Egli Motorcycles Workshop To Close

The motorcycle business has never been easy, and even a famous name cannot ensure a future for a small factory.  Alexander and Felicitas Frei purchased Egli Motorradtechnik AG from Fritz Egli in 2015, with high hopes to carry on with his legacy of building amazing high-performance cafe racers.  This week, the Freis put out a press release stating they are shuttering the famous house of Egli:

Alexander Frei and Fritz W. Egli, from the website of Egli Motorcycles.

There's a time for everything...

More than 9 years ago, Fritz W. Egli was looking for a successor for his Egli Motorradtechnik AG and finally found it in 2015. When we stepped in to continue the company at its location in Bettwil, our aim was not just to keep the workshop as it was at the time and to continue importing brands. We wanted to raise Egli to a higher level as a Swiss Motorcycle brand and also to build up a classic department which, in addition to the Egli range, would carefully restore vintage and classic motorcycles by hand.Our re-entry into the racing scene with our involvement in the IOM Classic TT was intended to be a further step towards revitalizing the brand. At the same time, we tried to bring the Egli-Vincent trademark back to its place of origin. Unfortunately in vain - the Vincent and Egli-Vincent brands were sold to a group in India [actually, the names were licensed by their owner many years ago - ed.].

After the presentation of the new Egli "Fritz W." in 2017, the idea of an Egli Motorcycle developed and manufactured entirely in Switzerland - including its own engine with road approval - became more and more concrete, until the starting signal for the new project was given in 2018 with a team of young engineers and qualified employees. The new Egli with a 1400 cc V2 engine is running, has already passed the first noise and exhaust measurements and has covered a considerable distance on closed roads. We have come a long way, but we are still too far away from road homologation and it will take a lot of time and additional financial commitment to overcome the final hurdles in the „forest“ of standards and regulations.

The world has changed rapidly in recent years - economically, politically and environmentally - and the requirements on motorized traffic are changing at the same pace. We too have now reached retirement age and have therefore decided to step back from daily business.

Over the past 9 years, we have had many great moments with customers, employees, business partners and friends. We were able to celebrate successes and also had to deal with setbacks - everything that is part of an exciting motorcycle life. We would like to thank you all very much for this. Without your support, many things would not have been possible. But everything has its time and so we will cease business operations at the Bettwil on November 30, 2023 and put the company into an orderly liquidation.
We are pleased and grateful that all employees have already found a new job or have decided to become self-employed.
We wish you all the best for the future!
- Alexander & Felicitas Frei

For your additional interest: the following is an exclusive interview for The Vintagent with Alexander Frei, after his purchased the Egli name outright from Fritz W. Egli.  Paul has long known Alexander's cousin, John Frei of San Francisco, via a long association with the Velocette Owners Club.  John Frei’s grandfather was brother to Alexander's grandfather, and was watchmaker in Switzerland who emigrated to US.

The start of it all: Fritz W. Egli in 1960, with the Horex cafe racer he modified himself, after buying the remaining Horex spares from the factory. [Egli Archive]
Paul d'Orleans (PDO):  What's your story with motorcycles?

Alexander Frei (AF): Motorcycles take over your life.

I started my professional career in the watchmaking industry; starting the traditional way with an apprenticeship as a micromechanic, then earned a microengineering diploma.  When I met my wife Felicitas, her father owned a medical implant company, so I joined the business.  When her father died his businesses were sold, with the last in 2000.  Then I started a career in car racing, as more or less a hobby.  At the beginning I raced Lamborghinis, then was a factory driver for Courage Competition, a French endurance racing team in the Le Mans series. I raced LeMans four times with the LMP1, and three times with and LMP2.  Kevin Schwantz was racing the same LeMans team as mine, and Mario Andretti too, but a few years before me.  Mario Andretti was old but still a good endurance driver – the cars were fast, but the materials were not always first class as they were short of money.  You’d be going fast them boom, you waste time in the pits.  I’m not as good a motorcyclist as car driver, but I’ve always had motorcycles, since I was 19 or 20.  In 1982 my family went to Laguna Seca with my cousins, and saw Randy Mamola in Battle of the Twins racing, against Norton, Triumph etc.  Kenny Roberts was still racing.

From 1970: several finished Egli-Hondas outside of the Egli workshop. [Egli Archive]
PDO: How did this lead you to buy Egli?

AF: One of my sons is 32 years old, he started as a car mechanic, then became a motorcycle mechanic.  He worked for Harley-Davidson, and one said he’d like to open his own workshop.  We discussed this, and he was looking for motorcycle brands to open his own dealership.  One of the names was Norton, the other Royal Enfield, and the Swiss distributor was Fritz Egli, and they had a meeting.  Of course I knew his name, I'd read about him, but didn’t go to this meeting.  My son told me he’s selling his company, I said ok let’s have a look!  I was fascinated about the whole thing. I realized of course for 25 or 30 years they hadn't built any motorcycles: they built frames and parts, and strange things like Yamaha Vmax tuning, but not real Eglis anymore.  I started discussing with my son how he might start his dealership: I could buy Egli to restart some kind of motorcycle manufacturing, and also a restoration business.  This was the initial idea, in the summer of  2014.  I bought the Egli business on Jan 1 2015.  I never thought I’d start a business again, certainly not in motorcycles.  But when I saw the Egli company with such great history and bikes, I thought 'let’s try it, it can only break'.  Otherwise the name is gone!  I’ve seen this in the Swiss watchmaking industry many times, smaller shops breaking down, then a revival with external investors, but it's really difficult to do this.

David Lancaster road testing a Godet-Egli-Vincent. [David Lancaster]
There were many people interested in the Egli name only, to produce parts or bikes elsewhere, but I thought we could do it in Switzerland, right there in his old workshop.  I was able to hire his best welder, from when they did all the Kawasaki and Honda frames, and the racing frames.  He'd gone over to the aero industry and learned a lot there, so we started the business with him, and built up everything.  We don’t have CNC, we don’t have computer engineering, that’s why we sought a suitable engine to build a bike around, just like 30 years ago.  We are really a workshop and not computer simulators.  Egli is really handmade.  For a contemporary road motorcycle, we had to pass the homologation for road use; they put our frame in a hydro-pulser for frequency testing, between 120-220 cycles under load, simulating 100,000km on the road - there must be no cracks etc.  We passed this test with no calculating, just know-how.  No computers.

One of the most remarkable Egli projects: the MRD1 land speed racer, with bodywork designed by Luigi Colani. [Private Collection]
Our bikes are road registered.  Because of Euro3 testing, this was short timing, the hurdle between Euro4 was short, so we had to decide to use an existing engine, or start fresh, but there was no time.  The authorities agreed we could build 6 bikes under Euro3.  They didn’t look at the engine, just the chassis, which we certified.  We had to hurry with the inline 4 engine, as we thought it was the last chance with an inline 4 for homologation - it’s getting too difficult to pass testing with an air-cooled engine.  Only the Honda CB1100 is left, Yamaha has already stopped. We looked at V-twins but it would have to be a modern Vtwin, which means watercooling etc, so we’ll build another project, and some manufacturers are interested in talking with us.  Those 6 approved bikes are  being finished in the next 2-3 weeks (2017), then we’ll focus on a new project.

The magnificent Egli-Honda EH10-C, built around a CBX motor. Note new Brough Superiors in the background. [Egli Archive]
PDO: Can you explain to our readers the differences between Euro3 and Euro4?

AF: Euro3 vs Euro4 means much less noise, and pollution is much stricter, these are the two main factors, plus ABS and OBD now.  The petrol tank must breathe through an active carbon filter, etc, which makes construction much more complicated.  I’m a afraid instead of two wheels and an engine, there will be a lot more gimmicks to hide, which is no longer simple.  In Switzerland we are still allowed to sell Euro3 bikes, but I think the rest of Europe cannot.  For example in Germany, lots of bikes had a fire sale as they couldn’t pass Euro4.  In Europe we can still sell Euro3 bikes now, all that were imported or built before 2016. So Egli is more or less in the last minutes… but we are so limited in production.  They inspected the bikes before the end of the last year, and we were not allowed to build more than 6, but for me it’s ok.  Everything we do in the future must pass Euro4, and in 2020 will be Euro5, and it’s not clear what will change – definitely more regulation; less noise, less pollution, and so on.

An Egli-Ducati 900SS from 1976. [Private Collection]
PDO: What are your plans when Euro5 comes in?

AF:  I don’t know, maybe we have to look at electric bikes.

It's not possible to use older engines for manufacturing.  For example, the Godet-Egli-Vincents have to match Euro3 too, so he can’t use a newly manufactured Vincent engine, it's only possible for an old bike restoration: you cannot start new production with an old engine.  You’d have to design a new Vincent motor, and even Fritz tried - I saw the plans, he looked for financing, the approached bankers, but couldn’t raise the money.  It must have been in the 1980s, a Vtwin. We will have to tackle the Euro4 regulations, from the structural side the bike is not a problem, but the ABS is not so easy to get.  I was in discussion with motorcycle companies who were willing to sell us an engine, but the problem is with Bosch who has the patents for ABS, but they don't sell a full package with all the electronics.  And that's very costly to develop; we would have to pay them to develop the software for our bikes, and with only 6 or 12 bikes its not workable.  Thierry Henriette had the same experience with the new Brough Superior; ABS makes everything more complicated and expensive.  Fritz Egli was in the workshop many times saying how difficult it is now, and how easy it was then!

From the Egli Motorcycles web page: a tasty selection of frames and full builds. [Egli Archive]
There is only one possibility for small manufacturing: if you have a niche market, you can be much more expensive.  We’ve sold all 6 of our bikes already, but kept one for us as a demo.  It's pretty good!  We also have in our workshop quite a lot of restorations; people are starting to restore Eglis, two years ago it was only Vincents, but now MV, Honda, Kawasaki are being restored. We either restore them, or source them and restore them for customers.  For the Egli company and its history this is very nice, I’d like to keep this activity.  It helps with the mechanics as they can make a restoration, and also build new bikes.  In the winter you have time for restoration.

The 2018 Egli-Honda EVH 750, as seen at the Concorso Villa d'Este. [Egli Archive]
PDO: Are you involved with any racing?

AF:  If one of our customers wants to race our 6 new bikes, we have tuning kits, exhausts etc, but of course that's not street legal. We’re a bit into classic racing, we race a Godet 500 Vincent at the Classic TT, with Horst Zeigel riding for us, and we’ll go back this year.  I think we’ll do another bike like Egli did in the past, in Switzerland we have one or two classic races, and there are 500 Honda motors available.  For now that’s enough to put in a foot, but not jump wholly into classic racing.   Plus, we've decided to show a 750 Honda Egli at the 2018 Concorso Villa d’Este, so see you there!

[All of us at The Vintagent lament the closure of Egli Motorcycles, and wish all parties the very best in future projects.  The Egli name will surely live as long as motorcycles are remembered.]

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.


Do Cafe Racers Dream of Electric Starts?

By Scott Rook

Being a child of the 1980s, I never knew a time when fast bikes on the showroom floor didn’t mimic the factory's race bikes. Kawasaki had the Ninja and Honda had the Hurricane. [Shameless plug: read our history of the cafe racer, 'Ton Up!'] The bikes appeared on magazine covers in the school library that all my friends drooled over in study hall.  When I got interested in vintage bikes in the 1990s, the idea of an old street bike that was kitted out in race trim took hold: a cafe racer.  The Honda CR750 was the bike that did it for me. Cycle World ran a story about Dick Mann and his Daytona-winning Honda CR750 from 1970: someone built a replica and was racing it at Daytona in the AHRMA series.  The factory CR750 racer looked nothing like the old CB750 that I'd owned. The Honda had been replaced by a 1979 Triumph Bonneville, but when I saw the CR750 in the magazine I thought, I could build that and ride it on the street.  After all it was just a CB750 underneath that root beer colored fairing, and CB750s could be found cheap in the early 1990s. This was my cafe racer dream. I started making spreadsheets of parts and searching the internet with my dial-up Internet connection. I perused the newspaper looking for any old cheap CB750. I found one; a non-running K1 for $250. My girlfriend (who would later become my wife) went with me to check it out. We stopped at U-Haul on the way and picked up a motorcycle trailer just in case. The bike was rough. The cases were cracked but most of it was there, and it had a title. The 1971 CB750 came home with me that day and has been with me ever since.

Dick Mann on the Honda CR750 on his way to winning the Daytona 200 in 1970. [Cycle World]
I guess there were a bunch of people who saw that CR750 in Cycle World and had the same idea, as CR750 replicas were being built all over the country. I had stripped my bike down and sold off or thrown out all the stock bits; there was no room for chromed steel fenders on my cafe racer.  But I had a lot going on in the late 1990s: I went back to college, got married, quit my current job, bought a house and became a teacher. The old CB750 sat for years in my mother’s basement. It 'graduated' from her garage when she complained about all the junk and parts everywhere. I was doing other things, but I never lost the desire to build that CR750 Dick Mann replica and ride it on the street. The problem was that by the early 2000s, building a Dick Mann replica CR750 was easy. There were 2 or 3 places that sold everything required, and there was even a guy selling completed bikes on consignment. That wasn’t my cafe racer dream. I wanted to build something that was difficult to source parts for, something that could only be completed by going on a quest. I didn’t want to just max out a credit card and order a CR750. Along the way, I came across all kinds of quirky cafe racer specials that used the CB750 as a base motorcycle. There were Rickman CRs, Seeleys, Dresdas and Moto Martins that replaced the frame with better handling, stiffer, nickel-plated chromoly versions. There were also Japautos, Read Titans, and Dunstalls that used the original CB750 frame, but added rearsets, fiberglass fairings and exhaust systems - it was these quirky specials that I gravitated towards, the Paul Dunstall in particular. I knew of Dunstall’s success with Norton but never knew they produced parts for the Honda CB750. The Dunstall 'CR750' was a complete package with rearsets, exhaust, fiberglass tank, seat and full fairing. The Dunstall Honda was angular and had boxy lines, and I loved the look of it. I was going to build a Dunstall with my CB750. This was no credit card ordering frenzy: this was a cafe racer quest!
The $250 1971 CB750 K1 as found in the early 1990s. [Scott Rook]
It took over 9 years to source the complete Dunstall kit and build the bike.  For some parts it was better off getting new replicas made, like the gas tank. The original tanks couldn’t be used with modern fuel or they would melt. Some parts were just not available anywhere. I had to have the fairing lowers made as well. Original Dunstall Decibel silencers show up pretty regularly but most of them are used and abused, so I opted for British-made copies. Everything else was either NOS or used Dunstall parts. I found an original seat, exhaust, rearsets and 3⁄4 fairing. Once I had all the parts the bike went together rather quickly, but I added to my quest by looking for original Lester cast-aluminum mag wheels. Gathering all of this old stuff was part of my build process, as I couldn’t afford to just build the bike all at once, but finding old parts along the way and supplementing them with new bearings, springs, shocks, brake pads and other consumable parts made the quest worthwhile. I knew some day the bike would be built and I would ride my cafe racer on the street, and by the summer of 2010 the bike was assembled and rideable. It would take another year for the paint and finishing touches, but the cafe racer dream had been realized. The bike wasn’t as radical as the CR750 that Dick Mann rode; my Dunstall Honda had lights and an electric start. While dreaming of the bike, I had visions of it being more of a sport tourer rather than a full-on race bike, but my first ride dispelled any touring myths. After about 20 minutes my forearms were on fire and my neck hurt. After an hour I had to stop and get off the thing for fear that I would permanently cramp up and just fall over once I came to a stop. Once off the bike I couldn’t help but stare at it because it looked so striking in its yellow paint and black wheels. But I was dreading having to get back on and ride it home. The cafe racer dream was much different than the cafe racer reality.
The Cover of the 1974 Dunstall Catalog featuring the CR750 Cafe Racer Kit. [The Vintagent Archive]

I had loved the process of building my Dunstall Honda: it was full of the anticipation of riding a bike that belonged in a different era. The Dunstall Honda was something different, like a lost treasure that the world had forgotten.  And I brought my cafe racer dream to life in my garage. The realization was exhilarating, but the ride was terrible. I remembered my old CB750 and how it did literally everything: I rode it on grass while learning to ride a motorcycle, I rode it to school and took it on camping trips with my friend on the back. That old CB750 took me and my high school girlfriend everywhere. The Dunstall Honda did nothing well other than go fast and look great. I couldn’t take it anywhere without experiencing pain. Maybe that is how beautiful strange things from a different era are supposed to be. They have to extract a toll from their owners for their existence. Not just a financial cost, but actual pain when used as intended. I wanted to like riding the bike, and gave it my best, but never really enjoyed it.  So I changed clip-ons and played with different hand grips, and tried to make it even more cafe racer by adding a boxed swingarm and rear Hurst Airheart disk brake conversion. I changed the wheels to the even more rare Henry Abe mags, all in an effort to love the bike I had built. None of it worked. I rode the bike once or twice a summer for many years. I polished the aluminum covers and waxed it. I kept it in tip top running condition hoping that someday I would love riding it.  But that never happened. The cafe racer dream had become a painful nightmare.

