This month I finally had an opportunity to visit the new Barber Vintage
Motorsports Museum near Birmingham, Alabama. I had seen it when it was
under construction, along with the race track at Barber Motorsports
Park, and I found it hard to grasp the scope of this enormous facility
and the collection it would house. Although I had visited the old Birmingham
warehouse museum several times, at that location much of the collection – by necessity – remained in storage and out of view of
Now, having seen the finished structure with its contents about 80 percent
in place, I remain overwhelmed by the size, scope, and style of the
George Barber began collecting motorcycles in 1989, today owns over
800 machines, and the collection continues to grow. Six hundred of the
motorcycles are now on display, and another 200 will probably be brought
onto the floor before Barber and manager Jeff Ray are satisfied with
the presentation. Thereafter, vehicles on display will be rotated with
new acquisitions and those currently in storage. Presumably, the very
rare and unusual pieces – a Morbidelli V8, a Britten, a Boehmerland,
an 8-valve Harley board tracker, a Hesketh, several grand prix MV Agustas
– will always remain on display and not be rotated out . . . at
least we hope not!
Sitting on 740 acres near I-20 northeast of Birmingham, the five-story
structure contains 100,000 square feet of exhibit space,
a restoration and maintenance facility that includes a full machine
shop, a research library, administrative offices, conference rooms,
a theater, and a gift shop. In the center is a huge elevator capable
of moving large automobiles from floor to floor. Around the elevator
is a spiral ramp, rising from the basement to the fifth floor. One can
exit the ramp on each floor to walk among the motorcycles. The presentation
is so vast, after about two hours of exploring and photographing bikes,
I suddenly found myself totally disoriented, not knowing what floor
I was on or whether I was on
my way up or on my way down. The collection is so rich and overwhelming,
one can become numbed by it. At one point I found myself zoning out
in the midst of MV Agustas, once ridden by the likes of Phil Read and
John Surtees, and I had to mentally kick myself to fully appreciate
the value, extraordinary rareness, and historical importance of these
It would be absurd to characterize this collection as lacking, but within
its grand scale, there are some historical segments that are under-represented.
For example, though one of the collection's great strengths is its road
racers, little has been done yet for the acquisition of motocross machines.
And though both Indian and Harley 8-valve racers and many other antiques
are on display, the whole field of pre-1920
machines is somewhat under-represented. Barber has instructed his staff
to focus on these areas, which can easily expand the collection by several
hundred more motorcycles in the coming years.
Much has already been written about this museum, but I believe that
words, including my own, cannot do it justice. One must see it to appreciate
the quality and enormity of the presentation. For information, including
directions and visitation hours, click here
Colorado Man to Ride Motogiro d'Italia
John Beldock, owner of Erico Motorsports of Denver, Colorado, has been
chosen through an international selection process to be one of the riders
of the 2004 Motogiro d'Italia, held May 25-29, 2004, on the island of
Sicily. A tradition that began in 1914, the Motogiro has become Italy's
quintessential long distance vintage motorcycle road race. Beldock reports
that his interest in the Motogiro was piqued by Colorado collector and
Motohistory reader Jim Dillard, who rode the race on three previous
occasions. Beldock first teamed up with Dillard to exhibit Vintage Moto,
Dillard's private collection of more than 300 European motorcycles that
are on a constant, rotating display at Erico Motorsports. Beldock will
ride the event on a 1958 Ducati 125 Sport owned by Chris Bushell of
Kent, England. Weighing approximately 220 lbs., the bike is said to
be able to reach 70mph flat out. For more information on the Motogiro
d'Italia, click here.
Classic motorcycles, cars, vintage boats, and aircraft will be featured
June 5 and 6 at the Ninth Annual Greenwich, Connecticut Concours d'Elegance.
