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Petition to get Bill Van Tichelt into the AMA Hall of Fame

Written by  July 1, 2014

Bill Van Tichelt, with VanTech Engineering, is a pioneer in the go-kart and motorcycle worlds. His designs and inventions revolutionized the go-kart and motorcycle racing industries.

Van Tech Engineering was started in 1960. Bill Van Tichelt partnered with his father; Bill Van Tichelt, Sr. VanTech Engineering quickly became popular in the go-kart racing circle. In 1962, VanTech designed a small racing motorcycle, and in early 1963, Ray Hook, the creator of Blendzall Racing Oil, hired VanTech to create a special bike for one of Blendzall’s sponsored riders. The bike went on to win every 100cc race it was entered into. With that success, Bill went on to design, fabricate and build two production bikes. In late 1966, Dick MacCoon of Grant Industries (known for its famous Grant piston rings),contacted Bill to discuss joining forces to create what is now known as the “Grant-Van Tech Kits;” a first of its kind. The kits gave riders the ability to convert a variety of lightweight motorcycles to a scrambler, road racer or TT special, or to build their own customized bike. Bill’s innovative and creative designs were featured in many motorcycle magazine articles.

Here is a link to Bill’s Wikipedia page, so make sure to check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Van_Tichelt

Here is a copy of the Grant Industries Polycarbonite Helmet Program- reviewed by Bill Van Tichelt (courtesy of Craig Vetter)

February 27, 2014

Ref: Grant Industries Polycarbonate Helmet Program

         Reviewed by Bill Van Tichelt, Chief Engineer

During the late nineteen sixties, when nearly all fifty states had passed mandatory helmet laws and helmet demand exploded. Grant Industries designed to make helmets. This began shortly after the Van Tech Motorcycle program was merged into Grant Industries operation in Los Angeles. Grant Industries management decided that, especially in the view of their Van Tech venture into the motorcycle industry, helmets would be a compatible addition to their product line. Grant moved aggressively into the helmet business, using a three stage program. Since I had been given responsibility for Grant’s engineering activities, along with my work with the Van Tech program, I was involved from the beginning of the helmet program. To get the helmet program moving quickly, we researched existing supply lines and imported helmets from Japan. At the same time, we employed a consultant to set up a pilot fiberglass helmet manufacturing and assembly facility. Since hand lay-up fiberglass was so labor intensive, the third stage would be to transition directly into using injection molded helmet shells, using the same helmet interior components and focusing on larger volume production.

General Electric Corporation was in the early stages of producing polycarbonate, an extremely strong and uniquely ductile thermoplastic material. GE’s Lexan polycarbonate proposal offered the best cooperation and potential. The PR value created by the fact that the Apollo Astronauts were using Lexan helmets was also a benefit.

With GE’s help, we established tooling and molding sources and ordered our first injection mold, dimensionally identical to or pilot fiberglass shells. We set up the pilot finishing systems and equipment recommended by GE, to be ready as soon as the mold was completed and tested, and we had shells to work with. All went according to plan at first. We also had to set up our own environmental/destructive testing helmet lab, to meet the applicable Z-90 Federal Helmet Specification. We joined the Z-90 Committee that had, and was continuing to develop helmet design and quality control specs. I was the company representative to that committee. Percentage testing was conducted on the pilot fiberglass shells, and then on incoming molded shells and on both processed shells and complete helmets. Naturally, during this same time period the marketing and packaging people were doing their jobs as well, and our helmet program was well under way.

Soon after the release of the first polycarbonate helmets we got a few reports of structural problems in the field. The amazing strength and ductility of polycarbonate did not always seem to be there, as some structural failures were experienced by unhappy, but fortunately, never seriously injured riders.


A number of factors contributed to these failures of the molded Lexan shells.

  1. Lexan was developed in a transparent form. Color was added during the production of the granules shipped by GE for the molding process. Pigments r colored dyes were added to the granules, producing a solid colored or tinted transparent material. The recommended finishing system for the clear and tinted shells was to spray gold or silver metal-flakes in a clear lacquer carrier on the inside of the shell. The result was a deep rich ,metal-flake finish.
  2. Molded shells had a “parting line” created where the mold halves separated. The recommended process was to sand the parting line smooth and then chemically polish the surface back to gloss finish.
  1. Established Z-90 helmet testing specs at the time called for “gravity powered” impact and penetration tests with various shaped and weighted projectiles dropped from about 8 ft, depending on the particular test. This was also essentially true of the various federal ASTM materials tests that were standard during development and refinement of the polycarbonate material, independent of the helmet industry. Lexan and our helmet shells passed all the tests with flying colors.

Combinations of the above factors had led to failures in the field.

The factor central to all shell factors was uncovered when we calculated that test projectiles were dropped from such low heights never produced an impact velocity over about 8 miles per hour. Even with glancing impacts, etc., that could hardly satisfy the football helmet requirements, and certainly not motorcycle helmet requirements. The velocity factor was apparently overlooked from the outset of polycarbonate development, and the amazing strength and ductility that characterized Lexan was not assured at higher impact velocities.

