After the calm of an 8am booth setup for The Vintagent, the gates for the Quail opened at 10am sharp, releasing a flood of 3 years of built-up excitement.  The Quail had been shuttered since 2019, the can kicked down the road twice, and finally, the show was open, and the record crowd of 3200 was happy.  But I had work to do, and an attempted 11am rush across the Quail’s immaculate grass was balked several times by spectators circling in a slow daze around the dazzling motorcycles.  A week of little sleep (and perhaps too much drink) led me to this morning, and I reminded myself to master the urge to be rude, as the people in my way were enjoying themselves and doing what we’d all come for; to see the motorcycles, and the motorcycle people.  So, breathing deep, I steered less a bee-line to find Somer Hooker than a fly-path, hoping to catch him at the Custom & Modified section before he slipped back into the judge’s chambers.  He’d asked earlier that I join the Best in Show deliberations, and I’d waved him off saying the judges could handle it, but he said he’d like my input.  So, here it came.

The throng! But with such a mellow vibe, the Quail never seemed crowded despite record-setting attendance. [Andy Romanoff]
“We have to give Max Hazan the Best of Show award.  Have you seen his custom Vincent?”  He admitted he hadn’t yet, so we parted the crowd surrounding the low, sleek, and shining object.  “It’s his masterpiece. He’s been building up to this for years, and it’s simply extraordinary.  Everything is right – the lines, the proportions, the craftsmanship, the imagination.  He even made his own f*cking carburetors, and it runs!”  Somer Hooker, Chief Judge of the Quail, is so versed in everything Vincent he can tell at a glance if an engine has been re-numbered, by the sequence of digits, the quality of the stamping, and the likelihood that those numbers matched the story being sold.  And here was a Vincent engine housed in a radical, hand-made chassis that was built solely to satisfy Hazan’s aesthetic urges, not for increased performance or to honor the hand of its manufacturer.  But Somer came of age in the 1970s, and while he is today a respected expert on period correctness, he is not averse to the inherent value of a good chopper.  He took a lot of photos of Max’s Vincent.

Max Hazan’s customized 1950 Vincent Rapide, with a chassis built entirely in his small shop in central Los Angeles, by one man. [Andy Romanoff]
Max showed us a few details of the build, like the tiny solar panel built into the fuel tank to charge a battery for the lights; ‘they’re LED, so should last 4 hours on a charge.’  And those carburetors, too smooth to be production items, with integrated bellmouths and a single cable disappearing into the cap.  They looked so simple, making me wonder why more customizers don’t build their own carburetors?  I realized with a start that Max was most likely the only person among the thousands of motorcycle fanatics in attendance to have even attempted this.  Also that, by their mere presence on his custom Vincent, a line had been drawn; artisans who build their own components, like drum brakes and carburetors, and everyone else.  There were several other brilliant customs on the field, including Bryan Fuller’s gorgeous Vincent ‘Black Flash’ and Revival Cycle’s gleaming Ducati ‘Fuse’.  Superb as they are, Hazan’s Vincent was simply on another level.  “I thought it was going to be between my Ducati and Fuller’s Vincent today, but then I saw Max’s Vincent, and I knew we were toast,” said Revival’s Alan Stulberg earlier in the day, and of course he was right.

The Revival Cycles ‘Fuse’ custom Ducati at Laguna Seca raceway, gleaming in the mid-day sun. [Andy Romanoff]
“I’ll let you make the case for a custom winning Best in Show to the judges,” said Somer diplomatically.  The judging corps was 40 strong this year, and composed of lifelong devotees of two wheels, as dealers or restorers or club stalwarts or journalists: they knew their stuff, and had opinions. I’d begged off judging bikes at the Quail for several years, as I also have a booth on site for The Vintagent and Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation swag (this year with Kim, Nadia, and our friend Neil keeping it warm), and found the hours taken up with judging plus keeping tabs on book/tee sales meant I didn’t get to see half the motorcycles. Somer had roped me into the Chopper class – something the Quail Motorcycle Gathering invented for a concours – saying as only two had entered, it would be a quick job.  But of course, I found six choppers on the field, all of them well-built iterations on the theme of mid-1950s ‘club’ bikes; standard frame geometry, kicked up exhausts, solo seats, moderate handlebar rise, no front fender for a 21” wheel, bobbed rear fender for a 19” rear wheel, and all of them Harley-Davidsons.  So, six very similar bikes, from which I had to pick a winner.  Respecting the time invested in all these customs, I was compelled to give more than a cursory inspection, and spoke to all the owners about their build process.  So much for the quick job!  The winner, though, was the ‘Lane Splitter’ by Gene & Denise Ilacqua, built as an homage to the San Francisco club of the same name that famously used skinny bikes with narrow handlebars for doing exactly as their name implied.