Admission is $20 for one day or $30 for two. Children under 12 are free
if accompanied by an adult. For information on how to enter the Concours,
racer bench races. As they grow older and race less (or race less well),
they begin to bench race more (or bench race better). Eventually, they
can race much better on a bench than they ever did on the race track,
and many discover that their golden years of bench racing become the
best part of their career. With most of us pre-Boomers and Boomers moving
from bike to bench, publisher Shawn McDonald clearly has a firm grip
on current demographics with Bench Racer, a quarterly magazine
that interviews former champions and generally takes its reader down
motorcycling's memory lane. The current issue includes an interview
with Dick Mann, a story about Jeff Smith, a product report about the
JOFA mouth guard, one of the early uses of plastic to make motocross
safer; a reminiscence about Evel Knievel, and a story by Jim Pomeroy
about riding with Steve McQueen, accompanied by a story by editor McDonald
about McQueen's 1968 Husqvarna. McDonald's historical point of view
is perceptive, creative, often amusing, and sometimes biting. About
Supermoto, the current next big thing, he says, "Just what we need,
something imported from France that the US threw away a long time ago,"
and he describes the AMA's current attempt to freshen its corporate
image as "their Battlestar Galactica AMA logo."
you have spent a lot of your life with motorcycling in America, you
will enjoy Bench Racer. No, "enjoy" may be to timid
a term. You might just revel in Bench Racer! Clearly, we have
here an idea whose time has come. With a cover price of $5.00, it is
$24 a year. Send your check to 6514 N.E. 151st Street, Kenmore, WA 98028,
or to learn more on line click here.
Motohistory reader Dal Smilie has brought to our attention a source
for high quality reprints of vintage posters. To check it out, click
Riding Into History
The Fifth Annual Riding Into History, presented by the Atlantic
Beach Vintage Motorcycle Club, will be held on May 15 at the World Golf
Village in St. Augustine, Florida. Benefitting the battle against breast
cancer, it will consist of several events and feature a Concours d'
Elegance for vintage, custom, and racing
motorcycles. Charity rides to the World Golf Village will originate
from Jacksonville and Daytona Beach at 10 a.m. In the evening, a Biker's
Ball, including dinner, drinks, dancing, and silent and live auctions,
will be held at the Renaissance Resort at the World Golf Village, from
6:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. Craig Vetter will be the Grand Marshal.
The rides cost $15 per rider and $5 for a passenger. There is no cost
to enter a motorcycle in the Concours, and spectator admission is $10.
The Biker's Ball is $95 per person, and all proceeds will benefit Buddy
Check 12, a breast cancer charity. The theme this year will be Beautiful
British Bikes. Special rates are available at several hotels at the
World Golf Village, which is at Exit 323 off I-95. For more information
call Bill Robinson at 904-730-9719, or click here.
My Vintage Idaho
The Idaho Vintage Motorcycle Rally and Show will take place at Caldwell,
Idaho on May 15 and 16. Saturday's festivities will include a 32 mile
ride and a catered banquet. Sunday will feature a swap meet and bike
show, open to the public. Admission is $4.00 with children under 12
free. For more information, click here.
When Ignorance was Bliss
How often have you heard younger riders look at old photos of events
like the Jack Pine from the 1940s and ‘50s, and say, "Jeez,
how could anyone do something like that?" Or how many times have you looked at such photos and said, "Jeez, how did we ever do that?" Recently, Motohistory reader Gary Winn brought
a great web site to your attention. For great photos of things you could
once do off the road aboard big, heavy motorcycles because you didn't
know any better, click here.
Springer in Pictures
Born in Flint, Michigan in 1957, Jay Springsteen has become one of the
most durable and popular competitors in American dirt track racing.
He is also one of the best, with 43 national championship wins, and
he is still in the hunt. Unlike many dirt trackers, his abilities transfer
well to pavement where he has become a star in AHRMA road racing. Celebrating
Springsteen's career – so far – Arai Helmets has produced Springer #9: 30 Years of Racing. In full color throughout,
this is a lavish photo album featuring the work of Dan Mahony, Bert
Shepard, and Shogo Nakao. There is no text, and minimal captions, though
a summary of Springsteen's career is provided. The price is $20. For
more information contact Arai Helmets Americas, P.O. Box 9485, Daytona
Beach, Florida 32120. For Arai Americas web site, click here.
Decker: Artist, Historian, Motorhead
As a young boy, Jeff Decker used to prowl the aisles of swap meets with
his hot-rodding father, looking for vintage speed equipment: perhaps
a set of Ardun heads, or a Frenzel blower. He recalls, "I have
very vivid memories of holding my Dad's thick fingers, the insides covered
with grease-stained calluses and black crud beneath his nails, wondering
if someday I would have hands like his." Just like his father,
Decker would one day learn to use his hands to build powerful racing
engines and beautiful Bonneville speedsters, but of a different sort.