The first iteration of Scott's Dunstall CR750 with Lester mag wheels, in 2011. [Scott Rook]
I decided to make changes: the first part to go was the fairing, as I thought using Superbike bars the right might become bearable. It worked, kind of. The pain in my neck went away. I thought that if I replaced the Dunstall tank and seat with the stock items the riding position would be about perfect. It was, kind of. My wrists and forearms felt normal again. The rearsets were still a little behind where I wanted my feet, so I changed back to the stock footpegs. Much better but I wondered how the bike would feel with the higher stock bars. The answer was just about perfect. In stock trim my formerly unrideable Dunstall Honda became like my old CB750. It did everything and did it comfortably. Those Honda engineers must have known something Paul Dunstall never did. I found myself riding the CB750 everywhere. I rode it to work. I did errands on it. I rode it out to my campsite in Chautauqua, New York. I rode it on Sunday mornings for fun. My cafe racer dream died that summer in the form of my now-stock CB750 K1 that I couldn’t stop riding.
The last iteration of the Dunstall CR750 with Hurst Airheart rear brake and Henry Abe Wheels. [Scott Rook]
Cafe Racers as an idea are great. They look great with their slippery fairings, long tanks and short seats. They have a purposefulness that standard road bikes just don’t have. They are exciting, whether you want to feel like Dick Mann at Daytona or one the Toecutters gang in the wasteland. Paul Dunstall knew all of these things. He built stunning machines that looked like they belonged on a racetrack or a Mad Max film. The truth, which I’m sure he knew all too well, was that cafe racers as motorcycles are terrible beasts to live with. They are uncomfortable to ride more than an hour, they have limited maneuverability at anything other than high speed, and they have no practical ability to cope with heavy traffic or stop and go riding. All the performance upgrades and fiberglass tanks in the world can’t make cafe racers anything other than toys. Paul Dunstall sold his cafe racer business in the late 1970s and moved into property development. The Rickman brothers and Colin Seeley stopped producing their special framed CB750s and KZ1000s around the same time. It seems the cafe racer dream died in the late 1970s. Its revival in the late 1990s and into the 2000s suffered the same fate as many new riders were seduced by the looks of vintage cafe racers only to find out how unfriendly they actually were in the real world.
Back to stock! The same 1971 CB750 K1 Scott bought in the early 1990s for $250, now a permanent garage fixture, and comfortable to ride. [Scott Rook]

I still have a cafe racer dream, but it doesn’t involve Dick Mann or clip-ons. I want to build a bike that has the cafe racer look but keeps the standard riding position. Paul Dunstall built Sprint versions of his Norton Atlases and Commandos. These were bikes with performance upgrades and the cafe tank and seat but with regular bars and pegs. A bright red Dunstall Domiracer Sprint sounds about perfect for me. I guess I have a new cafe racer dream.  Stay tuned.


Scott Rook started riding motor cycles at the age of 15 in 1989. He traded some baseball and football cards for a beat up 1976 CB750 and has been hooked ever since. He's a history teacher and father to 3 teenagers in his non-motorcycle life.

The Pornography of Speed

The Detroit-built V-8 engine is as big a chunk of American identity as the flag, the cowboy hat, and the jacked pickup with tires as big as Daisy Duke’s inflatables.  American-style drag racing squeezes a nation’s worth of sex and violence into this engine’s compact lump, and within its confines, hot steel shafts push oily pistons up tightly-bored holes, mad hot with the stroking, exploding every four thrusts.  It is powergasm on asphalt for all to witness; the earth-splitting bellow of crazy-revving engines, the flaming cannonfire of exhaust stacks, the steely whine of a supercharger, the rippling deformation of tire-skin under the wrenching torque of actually unmeasurable horsepower.  The V-8 engine is nearly ubiquitous in the drag scene (and NASCAR), like the Frenchman’s bread and the Swissman’s cheese…more like the goddamn air, because V-8s are everywhere. With hundreds of millions built since the 1930s, the foundation for outrageous power is as common as mud and weeds, and about as cheap.

Stacks: beautiful, erotic, raw, dangerous. [Matthew Porter]
The ‘rail’ dragster is a pure speed machine, as delicately realized as the finest European Formula 1 racer, but much, much faster. The chassis weighs nothing; a welded-up lattice framework of lightweight tubing, connecting a pair of bicycle wheels up front with enormously fat ‘slicks’ at the rear, between which the engine and pilot sit in an uneasy few seconds’ cohabitation.  The trellis frame is designed just strong enough to prevent an inconceivably powerful V-8 from ripping itself out of its cage, and grenading in death-freedom as a pinwheel of molten metal, bleeding hot oil, and flaming ejecta.  Superchargers force an explosive nitromethane mix into every cylinder, ignited 50 times per second (x8), running the ragged edge of any metal’s ability to absorb heat without deformation or liquification, which occasionally broaches even the stoutest of engine casings.  The result is instant chaos, and in the emergency, all moving parts – pistons, valves, crankshaft, camchain – discover their own escape routes in an energetic disassembly lasting less than a second.  The consequences most urgently affect the driver sitting a mere few feet from the unfolding catastrophe, doing his/her best to stop a disintegrating land missile from cartwheeling, and doom.

Chrome won't get you home, but we aren't going home, yet. [Matthew Porter]
It takes incredibly skilled labor to transform a 140hp sedan motor into a fire-breathing, nitro-swilling, 15,000 horsepower supercharged beast, and from these hands we find the poetry lurking within the vulgarity of the drag strip, and the pornography of speed. Drained of reference, these photographs might seem like ironic commentary on American powerlust and the fuel-guzzling, make-a-big-noise type of working-class pastime. The V-8 engine taken out of context hangs like a bomb from a chain, but is more accurately a package of patient obsession, attention to minute detail, and ambition.  In the glorious circus of motorized American speed competitions, the highly-tuned engine is the heart of it all, but there’s no reward bar aesthetic for making the engine beautiful - for chroming valve covers and superchargers and intake stacks, for making the blower scoop that particular shape of badass.  Success is measured only by the clock, so more is at stake here than victory, and chrome is the clue; like the occasionally disastrous blowups which bedevil them, these unseen greasy hands broach the confines of the functional, spilling molten passion into the realm of Art.  Let us exalt these mechanics into the pantheon of artists, and nominate the drag strip as our performance space; not ironically, but as a place where life explodes, and priapic wheeled missiles hurtle into the invisible womb of Time.

Explosions per second, barely contained at the limit of destruction. [Matthew Porter]

[This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of  At Large magazine]



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.

The Remarkable Mister Cox

The label ‘artist’ is tossed around lightly these days, for which we can blame Marcel Duchamp - but he had his reasons.  Anyone building an aesthetically pleasing custom motorcycle gets an A in this post-‘Art of the Motorcycle’ world, but if a good custom doesn’t deserve a museum slot, what does?  Still, the realm of aesthetics is not necessarily the realm of art, and a talented stylist with bodywork and paint doesn’t necessarily see the world through the strange prism of an artist.   That’s not a put down; the world needs good design - it makes life better. But natural born artists are weird; they do what they do because they’re compelled to. Lucky for us, some artists stick their hands in design with remarkable results; for example, Paul Cox.

The inimitable arch-craftsman and artisan extraordinaire, Paul Cox. [Franz Venzin]

And then there’s the question of fame (or notoriety); some artists get famous, most labor in obscurity.  Paul Cox hasn’t shunned the spotlight, but he certainly hasn’t had his due, which is partly due to honest humility, and partly the company he’s kept on his journey as an artist-craftsman.  Cox rose to visibility in the late 1990s beside his friend Larry DeSmedt, who burned very brightly as the consummate showman Indian Larry.  It was easy to misunderstand Paul Cox and Keino Sasaki’s role at Indian Larry Enterprises, given Larry’s charisma, and his fully reciprocated love for the camera.  But anyone who’s seen Paul Cox’s work understands his past contributions, and the incredible range of his talents, from painting on canvas, making knives from Damascus steel, tooling the finest leather seats anywhere, and building kickass NYC-style choppers.

The 'Sword of Damocles', an excellent example of a NYC chopper: short, low, stripped, fancy, and fast. [Franz Venzin]

Growing up in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Cox painted and drew as kids tend to, but not many children copy the paintings on their grandparents’ walls.  “That was my first body of work – my grandmother would buy them for a dollar, which planted the idea of making a living as an artist.”  Mid-‘70s choppers and Bicentennial graphics inspired him to create extended-fork bicycles, which soon progressed to minibikes, and making boats and hang gliders; “Basically anything I could make into a moving contraption.”  After attending VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts), Cox moved to New York City (1988).  He landed a job in commercial illustration; “I had a ton of work printed in newspapers and magazines, and was making art paintings at home.  That lasted two years, until I got sick of advertising illustration.”  He started modifying a Yamaha XS650 and a couple of Triumphs; friends soon wanted bikes built for them too.

Dig in on the deets: the craftsmanship on every Paul Cox motorcycle is out of this word, from the frame to the motor to the paint to the leather. [Franz Venzin]

For a Lower East Side biker, the center of the 1990s universe was Hugh Mackie’s 6th Street Specials.  “A lot of my bike world connections were made and grew there, with Hugh and Dimi. They were the first shop to pay me to make a seat; they’d just opened, and it was a high energy scene, really raw, and really a blast.”  Paul met Larry DeSmedt at 6th Street, and the pair clicked.  By 1992, both worked at the new Psycho Cycles, Larry fabricating and mechanicking, and Paul doing leatherwork and fabrication. “That’s when things really took off.  Steg and Frank and Larry and I made up our tight group, but it was my relationship with Larry that was truly inspirational.”

Proof of the engine part of imagining a Paul Cox bike: these Harley-Davidson cylinder heads have exposed, custom-made rockers on heavily modified alloy cylinder heads. A mechanical work of art. [Franz Venzin]

The 1990s chopper scene was volatile and hand-to-mouth, and when Psycho Cycles closed around ’98, Larry built bikes in a little garage below his apartment; “He was totally thrilled doing that, no strings attached, he could walk downstairs in his flip flops and underwear, it was perfect for him.” Hugh Mackie offered Cox space inside 6th St Specials for his leather and fabrication. “I owe so much to Hugh in so many different ways.  He’s just a humble soft spoken guy, and it’s easy to pass him over because he’s so laid back, but how much he meant to me coming up in this scene gets glossed over, because there are so many other colorful characters.”

Paul Cox also paints, and makes custom knives for chefs and collectors from raw Damascus steel and various handle materials, from bone to wood to metal. [Franz Venzin]

Indian Larry was primary among those; in 2000, he, Paul and other artisans leased a 5000 sq/ft warehouse on North 14th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “That’s the space everybody knows, it was one-stop shopping,” laughs Cox.  With Keino Sasaki as a mechanic, the shop was re-branded Indian Larry Enterprises. Bobby and Elisa Seeger came on board to manage branding and merchandising and help run the show.  The world spun faster when Jesse James invited Larry on his Motorcycle Mania TV show, which brought Indian Larry into the mainstream.  “We’d done a lot of film work previously as ‘biker gang guys’ - you’d show up and get $100. Larry really dug that, and did it whenever he could. Motorcycle Mania was right up his alley.  Like Ed Roth, Indian Larry was his own finest work of art; he created himself, and wanted to be a showman.” Before the Internet, TV exposure was gold, and people were floored by Indian Larry’s charisma. “He was a real guy, times 10.  The world connected with him.  It was all going well in 2002/3/4, and Bobby and Elisa really worked with him to keep things on track.”

Another amazing Paul Cox creation, showing clearly the NYC chopper style, which was always different from West Coast styles, primarily because of the riding environment of New York City. [Franz Venzin]

When Larry left this world on August 30th 2004, the outpouring of emotion convinced Paul, Keino, Bobby, and Elisa to change the shop to Indian Larry Legacy. “We thought we had to carry on what we’d started together, what Larry had built, all that momentum, and not turn it off overnight. The industry was really amazing and accepting.  We kept building bikes like we had, but kept moving forward in design ideas in the same niche NYC chopper style - that little hotrod Harley we’d always done, which I still do today.  The style is based on where I ride, what I ride, and what inspires me.”

Man at work: even his welding mask is flamed. [Franz Venzin]

In 2007, Cox decided to branch out. “It was a delicate time, but whatever I was doing creatively, I wanted to do professionally.  That’s why my shop is Paul Cox Industries, not Paul Cox Choppers - it’s more about a creative lifestyle. I might look at architecture or furniture, and bring those ideas into leather or knives or bikes. I’m coming full circle to painting again, getting into a kind of pure art instead of only the ‘high performance art’, as I call my chopper work. Painting gets me excited, and influences my other work, and it all plays against each other. For me, painting, leather, and metalwork are always happening at the same time.  My shop is set up in zones; there are people who are interested in certain aspects of what I do, who may not know the other things I do!”

[This article originally appeared in the inaugural issue of 1903 magazine, in 2016]


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.


Is This Motorcycle Cursed? A BSA B50 Story

Story and Photos by new Contributor Scott Rook

I had wanted a BSA B50 for many years. They were the final distillation of BSA’s unit singles that won World MX Grand Prix championships with Jeff Smith in the 1960s and were the last competitive factory four stroke MX bikes in the early 1970s. CCM and Cheney built special framed purpose-built racers around the B50 engine that kept them competitive into the mid and late 1970s. The B50 also had the weirdest and one of the most beautifully shaped alloy gas tanks ever conceived for a motorcycle. It wasn’t exactly round but it wasn’t rectangular either. It was dubbed the lozenge. Triumphs had Pear shaped tanks and Harley had Tear Dropped tanks, BSA came out with a cough-drop shaped tank. The B50 was also recognized as one of the last great British singles in a long line of bikes that stretched back to the early teens and twenties. British singles won Grand Prix Championships with great riders like Geoff Duke and John Surtees. Names like Comet, Manx, Goldstar, Venom, Thruxton and Victor were all great British singles. The B50 also performed admirably in road racing and endurance racing, often bettering larger displacement bikes. I wanted a piece of that heritage.

The BSA D/R Kit turned a stock B25 or B50 into a Dick Mann approved dirt racer. Not that Dick ever rode one professionally... [Scott Rook collection]
BSA offered the B50 in three different flavors, the SS or street scrambler version, the T or Victor Trail for light off-road duty, and the bare bones MX for serious off-road use only. There were traits that I liked of each version of the B50. The SS model had the larger 8-inch front Conical drum brake. The T had a 2-gallon polished alloy tank compared to the SS’ steel one. The MX had the single seat and polished stainless fenders. Later MX bikes had a one into two exhaust on the right side of the machine that looked like the desert sleds of On Any Sunday. The various B50s also had some warts. The road going bikes had an ugly electrical box under the gas tank meant to be easily disconnected for off road use. They also had a huge rectangular shaped muffler that dominated the right side of the machine as well as the hideous Lucas headlight and taillight that BSA / Triumph used in 1971-72. The B50 I wanted was something that BSA called the D/R kit. This was a kit that dealers could buy to turn an SS or T version into a serious off roader. It had alloy levers, an MCM spark arrestor muffler that looked more like the 60s Victors had, an MX single seat and a capacitor to replace your heavy battery. BSA claimed that Dick “Bugsy” Mann approved of the D/R kit. If it was good enough for Bugs then it was certainly good enough for me.

The BSA B50 as discovered and purchased in the Fall of 2017 by Scott Rook. Not very nice, but affordable, with good bones. [Scott Rook]
B50s hardly ever come up for sale in western New York. There was the odd B25 for sale on craigslist over the years, but I wanted the big bike. There happened to be a B50 for sale about 3 hours drive from my house at a time when I had some extra money to not only buy the bike, but do it like I wanted. I made the trip with enough money to buy it at full price but negotiated it down to a reasonable amount. My son came with me, and we listened to the Led Zeppelin box set for the 6 hour round trip. I trailered it home and christened the bike “Hammer of the Gods” in honor of our journey to go get it. I had visions of riding the bike on the road to the nearest dirt trail and then effortlessly transitioning into woods riding. A huge smile on my face the entire time. The bike was brown, and I probably should have called it the rolling turd instead.

The rebuild started immediately. The night I brought it home, I took it for a quick run around the block and then started taking off all the stuff that had been done to it over the years. Within a few days the engine was out and the frame was getting stripped for powder coat. We have long winters in western New York which becomes rebuild season. The goal was to have my Dick Mann approved BSA B50 D/R ready for spring. I sent the engine to the foremost rebuilder of B50s in the U.S. Ed Valiket of EV Engineering. Everything else I would rebuild myself. Rebuild season is a time of hope and optimism. All the parts you have gathered start to come together to form this thing that has only existed in your brain for years. Winter turned to spring and then summer. The B50 wasn’t ready. The engine was still in another state as was the alloy gas tank that I had sent out to have the dents removed. By August everything had arrived and the drive to complete the bike was in full swing. I took it out for its maiden voyage on August 2, 2018. The bike wasn’t finished but the only things left to do were more cosmetic than functional.

