Very few motorcyclists have owned their machine for half a Century, and of those, rarer still is an owned-since-new cafe racer.  High-speed roadsters are the purview of youthful lust and middle-aged captivity, which means they’re typically sold against the demands of adulthood, and collected again after the kids leave the house.  That Phil Lane ordered his 1972 Dunstall Norton 810 from Paul Dunstall as a teenager, and that it remains in his ownership in immaculate original condition, places it among the rarest of the rare.  In 1972, the Dunstall 810 was the fastest production roadster in the world, a position Paul Dunstall had held since 1966 with his Dunstall Atlas 750, which was road tested at 131mph.   A Dunstall 810 was tested by Cycle World at 125mph in 1971, with an 11.9sec quarter-mile time, the first time they’d ever run a sub-12sec quarter-mile, making it both the quickest and fastest road-legal motorcycle they’d ever tested. Folks unfamiliar with cafe racer history think Kawasaki held the world’s fastest title with their two-stroke triples and KZ900 in the early 1970s, but Dunstall was a sanctioned manufacturer from 1966 onward, and their bikes were faster.

Winner of the Best British award at the 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering, Phil Lane’s 1972 Dunstall Norton 810, with Chief Judge Somer Hooker, Quail Events’ Nikolette Brannan, Phil Lane, and color commentator Paul d’Orléans. [Kahn Media]
In 1972, a 19-year old college student in San Diego spent every penny he had on the down payment for a Dunstall 810, ordering it direct from Paul Dunstall via a clip-out ad in Cycle World. He’d read the test and wanted the best.  And who could blame him?  With Norton’s long history of racing success, and Dunstall’s current world’s fastest status, ordering an 810 still seems a totally logical thing to do.  Phil Lane had years of riding experience, and was ready to up his game from dirt bikes and a Harley-Davidson XLCH, so he went all the way to the top.  The Dunstall 810 became a part of his identity he never abandoned, despite raising a family and starting a career in the auto industry.  The 810 remains his treasure today, but he’s only exhibited it twice, with the second time being the 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering, which is where The Vintagent’s Paul d’Orléans encountered Phil and his Dunstall.  Rolling over the stage of the Quail, and handing Phil the trophy for Best British motorcycle, Paul’s observation that Dunstall rearsets were notoriously sloppy started a conversation that continues below.

The cover girl of the Dunstall Power catalogue of 1972: a rare yellow Dunstall 810, which may be Phil Lane’s bike, as very few were built in yellow. [Phil Lane archive]
Paul d’Orléans (PDO):  Tell me about your experience at the Quail?

Phil Lane (PL): I read your article [on judging the Quail – click here] and it put a smile on my face.  I was intrigued by the judge’s quandary between a classic modern versus a vintage bike for Best of Show.  It took me back to being on the field with the judges; a few guys came over and were all seriousness, judging the bike, and then [Quail judge] Brian Slark came over and said “I know Paul Dunstall, my mum worked in his shop!”  A little later the whole group came back, and they hung a red tag on my handlebars, and at that point the stern look of ‘I’m not going to talk to you’ disappeared.  I asked what does the red tag mean? They laughed, but one took me aside and said ‘you already won Best in Class, and are in the running for Best of Show.’ That really knocked me over! I’ve only showed the Dunstall at a ‘cars ‘n coffee’ in Portland!

PDO: The fun part of the judge’s job is giving out the awards, but as you read, some awards get special consideration, and arguments!

PL: I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion, and weighted heavy thoughts; I’d never considered that.

Paul Dunstall’s London emporium in the late 1960s, showing various finished Norton-based motorcycles and a multitude of go-faster parts. Dunstall used the factory term ‘domiracer’ for his Atlas-based machines in Featherbed frames, but dropped it for the later Commando-based machines. Note the lower Norton is race-only, and uses a twin-cylinder motor in a Manx chassis with magnesium brakes. [The Vintagent Archive]
PDO: Tell me how you arrived at the decision to order a Dunstall?

PL: I’d had a go kart as a kid, and raced around with it, but the first two-wheeler I found was just a minibike frame, so I took the McCullough engine out of my kart and put it into the minibike. It had these butterfly Sting Ray handlebars that were bolted onto the forks, and I had no idea about all this.  The first bump I hit, the ‘bars broke, I had a major crash, and burned my leg on the centrifugal clutch. But I fixed the handlebars and went back at it.