About his formative years in the Westlake area of Los Angeles, Decker
says, "I would build go-carts and contraptions, but they never
turned out the way I envisioned them." Though his mechanical
aptitude may not have come up to the standards of his father's, Jeff
had an additional gift. He excelled in art. His drawings were praised
by the adults around him, and it was probably just a matter of time
and the right circumstances for Decker to discover sculpture, the perfect
resolution between his artistic talent and his mechanical aspirations.
Following college in Utah, where Decker still did not find his calling,
he took a job in a foundry. He explains, "It was a foundry that
specialized in lost wax castings for fine art bronze. I became a mold
maker and made literally hundreds of molds for every kind of fine art.
The education I received there far surpassed anything I had learned
in college. I was finally able to harness my love of vintage racing
and use my skills as an artist. In sculpting, I again tasted what I
had felt as a child when I saw my father build working machinery with
his hands." Decker credits world renown automotive sculptor Stanley
Wanlass – whom he met in Utah – as his catalytic inspiration.
He says, "I began sculpting cars, boats, and airplanes, then I
tried motorcycles. Most sculptors are intimidated by men aboard motorcycles,
just because of the detail, sheer complexity, and the amount of surface
area. The number of molds required is overwhelming. But that didn't
stand in my way, because, after all, I was a trained mold maker."
Wanlass encouraged Decker's interest in this new subject matter, stating,
"Cars, boats, planes, they've been done. Motorcycles have been
neglected. Focus on the motorcycle as art, it's a niche that's never
When he undertakes a sculpture, Decker does not work from photographs.
He brings an actual antique racing motorcycle into his Springville,
Utah studio. Working with a wide range of materials, including actual
nuts and bolts, he constructs a painstakingly accurate replica, mostly
out of wax, ranging from a reduced scale to full size. For the rider
he puts a living model aboard the machine, dressed in authentic vintage
racing gear from Decker's own collection of artifacts. Although his
sculptures are accurate to the tiniest detail, he departs from reality
to achieve an incredibly lifelike sense of motion. For example, the
wheels have no spokes and appear to be spinning, and sometimes they
are distorted into a slightly elliptical shape, imitating the time-lapse
distortion often seen in vintage racing photographs. No more than 29
of any given piece has ever been produced, and – depending on
complexity, size, and quantity – they will sell for an opening
price of $4,000 to $75,000. The market for such fine art is not large,
but all of Decker's sculptures have appreciated at a rate of 15 to 30%
Decker's works include "Wrecking Crew," a 16-inch tall bust
of a pre-20s racer; "Slant Artist," the imposing 75-pound,
40-inch tall sculpture of a rider fighting an Excelsior hill climber
on the verge of flipping over backward, as pictured above with the artist;
"Petrali Racer," an 18-inch long blue-patinaed bronze of Joe
Petrali at speed aboard his 1937 Knucklehead streamliner, and "Flat
Out at Bonneville," a depiction of the iconic image of Rollie Free
setting a world speed record aboard his mighty Vincent. Decker's work
can currently be seen at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington,
Ohio, and the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.
For Decker, sculpting riders aboard historic motorcycles is not just
challenging, it is true Americana and it is mythological. He explains, "Early motorcyclists were simply post-industrialist cowboys. The
era when the motorcycle replaced the horse is as important as the Frontier
West. In fact, in terms of transportation, the motorcycle was even more
important, because it was totally created by, and dependent upon those
who rode it. It is an extension of ourselves. Without its rider, the
motorcycle is nothing. Just a machine. And with its rider, it must be
moving or it will fall down. There is nothing that embodies the urgency
or our age and the modern synergy of man and machine better than a motorcycle
and its rider. It is a perfect marriage of the mechanical and organic
aspects of our world."
As Decker waxes eloquent about the deep meaning of the motorcycle as
art, and how it ties our current era to our pre-industrial history,
one cannot help but be reminded of the vast popularity of the bronze
sculptures of Fredrick Remington. Undoubtedly, there was a time when
the fine art community did not consider rough-and-tumble cowboys and
bucking horses a fitting subject for sculpture. But art represents its
time, and consider how Remington bronzes and Old-West paintings are
revered today. These works are highly valued and broadly popular. Decker
envisions a similar evolution for motorcycle art. "No one has yet
taken the motorcycle seriously as a subject for fine art. Our art is
pop art, such as tattoos and T-shirt art, but it may be time for our
motorcycling culture and our history to be taken to a higher level." Indeed, the commercial driver for such a movement may have already arrived.