Bummer. The curse begins in the Summer of 2018 with a flat tire on the first shakedown ride in Eden, NY. [Scott Rook]

Restorations are never complete when all the parts are done, and the motorcycle is back together. Restorations are really complete after all the running issues have been cleared up and the tuning has been completed which usually takes some weeks and miles. My B50 showed some issues on its first run outside of my neighborhood. The gearbox was giving false neutrals and I couldn’t get it into 4th gear without it popping back out. I thought the gearbox might have some wearing in to do or maybe the clutch needed attention. The other problem was a flat rear tire about 20 miles from my house. The tube stem had been ripped out. I had decided against running a rim lock on the rear tire. My mistake. Clearly this bike needed some more attention. The dirt trails would have to wait. It was August already and I had other bikes to ride that didn’t give false neutrals. The late summer and fall would give way to winter soon and if I wanted to maximize my riding time left then I would take the Triumph or the Dunstall CB750. The B50 got put away until rebuild season started again.

Looks can be deceiving; The only ride of 2019 with the gas tank painted, nos MX exhaust & Malcolm Smith tool bag fitted in Elma, NY. [Scott Rook]
That winter I completely tore down the gearbox and found a broken 4th gear. I also rebuilt the clutch again with all new plates, rubbers, rollers and thrust washers. I was leaving nothing to chance this time. I had also gotten my hands on an nos one into two MX exhaust system and upgraded the rear shocks and front springs. I tried my hand at painting and painted a beautiful black cross on the tank like original and pinstriped it in red. My B50 was going to carry me to those trails this summer and I was going to make Dick Mann proud! I rode it once that year. It was a fall ride in the country. About halfway through the bike started to stutter at anything under 2,000 rpm. I had a feeling it was a bad condenser since that was the only thing I didn’t replace on the ignition system. I made it home and ordered up a new condenser. The riding season was almost over and I had a CB750 to ride that I recently un-cafed, so the B50 got parked. During that rebuild season I tried to address some of the oil leaks and replaced several gaskets and hoses in preparation for the summer of 2020. This was going to be my year.
The nail in the coffin? The curse is real. The first ride of 2020 and another flat tire. [Scott Rook]
On a sunny Sunday morning in late May 2020, I took all three bikes for a ride to the gas station that sells ethanol free gas for the annual start of my riding season. They all ran great as a bike tends to after you haven’t ridden it for months. I couldn’t believe how much fun the B50 was when riding it back-to-back with my Triumph Bonneville and CB750. The B50 did everything the Bonneville did but it was about 100 pounds lighter. It felt great to finally have a relatively smooth shifting and tuned B50 that didn’t cut out at anything below 2,000 rpm. Those trails were going to feel the thump of the Hammer of the Gods. The next day I noticed the rear tire was flat on the B50. Upon closer inspection there was a huge nail in the tire and the rear rim had a hairline crack running across it. This wasn’t just some rough running and a little oil leakage. This was a disaster waiting to happen. I finally said to myself “this bike is cursed”.  I ordered up a new rim and vowed to sell the thing before it killed me.
Danger Danger! A crack in the alloy rim, and a crack in Scott's confidence. Is it time to sell this thing? [Scott Rook]
I listed the B50 for sale on a few websites and craigslist. I got many responses about what a beautiful bike it was but no serious offers or even any tire kickers. I didn’t ride the bike at all in 2021. I didn’t even wash it or start it up. There was a reason the B50 never sold like the Triumph Bonneville or the Norton Commando. They were simply troublesome machines. The B50's good looks and the appeal of taking it off-road probably sold thousands for BSA, but once the owner experienced oil leakage and a gearbox with a mind of its own, that appeal quickly faded. I had other bikes to ride and a newly restored Honda CB750 that was taking my time and energy. In the Spring of 2022, I again gave a halfhearted effort to sell the cursed bike and listed it on a few message boards. No takers. I was stuck with this cursed bike. Any dreams of riding to a trail and then going off road had vanished like the B50s oil over the winter. Wet sumped just like my enthusiasm for the rolling turd. Maybe Dick Mann had been wrong. Of course, he never actually used the B50 in competition. He would use a B25 racer for short tracks and then the triple or twin for road races and flat tracks. He didn’t even use the B50 for TTs. I think he knew. Since the bike wasn’t going anywhere, I decided to actually try and ride it. My phone was charged just in case I had to call the wife to come get me. Which she loves by the way. After replacing the battery andchanging the exhaust for the third time it was time for a ride. At first it felt all wrong. I wasn’t used to shifting on the right and braking on the left. The carb slide was set too low, and the bike wouldn’t idle. I pulled into a parking lot and set the idle and air mixture. Then I set off for a ride in the country. The goal was to try and get lost.
The curse reversed: The B50 after the first ride without anything going wrong in the Summer of 2022. [Scott Rook]

It worked, kind of. I still would get a false neutral once in a while, but I think it was down to the shift lever not being in the ideal position and not getting a good purchase on the lever. The new old MCM Spark Arrestor sounded great, but it would pop and sometimes really POP on deceleration. Probably an exhaust leak. The bike ran great after about 15 minutes of me panicking that I would downshift rather than brake. There were no flat tires, it ran great below 2,000 rpm, and the rear rim is in one piece as far as I know. There are still some things to be done. When I got home there was a noticeable oil leak which is down to the frame being overfilled. I added oil after it wet sumped. My mistake. And the exhaust has to be sealed. I think the cursed bike might actually not be cursed anymore. I didn’t manage to actually get lost, but I rode some roads that I had never been on before. This bike needs further miles. Remember all restorations are only finished after they have been tuned and all the issues worked out. This bike took 4 years after its restoration before it was actually finished. It might not be, but it kind of feels like it for now. I might make Dick Mann proud yet and finally ride to one of those trails that don’t really exist in my part of the world (unless you trespass on county land). The Hammer may still live up to its name and thump once more.

Scott Rook started riding motor cycles at the age of 15 in 1989. He traded some baseball and football cards for a beat up 1976 CB750 and has been hooked ever since. He's a history teacher and father to 3 teenagers in his non-motorcycle life.

Sinclair C5 - the Personal Electric Vehicle

The concept of 'personal electric mobility' has been around for almost 150 years.  In fact, the very first patent for a motorcycle (1871) specified an electric motor, from an era when both motors and the batteries to power them had to be built by hand, and were hardly reliable. Give a read to our History of Electric Motorcycles article for some background.  While the legacy of electric vehicles in mass transport and industrial use is a century of success (think electric buses, trollies, trains, forklifts, etc), the mass-production of personal electric vehicles has a far spottier and more problematic story.  Only in the past ten years has the electric vehicle become truly popular for personal use, but that doesn't mean clever folks haven't tried.

The original electric trike...which was the first known electric vehicle. Gustave Trouvé’s 1881 electric tricycle, the first electric vehicle demonstrated to the world, on April 19th, using a Starley tricycle with Trouvé’s own batteries and electric motor attached. The future had arrived. [from Physique et Chimie Popularies, Vol. 2: 1881-83 (Alexix Clerc, 1883)]
One such forward-thinking fellow was Sir Clive Sinclair, who gained fame as a personal computing pioneer in the 1960s and '70s.  Since his teenage years Sinclair had pondered small, inexpensive electric personal vehicles, while he built up a reputation as an electronics genius, and developed the first 'slimline' pocket calculators.  The automobile seemed to him extremely wasteful and expensive for 90% of its daily uses - local transport, errands, short pleasure trips.  Sinclair had a clever knack for using very cheap electronic components for new purposes, by altering how their power was supplied or creatively masking printed circuit boards to greatly improve their performance.  His company, Sinclair Radionics, was thus never a manufacturer per se, but used bought-in components to create new designs.  Reliance on outside contractors led to supply problems after Sinclair's products grew wildly popular (as with his wristwatch calculator of 1977).  Quality control was difficult with mass-produced, inexpensive componentry, and Sinclair soon developed a 'no questions asked' replacement none needed to be asked. Sill, Sinclair-designed electronic devices gained a reputation for tremendous innovation, and he was knighted in 1985 for his contributions to British industry.

Sir Clive Sinclair: visionary computer pioneer, EV pioneer, inventor of the flat screen TV, and more. [BBC]
The success of his electronics company kept development of Sinclair's personal transport dream on the back burner, but his company was continually testing batteries and electric motors, with Chris Curry (later founder of Acorn computers) doing the advance work.  Their first experiment in the early 1970s used a very slim electric motor installed on a stand-up scooter, that was operated by a button -  a precursor to today's wildly popular electric stand-ups.  Sinclair believed that new electric vehicles needed to be designed from the ground up, and not be adapted from ideas developed around internal-combustion engines.  His first prototype electric vehicle, the C1 of 1979, was a small electric car using existing lead-acid battery technology, with a 30-mile range and intended for a single user in urban areas, weighing 300lbs and with a modest price. Sinclair contracted Ogle Design to style the car, but was concerned that their efforts were too focused on aerodynamics, and not enough on economy.  Development proved expensive, and in Spring of 1983 Sinclair decided to drop the C1 project.

The Sinclair C5: the most successful EV of the 1980s, and most-produced EV until the 2000s. It was considered a commercial failure as 'only' 14,000 were built, as opposed to anticipated demand in the hundreds of thousands. Today the C5 is highly collectible. [National Motor Museum]
Still, Sinclair's intention was to mass-produce electric vehicles, so he sold a chunk of his own stock to form a new company, Sinclair Vehicles, and hired Barrie Willis, a former Delorean executive, as Managing Director.  While the idea of an electric car was clearly ahead of its time, British legislation supported electric vehicles, with taxes abolished for EVs in 1980, and a new law in 1983 stipulating that vehicles with a top speed under 15mph could be ridden by 14-year olds, without a helmet or driver's license.  Sinclair felt he'd found a niche they could fill.

Removing half the bodywork of a C5 reveals its secret skeleton as a recumbent tricycle. The battery is clearly visible, as is the motor, which drives only one rear wheel. [Wikipedia]
Sinclair's new concept was a small, inexpensive, one-person electric 3-wheel vehicle that included 'light pedal assistance' (a nod to the origins of the motorcycle industry circa 1900).  Sinclair once again hired Ogle Design for the initial concept: their Bond Minicar trike had been a great success, so a smaller 3-wheeler seemed within their wheelhouse.  The Ogle prototype was handed over to exotic car manufacturer Lotus Cars Ltd to design the chassis and handling details.

The original press photos for the Sinclair C5 show its futuristic styling and appeal to youth. [The Vintagent Archive]
The design was still not right, so Sinclair set up a Metalab for deep-future projects, and handed its first employee, 23-year old industrial designer Gus Desbarats, to finish the project.  What the micro-vehicle had become was a futuristic mini-missile with an injection-molded plastic body that looked like a prop from Logan's Run.  The lines were sleek, with a sloping opaque screen covering the rider's knees, an integral, non-adjustable seat back, and disc-covered wheels.  The riding position was recumbent, and the rider had pedals to assist starting or when the battery went flat, and steering was controlled with handlebars beneath the rider's legs, which sounds strange but in reality was very simple, and 'the controls fell naturally to one's hands', as the old British motorcycle magazines used to say. While the body was plastic, underneath was a steel tube spine chassis, although there was no suspension.  The whole concept was for a vehicle that was cheap to produce and easy to use. Desbarats added a tall visibility flag as standard equipment, as the Sinclair C5 was so small and low to the ground, drivers simply could not see it, and there was no safety equipment or mirrors.  As Desbarats described it, his job was to "convert an ugly pointless device into a prettier, safer, and more usable pointless device".  There had been only one round of focus group testing for the design, and no safety tests or other development considerations taking into account feedback from the C5 testers/users outside Sinclair Vehicles: everything was pushed forward and paid for by Sir Clive Sinclair.

The Sinclair C5 was assembled from major components by different contractors: the plastic body by Linpac, the chassis and gearbox by Lotus, a Phillips motor, Oldham lead-acid battery, etc.  A deal was negotiated with a Hoover washing machine facility in Wales to assemble and test the C5, with production slated for 200,000 units/year.  Before the January 1985 launch of the C5, 2500 had already been built to deal with anticipated demand.

The Sinclair C5 was launched at a lavish press reception at Alexandra Palace, featuring Stirling Moss. As it was cold, most of the C5s refused to run properly, and ran out of battery very quickly.  Press testers taking the C5 out on the road were terrified when they encountered trucks, which could not see them and belched exhaust directly in their faces.  There was no weather protection, so testers froze and got wet.  In short, the launch was a disaster.  And the bad news kept coming, with magazines and newspapers expressing concern about the lack of any safety equipment, the invisibility of the C5 to many drivers, and the lack of training/licensing/helmet requirement for young riders.  The 250W electric motor was insufficient for any hill, and the battery ran flat between 6-12 miles, far below the 30-mile claimed range.

The C5 was marketed with weather protection as an extra. Stylish! [The Vintagent Archive]
All of which might have been acceptable had the C5 been marketed as a toy.  But Sir Clive was a visionary, who foresaw a total revolution in personal transportation towards EVs, and intended to be its vanguard.  Of course, the C5 was a flop, compared to its investment and anticipated sales.  It was still the most successful EV ever built, with an initial run of 5000 C5s selling in two months, including to Princes William and Harry, who fit the target demographic perfectly.  By August 1985, 14,000 C5s had been built, but Sinclair Vehicles went belly up, and remaining stocks of C5 were sold to the likes of Ellar Surplus Ltd, who paid £75 each for 9000 units.  Ellar were the smart ones, recognizing that the C5 did have a ready market as a fun vehicle: they sold every last example in stock for £700/each.  Private buyer Adam Harper bought 600 C5s still in their boxes in 1987, and sold them all in two years for £2500 each.  Their status as a cult vehicle was immediately cemented, and C5s today are highly collectable by those who appreciate their still-futuristic styling and contemporary concept.

Alan Harper with his 150mph Sinclair C5 - at one time the fastest electric vehicle in the UK. [Robot Wars Wiki]
Some have taken C5 love even further, installing more powerful batteries and motors - easy to do - for faster performance and longer range, making them perfectly suitable as daily runabouts.  Stunt driver Alan Harper modified his C5 to set a British record for any electric vehicle in 2004, hitting 150mph. The Lotus-derived handling of the C5 showed through, "Up to 100mph it's like you're running on rails, it's really stable, then at about 110 to 120mph it starts getting tricky. At that point if a tyre blew up or something happened you would be surely dead." A few brave souls have taken the concept even further, installing jet engines into their C5s for high-speed runs ... and yes there is more than one jet-powered C5 in the world. I Road Tested one in 2011 at the Avignon Motor Festival,  built by Adrian Bennet of Jet Power UK. The Air Research JFS100-13A turbojet spins at 72,000rpm, and sits just behind and below the rider, which in this case was me.  When fired up, the jet becomes a fearsome leaf blower, and makes quite a racket, which helped keep pedestrians out of my way on the crowded festival grounds.  Nobody said it was a good idea, just a necessary thing to do, when presented with the opportunity.  What was it like?  Unique!




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.

Samuel Aboagye - A Promising Update

We'll expand on this story soon, but much has happened since we installed Samuel Aboagye's Solar Scooter and Solar Taxi in our Electric Revolutionaries exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum.  The Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation sent team members Dan Green and Greg Hatton to Accra, Ghana, to make a short documentary of Sam's world, which you can see here.  Our team was invited to present the story our relationship with Sam at a design conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, by Safir Belali, who teaches at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.  Two of our team were able to participate in person - Greg Hatton and Nadia Amer - and Paul d'Orléans participated by Zoom.  We shared our film of Samuel, and discussed our developing relationship with him, and were then joined by Samuel himself by Zoom, who answered questions from the professional designers and students in attendance.  It turned out to be quite a moving presentation, as Samuel has basically has nothing and lives in a very poor community, but created something amazing solely from his ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Samuel Aboagye in Accra, Ghana, with his Solar Taxi and Solar Scooter [Efo Selasi]
There were several results of that conference: Samuel was awarded a one-year design scholarship at the Art Center, and was given the promise of professional mentorship to assist him through his educational process.  Both Safir Belali and Greg Hatton have provided weekly work sessions with Samuel, who is progressing well in his studies.  As an extra treat, the M.A.F. sent Samuel with his friend, YouTube producer Efo Selasi, to Marrakech for a follow-on design conference.  It was the first time Samuel had traveled outside of his home in Accra, and it truly blew his mind and expanded his boundaries. Samuel is now progressing in his studies, and we will continue to work with him, exploring how the M.A.F. can expand our educational project with the experience we've gained in this incredibly rewarding process.

Dan Green and Greg Hatton at the Petersen Museum in early 2023 for the Electric Revolutionaries exhibit, before picking up Samuel's vehicles in Accra. [Paul d'Orléans]
To bring Samuel's two vehicles back to the USA, Dan Green had to dismantle both, taking careful notes on their construction - they were not intended to be dismantlable! The two vehicles were carried back as hand luggage - it was the same price to send two filmmakers to Accra as to ship the two vehicles via DHL!
[Dan Green]
The Solar Taxi fully dismantled in Accra. [Greg Hatton]
The Solar Scooter 'kit' as returned to the USA, in the Vault of the Petersen Museum. [Dan Green]
A collection of images from the Creative Offsite Marrakesh event in February 2023, organized by Safir Belali. [Safir Belali, Greg Hatton]

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.


