TT as well as several International events in Europe and the UK culminating in the German Grand Prix. Sonny received the 2 x YDS1 Racer's just a week before he headed to the UK to begin his 1960 European racing adventure, including a race at Silverstone and Brands Hatch before heading to the Isle of Man TT. The fantastic video below shows Sonny road testing the bikes. His chosen main bike received a Manx Norton front wheel, a special seat, a full fairing or "shell" as well as a few other modifications Sonny undertook.
A full story will follow.
Sonny became the rider of the 1st Yamaha at the Isle of Man TT, in 1960. Unfortunately piston seizures and lack of spares after only 3 practise laps, on the final day of practise, meant Sonny was unable to qualify for the Lightweight race.
A full story of his adventure is to follow...
Below: After the TT the bikes continued to be developed and his main bikes seat received a new coat of red paint, which it still has now.
Cutting a very long story short, I became an "internet friend" of Sonny's son-in-law Mark whilst Sonny was still with us, and he helped with supplying me with many YD-A parts that were previously unidentified that were still in Sonny's stores. As well as this we planned to rebuild Sonny's IOM TT YDS1 racer for him using the original parts that were still stored in his shop and stores. I had offered to supply several parts that were needed for the rebuild but sadly Sonny became ill and had to be moved into a care home before the project got under way. Later on Mark suggested that I take on his parts to build the bike which would at least in a small way, help to support Sonny's care. I felt very honoured and touched to take on such a historic responsibilty....
Over the following months the bike was slowly and sympathically rebuilt (keeping it's as last raced patina) but in the meantime Sonny sadly departed this World too soon to see it completed. I hope he is now looking down on it with a smile... Sonny, rest assured it will once again return to the Isle of Man Mountain circuit !
Above, the Sonny Angel YDS1 Special. Its not 100% completely the original bike that was at the momentous 1960 UK tour and TT but the heart and soul of it certainly was, and I and proud to have brought this truly historic Yamaha back to life, in honour of the late, great Sonny Angel; American Legend and forgotten Yamaha Pioneer.
Below: The Sonny Angel Yamaha on display with the Yamaha Heritage Racing Club, Donington Park, UK, 2022.
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