With the Guggenheim declaring the motorcycle an art form, and people
waiting in line to pay $30,000 or more for custom-built V-twins as investments
and collectibles, the price of a limited edition Jeff Decker sculpture
does not seem so out of reach.
Unlike the school of artists that followed Andy Warhol, Decker does
not confuse himself with his art. He is not a man to promote his works
by promoting himself. He wants his works to speak for themselves and
not become enmeshed in a cult of personality. Significantly, his press
kit for Hippodrome Studio, his workshop in Springville, contains many
high-quality photographs of his sculptures, but no photos of the artist.
He says, "Quite frankly, the choice between fame and fortune is
simple. Give me fortune without fame, so I might continue to buy old
race bikes from swap meets. Getting my name out there and selling T-shirts
and trinkets is not my goal." He concludes, "My goal is simply
to make others aware through my art of the importance of the early history
of motorcycling." In fact, Decker declares himself a historian
first, and an artist second, though his clients and fans of his work
would likely disagree.
For more information on the artist and his work, click here.
[This story was updated from a similar work published under the same
title in Thunder Press in 2002.]
National Packard Museum:
at Work and at War
we mentioned Motorcycles at Work and at War, (Motohistory 2/2/2004),
showing now through April 18th at the National Packard Museum in Warren,
Ohio. The facility, located at 1899 Mahoning Avenue, provides
7,500 square feet of exhibit space and changes theme exhibits several
times a year. Opened in 1999, the museum has a facade featuring a huge replica of
the distinctive Packard automobile grille, as pictured here.
in the last century, Warren was one of the most dynamic industrial cities
in the nation, thanks to a great extent to the Packard family.
Packard Electric - which eventually became Delphi Packard - was founded
there in 1890, and in 1911 Warren became the first city in America to
light its streets with incadescent bulbs. The Packard Motor Car
Company was founded in 1902 and built a reputation for making durable
and luxurious automobiles,
vying with Lincoln and Cadillac for high-end customers.
at Work and at War features 30 machines, the oldest of which is
a 1903 Holly, manufactured in Bradford, Pennsylvania from 1902 until
1911. The war bikes are definitely the better half of the exhibit,
including some of the best examples of Second World War BMW and Zundapp
(pictured above) military motorcycles I have ever seen. Admission
is $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for seniors 65 and older, and $3.00 for children
7 to 13 years of age. For directions and hours, call 330-394-1899,
or click here .
As the vintage off-road movement grows in America, one of the most enthusiastic
marque groups to emerge is Hodaka owners, rallying around the club Strictly
Hodaka, promoter of an annual celebration entitled Hodaka Days. This
coming June 25th through 27th, Hodaka Days will take on special significance
with the celebration of the brand's 40th anniversary. A swap meet, seminars,
and a big parade down the main street of Athena, Oregon, home of Hodaka's
importer, the Pacific Basin Trading Company, will be featured. PABATCO
executives Marv Foster, Scott Mayberry, and Chuck Swanson will conduct
historical seminars, including a slide show with images of the factory
in Japan where Hodaka's were built. In addition, there will be a service
school, bike show, field meet, observed trial, and TT scramble races.
For complete information and a registration forms, click here.
Plan Now for Perkiomen
The 1994 season for Antique Motorcycle Club of America national meets
began late February in Eustis, Florida. The next event will be the Perkiomen
Chapter meet April 23 through 25, near Oley, Pennsylvania. Maybe it
is the great job this club does, or maybe it is the smell of Spring
across the verdant rural countryside of eastern Pennsylvania, but for
whatever reason, this is one of my favorite meets.
Founded in 1971, the Perkiomen Chapter is one of the oldest chapters
in the AMCA. In the late 1970s, Perkiomen began to organize AMCA national
meets, co-hosting some with New Jersey's Seaboard Chapter. In 1982,
legendary Ace speed record rider and hill climber Red Wolverton attended
the meet as its guest of honor, and from that association AMCA director
Doug Strange came up with the idea for an award in his name. After Wolverton's
death in 1986, Strange proposed and the club approved the creation of
the Charles L. Wolverton Memorial Award, which is bestowed on the best
restored motorcycle present during the AMCA concourse judging at the
Perkiomen national. It has become a highly-coveted award, contributing
significantly to the prestige of the meet.