Albert Menasco: Pirate of the Sky

If you were asked to define a swashbuckling life, what would that include?  How about motorcycle racing, wing-walking, car racing, working an international carnival circuit, piloting experimental planes, and manufacturing the winningest aero racing engines of the 1930s?  There’s only one man with such a resumé: Albert Menasco.  And yet, I’d never heard of him until Dr. Robin Tuluie (see our article 'Actually it IS Rocket Science') introduced me to the name via the 1928-ish aero-engine race car he’d built using a Menasco engine, but more on that anon. Curiosity about Menasco revealed he was a quintessentially adventurous American in the ‘Teens, a motor-showman when a cocktail of unbridled enthusiasm, innocence and technical know-how would typically end with you famous, dead, or famously dead.   Menasco somehow walked the middle way, and ended as neither, while his legacy and impact continue to this day, nearly unheralded.

Albert Menasco at age 15, on his 1912 ride from LA to San Francisco with his 1911 American: a single-cylinder F-head with 550cc and direct belt drive - a very rare machine, as the brand was only in business 1911-14. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
Menasco started life as a truant and a rascal. Born in Los Angeles on 17 March 1897, his early life was troubled: he suffered a gunshot wound to his stomach while very young, and his mother was dead by age 5. His father generously responded to this trauma by sending Albert to an orphanage, where he was soon noted for his resistance to authority and dedicated truancy, doing his best to avoid elementary school altogether.  His father reeled him in after six years, to which Albert responded by running away, landing him a stint in Juvenile Hall in 1908. The following year his older brother Milton took him in, and in 1910 Albert entered Manual Arts High School, as he was already showing signs of mechanical aptitude.

A photographic composite of the various aircraft attending the first air meet in the USA, the 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet held at Dominguez Field in LA. [The Vintagent Archive]
Albert grew obsessed with aviation just in time for first great air show in the USA , held right in LA: the 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet. The L.A. meet was among the earliest air shows in the world, and included luminaries like Glenn H. Curtiss, Louis Paulhan, and Lincoln Beachy, who flew a dirigible but would shortly become the most famous aviator in the USA. The Wright brothers did not attend, but their lawyers did, attempting to enforce their wing-warping patent (a primitive form of aileron), and Paulhan in particular paid dearly for his attendance, in court. Albert Menasco insinuated himself as a tool boy for the flyers. In 1912 took a job as machinist at L.A. truck manufacturer F.L.Moore, while finishing his education with night classes.

Lincoln Beachy and his one-man dirigible at the 1910 air meet. The airship is powered by a Curtiss V-twin motor, and the attitude of the airship is altered by the 'pilot' moving forward and back on the railings slung beneath, while the rudder changes the direction. Brave man! The fate of Albert Menasco would be tied to Beachy's in 5 years... [The Vintagent Archive]
Menasco’s inclinations turned to motorcycles that year. His first machine was the rare ‘American’ brand, a typically Edwardian single-cylinder, single-speed machine with an inlet-over-exhaust motor and a belt drive. Menasco rode this simple machine from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 1912. Not having the benefit of Roman conquest, there were no highways in the wilds of California at the time: what paths existed were for horses. For a 15-year old to ride a single-speed, clutchless 4hp motorcycle for 900 miles (assuming he made a round trip), over a trackless wilderness, and succeed, speaks volumes about both his grit and mechanical ability.

Menasco with his American motorcycle, converted for racing with an OHV top end (probably from a Pope), retaining the frame and forks but adding dropped racing handlebars. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
Menasco opened a mechanic’s shop by age 16, and leaped into motorcycle racing.  He appears in 1913/14 on a home-made dirt track racer with a Pope overhead-valve cylinder head and sprung front forks cannibalized from his American.  The thrill of racing enticed him, but no mention of Menasco appeared in the winner’s lists. By 1914 he seems to have joined in the short-lived California craze of Baby Car racing. These were miniature racing cars powered by single- and twin-cylinder motorcycle engines, presented as shrunken replicas of famous Grand Prix cars of the era. Their light construction and powerful engines made them capable of terrific speeds for the era, at relatively low cost. The first Baby Car races were held in Los Angeles at the Ascot Park and Culver City tracks, there was even a Junior Car Championship that year.  And it was Baby Car racing that connected Albert Menasco with a spectacular young pilot by the name of ‘Bird Boy’ Art Smith.

'An embryo aviator'.  The young Albert Menasco circa 1915, when Art Smith taught him how to fly. Here he sits the replica Curtiss pusher aircraft that Art Smith built using a Curtiss V8 OHV motor, of the type Curtiss famously rode at Ormond/Daytona beach to a (reputed) 136mph in 1906. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
Art Smith was born in 1890 in Ft Wayne Indiana, and was a born daredevil and showman. He built a tall wooden ramp in his backyard that led to a large jump over which Smith flew…on roller skates.  ‘Jumping the gap’ was an Evel Knievel stunt on very small wheels, and carnivals sought him out with offers of good pay, but his parents did not approve the ‘carny’ life.  Smith was also fascinated with aviation, amassing a library of extant literature and building three functional scale model airplanes. Amazingly, 19-year old Art convinced his parents to mortgage their home (for $1800) so he could build an airplane.  His pattern was Glenn Curtiss’ ‘Gold Bug’ pusher biplane, and Smith bought a Curtiss A4 air-cooled inline four to power it.  Smith’s cabinetmaker father, despite failing eyesight, made the plane’s wooden struts, while his mother sewed up the fabric skin. When it was finished, Smith hopped in and flew the thing, but crashed due to an imbalance in the layout.   He rebuilt his plane along the lines of Lincoln Beachy’s ‘headless’ Curtiss, the first plane modified for aerobatics.  Lincoln Beachy was the most famous pilot in the USA, earning a significant income from flying demonstrations and daredevilry, which was Smith’s goal.

The finale of Art Smith's run of demonstration stunt flights at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE) in 1915, with flares attached to his wingtips, making one heck of a sight in the night sky above the temporary city in San Francisco. [The Vintagent Archive]
In 1915, all roads led to the Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) in San Francisco. It was to be the grandest World’s Fair yet, with a glamorous Beaux Arts ‘jewel city’ constructed atop 635 acres of former beachfront. The PPIE included evening light shows, car races, airplane tricks by Lincoln Beachy, a sprawling fun fair called the Zone, and enormous halls displaying the latest in industry and culture.  Beachy demonstrated the scale of the Hall of Machinery by taking off, flying and landing within it, the first indoor flight.  The automobile racing included both a Vanderbilt Cup and a Grand Prize, with supporting races by Baby Cars for the Junior Vanderbilt and GP.  Art Smith commissioned the San Francisco Harley-Davidson dealer Dudley Perkins to build him a fleet of five cars, each with different bodywork that mimicked the Mercedes, Peugeot, Fiat, Stutz, and Marmon racers then dominating the GP circuit.  Each car cost $400, and was powered by a Harley-Davidson J-series V-twin motor. The cars were capable of over 60mph, which given their diminutive scale, probably felt like rocketry to drivers and audiences alike. Albert Menasco both raced and maintained Smith’s cars.

The Baby Car craze at the PPIE: Art Smith drives, while Al Menasco wrenches. Five cars were built to special order by San Francisco Harley-Davidson dealer Dudley Perkins, powered by J-series V-twins: each car body mimicked the most famous GP racers of the day, in miniature. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
Our heroes’ fortunes changed three weeks after the opening of the PPIE, when Lincoln Beachy surpassed the wing-load of his monoplane during a dive and plunged directly into San Francisco Bay. He survived the crash but drowned anyway in the time it took to extract him from the water.  So, sans Beachey, the PPIE was left without its star attraction, until someone remembered that Art Smith, already famous as a stunt pilot, was on hand with his Baby Cars.  Whether Smith already had his plane in San Francisco isn’t noted, but he was soon wowing crowds day and night with his biplane, which had been upgraded with a 90hp Curtiss OX water-cooled V-8. Smith’s star rose dramatically at the PPIE, thrilling 18 million attendees with stunning loops, spins, and low flyovers, plus night flights with magnesium flares on his wingtips, accompanied by the colored searchlights of the Rainbow Scintillator (see our article here).

Art Smith's Baby Car équipe, with car bodies mimicking famous GP racers of the day. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
News of Smith’s prowess circled the globe leading to an invitation from Emperor Yoshihito of Japan for an Imperial audience in 1916.  This opportunity metastasized into a months-long tour of Japan, Korea, and China. Their show had an enormous impact, and their daily audience was at times 200,000 or more. Tokyo author Tayama Katai wrote in 1917: “When Smith came, and looped the loop despite the awfully windy conditions, the whole metropolis gasped in wonder. I was watching from the gate at the back of the garden. I never believed he’d be able to do anything, because of the wind. But just then the stormy sky was filled with a frightful droning. The aeroplane appeared way up high, looking so very small and leaving a trail of wispy blue smoke. ‘He’s good all right!’ I thought to myself, and just at that moment he suddenly put the aeroplane through two or three large loops and then flew right up high again. I found myself applauding.” One such gaping youth was Soichiro Honda, who stole his father’s bicycle and rode 20 miles to catch Smith’s Tokyo exhibition. He could not afford entry to the show, so watched from a tree, and in his autobiography credited Smith with igniting his passion for engineering and mechanics.

Details of the Baby Car construction: a pair of wooden frame rails supporting a Harley-Davidson J motor with full-race Schebler carburetor, minimal steering gear, and no suspension, with a two-speed chain drive via twin chains, a sliding dog engagement, and a clutch. Simple and no doubt very quick. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
Albert Menasco had become, despite his parents’ wishes, a full-fledge ‘carny’ in the most spectacular traveling motor show on earth. Menasco’s notes give little impression of the joys and difficulties they encountered, but others on the same circuit put pen to hand: I highly recommend Carl Leon Terrell’s 1946 epic ‘Seven Naked Women in a Tokyo Jail’, recounting his 1920s Asian tour on a near-identical route. Terrell’s game was a Wall of Death motordrome, but his famously beautiful ‘fat lady’ wife proved the most popular attraction of all.

The end of the tour: Art Smith crashed his plane in Japan and broke a leg, without further injury except for his destroyed plane.  Note the Curtiss V8 watercooled motor. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
Despite Smith ending their 1916 tour with a flourish, crashing the plane and breaking a leg, the team did it all over again in 1917. Menasco had spent enough time under Smith’s wing to become a pilot himself, and even tested a lovely Morane-Saulnier Model H in Japan.  The disaster ending their tour this time was in Europe, and in April 1917 Menasco and Smith went home to be military pilots, but were roundly rejected by the US Navy, Army Signal Corps, and even Canadian Royal Flying Corps. Menasco had a perforated eardrum, and Smith, possibly the finest living aviator, was sub-height at only 5’ 3”!  Smith ended up training pilots, while Menasco became a civilian aeronautical engineer, testing engines and training young mechanics.

The Morane-Saulnier Model H monoplane that replaced the Curtiss replica: the latest thing with wings! [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
After WW1, Smith became one of the original US Post Office airmail pilots. He met his end not performing a loop or a falling-leaf spin, but on a mail run in 1926. Menasco had returned to California after the war, taking a variety of jobs, but was pushed back into aviation after Smith’s death when he was tasked with selling the estate.  That included 250 Salmson Z-9 watercooled 230hp radials, rendered instantly obsolete by the end of the war.  Menasco felt he could upgrade the motors and sell them, so took on a financial partner, and marketed the improved Menasco-Salmson B2. He sold fifty, but in 1928 the new Approved Type Certificate (ATC) for aircraft engines required 50 hours of continuous running, and after wrecking five B2 engines, Menasco pulled them from the market.

The Menasco Motors display stand at an aero show in the early 1930s, with the all-conquering Menasco Pirate engine on display. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
The end of the B2 was the start of Menasco Motors, as Albert designed a new series of engines with an unusual inverted four-cylinder layout. The first Menasco Pirate motor (the 90hp A4) was running by 1929, and after his B2 testing fiasco, Albert would not submit his engines for ATC approval until they showed 125% of rated power for 100 hours.  Adhering to this standard, Menasco Motors sailed through seven successful ATC applications for their inverted motors, which was unprecedented.  The factory also built supercharged engines for racing, which proved to be giant-killers, and among the most successful aero racing engines of the 1930s. Still, Menasco Motors struggled through the Depression, losing money every year until 1941, when military contracts began.  They didn’t want Menasco’s motors, only their sophisticated machine shop to build hydraulic landing gear for P-38 Lightnings and other fighters. The factory eventually built 80,000 landing gear sets during the war, and carried on building them for commercial airliners afterwards. Albert Menasco retreated from management of his business in 1938, finding the constant struggle for cash too stressful, but was still alive to watch the Space Shuttle touch earth on Menasco landing gear.

Dr. Robin Tuluie, 3-time Daytona winner on home-made motorcycles, 4-time World Grand Prix Championship chassis designer, here competing in his 'hobby' car, the Menasco Pirate, named for its aero engine. [VSCC]
The most popular Menasco aero engine was the C4 Pirate with 5.9L and 125hp. That’s what Dr. Robin Tuluie found in San Diego when searching out a suitable aero engine for his vintage race car, built around a 1928 Riley chassis: as Menasco built prototypes of the C4 motor in 1928, it seemed a perfect match. The C4 has proven to be as effective a racing motor on wheels as on wings, with Tuluie garnering race wins with his home-built car, called, naturally, the Menasco Pirate.  A fitting tribute to a remarkable fellow.

What Soichiro Honda saw: the first experience of many Japanese seeing an aircraft in flight on home soil. The show that launched a motoring career! [The Vintagent Archive]
Taking a break after packing up their traveling show: 'Val, Vic, Al, & Art.' [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
1915 might as well have been 1815, or 1715. Native dress in Korea, during the extensive Asia tour of Art Smith's carnival. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
Loading up a Baby Car aboard one of the many ships used to circulate Asia before WW1 broke out. Note twin chains for 2-speed drive, and no differential for maximum sliding fun. [San Diego Air & Space Museum]
Cruising the dirt lanes of Tokyo in a trio of racing cars, which is how they traveled from town to town! [San Diego Air & Space Museum]

[This article originally appeared in The Automobile magazine, the July 2021 edition.  Special thanks to the San Diego Air & Space Museum for permission to dig into the Albert Menasco archives, and reproduce many of the remarkable photos used here.]

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.


Top 10 at the John Parham Estate Auction

September 6-9 at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa

From original-paint to original thinking, there's an amazing diversity of machinery available at the John Parham Estate Auction, hosted by Mecum. It was a tough decision to close the National Motorcycle Museum, but with the death of its primary benefactor a few years ago, it was always going to be a money loser, so the decision was purely practical.  It's sad to lose such an amazing collection in one spot, but on the upside, it makes for an exciting opportunity for folks to find some unique motorcycles.  You can bid online, but it's definitely preferable to show up and see the museum one last time, and catch the energy of the auction, which is always fun.  There are hundreds of bikes and even more hundreds of lots of automobilia - posters, engines, photos, and a bunch of cool antique toys.  Have a look at the Mecum John Parham Estate Auction page here.  And now, my faves from the Museum:

  1. 1965 Gelbke Roadog.

It's long and might be wrong, but there's only one RoaDog, and you can buy it if you're brave! 'Wild Bill' Gelbke sits his machine in the famous poster. [Mecum]
'Wild Bill' Gelbke's outrageous masterpiece has graced a thousand garages, but only in poster form, sans explanation.  The Roadog is inspired madness built by an actual aeronautical engineer as an 'ideal touring bike'.  Remember the competition in the early 1960s when he dreamed up this monster: a Harley-Davidson Panhead, or a BMW R60/3.  Four-cylinder touring machines had most recently been produced in 1941 with the last of the Indian Fours, so if you wanted something car-like, you had to build it yourself.  So Gelbke did just that, using a GM 151 Iron Duke four-cylinder engine and its PowerGlide autobox, with a shaft final drive.  Gelbke built his own chassis from lightweight chromoly tubing, and seemed unconcerned with the scale of his invention, which is 17' long and weighs an estimated 3300lbs.  The front forks are a unit trailing-link design, similar to a 1950s FN, but huge, and using four automotive shocks for suspension: the rear wheel is held in a swingarm, also with four shocks.  The rider (and passenger) sit very low over the rear of the transmission on a pair of Harley-Davidson solo saddles, with the automotive fuel tank perched behind the passenger. There's even a spare wheel in case you get a flat...which is easily attended to with the four hydraulic stands that assist with parking.

RoaDog in the metal, looking fresh and ready to roll another 20,000 miles. [Mecum]
Apparently Wild Bill clocked 20,000 miles in his first RoaDog year, and refined his thoughts with his 1972 Auto Four (also for sale at Mecum), which he intended to mass produce, as well as the Grasshopper, with a Corvair motor.  Wild Bill never got the chance though...he'd been making a living as a trucker after falling out with his bosses at McDonnell-Douglas, and police suspected he was hauling marijuana instead of vegetables. In winter 1978, 12 officers surrounded his home, demanding he come out: Gelbke tossed his gun out to surrender, but when one officer slipped on ice, they assumed he'd been shot, and opened fire.  When the smoke cleared, they took the uninjured officer to the hospital, and left Wild Bill to bleed out in the dirt. He was 40 years old.  You can't buy stories like that, but you can buy the RoaDog. (Estimate $50-60k)

2. 1911 Steco Engineering Co. Aerohydroplane

The oldest airplane in the USA still in original condition: the 1911 Steco seaplane. [Smithsonian Air & Space Museum]
From the ridiculous to the sublime, this 1911 Steco seaplane dominates the Innovation wing of the National Motorcycle Museum, and is a remarkably elegant pioneer aircraft.  It's also claimed to be the oldest aircraft in the USA in original condition, and is an important piece of history that deserves a good home.  To put this plane in context: Glenn H. Curtiss built the first truly functional aircraft in 1908 - the June Bug - which won the Scientific American trophy that June for an aircraft that could take off, fly in a circle, and land where it began.  The Wright brothers plane, by contrast, was a powered glider, launched using a giant rubber band, and could not turn a circle.  Curtiss was also the first to build a successful seaplane that could take off and land in water in January 1911...thus this Steco is about as early a non-Curtiss seaplane as exists anywhere, and no Curtiss of this era is original.