PDO:  So how did you end up with a two-year old Sportster basket case?

PL:  There were a lot of interesting bikes out there for a kid, I’d ridden my whole life in the dirt, and had a 1967 Montesa dirtbike.  When I turned 15 I finally got a permit and could ride on the road. My heart was still in the dirt, still in the desert. I grew up in San Diego and rode on the Desert Flats, now there’s a freeway on it.  I rode every day, and there were always other bikes around. My primary transportation was a Yamaha 250, until it was stolen. When I got the insurance settlement I thought, what would be a step up? My neighbors had an H-D dealership, and I watched ‘Then Came Bronson’ on TV, and found a newspaper ad for a basket case 1966 Harley-Davidson XLCH. I was pretty handy at working on bikes by then, but where I got stuck was the lower bearings in the cases, so I got help at the dealership. The first time I rode the XLCH was around the block, and the second time was a 3-hour ride to Winterhaven in Yuma AZ. That’s how we sorted bikes back then! I broke my clutch cable on the way home, but rode it the rest of the way. My gas tank was flaked with rust and the fuel line would block, so I’d have to stop on the top of a hill to clear it out, then bump start it to get going, rolling in neutral then snicking it in gear.

A buddy and I saw Easy Rider, and said let’s take a trip, so we did! We rode to Canada, although my friend had bike trouble part way and had to turn back. The Sportster was a tractor, you reversed the timing to start, and primed the Tillotson carb – it was a dance to start it.  In straight lines it was beautiful, you could take your hands off on the highway.

The Dunstall Power catalogue of 1972, showing an 810 Mk2 in another color, probably red. [Phil Lane archive]
PDO: How did you hear about Paul Dunstall?

PL: About that time I saw these articles about Paul Dunstall, and I got intrigued, including that famous 1971 Cycle World test article, the world’s fastest production motorcycle. Just the look of the thing absolutely blew me away. I wrote a few inquiries to Paul Dunstall, and he’d write back personally saying ‘if you have questions just ask’. I did have questions, so I called him!  Back then international calling was like ship to shore, there was a pause after each sentence, but he answered my questions, and I decided to go all in. I had saved every penny from every part-time job, and I was then in college. I lusted after that bike, and I just had to have it.

When I look back at the order form, I laugh that I wrote ‘please advise if $900 is sufficient deposit.’ I’d given Paul all my money, every penny I had! I noted that ‘I hope to sell my present bike.’ I had sold my Montesa and still had to sell my Harley. Ultimately my girlfriend approached her dad, and said ‘Phil is in a pinch, would you loan him the money?’ Her father could tell things were going somewhere between me and his daughter, so we made an agreement – ‘she can’t ride on your bike’. We honored that, somewhat! She was never a fan of riding on the back of it. She rode on the Sportster, but the Dunstall was a little different. The Harley had a custom handbuilt seat I’d made and a sissy bar, it was pretty comfortable. A little bit easier than the back of the 810; it’s a café racer, it’s so long and a bit hard to ride. If I’m laid down, the passenger is laying down too or they become a windbreak.

The day in October 1972 that Phil Lane uncrated his brand new Dunstall Norton 810. [Phil Lane]
PDO: Did you join on the Quail Ride?

PL: I didn’t ride the 810 on the Quail ride, as it still has the original fiberglass tank. I have to use ethanol-free gas, or it will dissolve the fiberglass; I filled it with ethanol gas once and it gummed up my carb slide with the melted resin from the tank. Rather than try to run ethanol with a new tank, I decided not to ride it this time.

PDO: How long did you actively ride the Dunstall?

PL: I was a rider, and that was my world, but a few years after I bought the bike came marriage, kids, a career, and a new circle of friends who were into cars. I still kept a distant circle of motorcyclists, but for me the Quail was the best reunion I’ve ever had! There’s a big group of Oregon Norton enthusiasts, Mike Tyler shot a video of my bike, he’s the President of the club. Most of those guys are retired, and they said you should go to the Quail!  I looked into it, and they said we’d love to have you!

The first kickstart of the Dunstall 810, with Phil’s siamese cat watching! [Phil Lane]
PDO: Did you have to do anything to prep the Dunstall for the show?

PL: I always had bikes as primary transport, and they were never as clean as this one.  I kept it clean.

PDO:  I’ll say; it’s immaculate!