The Wolverton Award is only one example of the innovative style of the
Perkiomen Chapter. For example, it was the first chapter to have theme
events, cloisonne commemorative pins, and timed trials for vintage motorcycles.
One year the chapter invited the remaining living employees of the Reading
Standard factory as its guests of honor. Thanks to this kind of creativity,
the Perkiomen meet has become the third largest in the nation, surpassed
only by the meets at Wauseon, Ohio and Davenport, Iowa. This year, the
featured marque will be Triumph, and in 2005 Japanese brands will be
honored. Again, with the recognition of early Japanese machines into
the era of vintage and classic motorcycles, Perkiomen is taking a leadership
role in the AMCA. For more information on the upcoming national meet
at Oley, E-mail AMCAdoug@aol.com.
Plus, the Milby Jones Estate Auction
Scheduled to coincide with the Oley meet this year is an estate auction
of the remarkable collection of Perkiomen chapter member Milby Jones,
consisting of dozens of American, British, European, and Japanese motorcycles,
plus bicycles and motorcycle parts. The more than 35 motorcycles on
the auction block will include models as rare and unusual as a 1931
Matchless Silver Hawk and a 1954 OHC Jawa twin. The sale will take place
at noon on April 25th at Griffith Hall, 1325 Pottstown Pike, Glenmoore,
Pennsylvania. For more information, contact Steve Dance Auctions at
Bike Week Special Edition
The following stories are based on events and observations in and around
Eustis, Deland, and Daytona Beach, Florida during Bike Week 2004.
Appearing first at Eustis, then moving to several venues in Daytona
and Deland, were the motorcycles of Project Daytona,
a three-year-long effort to reconstruct examples of the works BSA's – both singles and twins – that achieved a spectacular five-place
sweep at the Daytona 200 in 1954. As seen here, Don Bradley, Myles Raymond,
Harris Turner, and Bob Birdsall (not pictured) were the men responsible.
For more information on the project, click here.
Along with the machines, five of the riders were on hand to sign autographs
and chat with fans. These included Bobby Hill, Dick Klamfoth, Tommy
McDermott, Kenny Eggers, and GeneThiessen, pictured below. Autograph
sessions featuring these popular riders were held in several locations
throughout the week and lasted as long as five hours. A tired but grinning Eggers
said, "I have singed more autographs this week than throughout
all of the rest of my career."
The Project Daytona motorcycles will soon be installed in a new exhibit
at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum entitled "BSA's Greatest
Daytona." Along with the bikes, a display of memorabilia will appear,
including Bobby Hill's championship trophy, jerseys worn by Klamfoth
and Thiessen, and helmets from Eggers, Gunter, and McDermott. The exhibit
will be open to the public by the end of March, and an official ribbon-cutting
ceremony will take place on June 5, 2004. For more information on the
BSA's Greatest Daytona Exhibit, click here.
BMW of Daytona
When I learned that BMW of Daytona features vintage machines on its
showroom floor, I figured I should check it out. Acquired by Bill Perretti
earlier this year, the dealership has been
expanded and totally renovated. Though based on BMW's corporate colors
of muted blues and grays, the facility is brightened and given a sense
of tradition with many large graphic panels, featuring historical BMW
racing posters, as pictured here with Perretti and one of his vintage
machines. Though personally involved in motorcycling since his childhood,
and quite knowledgeable about motorcycle history, Perretti's business
experience comes through other fields, including the entertainment industry.
His emphasis on tradition, and the technique of mixing current models
with vintage machines may appear to be a page lifted from Harley-Davidson's
standard marketing guide, but it is something that other American BMW
dealers seem to have been slow to catch onto.
it is a nod to tradition or just aggressive pricing and marketing, Perretti's
approach appears to be working, since BMW of Daytona has become the
top dealership in the nation since he took over only eight months ago. For more information about BMW Motorcycles of Daytona, including photos
of its collectible machines, click here.