That one-of-two in the world Gnome et Rhone 7-cylinder radial is a work of art. The rest of the plane is as delicate as a butterfly's wing. [Mecum]
The Steco Engineering Co. was founded by James S. Stephens, a mechanical superintendent of the Milwaukee Railroad and an engineering consultant for Hamm's Brewing Company. Stephens and his son Ralph founded Steco Engineering Co., building prototype planes and cars.  The Steco Aerohydroplane was built around a 1909 Gnome Omega 487ci (7980cc) 7-cylinder rotary engine, purported to be 1 of 38 of this style made, and 1 of 2 thought to exist: the engine was rebuilt by Fred Murrin of Greenville PA. The seaplane has a 42' upper and 36' lower wingspan, is 31' long, and weighs a feathery 1,320lbs.  If I had the room, I'd love to stare at this exquisite piece of flying machinery while I drink my coffee, but someone with a bigger warehouse than mine will have to do that.  (No estimate, but no reserve).  Also, check out the Steco car also on auction.

3. 1906 Curtiss V-twin

The man himself, Glenn H. Curtiss, American badass, who just clocked a mile record at Ormond/Daytona Beach FL in 1907 at 77.58mph. This is a postcard he sent his wife. [Smithsonian Archives]
Speaking of planes...the last time a Curtiss motorcycle came to auction was in 2009, and I was there (read the story here).  Curtiss motorcycles are unicorn rare, and the man who invented the American V-twin is rightly revered for his exceptional motorcycles.  In their day, Curtiss single- and twin-cylinder motorcycles were the fastest motorcycles around, taking speed records and winning races, mostly because Curtiss himself was known as 'Hell Rider' in his native Hammondsport NY, as he liked to ride fast, and built bikes that worked.  He cut his teeth racing bicycles in the 1890s, and opening a bicycle shop in 1900.  He bought his first motorcycle engine in 1901, a Thomas Auto-Bi, and thought it pure junk: the castings were unfinished, there was no carburetor, and no instructions.  He got it to work, then designed his own engine that same year.  The Curtiss motorcycle company was born.  His first single-cylinder models used all ball bearings inside, making them far more robust with the limited oiling systems of the day, and by 1903 he doubled up his design to create the first V-twin in the USA.   These early models used a single speed belt drive, using Curtiss' own non-slip belt design.

Rare as all getout, a genuine 1906 Curtiss V-twin. The coolest and fastest motorcycle in the world at that date. [Mecum]
That first Curtiss V-twin immediately made its mark, beating both Charles Gustafson and Oscar Hedstrom on their Indians at the NYMC's Riverdale Hillclimb, and lopping 4.4 seconds off their best time.  He then rode his bike to Yonkers for a National Cycle Association race, where he set a world speed record, completing a mile in 56.4seconds (63.8mph).  Beating the industry's best then setting a world record in another town on the same with a new design of engine made Curtiss instantly famous. He set his first world record at Daytona/Ormond Beach Florida in 1904 on his V-twin, recording 10miles at 67.4mph, a record that stood seven years.  The 136mph speed of his famous one-way run on a V-8 powered contraption in 1908 is disputed, but was an example of his ingenuity and bravery.  He was already selling engines to the nascent aircraft industry, and when he became the first pilot to take off, circle, and land in the same place in 1908, his future in aviation was sealed, and he devoted less time to motorcycles, leaving his two-wheeled business in the hands of others by 1910.  But, Curtiss' early legacy with motorcycles stands as one of the most important pioneering brands in the USA, with certainly the most romantic of characters at its helm.  This 1906 Curtiss is extremely rare, and the original American V-twin.

4. Indian Quarter Midget Racer

As cool as they come, this Indian-powered Quarter Midget racer is totally hand-fabricated, and likely from the 1930s revival of Baby Car racing in LA. [Mecum]
The only reason I'm telling you about this amazing little car is I don't want to get the inevitable divorce if I displayed it my living room. This is the coolest four wheeler in the National Motorcycle Museum collection, and that's saying something; there are two other motorcycle-powered quarter midget racers, a Harley-powered prop-driven ice sled, and five motorcycle-engined mini-cars, all of which, right?  The body of this little racer is all hand-beaten alloy, with a unique drilled-out grille, and a svelte monoposto body with a tapered tail.  The dash panel is engine-turned with two gauges, and the steering wheel is a minimal steel arc.  The engine is a pre-1915 IoE Indian Big Twin, with 1000cc, that could be tuned to reach near 100mph in a motorcycle.  The chassis is welded up from square-tube steel, with presumably a very simple rear suspension (note the oval axle slots in the bodywork) and a solid axle with no differential (and chain drive?), while the front end has steering by rod and simple wrapped leaf-spring suspension on the solid axle.   The wheels are simple steel solids.  Nothing is known of the racing history of this machine, the bodywork and engine of this remarkable vehicle, and the history of Quarter Midget / Baby Car racing suggest this machine was built during the 1930s revival of the sport.

The glory days of Midget racing in the 1930s, when the cars looked like mini-Indycars. This 1936 shot is from opening day at Aurora Speed Bowl in SoCal. [Betty Lou Gaeng]
This history of Quarter Midgets goes back to the 'Teens, with Baby Car racing. These were replicas of famous Grand Prix racers of the era, powered by motorcycle engines of single- and V-twin configuration, and were used in demonstration racing to support races for larger cars, or as part of a traveling carnival.  The first Baby Car races were held in the Los Angeles area at the Ascot Park and Culver City tracks ca.1914. The new sport took a very public turn at the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 (the PPIE - read our 'Racing Around the Rainbow Scintillator' article here), where an automobile race track 3.85miles was constructed in what would become the Marina District, and into the Presidio military base.  PPIE racing included both a Vanderbilt Cup and a Grand Prize race, with supporting races by teams of Baby Cars for the Junior Vanderbilt and GP.  Aviator Art Smith commissioned the San Francisco Harley-Davidson dealer Dudley Perkins to build him a fleet of five cars, each with different bodywork that mimicked the Mercedes, Peugeot, Fiat, Stutz, and Marmon racers then vying for dominance on the GP circuit. Each car cost him $400, and was powered by a Harley-Davidson J-series V-twin motor, using a chain drive to each rear wheel and giving two speed: the cars were capable of over 60mph.  Midget car and Quarter Midget racing reared its head in SoCal again in the 1930s, withe first organized Midget race taking place in 1933 at Hughes Stadium in Los Angeles. It was such a success that Gilmore Stadium was built in 1934 as the first venue constructed solely for Midget Racing, which was open through 1950.  Quarter Midget racing grew alongside Midget racing, and continues to this day.

5. 1966 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide 'Willie's Latin Thing'

Everything you could ever want on your motorcycle, plus pink. I mean, this thing is amazing. [Mecum]
It's a first-year Harley-Davidson Shovelhead, and Willie's amazing vision.  When you ride with ‘Willie’s Latin Thing,’  you ride with Jesus, a whole lot of chrome, and an awesome pink shotgun metalflake paintjob. Naming all the customized parts added to this FLH Electra Glide would take pages, so feast your eyes on the chromed single-, double-, and triple-pitch chains used as décor, as well as multiple extra lights, horns (in matching pink), bags, and baubles. Many of the chromed pieces are modified Harley-Davidson accessories, like the front fender guards and Hollywood trim, the crash bars, saddlebags, top box, windscreen, spotlamps, and seat rail, but all of them have been personalized with extra chromed trim parts, typically welded-on chain.  Willie’s Latin thing is a glorious eyeful, and a rare machine, being a first-year FLH Shovelhead.

The chopper guys called them 'garbage wagons', but full-dress, customized Harley-Davidsons were an impressive way to express individuality in a repressive era. [The Vintagent Archive]
In 1965 Harley-Davidson introduced the Electra Glide, a Panhead FL with an electric starter, and thus began one of the most evocative names in motorcycle history.  With it, the Motor Co entered the fray with Japanese brands that had come standard with reliable electric starters since the late 1950s.  While no Japanese manufacturer built a motorcycle as large or as useful for touring in 1965, it did settle an important matter for consumers, who had come to expect increasing ease of use with their motorcycles.  A new generation that grew up learning to ride Hondas was disinclined to kickstart a 1200cc high-compression V-twin: eventually the kickstarter on the FL became vestigial, then disappeared entirely. The Electra Glide was a modern machine with no peers, bigger and stronger than any touring motorcycle on the market, a niche Harley-Davidson owned for a generation.   Willie’s Latin Thing shows how much riders loved to personalize their motorcycles, then as now, and is a truly remarkable motorcycle.

6. 1927 Brough Superior SS100 Pendine replica

A real stunner, and a part replica of one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever made, a 1927 Brough Superior SS100 Pendine. [Mecum]
One of the star motorcycles in the National Motorcycle Museum, this stunning 1927 Brough Superior Pendine replica is among the finest examples of the model in the world.  Built from a mix of old (forks, gearbox, wheels, and possibly the frame) and new (engine, fuel tank, fenders, etc) components, the complete machine was masterfully assembled with period-correct components to a standard that is rarely achieved by restorers of machines with full factory provenance.  The Brough Superior collector community has a well-established relationship with replica and semi-replica machines, as demand for early SS100s has long exceeded the supply of complete machines, and after nearly 100 years many engines without frames and vice-versa can be found scattered around the world.  The BS Owner’s Club recognizes and identifies such machines, with an understanding that a superb replica has significant value, especially when identified as such: in other words, they have their place in the Brough Superior community. The Pendine is the most desirable of all Brough Superior models, being the full-race version of the fastest production motorcycle in the world of the 1920s, the SS100, with each machine guaranteed to have been tested at the Brooklands autodrome at over 100mph, an enormous speed in 1924.  Factory-modified SS100s held the absolute World Speed Record many times in the 1920s and 30s, and road-going models were the most expensive motorcycles in the world as well, with the price of any Brough Superior model equal to or exceeding the price of a house in England at the time.  Despite their specification with a full-race J.A.P. KTOR or JTOR motor, the SS100 was a luxury motorcycle, built to the highest standards, with internal parts bought in to George Brough’s specifications.  These were not ‘parts bin specials’: all Brough Superior Sturmey-Archer gearboxes used special steels and bearings that were more expensive than other makes used, and their J.A.P. motors used knife-and-fork connecting rods and special steel shafts not available to other manufacturers.  The net result was a motorcycle that was not merely faster than anything else, but more durable and reliable as well, as their internal parts were simply stronger.  George Brough had a very close relationship with his suppliers, such as Bert LeVack, development director at J.A.P. in the 1920s, who often raced Brough Superiors himself.

Brough Superior racers were often all-nickel plated for show, and to show any cracks in the metal. [The Vintagent Archive]
The Pendine model is named after Pendine Sands in Wales, a beach with a dramatic tidal exposure, making it possible for several hours each day to make high-speed runs for miles on wet sand.  Circuit races were also held on Pendine, and George Brough claimed the name for his racing model after many race wins there, much like LeMans, Daytona or Bonneville became motorcycle names in later decades.  The 1927 Brough Superior catalog explained, “Every SS100 Pending model is guaranteed to have been timed to exceed 110mph before delivery to the customer.”  No other motorcycle in the world could even approach such a speed in 1927, let alone one that was fully street legal, as lights were not yet required on motorcycles… and several Pendines were ordered with lights anyway, as who doesn’t want to be seen on the world’s fastest motorcycle?  The following year George Brough himself proved his point by recording 130.6mph on a factory Pendine at the Arpajon straight near Monthléry, making him the fastest motorcyclist in the world, on the fastest bike anywhere. The specification on this 1927 Pendine is comprehensive: a highly tuned J.A.P. KTOR 998cc motor, fed by a Lucas racing magneto and breathing through a twin-float Binks carburetor, and exiting through twin ‘carbjectors’, the free-flowing mufflers Brough invented. The 8” brakes are Enfield, the forks are leaking link Castle, and the sheet metal is entirely nickel-plated and has acquired the perfect patina.  This is an achingly beautiful motorcycle, and the Pendine has long sat atop any list of world’s best motorcycle designs, with George Brough hailed as a master stylist on par with the likes of Edward Turner (Triumph) and Pierre Terreblanche (Ducati, Bimota) as the greatest motorcycle designers in history.  Brough rode and raced what he built, winning dozens of sprints and trials, and personally taking the World’s Fastest title.  How does a Pendine hold up today?  I rode a 1925 SS100 replica across the USA in the 2018 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally, regularly passed other competitors at 90mph: the SS100 made all 3600+ miles on the rally, and was by far the fastest machine.  Superior indeed.

7. 1956 Rumi Formichino Scooter

The 1956 Rumi Formichino has amazing specs - all aluminum everything, case and extruded and forged. The coolest scooter ever made. [Mecum]
The mighty Ant!  Rumi was a small Italian motorcycle manufacturer known for their laid-down twin-cylinder two-stroke, built to the highest standards, with a reputation for excellence and a proven track record of racing wins. Officine Fonderie Rumi was founded by Donnino Rumi in 1914 to build textile manufacturing machinery, servicing Italy's burgeoning fashion industry.  Rumi switched gears during WW2, as demand from the Italian military for precision machinery found them building midget two-man submarines and torpedos for the war effort: this gave rise to the company’s distinctive ‘anchor’ logo. Immediately after WW2, Rumi survived by taking general engineering work, and quickly chose to build motorcycles using the manufacturing skills they’d developed. In 1949 Rumi unveiled a parallel-twin two-stroke motor of 125cc, with a 180degree crankshaft, unit-construction crankcases, and a 4-speed gearbox. The original Rumis used cast-iron cylinder barrels, while their frames had plunger rear suspension with undamped telescopic forks up front, and wheels with full-width aluminum hubs. The engine was slung beneath the frame tubes, and held at two points, and the chassis handled very well, while the engine produced enough power for the factory to make its mark in competition. Rumi won the Liége-Milano-Liége long distance race in 1954, and took the first eight places in the 1954 Swiss GP. They also won the ISDT Team Prize in 1954 with 3 Gold medals, and many more long-distance races, enduros, and Grands Prix.

The mighty ant kicking ass in the Bol d'Or in the 1950s: sorry Vespa and Lambretta, you were outclassed. [The Vintagent Archive]
In 1952 Rumi introduced the ultimate scooter, the Formichino (little ant) with a cast-aluminum frame, bodywork, handlebars, and wheel rims - an outrageous and unique spec for a scooter, or any two-wheeled vehicle. The Formichino is perhaps the most distinctive and collectable of all scooters, for its unique design, good looks, and excellent performance: being a Rumi, a Formichino won its class in the 24-hour Bol d’Or race for three years in succession in the 1950s!   The National Motorcycle Museum has a lot more scooters to choose from - American, European, and Japanese - but the Formichino is my favorite as it's so rare and so cool.

8. 'Dragon Bike' from The Wild Angels

The Dragon Bike from the 1966 film 'The Wild Angels'. [Mecum]
To fans of custom motorcycle history, the ‘Dragon Bike’ from the 1966 film The Wild Angels is iconic, and one of the best examples of real-world chopper design used in a film.  Two years before Easy Rider, Peter Fonda starred as 'Heavenly Blues' in this Roger Corman B-movie, with Nancy Sinatra as his girlfriend Mike, plus an array of future stars: Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, and Michael J. Pollard.  The film was the first time Peter Fonda was associated with motorcycle culture, and featured actual members of the Hells Angels MC as supporting cast members and fellow riders.  Memorable scenes from the film include a sermon delivered by Fonda from a commandeered pulpit, where he utters the immortal lines, “We wanna be free, and not be hassled by the man!”  Wild Angels made Peter Fonda a counterculture movie star, and paved the way for Easy Rider.