Second, was the fact that that polycarbonate was extremely susceptible to attack by various chemicals. The chemical polishing of the parting line area had a very damaging effect on the materials performance. The same was true of the lacquer metal-flake carrier on the inside. Not as obvious was the fact that the red dye added into the molding granules greatly degraded the material as well. Not exactly a chemical attack, but rather a mechanical degradation resulted when pigment was added to the molding granules to produce an opaque shell.

Obviously, the chemical polishing of the parting lines was stopped. We tested mechanical polishing, but found that its heat created internal stresses in the material, which made it even more susceptible to chemical attack. We simple had to live with the parting lines.

The damage done by these factors hadn’t been exposed by all the “8 mph tests”.


Our subsequent developmental work and quality control testing procedures using higher velocity test equipment we developed took over the job and allowed the fixes from there.

Step one was to immediately design and build an impact test device to produce higher velocities. Within a few days, that gave us test capability up to about 40 mph, 5 times better, but still not good enough. It did, however, let us expose and study the problems in our lab, so we were able to immediately take action to stop any further shipping of affected helmets, with minimal down time.

Next, I worked, along with my father, Bill, Sr., at Van Tech in Visalia, to develop a pneumatically propelled “cannon” which fired test projectiles at up to 100 mph. After that unit was tested and put into everyday use, GE ordered four more of our testing machines, for their development lab and quality control departments. The “cannon” became the GE Lexan quality control standard.

Our communication throughout with GE was extensive. Due to the more dynamic nature of the helmet business, we had to take the lead in further exposing and correcting these problems in the production and quality control systems. They gave us excellent support all through the program. They invited me to the Massachusetts Lexan headquarters to work with their engineers and their color people, as well as to the Indiana Lexan production plant. The solutions to the color problems were not too difficult. When I saw their color test samples were only 1/16” thick and still opaque, and since our helmet shells were 5/32” at the thinnest point, it was obvious that a 60% reduction in the amount of pigment in the granules should minimize the pigment’s degrading and still produce an opaque shell. And GE was able to find a substitute red dye that didn’t attack the Lexan or hurt our cosmetics very much. Ge then established these new variations in their Lexan line, specifically for the helmet industry.

By working with GE and out paint supplier. We were able to develop an alcohol base metal-flake carrier that didn’t attach the Lexan. The ability to validate these changes using our higher testing velocities allowed us to implement these fixes. Along the way we had also determined that we could use polarized light to spot damaging internal stresses in the transparent shells.

About the time we were struggling with these developments, Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon wearing a GE Lexan helmet. I recall wondering how the extreme velocities and resulting kinetic energy levels of “space dust” could be affected by extrapolating from our much lower “high velocity” testing concepts. Fortunately, none of the chemical attack issues or red dye or pigment issues were involved in the helmets the Apollo Astronauts wore. They were made of Lexan in its purest un-degraded form.

Dealing with polycarbonate’s critical strength and ductility issues took all of our attention and some midnight oil burning, until they were solved. Then we were able to put our lab back to work on improving the helmet’s basic purpose, that of absorbing impact energy in an accident. Our rapid growth helped with improving safety as well. When the increased production volume allowed, we were able to design shell molds for specific size ranges, which produced safer helmets for extra-large head sizes and lighter helmets for kids to reduce the likelihood of neck injuries.

Our design and development work and improved quality control systems were clearly of value, because, within a year or two, Grant Industries became, to our knowledge, the largest helmet manufacturer in the world. Our helmet production reached a high point of just over 4000 units per day, so our work probably assured the structural integrity of over a million helmets over the next couple of years, plus the unknown number of helmets subsequently produced by Grant, the company that later acquired Grant, and the various other manufacturers that followed by using polycarbonate for their shells.

 Bill Van Tichelt

 

As you can see. Bill Van Tichelt was a true pioneer and creative genius. His contributions to the go-kart and motorcycle racing industries have forever changed both industries.

Bill Van Tichelt is now an eligible member to be inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Hall of Fame.

Please contact the AMA Hall of Fame to ensure Mr. Bill Van Tichelt is inducted in to AMA HOF. You can send in a letter of recommendation, via mail or email to Robert Chaddock, VP Administration AMA at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

You can also contact Bill’s daughter, Holly Walker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Holly will send you a form type letter of recommendation that you can send it.

Here is the AMA Motorcycle HOF info:

Motorcycle Hall of Fame
13515 Yarmouth Dr.
Pickerington, Ohio 43147

Phone: (614) 856-1900
Fax: (614) 856-2221 
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Please contact the AMA via one of the above methods to let your voice be heard for Bill Van Tichelt to be inducted into the AMA HOF! Below is a copy of the Letter of Eligibility for Bill.

 AMA Letter