PL: I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have the bike. I couldn’t part with it.  This October will be 50 years since I popped the crate.

PDO: Which is just remarkable.  How have people responded?

PL: The questions I’ve been asked over the years are 1. Wow what is that motorcycle?!  2. How did you keep it so long? They all kick themselves for hot having kept X. Same for me, I’ve sold plenty of things. But I couldn’t sell the Dunstall, it’s my time machine.  When I was on the podium, [Quail Chief Judge] Somer Hooker said ‘I think I’m in a time warp! I figured this was a restored bike, but it’s all original.’

Photographing Phil’s Dunstall for an article in Cycle magazine in 1991. [Phil Lane]
When the Wall Street Journal article came out, [writer] A.J. Baime called and said ‘Paul Dunstall’s daughter lives in the US, and loved the article.’ He introduced us, then she introduced me to her father. We corresponded, and he remembered this 19-year old kid who ordered a bike. That’s a real treasure; he reminisces on life, and what he was doing at the time.

On the Norton forums, folks blast Dunstall parts for their mixed quality, but it was the 1960s / ’70s, and folks built on what did. He built the fastest motorcycles in the world for 6 years! He was kind of like Carroll Shelby was with Ford; Paul Dunstall said he enjoyed working with Norton, although we were initially in competition. They were not best pleased when his bikes would beat their works machines. When Dennis Poore became CEO of Norton, Dunstall was invited to the boardroom for tea, and sold his cylinder heads and other parts to Norton, because Dunstalls were faster.  He wrote to me, “I guess the Japanese got wind of the popularity of my café racers, and I was approached by several Japanese companies. I ended up working with Suzuki to make the Dunstall CS1000, which was tested by Motorcycle News at 153mph, and we built the fastest production bike in the world again. These were great times, and I would weigh them as having never done a day of work in all those years.”

‘Those leathers’ that belonged to professional racer Mike Devlin, used by Phil Lane at Riverside International Raceway in 1973. [Phil Lane]
PDO: You took your 810 to the track?

PL: The Dunstall was fast.  We had a lot of motorcycles in my circle of friends, and I rode tested a friend’s Kawasaki Mach III, and my 810 was faster. I did my own speed checks around San Diego, and used to go out to the desert when there was nobody on the road, in mid-week. I love the long straights, just blasting down the road; never abusing it, just fast, out by the Salton Sea. I did wind buffet tests, tucked in, sitting up, seeing how it would be impacted at speed by 18-wheelers coming the other way. I saw one coming down the highway once while doing 120mph; I don’t know how fast he was coming, but the wind went BOOM, like hitting a hurricane, shake shake shake rattle rattle rattle. I pulled over onto a side road to turn around, and my leg felt cold, so I look down and saw one carb dangling, hanging by the cable. I literally parked the bike and ran away as I was sure it was going to blow up! I had some wire, and wired it up tight enough to ride back. That was probably the scariest moment I had on the bike.

Unmistakeable style, and Phil wishes he’d kept the leathers, even though they were too small! [Phil Lane]
PDO: Tell me about the leathers you wore at Carlsbad.

PL: “The” Leathers, Ha!  A friend of a friend knew a guy racing track bikes in San Diego. When I dig out my old pics the most asked question is ‘what happened to those amazing leathers?!’ I borrowed them to run the Dunstall at Carlsbad Raceway Drag Strip (north of San Diego). I wanted to see if I could duplicate the 11.9 seconds recorded by Cycle World in 1971. The best run I had was 12.4. But I was getting concerned about the drivers next to me as the night wore on; at first, the car guys popped their Coors cans in the pits. Later I saw drivers with cans in hand at the start line. I decided to move on. I also wore the leathers at Riverside Raceway in the pics you saw.  They belonged to Mike Devlin – a Vesco rider of some note. He was a friend of a friend; I’m 6’ tall and he was 5’8”, they were too short! I’m all hunched up wearing them. I didn’t realize the significance of wearing a racer’s leathers, and they thought I was Mike Devlin riding in the Amateur class. That’s question 3. Dude, what did you do with those leathers?!  Mike wanted them back at some point. I wish I still had them.

Lined up at Riverside for a production race, with two Kawasaki triples, a Honda four, and a Norton Commando production racer (the ‘yellow peril’ model). Note Phil’s Dunstall retains a UK registration – OBY 727.  [Phil Lane]


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.


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