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) 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 Sonny repainted the bike 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.
Below. Shots from another Willow Springs event in 1959 and riding another of the YD's, believed to have been one of Gene Wise's machines, sporting the original Asama low pipes and clip -on handlebars.
Below : This great shot shows 2 of Sonny Angels 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.
The bike of the left can be identified as the Asama winning YD-A / Catalina prototype, due to not having any additional foot peg mountings and having the fairing fitted. This is the machine I am restoring.
Bottom: A great 1960 or 1961 period shot of Sonny's pit area at an event, showing that Sonny had 2 of the 5 YD machines at this time, as well as his "new" YDS1R (in the back of the truck) and even more surprisingly one of the YA Asama 125cc's.
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 racer's, as well as supplying me with several parts off 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.
Sonny Angel received 2 x YDS1's just a week before he headed to the UK to begin his 1960 European racing adventure, including a race at Silverstone, Brands Hatch before heading to the Isle of Man TT. The fantastic video above 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.
The 1st Yamaha at the Isle of Man TT, 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.