We’ve seen quite a lot of motorcycles over the years, from Harley-Davidsons to Triumphs to Nortons. There haven’t been a ton that we didn’t recognize from the get-go, but every so often a builder will show us something that we’ve never seen before. These are some of the best bikes we get to feature because not only do our readers get to see something out of the ordinary, we get to learn more about two-wheeled history.
At Fuel Cleveland this year, we got a firsthand look at Chris Tope’s 1973 Wassell Mudlark. If that name doesn’t sound familiar to you, we don’t blame you. The 190-lb. trials bike was originally drawn up by Penton, a rebadged American brand of off-road enduro motorcycles designed by John Penton and manufactured by KTM in Austria. The 123cc Sachs motor-powered Mudlark wasn’t manufactured by Penton, rather it was outsourced to the British firm, Wassell. Being a sales flop, the Mudlark quickly died and more or less became lost to time. Today, it’s nearly impossible to find parts for one.
“I’m from Dallas, and I found this bike right outside of town,” Tope said. “I think there’s only like 50 documented in the U.S., so it was pretty crazy that I found one mint.”
Tope is the owner of Utopeia Moto Company, a small custom motorcycle building shop. He operates out of a 10 ft. by 12 ft. workshop in his 44 ft. travel trailer, and remarkably builds some amazing bikes. It was almost fate that Tope would find his Mudlark right before being asked by famous moto-photographer Michael Lichter to build a bike for his “What’s the Skinny” exhibition at the Sturgis Rally.
The unique frame of the Mudlark, named “Ice Pick,” came from an idea Tope had while at the grocery store. Having a background in biology, he noticed the unique shapes and patterns of some fake taxidermized butterflies that he believed would mesh well with an ice color. He worked with Krossover Customs to create a five-piece aluminum frame that was welded together to get the ice pick point at the tail end and contoured design to match the tank.
The Mudlark is skinny as is, but to cut down even more, Tope fabricated his own mono-shock system and ditched the dual-shocks to narrow the profile even more. It includes a custom-made swingarm with a 1.75-inch extension and gussets for strength and is connected to the shock from a Buell Blast.
The original production Mudlarks had a minor issue with the Sachs motor, where a lot of neutral positions between gears would leave riders with shifting problems. That has more or less been fixed on Tope’s rendition. Jerry Birky at KTM in Ohio handled the full resto job on the motor, which included a ported head and new ignition. The engine works with a Bing carburetor with a modified K&N cone filter. A custom exhaust system from Gary Braun at Retrodyne was also added.
As for other additions, the aesthetic of the bike is lifted even higher via a custom touch Tope added to the steering stem: a hobo coin. Tope adds this to each of his builds, and this particular coin is a 1943 Liberty half-dollar that portrays a motorcycle ice racer on a frozen mountain lake.
If you have a motorcycle, ATV, UTV, snowmobile or jet ski you’d like to feature in MPN’s Ride of the Week series, please email MPN Content Director Greg Jones at [email protected]