The ‘Lanesplitter’, winner of the Chopper class, with owner Gene Ilaqua interviewed by Color Commentator Paul d’Orléans. [Kahn Media]
In the judge’s chambers, each team shared photos of their class winner for general approval, although that wasn’t required.  Feeling impatient, I blurted out the case for Max Hazan’s Vincent as Best of Show from an aesthetic and technical standpoint.  Other judges balked, preferring a 3000-mile unrestored Paul Dunstall Norton Commando in immaculate condition, still in the hands of the original owner.  “We can’t give Best in Show to a custom!” But of course, the Dunstall Commando was exactly that – a special-order custom café racer from the 1970s…but not many older fans of café racers have had the Aha! moment that the bikes they love are in fact customized motorcycles.  And likely, not read my arguments to that effect in The Ride books, nor in my two books on café racer history – Café Racer and Ton Up!  I pointed out that the concours category with the most entrants this year was Custom & Modified, which showed a majority interest among a younger demographic of builders and fans, and that the ‘traditional’ categories of antique/vintage/classic motorcycles were losing support as their owners and fans got older, and that in fact the judges who were resisting in that moment were all over 70 years old.  A vote was taken, the Vincent lost, but one of the judges changed his mind after some thought about the future for the Quail Motorcycle Gathering.  The tie-breaker was in the hands of the Chief Judge, and he saw the value in being the first Concours d’Elegance on the planet to crown a custom motorcycle Best in Show.

Phil Lane’s amazing Dunstall-modified 1972 Norton 810 Commando MkII, owned since new! [Andy Romanoff]
And that, in a nutshell, is an old story of motorcycling, as a mature generation feels that the bikes they treasure, invest in, restore, and become experts on, are being passed over in favor of bikes in which they see less value. That’s the reason clubs like the VMCC in the UK were created in the 1940s, as collectors sought to bolster their love of 1920s motorcycles by labeling them ‘vintage’ – defined as ‘of fine and rare quality’ – with all other motorcycles revolving around their universe of assumed perfection.  An untenable position 100 years later!

The antique American class winners; a 1914 Yale 37 and 1936 Crocker Small Tank, formerly owned and raced by Sam Parriott. [Kahn Media]
Judging a concours is, of course, a subjective matter, but with objective criteria; condition and correctness are the gold standards with historic machines, with aesthetics and historical importance a close second in consideration.  But with custom motorcycles, the standards are reversed; aesthetics and historical importance weigh heavily, with build quality an assumed 90+points (or it wouldn’t be in consideration), and correctness nowhere.   It’s an entirely different set of criteria.  But we’re capable of weighing the merits of a perfect 1960s two-stroke lightweight against a 1920s Brough Superior, or an original-paint 1915 Harley-Davidson against a gleaming 1980s sportbike.  Having judged dozens of Concours, including the Concorso Villa d’Este on Lake Como, other factors are always in play than the obvious merits of a motorcycle, including, to be frank, ‘will it look good on the cover of next year’s catalog?’  Corporate politics and personal inclinations are always a factor, which is more in evidence at an international show like Villa d’Este than at the Quail: some judges are shockingly nationalistic, and cannot imagine a technically retrograde 1920s Harley-Davidson winning over a sophisticated overhead-camshaft Benelli, or an elegant Gnôme-Rhône with Art Deco sidecar losing out to a cobby single-cylinder Brooklands racer.

Putting in the time; a judge sorting out the dozen immaculate Harley-Davidson XR750s. [Kahn Media]
But to be honest, such internal politics are my favorite part of judging big shows! Wrestling with one’s true peers over our mutual field of expertise is an amazing experience.  These are the folks who write books and support exhibits and step up when there’s a call for their knowledge and experience.  It’s always an honor to work beside such people; they represent the best of the motorcycle scene.

Paul d’Orléans sorting out the Chopper class. [Andy Romanoff]
With BMW’s /5 series a featured marque, restorer Tim Stafford brought the big guns out, and the most colorful examples of the breed. [Kahn Media]
Roland Sands’ wicked MV Agusta 3-cylinder custom, sounding simply amazing on the Quail Ride. [Kahn Media]
Paul d’Orléans commenting on the inspiration for Richard Mitchell’s 1951 BSA B34 custom – the Falcon Kestrel, which had rolled across the same stage in 2010. [Kahn Media]
Another machine we’ve had the pleasure of Road Testing; a Münch Mammut 1200TTS in original paint. [Kahn Media]
One for the Future. Support the kids’ interest in motorcycles, or they’ll disappear. [Andy Romanoff]

Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


Vintagent Contributor Andy Romanoff started out as a biker/photographer, then had a long career in Hollywood, including years working with Panavision. He’s a member of The Academy, and is now back to his biker/photographer roots. Follow these links for his Bike Pictures for sale and his Bike Gallery.
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