Peter Fonda being directed by Roger Corman, with
Assistant Director Peter Bogdonavich watching. The Dragon Bike is iconic. [API press photo]
This is the original Dragon Bike, which sat for years in obscurity, but was pulled back into the limelight by Mil Blair, co-founder of Easyriders magazine, who sold the machine to John Parham.  The Dragon Bike was built specially for The Wild Angels, and was carefully authenticated and painstakingly refurbished. Care was given not to over-restore the machine, and what you see are mostly original finishes, chrome and paint.  It's a rare instance of a famous movie chopper actually surviving into the present day, unlike the Easy Rider choppers, which were stolen and broken up, or other bikes that simply disappeared.  This is the real deal, and one for a deep-pockets memorabilia collector.  (Est. $100-120k: reserve auction)

9. 1940 Indian Model 640 Sport Scout racer

'Little Poison', the 1940 Indian Sport Scout Class C racer. [Mecum]
In the 1940s, spectators at a fairgrounds half-mile tracks flocked to see bikes like this Indian Sport Scout battling it out with Harley-Davidson WR 45s.  The national championships in AMA Class C racing became the most important racing series in the USA in 1933, when the Depression caused a re-think on how to attract viewers to racing, and how to revive sales. Class C racing demanded the race bikes were based on serial production 750cc sidevalve bikes or 500cc OHV machines: luckily Indian already had the Scout, and Harley-Davidson the W series, so a good fight was guaranteed. This 1940 Indian Model 640 Sport Scout is a good example of an AMA Class C racer.  The new class quickly became very popular, with dealers and private owner/mechanics taking the Indian vs Harley-Davidson wars to the dirt track ovals, TTs and hill climbing events.

The legendary Bobby Hill riding with the AMA #1 plate in 1951/2 on a ten-year old Indian Sport Scout. [Jerry Hatfield Archive]

Both Harley-Davidson and Indian were ready for the introduction of the Class C racing season. The Sport Scout, introduced in 1934, was a strong contender in the series for 20 years, particularly in the early 1950s with the Indian wrecking crew of Bobby Hill, Bill Tuman and Ernie Beckman, who shared several National Championship titles, and swapped the AMA No.1 plate over a four-year period.
The Indian Sport Scout used a 42-degree V-Twin sidevalve, 45ci (745 cc) motor, and was in production for nine years (1934 to 1942). Indian’s chief engineer and designer, Charles B. Franklin, responsible for the creation of the Scout (1919), Chief (1922) and Scout Pony (1932), roughed-out in sketch form the Sport Scout before his death aged 52, on October 19, 1932. Diverging from Scout’s long running cradled-framed and leaf-spring fork motorcycle (1920 through 1933) the first Sport Scout, similar to the Scout Pony, used a keystone rigid frame through 1940, then used a plunger rear suspension for 1941-42, with a girder fork used on all years. The two-piece frame consisted of a front downtube and rear fork bolted to the engine/transmission unit by front and rear mounting plates. Lack of a frame under the motor/transmission maximized ground clearance during banking and the girder fork offer more front-end travel, making the Sport Scout a good motorcycle for dirt track racing. Tuner alterations to this bike include a BTE twist grip throttle, a modified foot clutch, shortened hand shifter, a special foot-peg set up, a solo/pillion seat setup and a Splitdorf magneto in place of the original battery ignition.  It's interesting to mention that Indian stopped producing this model in 1942, and all the wins in the 1950s were taken on Sport Scouts that were at least 10 years old!  It's a legendary machine, and not easy to find today.

10. 1928 Husqvarna Model 180 V-twin

A superbly restored 1928 Husqarna 550cc V-twin: built like a Swedish sword. [Mecum]
Husqvarnas from the 1920s?  Yep, the ancient company has the deepest roots of any motorcycle brand, founded in Huskvarna, Sweden as the royal munitions factory back in 1689.  The company was first privatized in 1757 as Husqvarna, and began producing motorcycles in 1903 – the same year as a certain American megabrand.  They built solid, well-engineered machines and soon became the largest motorcycle builder in Scandinavia, with a large range of singles and V-twin, sidevalve and OHV, and a string of very successful racing bikes too. Husqvarna’s most popular model of the 1920s was their unique 550cc V-twin designed and built in-house as the first all-Husqvarna motorcycle - previously they'd used some bought-in components. Husqvarna’s 550cc V-twin line was introduced in 1915 with the Model 150, using sidevalve motors that were remarkably reliable and built for Swedish conditions in all weathers, which earned them great affection in their native land.  They were also raced, for example when the Model 180 was released in 1926, a trio competed in the 24-hour endurance ’Midvinterävlingen’, where only two Husqvarna 180s were left running at the end of the race!  The Model 180 had a caged roller big-end and a knife-and-fork connecting rod, which made the engine slimmer as the cylinders no longer needed to be offset.  The crankshaft bearings were force-fed by an oil pump, which increased reliablity, as did the doubled-up roller bearings on the drive side of the crankcase.  The Model 180 had a two inch lower saddle height than its predecessor, and weight was trimmed by removing the heavy valance on the fenders, as well as, on some models, a special fabric/rubber footboard replacing cast items.  Electric light was an option, with full Bosch generator, magneto, and handsome 8” headlamp.  A special hand pump on the side of the fuel tank lubricated the drive chain!

Yngve Ericsson in the 1927 ISDT with a factory-prepped Husqvarna Model 180. [Dane Glanz]
The Model 180 was a very light v-twin at 293lbs, and with an American Schebler HX159 carburetor, performance was lively.  With a lower saddle height on the 1927 models, the handling was good, as the motor was set slightly forward of the center of the motorcycle, an ideal location for a rigid-frame machine with sporting pretensions.  The paint scheme was a handsome Swedish blue surrounded by black panels and chassis paint.  Looking for a different V-twin than the usual?  This is a pretty darn cool bike.





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.


2 Million Miles with Velocettes

The Velocette Owners Club of North America is notorious among one-make motorcycle clubs for its cheek in actually riding their old motorcycles for long distances every year, just for the hell of it.  Their annual Summer Rally has been a calendar fixture for 40 years now, with the first ride in BC Canada dubbed the 'submarine rally' because it rained so hard every single day.  The 40th anniversary of that first ride was named the 2 Million Mile Rally, as an approximation of the total miles ridden for the participating Velocettes over that span.  As a risky possible repeat of the first rally, this year's ride was organized on Vancouver Island, but was an example of how much the global climate has shifted, with the weather sunny and warm, the province in deep drought, and Canada's central forestlands on fire since May.  Luckily the wind blows eastward from the Pacific coast, so while the Midwest and East Coast are reading Canada's smoke signals, and the air on Vancouver Island was clear.

Indigenous carved totem poles were rare on our route, but are always worth examining. Debbie Macdonald, Paul d'Orléans, JP Defaut, Kim Young, and Melissa Guerrero at Hyde Creek. [Leanna Abulencia-Shapli]
The demographics of the rally ridership skewed under-60 for the first time in years, and a fresh wave of relative youngsters responded to the clarion call of a fun week on old bikes in a beautiful place, with the route and venues sorted, and helpful elders around to pitch in.  A spirit of mutual aid prevailed, with clutch cables, spark plugs, tools, carburetor jets, and advice shared freely.  Among the 40-odd bikes present, only one was truly hors de combat by the end of the week, with a suspected broken crank, but the Thruxton in question was newish to the owner, who has a hard right hand, but suspected a hasty build by the previous owner.  Riding a Thruxton to the limit is generally no cause for concern (hey, a Venom was the first motorcycle to do 100mph for 24hours, in 1961), as this is exactly how I've treated my own bike - VMT260 'Courgette' -  but it's still disappointing, and crankshaft demons rearing their ugly heads on a Velo rally are very rare...hence the willingness of so many to risk high mileages.

Velocette Rally veteran Larry Luce with his 1933 MOV 250cc, a rare first-year example of a rare model, that he intends to ride on the Cannonball this September. [Paul d'Orléans]
I rode my 1960 Venom Clubman this year, which has sat in my warehouse since the last Wheels & Waves California rally I organized in 2018.  Inconceivable! It took many hours to bring that neglected beauty to full, smooth functionality, making sure nothing was going to fall off, and nothing did. In fact, mechanically my week was perfectly boring, with only a change of main jet on my TT carburetor required, as she was running too rich at 70mph, and getting hot.  My magneto's condenser is slowly failing, just as it was failing five years ago, with hot kickstarts a burden...but blessedly Vancouver Island is hilly, and a quick rolling bump fired her up every time.  OK, the mag is coming off next week for a refurbish, finally.

Terrible place, Vancouver Island. Paul d'Orléans' 1960 Venom Clubman beside Campbell Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park. [Paul d'Orléans]
The 2 Million Mile Rally was notable for two firsts: there were more rigid-frame Velocette ridden than swingarm-frame bikes, and there were more women riders (seven total) than at any previous rally.  These are both Very Good Things...and interestingly related, as four women rode rigid MSS, MAC, and KSS models.  The oldest bike on the rally was, once again, Kim Young's 1930 350cc KSS, a rally veteran and a surprisingly fast tourer for a 93-year old machine.  Next oldest was Larry Luce's 1933 250cc MOV, which he plans to ride on the Motorcycle Cannonball in September, this 1000-mile, 5-day rally being a shake-down cruise for that 3600-mile, 17-day rally.  The MOV did just fine, and I have no doubt Larry will conquer the USA with the little gem.

Stopping for a swim in the ocean, because it's summer, dammit. JP Defaut's Viper blocks the path, for a moment, but we braved a dip in the Pacific. Refreshing! Mark Stephensin, Simon Peters, and Derek Dorresteyn crowd the dock. [Paul d'Orléans]
Most of the rigid bikes present would fall into the bob-job category, with 1940s MSS (500cc) and MAC (350cc) models sporting no front fender, an abbreviated rear fender, cowhorn handlebars, and no muffler at all, which is exactly as they were ridden in the 1940s and 50s.  In fact, at least one of the bikes was an original barn-find bob-job, the rest being of more recent construction and mild customization.  They all did just fine on the rally, although one MSS proved a bit oily on its first proper 1k mile test run...sumping issues, traceable back to one or the other known causes.  There are few tricks a Velo can play that haven't been solved in the past 2 million miles, helpful tips having been collected in xerox binders and on email tech forums for decades.  Still, a couple of the first-time rallyists remarked on the daily maintenance required for their borrowed steeds...which was usually due to the bikes being recently built, and the bugs still making their way out into the open.  An old hack like my 25-year owned Venom gave no particular trouble, the mandatory look-over after the day's ride taking 15 minutes or so, which is typical for Velocettes in regular use.

Witch queen Kim Young with her 1930 KSS, and an ally. [Paul d'Orléans]
Vancouver Island is enormous - about 500 miles long, with a limited number of roads exploring the various mountains, bays, and fjords.  It's a dramatic landscape, as lovely meadows or farms had mountains as a backdrop, a few of which still held snow.  Finding 'technical' roads was a matter of getting off the A roads and onto dead-end runs past lakes and into mountains, which meant a two-way ride through the twisties.  Our rigid riders had a time of it, with the number of frost heaves, cracks, and road slumps corresponding exactly to the level of interest a road offered to a sporting rider. But, at the end of those roads, one never knew what was in store: a few of our gang spotted a couple of sea planes docked at the turnaround point of our day, and inquired about a ride, which was offered and quickly accepted, for a modest fee.   They shortly discovered how little of the island is accessible by road, with abandoned indigenous villages and farms surrounded by old-growth forests, reachable only by boat, and currently unsustainable.  But, stunning.

If you see a seaplane, take it. Blaise Descollonges, Kim Young, Mark Stephenson, Derek Dorresteyn, Scottie Sharpe. [Blaise Descollonges]
The motorbikes are fun and we love them, but of course what matters is the people, and one does make friends over a week of riding, or many years of such weeks.  This was my 34th year of rallying, and I've organized 8 of them, a responsibility afforded the title of President of the club.  This year the organizer of that first rally 40 years ago, Cory Padula, reprised his role, and we had a superb time of it.  Our next President is The Vintagent's own Kim Young, who is already scouting roads in Idaho for July 2024.  I remain as Chairman, with a mandate to increase our membership and bring younger riders in, which seems to be happening. It's a funny thing to do, tour with an old machine on an extended rally, but the idea has definitely spread, with the Australian Velocette club taking up the gauntlet for 20 years now, and for 13 years now, the Cannonball and Chase cross-country vintage rallies.  Apparently we're not the only ones who think this is exactly the sort of madness required today.  Long may it wave.

The Vintagent's 'Mistress of Minutiae', Debbie Macdonald, rode the 350cc MAC that her husband had purchased in high school, but had lain in pieces for decades. After 33 years of joining the ride on 'other' bikes, she rode the whole week on the MAC for the first time. Brava! [Paul d'Orléans]
Lots of rivers means lots of bridges... [Paul d'Orléans]
Scottie Sharpe is a BMW restorer in the California Gold Country, so naturally brought along an R69S for the rally. You don't have to ride a Velocette to ride the rally...[Paul d'Orléans]
Lunch stop in Gold River. The scenery though...simply amazing. [Paul d'Orléans]
We spotted many dragsters headed towards Port McNeil, and found them at the local airport. Wade Lahaise is known for wheelying his 59 Chevy pickup. [Paul d'Orléans]
Though I've invited him for 35 years to join the Velo rally, it took this long for Derek Dorresteyn to join the fray on his BSA DBD34 Gold Star. Derek is motorcycle royalty; his father and uncle both raced in the 50s/60s, his uncle was on the cover of issued #1 of Cycle World and is in the AMA Hall of Fame. After racing speedway professionally, Derek had a fabrication shop (Moss Machine) and taught at university, then founded Alta Motors, and now is CTO at Damon Motorcycles. [Blaise Descollanges]
At the end of the day, what do you want but a martini offered by a beautiful comrade? Leanna Abulencia-Shapli brought the kit, and had time for mixology as she rode a vintage Honda SL350 on the rally. Shaken, not stirred. [Blaise Descollanges]
This 1970 Thruxton was a one-owner machine until this gent persuaded him to part with it. Original everything, and a solid runner, as you would expect. [Paul d'Orléans]
Like dad, like daughter. Tony and Maddie Macneill joined us on vintage Japanese machines: a Honda CBX and Yamaha XS650 Special. [Paul d'Orléans]
Other riders, other styles. Adam Cecchini on his Bimota DB1 aviated half the rally, and was only pulled over twice! "$85 - it was worth it." Indeed. [Blaise Descollanges]
Engine room of the littlest Velocette: Larry Luces' 1933 MOV 250cc, the first year model for pushrod Velocettes. "It was cosmetically as you see it, but internally it was totally worn out," Larry explained.  Who better than to bring it back to life?  Note the oiling mods on the pushrod tube: "I brought the oiling system up to the last iteration of the MOV, so it drains the valve cups." [Paul d'Orléans]
Melissa Guerrero aboard Carl Greenlund's 1948 MSS bob-job with stock Dowty Oleomatic air forks (upside down!). Carl built Melissa's MSS too, and it was oiling up, so they swapped bikes to sort the issue on the road. [Paul d'Orléans]
Paul d'Orléans painted this jacket in 1985, after purchasing it from Derek Dorresteyn when he worked at Cycle Gear... Still fits! Scuffing on the 'e' is from his sole getoff on a swingarm Velocette, in Montana 2008, when a trapped front brake led to a high-side crash. Same Venom Clubman, same rider, different brake cable (and headlamp...). [Paul d'Orléans]
Blaise Descollanges' Thruxton on a lonely road, definitely off-route, but taking time to enjoy the scenery. [Blaise Descollanges]
Many rivers to cross. The variety of bridges was intriguing: this one connected two gravel roads over a gorgeous green river. [Paul d'Orléans]
The Rigid Ladies: Debbie MacDonald, Kim Young, Melissa Guerrero. [Paul d'Orléans]
Such a pretty motor: the MkII KSS overhead-camshaft, built from 1935-1948. [Paul d'Orléans]
Farkin' windy on the sea that day, but strangely calm one block inland. Blaise demonstrates. [Blaise Descollonges]
Telegraph Bay, and old logging town turned into a hotel: every cabin is now a room! A lovely spot for whale watching and kayaking. [Blaise Descollanges]
The OGs...John Ray and Cory Padula were the only veterans of the Submarine Rally 40 years ago who were present at this year's ride, although several OGs are still active in the club. Note a couple of the perennial prizes: play vintage games, get vintage prizes! The Eddie Arnold Trophy is for the most meritorious performance in the rally, and was given to Russell Blow. The 'Phishtail Phil' award for services to the Club was given to Carl Greenlund for providing several riders with bikes this year, all rigid-frame specials. [Paul d'Orleans]
...aand then there's the Crock of Shit award, given by the Chairman (yours truly) to a worthy recipient, whose bike had the most spectacular failure. This year, the only bike with such was Blaise Descollonges' Thruxton, which quickly developed 1/4" of play in its big end, and sounded like a mechanical hammer. Ouch. He's already pulled the crank! [Kim Young]
First-time rallyist Melissa Guerrero was game to ride a rigid '48 MSS all week, but liked the idea of something faster a Thruxton. [Blaise Descollanges]
Carl Greenlund's 1939 MSS 500cc, which he discovered in this bob-job condition, with no front fender, an abbreviated rear fender with Crocker taillight, Bates solo seat, and no muffler. How they rode them in the day. [Paul d'Orléans]
How to haul trees: rusting examples of forestry from earlier in the 20th Century: a 1950s Ford pickup flanked by a solid-tire tractor and steam engine sledge used to pull down trees, six at a time, using steel cables. The sledge was towed to a convenient location, and the trees were trimmed after felling and dragged to the nearest river for transport, which was never far away. Regardless these 'modern' forestry methods, quite a bit of Vancouver Island retains its old-growth forests, in remoter regions. [Paul d'Orléans]


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.