The Era of the Motorcycle
In my opinion, the best show of Daytona 2004 did not take place at the
speedway, nor on Main
Street. It was an exhibit at the Daytona Museum of Art and Science entitled "Era of the Motorcycle." Displaying over 50 motorcycles, it
surveys technology and design from the beginning of the century to the
current day. Designs range from a 1917 Autoped, an odd little foldable
scooter intended for golfers, to a huge and futuristic monster powered
by a jet turbine engine. Many standards – for example, a 101 Scout,
a Knucklehead, a Henderson – are included, as are less frequently
seen models, such as a Maico Taifun or an MV Agusta Disco Volante. Local
enthusiast and Museum director Allan Brewer, seen here, curated the
exhibit, and most of the machines on display are from lenders within
150 miles of Daytona Beach. The exhibit will run through April 25th.
For more information on the Daytona Museum of Art and Science, click here.
Art ON the Motorcycle
The Deland Museum of Art, near the campus of Stetson University, celebrated
Bike Week with a departure from the usual Guggenheim-type show. Rather
than display motorcycles as art, The Art of Chrome and
Leater presented art on the motorcycle through the incredible
paint work of local artist Chris Cruz, a sample of which is depicted
here. The exhibit will run through March 28th. For more information
on the Deland Museum of Art, click here.
Before the chopper there was the bobber. When America emerged from the
Depression into an exciting and prosperous post-war era, many battle-weary
young men returned from combat with no desire to resume the predictable
routine of agrarian living. They wanted to travel, become free and independent,
and live in the cities where they could get their kicks on the street
and in the bars at the end of their nine-to-five day job. Most didn't
have the money for a new vehicle, so they bought what they could afford.
They bought junked-out 1930s Fords, stripped away inessential sheet
metal, hopped up their engines, and lowered them for speed and better
handling. These were the street rods of the 1940s that became the icons
of the era.
Motorcycles received the same treatment. Old Harleys and Indians were
stripped for the street. One of the quickest ways to shed metal and
achieve a lean and mean look was to remove the front fender and shorten
the rear, and from these "bobbed" fenders came the name "bobber," describing a built-for-speed machine whose form followed function in
a very fast and fundamental way. Comfort was sacrificed for a silhouette
not unlike the track racing machines of the day.
Recently, the Colonial Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America
created a new show bike class called Period Modified. While it is the
mission of the AMCA to collect and preserve motorcycles in original – or restored to original – condition, the Period Modified
class acknowledges the pop culture of an era when style was dictated
not by the manufacturer, but by the creativity of individual owners.
Taste was defined on the street. Eventually, the whole custom bobber
movement would be memorialized by Willie G. Davidson with his 1971 FX
Super Glide, and the individualistic bobber would be coopted by the
assembly line under another name, the "cruiser."
Although Period Modified has not been accepted by the AMCA as an official
judging class at national meets (and perhaps never will be since the
genra defies parameters), it provides an opportunity for builders to
have fun and exercise nostalgia. At Eustis, the bobbers -- as characterized
by the Indian pictured above -- turned out in force, stirring admiration
and bringing smiles to the faces of the meet's attendees.
will this rebellious trend take the staid and stalwart AMCA? Will it
result in anything so antiauthoritarian as an official class evaluated
not by judges, but democratically through a people's choice award? Who
knows, but I see it as a fun and healthy trend for a national organization
that has contributed so much to the preservation of our great American
motorcycling traditions. Like America of the 1940s, the AMCA is in the
throes of change, and change is good.
The Museum that Runs
With pride, Dale Walksler characterizes his Wheels Through Time Museum
in Maggie Valley, North Carolina as "the museum that runs." At any given moment, more than 95% of the rare and unusual vehicles
on display will be in working order, and Dale is not hesitant to fire
them up to the delight of visitors. Walksler continues
this theme each year at Eustis. The machines he brings to the meet may
be impeccably restored or shabbily barn fresh, but at some point he
will fire them up with great sound and fury. This year his runner
du jour, seen here, was no less than the Harley-Davidson KR on
which Brad Andres won the Daytona 200 for his third and final time,
at an average speed of 98.06 mph, in 1960. After the death of his tuner/father
Leonard Andres in 1996, Brad gave Walksler the motorcycle, as a basket
case, along with other parts and paraphernalia. Not only did Walksler
fire up the motorcycle at Eustis, but the following Tuesday he took
it out onto the tarmac of Daytona International Speedway, turning three
laps and running it up to approximately 110 mph. This is not a feat
for the faint-hearted, considering the bike has 40-year-old tires! For
more information on the museum that runs, click here.
