From The Phoenix Gazette, August 30 1973

by Sarah Auffret

“Gary Judy’s custom built trike, winner of First Place at the Phoenix Art Museum show for motorcycles and trikes after World War II, has 53 horsepower Volkswagen engine and weighs 750 pounds. Judy, Army veteran who lost both legs in Vietnam, had the trike construced with hand controls and automatic transmission.” [Phoenix Gazette staff photo by Ed Gray]
Husky, broad-shouldered Gary Judy is the envy of a lot of bikers around Phoenix. He’s got a super custom-made three-wheeler trike designed and built especially for him by Big Daddy Roth himself, the California king of custom cars and bikes. All metallic blue and shiny chrome and gold leaf trim, the great gleaming hulk is such a magnificent machine it’s been awarded a First Place at the Phoenix Art Museum’s First International Motorcycle Art Show, which lasts through Sunday.

Gary is used to the stares and double takes he gets when he goes trucking on the streets of Phoenix. The 24-year-old Vietnam veteran is a double amputee, and his big-wheeled trike is thought to be the only one in the world with complete hand controls, power brakes, and automatic transmission. “Roth said he considered it a challenge just to build a bike like this,” said Gary who contacted the California designer as soon as his 15 month stay in a VA hospital in El Paso ended last year. “I do a lot of short trucking around town in it just to get out and go riding. I take it up to the lake too, but no long excursions yet, because it’s hard to carry my wheelchair and I’m still getting used to my legs. Riding a bike is a sense of freedom you can’t put into words. With the wind blowing in your face you could ride all night. Maybe you’ll meet another biker and just ride. You don’t have to talk. You’ve got a common bond.”

Color shot from the Phoenix Art Museum archives of the trike ‘Big Daddy’ Ed Roth built for Gary Judy, with hand controls, an automatic transmission, and power brakes. [Phoenix Art Museum]
Gary began riding on friends’ motorcycles at 14, and bought his own 2-wheel Honda when he graduated from Moon Valley High School. He had been an outstanding athlete, lettering and track football and basketball. He went to college for two years and worked part time, before he was drafted. Gary was in Vietnam only 4 1/2 months before he was injured. It was 2:00 in the morning when his platoon, moving under the light of flares on a reconnaissance mission, crossed a stream and hit either a mine or a booby trap. Three young men in the small unit were killed, six were injured. Garry’s life was saved by the swiftness of the medevac pilots who whisked him via helicopter to a hospital within 26 minutes. His bravery that night won him a Bronze Star. Doctors were unable to save his legs.

During the long period of convalescence and therapy at the hospital, Gary learned to drive a car with hand controls and began returning to Phoenix once or twice a month to watch the big drag races he had once participated in. He thought his own biking days were over. Then a friend brought him a magazine about trikes. He realized his limitations weren’t as great as he thought, and soon afterwards he contacted Roth.

‘Big Daddy’ Ed Roth with one of his famous three-wheelers, a genre he first embraced in 1968, according to ‘Fass Mikey’ Vils, after tiring of building hot rods and motorcycles, mostly because of their respective scenes. Custom trikes offered new possibilities for Roth, who remained loyal to them for the rest of his ‘Big Daddy’ career. [Roth Family Archive]
Being able to ride with his friends has since given him an interest that makes returning to a normal life a little easier. “You have to get used to life again, and accustom yourself to all the little problems with a wheelchair. I’ve tried to get up, get on my artificial legs, decide whether I want to go back and get an education or go to work. People automatically feel pity for me, and children are curious. I’ve tried to get used to that. Anybody who says he’s not been bitter over something like this is lying within himself. But most people I know are over their bitterness and are adjusting. As for me I’m accepting it. I’ve got my trike and I’m at the point of starting scuba classes. I’ve enrolled in Glendale Community College for 13 hours this semester. I’m interested in everything.”

Gary’s eyes sparkled as he talked of working with friends on putting together cars, tinkering with motorcycles, racing. He’s a photography buff who takes pictures at all the drags; he also lifts weights and participates in archery. Though he’s sick of hospitals, he admitted hopes of being a doctor someday.

‘Fass Mikey’ Vils circa 1968/9, when he worked for Ed Roth, with one of Roth’s custom trikes, in this case using a Harley-Davidson Servi-Car as a foundation. [Mike Vils]
Gary’s smile was quick and warm as he spoke of what it means to be able to ride again. “I drive down the street, see another biker, and I wave, raise my fist, give the peace sign; whatever’s in. Many people come up and ask me about my trike. I meet all kinds of people. Next summer I’d like to travel all around the country, maybe buy a van and just wheel my trike out to the back of it whenever I want to ride. It won’t be an easy thing. Everything becomes a major obstacle when you’re in a wheelchair. But you have to make concessions and work for something if you want it bad enough. I’m going on with my life.”


For more on the First International Motorcycle Art Show at the Phoenix Art Museum in 1973, stay tuned.  The clipping was provided by the Phoenix Art Museum, from their archives.  (Additional photos used here are courtesy Mike Vils and the Roth Family Archive)


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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