The 'Lost' Indian Four

Lost in the shuffle: that's the only explanation for the lack of attention given the penultimate Indian four - dubbed the Model 44X -  in the history books on Indian 'motocycles'.  Much better known is the post-war 'Torque Four', introduced in 1946 (but never manufactured), which is identified as part of the effort to streamline the manufacture of Indians under new owner Ralph B. Rogers. As the Torque Four was kin to the Indian singles and parallel twins produced under Rogers' tenure (1945-53), it represented the ultimate expression of the modular manufacturing concept he championed.  The Torque Four is known to have been primarily the work of Indian designer George 'Briggs' Weaver, designed when he worked with the Torque Corporation during WW2, after leaving Indian during the war.  What's less known is that Weaver designed, alongside Indian owner E. Paul duPont, an earlier four, dubbed the 44X, starting in the late 1930s, that was intended to be produced along the same principals as the Torque Four and post-war Indian lightweight lineup: as a modular series of singles, twins, and fours that used common components for more inexpensive production.   Thus, the original concept and prototypes for the modular Indian lineup was dreamed up by E. Paul duPont and his team in the 1930s, developed by Briggs Weaver, and ultimately produced under Rogers in the late 1940s.

E. Paul duPont with his personal Indian 841 with its transverse V-twin engine that Moto Guzzi would later popularize. This was apparently his favorite motorcycle and daily rider in the 1940s. [Jerry Hatfield Archive]
As noted in the following statement from Stephen duPont, the design inspiration for these new modular Indians came from the Future, in the form of Triumph's lightweight parallel twins and BMW's innovative flat twins, which were purchased and examined by Indian in 1938.  E. Paul duPont understood that the Indian lineup of heavy sidevalve V-twins was outdated, and that lighter machines with better performance would prove very popular.  E. Paul duPont had purchased Indian in 1930 to save it (and his own significant investment in the company) from bankruptcy.  Briggs Weaver had been the body stylist for duPont automobiles, but was hired as chief designer at Indian when duPont closed up his four-wheel production simultaneous with his purchase of Indian.  Weaver radically transformed Indian designs, and created the most beautiful models of all; the Art Deco-inspired line of the mid-1930s, and the deep-skirted Indians of 1940, an iconic design that has forever after been associated with Indian.

Briggs Weaver's son George B. Weaver with his superb 1936 Maserati V8RI, likely at Thompson Speedway in CT, in the early 1950s. The Maserati is one of four built, with a 4.8L V-8 motor and independent suspension on all four wheels - a very advanced car for the 1930s. All four V8RIs competed in the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup races, and all remained in the USA for many years. Briggs Weaver certainly knew how to enjoy life! After retiring from Indian, he took a job with Briggs Cunningham, and supervised construction of Cunningham's racers from 1950-55, and took them to LeMans. A remarkable career! [Audrain Automobile Museum]
The evolution of the Indian 44X is explained fully in the following statement from Stephen duPont (son of E. Paul duPont), who worked in the Experimental Department at Indian Motocycles when he came of age...which probably saved him from military service. Stephen duPont was born in 1915, and joined Indian with several of his brothers when his father took over the company; all were dedicated gearheads on two and four wheels, and with airplanes as well.  Stephen had an insider's knowledge at the Indian Experimental Department, and knew all the principals involved, so is a reliable source for the story he tells about the creation of the 'lost' Indian 44X.

Stephen duPont at an aircraft club meeting (the National Soaring Club) in the 1950s. [National Soaring Club]
Notes on the Indian 44X, by Stephen duPont (1990):

"In the late 1930s E. Paul duPont, then President and Chairman of the Board of Indian Motocycle Co in Springfield MA (notice the spelling Motocycle) initiated a plan for a new line of motorcycles.  The aim was to come out with a line of motorcycle which would simplify the manufacture of engines and frames.  An illustration of the problem is that the 45 cubic inch Scout and the 74 cubit inch Chief models each used a pair of cylinders that were not alike, and were different for each engine and the valve gear was different for each cylinder, in that each engine used four different rocker arm forgings.  The connecting rods were a fork and blade rod and different for each engine.  The Indian four of course had totally different valve gear and cylinders and pistons and roads compared to the already mentioned twins.  The frames, brakes etc. were also different from model to model.

Briggs Weaver's 1941 patent drawing for the first iteration of a modular Indian four-cylinder motorcycle, with Indian leaf-spring forks, shaft drive, and plunger rear suspension (taken from the BMW R51). [Jerry Hatfield Archive]
The plan was to use a four, a twin, and a single cylinder line using similar engine and transmission and chassis parts where possible.  It is important to know that the company had procured two of the world's best motorcycles of the time, and studied them carefully.  They were the Triumph Tiger 100, the English motorcycle, and the BMW R-51, the shaft drive German motorcycle, both available in the late 1930s.  The Triumph engine and transmission were generally the idea source of the engine and transmission and brakes, and the BMW chassis was the idea source of the motorcycle frame and shaft drive configuration, with a large dash of E. Paul duPont and Briggs Weaver's ideas.  Weaver was a student of brakes and racing engines, and duPont, a very enthusiastic student of all things roadable, as well as engines.  He had designed the four cylinder engines of the first DuPont cars right after WW1, as well as a six-cylinder marine engine, a pair of which he had in his yacht 'Pythagoras'.  There were done in the early 1920s.  The DuPont Motors was 'merged' with the Indian Motocycle Co in about 1930, and three DuPont cars assembled in Springfield.

The 1943 Indian Four model 44X as actually constructed, and the only example of its kind. One other engine was built for testing purposes: both survive. Note the full-skirt Briggs Weaver front fender, slimmer rear fender, telescopic forks, chrome gas tank, and plunger rear suspension. The forks and chassis of this prototype were later used for the 841 military transverse V-twin. [Jerry Hatfield Archive]
The first and only of these new concept motorcycle models produced as prototypes was the four.  There were two complete engines built plus spares and onee complete motorcycle with one of the engines installed.  The other engine went onto the test dynamometer.  The writer of this note is Stephen duPont, who during the time that the prototypes of the new plan were constructed, was manager of the Experimental Department of the Indian Company.  The engines and motorcycle were assembled in the Experimental Department, and the parts had been mostly subcontracted out of the factory from the engineering department and the Experimental Department.  This was because some years earlier as a result of labor problems in the toolroom, the toolroom at Indian had been shut down and all tooling and prototype parts done outside.  Most of this was done at Mitchel's Tool Shop, Mitchel I believe having been the foreman of the Indian toolroom.

Carol duPont, wife of Stephen duPont, aboard the Indian 44X prototype circa 1944. Note the exhaust manifold with protective shield, the shaft drive, slim front fender, and what looks like a clear inspection cover on the gearbox. The front headlamp will be familiar to any early BMW will the rest of the chassis! [Stephen duPont archive]
As the parts of the Four Cylinder machine came into the factory, Allen Carter, who had been Service Manager of Mr DuPont's Dupont Motors in Wilmington came to work in Springfield and took over the management of the assembly of the motorcycle and much of the dynamometer testing and road testing, actually mostly under the eye of Mr. Paul duPont, but within the Experimental department. The writer of this historic note, Stephen duPont, E. Paul duPont's third son, actually ordered and followed up the outside manufacture of the castings of the engine, the patterns, the casting and machining of the crankcase, cylinders, transmission cases and so forth, most of which were done in the factory.  When the 841 military shaft drive machine came into being, much of the Four cylinder ideas were used.  The  frame, forks, brakes, shaft drive, transmission and so forth became parts of the 841 shaft drive army motorcycle, 1000 of which were built, also designed by Briggs Weaver under the constant association of E. Paul duPont. All of this detail design work was done single handed under the pencil of Briggs Weaver, who had been Mr. duPont's designer in the DuPont Motors in Wilmington and in Moore PA under the strong influence of Mr. Paul duPont.  The detail drawings were done under Weaver by Bob Powell, a young and very talented draftsman.

Stephen duPont in 1944 with the Indian 44X and his two daughters, Polly and Nancy. [Stephen duPont Archive]
At the end of World War II, the Indian Company was sold or merged into the Consolidated Diesel Company, Indian ceased to exist (a number of 'Chiefs' were manufactured by some former Indian employees up untili about 1950 but it was not the old Indian corporation), and much of the material in the factory was sold.  The experimental material and the 'museum' located in the attic of the factory was all sold at auction in 1945. At the time this writer was in Germany as a Scientific Consultant of the US government studying the German Motorcycle Industry and small air cooled engines of that country. Otherwise I assure you these machines would not have been dispersed.  The four cylinder motorcycle ended up owned by a doctor in Brooklyn and was later modified to used a plunger fork, the '841' style girder fork having been replaced.

As a comparison, the Indian 'Torque Four' prototype of 1946, showing the successful modular engine design with four single-cylinder top ends and the same forks and fuel tank as the parallel twin models. The whole chassis is lighter and slimmer than the 44X. [Jerry Hatfield Archive]
Some years later Mr. Walter O'Conner of Agawam MA called Stephen duPont to say he had been offered the four cylinder Indian test engine for sale for $100, and did Stephen want it.  Yes he did and obtained the engine.  Walt O'cConner was a pilot and aircraft mechanic, with whom Stephen duPont had shared certain aviation activities (a Bellanca distributorship and a Cessna dealership).  O'Conner ran a small airport and seaplane base on the Connecticut River in Agawam and as a mechanic had maintained Stephen duPont's airplanes.  He had also worked at Indian during part of WWII in the Experimental Department and some years after that donated it to the Colonial Flying Corps Museum in Newgarden Flying Field in Toughkenamon PA."

A saddle design integrated with the fuel tank, patented by Stephen and Benjamin duPont while working at Indian. [USPTO]
Both the Model 44X and its test engine survive, and are coveted in private East Coast collections.  For more on the duPont family and its connections with motorcycling, read our article 'The Motorcycling duPonts'.

Note: The Stephen duPont transcript and several of his photos were sourced via the Jerry Hatfield Archive, which is being integrated into The Vintagent Archive.  Keep an eye out for more Indian history!

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.


Sweet Savage DNA - A Father’s Day Story

By Catherine O'Connor

Angela Savage wishes she could turn back time. The posthumously born daughter of flat tracker turned Indy driver, David Earl “Swede” Savage, Jr. wore all black to this year’s Indianapolis 500. In the midst of stoked Memorial Day revelers cheering and screaming for their favorite Indy rivals, Angela did her best to cope, sitting in the stands with her 17- and 11-year-old sons. She often wears the Swiss-made Omega Speedmaster watch and her father’s wedding ring as an amulet to feel close to him.

“I kept staring at turn 4, knowing his spirit was there. I cried a lot, and just couldn’t stay for the whole race, just wishing I could have my dad back,” Savage said. Growing up she always felt lost and abandoned and so lonely. And Father’s Day won’t be easy.

Though daughter Angela never met her father Swede Savage, their grinning resemblance is startling. [Angela Savage]
Angela Savage’s late father, promising race driver Swede Savage, was a favorite to win the 1973 Indy 500, which was twice rescheduled due to rain-soaked track conditions, before he lost control on lap 59, resulting in one of the most violent, single-car crashes in Indy racing history. Angela’s mother, then six months pregnant, kept vigil at his bedside. But  33 days later, Swede, 26, died from his injuries. Condolences poured in from racing moguls like Gordon Johncock, Johnny Rutherford, and Roger Penske as well as film stars like Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Born in San Bernardino CA in 1946, Savage was a multi-sport high school standout, but was barred from playing high school football as a Senior as he'd accepted prize money from motorcycle racing.  He started out on go-karts, then quarter-midget racing, then motorcycles, where his talents shone as a two-time California scrambles champion as a teenager.  Here he's won a TT race on a stripped Harley-Davidson XLCH racer. [Savage family archive]

Born three months after her mother witnessed her father’s fatal crash, Angela Savage spent decades suffering crippling addiction and mental health challenges. What the younger Savage learned was that she was dealing with inter-utero, psycho-injury, a type of inherited trauma that can be passed down from a pregnant mother to her child. Mourning a bewildering sense of longing for the father she never met, Angela spent years struggling to reconcile the history and meaning of his death and life, painfully detangling herself from the unexplained, trans-generational life stress surrounding her Savage legacy.

But with the help of a group of endearing fans and IMS, (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) she had a chance encounter with Ted Woerner. He is an author and impassioned Indy fan who had heard about his hero, Savage’s crash, on the transistor radio he smuggled into his sixth-grade classroom. Their support enabled Angela to find the courage to finally visit the track which took her father’s life. ”It was like soul surgery,” Angela has said of her visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the fatal tragedy occurred 50 years ago.

With surfer boy good looks, San Bernardino native, Swede Savage took the motorcycle racing world then the car racing world by storm in the 1960’s. Here he poses on a Harley-Davidson KRTT road racer. [Savage family archive]

Together they collaborated to write Savage Angel: Death and Rebirth at the Indianapolis 500, a book that skillfully and candidly interweaves details of her life trauma and eventual healing, with revelations of a unique motorsports legacy. Among Savage’s memorabilia are news clips showing that Swede raced as an AMA Amateur in 1965 at the Springfield Mile. Revisiting the motorcycle track where he competed alongside contemporaries, Bart Markel, Dick Mann, Gary Nixon  and Eddie Wirth, to watch her first motorcycle race a couple years ago, in Springfield, lifted Angela. “I was blown away at my first flat track race. I just love it!” Angela said.

Her imagination must run to the 18-year-old Swede, the blonde hunk, the son of a prosperous veterinarian, a carefree rebel, traveling the flat track circuit, in the mid 1960’s. From Ascot to Daytona and state fair tracks across the Midwest, in bar-banging combat, Savage competed in AMA’s Expert class finishing among the top 20 riders in the nation, with a total of 24 career AMA wins.

Swede #74, one of the first to wear the full face Bell helmet, tries an outside pass on a competitor at Ascot Park, circa 1966. [Savage family archive]

Angela, who now works for Woerner’s Miles Ahead company in Indianapolis, can step into the past in the Savage suite exhibit room that has been created there. Shelves hold her father’s early race artifacts, his tattered leathers, steel shoe and images of the photogenic, beloved native son of San Bernardino. Recognized early for his innate riding performance talent, the original letter Savage signed for a short term deal with Evel Knievel to perform in his Stunt Show of Stars at Ascot Park in 1967, is framed in glass. Pages of emergent race accomplishment, in a “race resume” typed in 1969 by a young David Savage Jr. is but one curated clue in the historic archive Woerner has meticulously pieced together.

A wall of Swede’s 70’s vintage auto racing suits, are a neatly hung team of empty fabric onesies that brave, Indy drivers wore before the evolution to today’s  high-tech safety gear. On the wall, charred remains of his race car nose section with Swede’s race number 40, marred and scorched, steels a horribly devastating moment in time.

Swede became a father to his first daughter, Shelly, at age nineteen, and had two more children - one posthumously. [Savage family archive]

Woerner and Savage often meet motorsports fans who are intrigued by Savage’s story of evolution from two wheels to four, and the impact of his life ended too soon.  The California native, her husband and family relocated in 2018 to live in Indianapolis, the city where Angela’s father died. Angela’s message of healing and survival simply flows out. “I’m proud that the Savage family is still here, 50 years later. I want to tell my story, and his story.”

Swede Savage in the 1973 Indy 500, driving his red #40 STP-sponsored Eagle-Offenhauser prepared by master mechanic George Bignotti. [Savage family archive]

Buoyant and open to talk, Angela Savage along with documentarian Ted Woerner, who continues researching the life and times of Swede Savage, will be on hand at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Springfield Mile on Sept 2-3. There, auto racing fans’ eyes will pop, when they see Woerner’s freshly painted dayglow red #40 STP Oil Treatment Special Eagle-Offenhauser replica of Swede Savage’s STP race car, a special premiere feature at this year’s Springfield Mile.

Angela Savage produced more than 40 “Good News with Angela Savage” podcast episodes between 2016-2017. Here she interviews racing legend Mario Andretti, who started in the second row with her father in the 1973 Indianapolis 500. [Angela savage]
Angela is in her element at a recent SAVAGE ANGEL book signing. [Angela Savage]

Please check out for more info.


Historian and Journalist, Catherine OConnor looks at the past, present and future of motorsports with an eye for the human experience that brings us all closer. She has reported on women in supporting roles, the roots of the Springfield Mile, the DuQuoin Magic Mile, and a story in images of the Hogroast: When Honda Smoked Harley in the 1980s.


'Brooklands George' - Conrad Leach

The Vintagent presents Brooklands George, a 2008 painting by Conrad Leach, 50x60", acrylic on canvas.  Commissioned by the late Dr. George Cohen ('Norton George'), and originally displayed at the Dunhill Drivers Club during the 2008 Goodwood Revival meeting.  Being sold on behalf of Sarah Cohen.  Price on request: contact us here.

Brooklands George, 2008. Acrylic on canvas, 50in w x 60in h

The paintings of Conrad Leach are iconic, because for years he has explored the imagery that creates icons.  'Brooklands George' (2008), while depicting a particular man, motorcycle, and location, is also timeless, featuring the shape of a machine built for speed, an evocative locale, and a hunched-over racer pushing the limits of speed and danger.  Leach's influences range from 20th Century movie posters and advertising, to art/historical references like Beggarstaff posters and Roy Lichtenstein's graphic blasts. His cool surface technique is contradicted by saturated colors and a strongly contrasting ground, plus the kinetic, magnetic appeal of his human and mechanical subjects.