One Little Indian
I have written before (Motohistory 9/1/2003) about how much I enjoy
the ingenious, odd, and sometimes bizarre contraptions that the skilled
craftsmen within the AMCA membership come up with from time to time.
Years ago, I recall seeing at the Davenport
meet a demonstration of a single-cylinder engine for which someone had
constructed a Lucite cylinder. It could not be run for more than a few
moments at a time due heating and lubrication problems, but when in
operation, one could clearly see the piston whizzing up and down, and
a kind of a smokey fog in the combustion chamber. At Eustis this year
I was amazed again by a tiny Hedstrom-type Indian twin, seen here, that
Dick Winger had on display. Appearing to be somewhere around 50% scale,
it was assembled from beautifully cast and machined parts. Winger says
it will run, and thinks an Indian eight-valve would make an ideal future
project. Indeed, it would!
Debut of the Detroit
A year ago at Eustis, Bruce Linsday had photos of a work in progress
a large-diameter tubular frame similar to a Pierce. It was not a Pierce,
but an example of the infinitely more rare Detroit, introduced in 1910
and out of business by 1912. It is believed that less than 50
Detroits were built, and the remnants of only two are known to exist
today. This year, the joint restoration project between Linsday and
Dave Leitner, was resplendently complete and on display, as pictured
here with Leitner.
The huge frame tubes of the Detroit provided much more than just a rolling
chassis. The horizontal tube functions as the motorcycles fuel tank
and battery box, and the saddle hinges upward to provide access to the
battery. The front down tube is both an oil tank and a muffler. The
ingenuity demonstrated by
the design of its chassis, however, seems to be totally lacking in the
Detroit's engine, which the timing side reveals was largely a copy of
a contemporary Harley-Davidson single, as seen here.
In the process of restoring this beautiful but short-lived motorcycle,
Leitner and Linsday have probably become America's foremost experts
on the brand, exhaustively collecting period advertisements, photos,
and patent drawings in the course of their research. Technical features
aside, the Detroit's historical timing could not have been worse. By
1911 the Flanders brand – also built in Detroit, Michigan –
was driving many American manufacturers into a price war, forcing even
Indian, the powerful market leader that had heretofore built its name
on quality and performance, to roll back its technology with the introduction
of a single-speed, belt-driven single aimed at the bargain buyer. With
profit margins reduced to nearly nothing, many brands – including
the Detroit – succumbed, even prior to the price reductions of
Henry Ford's Model T, which by 1914 sent the American motorcycle industry
into an even deeper downward spiral. As the builders of the Detroit
learned, the teens was a bad time to be investing in American motorcycling's
Ten-time national hill climbing champion Earl Bowlby was at Eustis,
displaying one of his overdog BSA climbers. Between 1968 and 1990, Bowlby
campaigned a series of blue-tanked BSAs, helping pioneer the development
of long, suspended frames
and nitromethane fuel. About the beginning of his career, he recalls, "I went to a hill climb and saw guys crashing a lot and flipping
over on the hill. I figured that was not the way to do it, and I told
my wife I would try it once or twice to see if I could do it better."
Once or twice turned into over two decades during which Bowlby earned
a reputation for tidy bikes and tidy style. His machines were always
showroom perfect, and he rarely crashed on the hill. Though often unspectacular,
his well-controlled assents were incredibly efficient, earning him more
championship titles than any other climber in the history of the sport.
No other climber has come close to his achievement, and none
made it appear as effortless as Bowlby did. Incredibly, the 20
plus-year-old motorcycle pictured here will be campaigned again in 2004,
though not by Bowlby.
Brit Bike Collecting Reported in the Times
New York Times has published a story about collecting British
motorcycles, quoting American collectors and experts Herb Harris, Bobby
Sullivan, David Edwards, and Mike FitzSimons. For the whole story,
Hoel, the co-founder and great matrarch of the Sturgis Black Hills Classic,
has been memorialized in a story appearing in South Dakota Magazine,
penned by Carl Edeburn, the author of "Sturgis: The Story of the
Rally." To read the feature on Hoel, click here. For information on how to obtain Edeburn's book, click here.