Brooklands George on display at the Dunhill Drivers Club, 2008, beside Dr. George Cohen's 1927 Norton Model 18 racer and racing attire that inspired the commmission.

Conrad Leach is best known for his exploration of heroic imagery, from British racing vehicles (motorcycles, cars, planes) to contemporary Japanese pop stars and Ukiyo-e woodcuts. He's not a nostalgist, but responds on canvas to people, machines, and events from the past and present that resonate with our culture.  He explains , ‘So much is sexy from the interwar era! The Supermarine Schneider Trophy racer, Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird, the Brough Superior ‘Works Scrapper’, are nearly forgotten today, but the aesthetics of the era are so pure and functional. This was pretty radical stuff back then, but my work has to be relevant now, as I’m not interested in recreating the past.  My painting technique is contemporary, even Pop, and attempts to create resonance between a viewer today and images from that era. To take an enormous bespoke object like the Bluebird onto Daytona beach in Florida and attempt to go faster than any human, that required an incredible train of thought, and I’m trying to get into the heads of those people.”

Conrad Leach in his then London studio in 2008.


'Joe Craig: Making Norton Famous'

If any single person deserves credit for Norton's extraordinary decades of racing dominance from 1930 through the mid-1950s, it must be Joe Craig.  The de facto racing team manager for Norton under several owners, Craig at first successfully raced the factory product himself in the 1920s, then switched to the role of development engineer in 1930.  He held that position (despite a break from the company during WW2) through 1955, when postwar company owners Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) decided exotic factory specials could no longer be supported financially, and focussed on selling factory catalogued racers like the Norton Manx, AJS 7R, and Matchless G50 models, all of which were produced simultaneously under their corporate ownership.

Norton factory racer Jimmie Guthrie in 1936, after taking several world speed-distance records at the Montlhéry speed bowl: 117.161mph for 50 miles with the 500cc machine, and 107.669mph for 100km with a 350cc Norton. [Craig family archive]
Mick Duckworth has just published a paean to Norton's heyday: 'Joe Craig - Making Norton Famous', built from the collected photographic archive of the man himself, provided by surviving  members of the Craig family.   The archive has passed through many hands since Joe's 1957 death in a car accident, first with his son Des, then relatives and Norton enthusiasts who understood the value of the collection. Finally, Mick was tapped by Barry Stickland to do something with the photos, and has self-published a unique document: 218 pages of images from Joe Craig's career, with only six of them sourced outside the family archive - something of a dream for an author.

Joe Craig in 1929, aged 31, with an early OHC Norton 'Moore' racer with the 'cricket bat' engine. [W&G Baird]
Duckworth has told the story of Joe Craig's career in pictures, with a few separate essays, but most of the information is attached as context for the multitude of photos, which should delight any fan of Norton racing motorcycles from their earliest OHC CS1 racers of 1928, designed by Walter Moore, through their last experimental Type F outside-flywheel Manx of 1955, developed 25 years after Arthur Carroll and Joe Craig sat down to rectify the limitations of Moore's engine.

Joe Craig filling Jimmy Simpson's 350cc factory Norton at the 1934 Swiss Grand Prix. [Carl Jost / Berne State Archive]
We're a long time past Norton's 'golden age of racing', as Mick puts it, between 1930-38, when the International and Manx Grand Prix models won more than 70 Grands Prix and 10 European Championships.  Norton was a very small motorcycle company compared to Triumph, BSA, BMW, and DKW, yet its impact on racing was outsize, from taking the first Isle of Man TT win in 1907, to its total dominance of GP racing in the 1930s. Joe Craig gets much of the credit for this, and not just because of his motorcycles: he was a keen talent spotter, and a stern tactician, earning a reputation for being as 'Unapproachable' as the factory slogan.  Craig ran a tight ship, and wasn't known for the exuberance, for example, of his longtime racing star Stanley Woods.  But Mick Duckworth suggests there was a softer side to the man, especially towards his family and close friends, some of whom he includes in this book.

Mick Duckworth's latest, made almost entirely of Joe Craig's personal photos between the 1920s through 1950s. [Mick Duckworth]
There are definitely gems in the collection, including Craig's barbs at the nascent Vintage Motor Cycle Club in a March 1944 article in The Motorcycle: "I should like to make some attempt at breaking away from the present fashionable practice, which is becoming almost a vice, of rhapsodizing over ancient, so-called masterpieces.  This latter tendency may perhaps be partly attributable to Capt. JJ Hall's activities [Hall was co-founder of the VMCC with 'Titch' Allen] - or should I say 'mania' - for collecting vintage machines.  If we are to consider the future seriously as regards improved motor cycles, then we must break new ground."  Consider, of course, that Craig was a development engineer in an extremely competitive industry, and in 1944 international 'competition' was quite literally lethal.

Every picture tells a story, don't it? At race meetings, Joe Craig invariably wore suit and tie, but at the 1935 German GP, he wore a casual workingman's outfit, and refused to raise his arm in the Nazi salute for 250cc race winner (DKW) Walfried Winkler, who looks sternly at Joe and 350cc race winner Walter Rusk (Norton of course), who likewise ignores hails to the Führer. This is a full four years before the UK went to war with Germany, and demonstrates exactly how Joe Craig felt about Fascism. [Schneider]
As a team boss and single-minded development engineer, Joe Craig had few peers.  While every other factory team explored multi-cylinder, supercharged racers in the 1930s, Norton remained steadfast in their evolution of the Manx, focusing on reliability and superb handling characteristics, which served them well in long-distance and road racing events.  At other venues, such as Monza, top speed was everything, and the Nortons were 20mph down on top speed compared to a Gilera four or BMW blown twin.  His decades-long development work on the Carroll engine design was rivaled in the industry only by, believe it or not, the race shop at Harley-Davidson, who kept their 750cc sidevalve racers competitive (domestically) from 1930 through 1969, with last iterations of the KRTT clocking in at 150mph on Daytona's banking, which was faster than the 750cc BSA/Triumph triples they were racing.

Harold Daniell at Donington Park in 1936, with Norton's first telescopic fork, about to take the lap record on an empty track as an exhibition between races: he lopped 7 seconds off the absolute record. Note the heavy bracing for the 7" diameter megaphone exhaust. Joe Craig looks nervous, with boxes of spark plugs at the ready. Top speed of this last SOHC factory racer was around 120mph, which was hoisted to 125+mph when the factory racers went to DOHC in 1938. [Dunlop archive]
Do you rhapsodize over ancient, so-called masterpieces?  Then surely you need this book!  You can order the book here.


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.

East River Racing in the 1970s

By Sandy Hackney

The story of East River Racing began in September 1969, all because I had been seen risking life and limb on a ’69 Yamaha YDS3 (250cc) on a series of curvy roads in Durham, NC that Summer.  A mechanic at the local Yamaha shop said to me, “You should race.”  Huh?  But the seed was planted, and there was a AAMRR Labor Day race weekend coming up at VIR; it was several days long and featured one 5-hour race.  After exploring this some, I approached a local roofing company, who fashioned a set of expansion chambers to TD1 specs and I was set! Top speed was increased to about 110mph; damned thrilling.

The story of a crew thrown together by circumstances, who find they have much in common. Their racing team toolbox is still in use over 50 years later. [Sandy Hackney]
The race went as expected, with me unloading a time or two - once when my front brake cable snapped at the end of the front straight and I ran into a guy I was “outbraking.” I survived and we finished 4th in a gentle rain.  What next?! Obviously I needed a “real” racer, so I bought a used TD1C from the fabled Bob Sharp, who sadly perished a couple of years later on his bike. With the TD1C, I went off to race the 1970 Daytona 200.  Which was not a total success ... I damaged the crank by exceeding the red line (a few times) and it blew after one lap on that legendary tri-oval.
How it starts: take your road bike, add expansion chambers, and suddenly you're off to the races. Here with a Suzuki Titan, which was a superb production racer. Sandy Hackney and tuner Ginny Carlson camping at Daytona. [Sandy Hackney]
I moved to NYC and began to meet like-minded friends. Soon Bill Nelson, pictured by the door of our racing truck, joined me with his own TD1C. We began to campaign up and down the East Coast: Summit Point, Bridgehampton, VIR, Road Atlanta, Pocono Speedway, Daytona, Nelson Ledges, etc. In the 1971 edition of Daytona I placed in the middle of the field, won $40 and treated Bill and our 'tuners' to a prime rib dinner. Somewhere Bill got the idea of buying a 250 Ducati racer so he could, as he said, “Nip at my heels.” On his first ride he took off and, as the gearing was very tall, he picked up speed slowly. He accelerated to around 80mph and was going to shift, but found he was already in 4th! Top speed! A good idea for racing in the 1940s maybe. Back to Yamahas.
With the 'tuners' in the paddock, some of whom became wives! Bill Nelson and tuner Judy Bloom camping at Daytona. [Sandy Hackney]

Soon we had a core group made of several colleagues from the Respiratory Therapy Department at NYU Medical Center; we were all in our early 20s and in love with motorcycles. We rented a storefront on E. 12th between 1st and 2nd Ave, and East River Racing was truly born. Our truck was purchased by me from a NC monk for $80. A great deal. We added a couple of fine women as tuners - and more. One tuner is married to this day to Bill.

Sandy Hackney at speed on a Yamaha TD2, with its coveted large drum brakes, at Summit Point.[Sandy Hackney]
East River Racing survived for several years as we slowly came to our senses. One aficionado, Herr Snow, pictured at the far left by the truck had bought my TD1C. He fired it up at VIR, took off, and went possibly 1 mile through a couple of turns. I came upon him after he set it on the side of the truck and began walking back. “No more” and that was the end of his racing career. Recently, he told me he has 9 motorcycles in parts - and one runs!
Looks like an album cover of the period: the East River Racing crew circa 1970, with their 1950s Ford panel van modified as transporter. Note the NYC skyline in the background. Art Snow, Gerry Ebersole, Bill Nelson, Sandy Hackney, Tac Hostetter. [Sandy Hackney]
All of us survived. Bill had a fine career as a physician. Another was a mayor of a small Georgia town. One owns and runs a department store. The erstwhile racer Snow had a spell as a bartender on a Mississippi river boat. Today he plays bass for a funky band in San Antonio. Yours truly - 2nd from right by our truck - had a few poorly paid careers and a number of bouts in graduate study. Today, after giving up my Royal Enfield with a sidecar, I am settled down in the Paradise of upstate New York with my fantastic wife and a creaky 1984 BMW R80. Bravo to ERR! It was a lot of fun.
In the pits for a little pre-race prep at a verdant East Coast circuit. Bill Nelson tuning his TD2 at Virginia International Raceway. [Sandy Hackney]
A time never repeated, although the ERR crew remained friends over the decades. Bill Nelson at Daytona.[Sandy Hackney]


Sandy Hackney, "Pushing 80", is North Carolina born. Educated at Duke, he also studied theology at Saint John's University and musicology at NYU. Retired in upstate New York with his fantastic wife Ann, he concentrates his efforts on bicycle riding and for the last time trying to understand Wittgenstein.

RIDE 70s Spring Raid Invitational

[Editor's note: Vintagent Contributor Fabio Affuso recently founded a moto-touring company with seasoned petrolhead Pietro Casadio Pirazzoli, RIDE 70s, using classic (mostly) Italian bikes to explore classic Italian landscapes.  For the inaugural tour of RIDE 70s, he chose Tuscany, and invited a dozen friends and journalists to test the bikes and his organizational skills. HIs Spring Raid Invitational last month coincided with my own tour of Italy on classic Italian bikes, otherwise this would be a first-hand ride report!]

Classic Italian bikes in a classic Tuscan landscape. [Fabio Affuso]
[Text and Photos by Fabio Affuso]

To celebrate the beginning of our RIDE 70s touring season in Italy, we were thrilled to guide an eclectic group of friends on an unforgettable expedition, a motorcycle journey across the picturesque landscapes of Tuscany.

Ah, Tuscany in Spring. Pointy Cypress trees, 500yo churches, roads winding through ancient villages, and green as can be this year, with fields in full bloom. Sweet Moto Guzzi V7 Sport too! [Fabio Affuso]
Our adventure began in the charming town of San Marino at our RIDE 70s clubhouse, where our group of riders first met their chosen bikes. Andrew from London, Ralf from Germany, Simon, Lesley and Cassie from the UK, Zubin from the UAE, Guillame from Spain, Nikos from Greece, Mike from Switzerland, and Svein from Norway added a delightful mix of personalities and nationalities to the journey. Some of them didn’t know each other yet, and this became a great opportunity to cement new real friendships. The anticipation was palpable as we geared up, excitedly preparing for the road ahead.
1970s Italian style is unbeatable! The apex era of Italian design, and the moment they led the world in motorcycle performance and styling. Not even ownership by Harley-Davidson could stop Aermacchi from building cool, light roadsters. [Fabio Affuso]
On the first day, we set out to gradually climb the twists up the Apennine Mountains, crossing into the enchanting region of Tuscany. The majestic landscapes unfolded before our eyes, with rolling hills adorned with vineyards and olive groves. Each twist and turn of the road revealed the beauty and diversity of the Chianti region.
Where the wine at? Well, all around actually: every town has a famous vintage attached - the drinkable kind. Chianti, Montepulciano, etc. Plus, olive trees everywhere, with every town having its own production and local flavor. [Fabio Affuso]
As the day drew to a close, we found ourselves in the captivating town of Montalcino, perched atop a hill. Its narrow cobblestone streets beckoned us to immerse ourselves in its timeless charm. We savoured the rich gastronomic delights of Tuscany, relishing hearty ribollita soup, succulent bistecca alla Fiorentina, and authentic pici pasta dressed with a flavorful wild boar ragù. Paired with the world-famous Brunello di Montalcino wine, the dining experience became a celebration of Tuscan flavours, traditions and new friendships.
The coast of Tuscany is off the chain beautiful, with picturesque villages clinging to steep hillsides, and fresh everything laid at your table. [Fabio Affuso]
The second day took us on a thrilling morning ride through the mezmerising Maremma Toscana. Crossing the waters to Giglio Island on a short ferry ride, we found ourselves in a coastal paradise, to lunch on a vineyard nestled on the edge of the island's cliff, offering panoramic views of the sparkling sea. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a delicious feast of grilled fish, freshly caught and expertly prepared for us by the land owner. The flavours of the sea, combined with the crispness of local Vermentino white wine, created an unforgettable culinary experience.
Oh, the sufferings of an old bike ride...and the rewards of the destination. When passing through so many famous wine towns, it's necessary to sample the local product. [Fabio Affuso]
As the sun began to set, we retreated to the apartments we had rented on the island by the sea. The evening came alive with laughter, music, and the clinking of glasses as we celebrated our journey. A feast of calamari fry up and seafood pasta, brimming with the bounty of the sea, took center stage together with copious amounts of beer, satisfying our taste buds and boosting our joyous conversations. The third day marked our return to the mainland, with a quick visit to the famous Saturnia hot springs along the way, with some soaking in the warm, rejuvenating and mineral-rich waters and others sipped beer at the bar.
What's all the fuss? Just an old town in a landscape...looks like Montepulciano - just another medieval walled city. [Fabio Affuso]

Continuing our journey reinvigorated, we arrived in the enchanting town of Montepulciano, renowned for its Renaissance architecture and exquisite wines. Here, we reveled in the rich flavors of Tuscan cuisine, savouring pecorino cheese, handmade pici pasta, and tender braised wild boar. The indulgence was accompanied by the velvety notes of Nobile di Montepulciano wine, adding a touch of elegance to our dining experience.

Stunning river gorges through those hills, and winding small roads. [Fabio Affuso]
On our final day, a couple of minor mechanical issues briefly interrupted our adventure and we had to recover one bike, but the tour went on to cross the breathtaking Furlo Gorge, a testament to nature's grandeur. As we rode back to San Marino, a mix of emotions filled the air—pride in our incredible journey, nostalgia for the beautiful moments shared, and excitement for the future adventures of our upcoming touring season.
Morini 3 1/2, the cactus, and a long view of the bay. Paradisical. [Fabio Affuso]
This motorcycle journey across Tuscany organized by RIDE 70s has brought us together in a unique and unforgettable way. It was a testament to the beauty of exploration, the thrill of riding, and the power of camaraderie. We were grateful for the opportunity to create lifelong memories and share our love for vintage motorcycles, captivating landscapes, and mouthwatering flavors. We can’t wait to take more groups on these exciting journeys across the best regions of Italy.
The inevitable campanile in every village of note, usually beside a 500yo church, in a 1000yo village. Tuscany in a nutshell. [Fabio Affuso]
Want to follow along on your phone?  Follow @ride70s_official on IG, and @fabioaffusophoto for more adventures in Italy.

Fabio Affuso is an Italian photographer based in London and his native Naples. He photographs motorsport and fashion around the globe. Find him at his website and Instagram.

The Anamosa Broughs: a Superior Collection

It might have seemed the height of pretense to label a new motorcycle company ‘Superior’ in 1919, but George Brough had a vision of building the fastest, most elegant motorcycles in the world, and delivered.  His father William built well-respected motorcycles in Nottingham from the 1890s, and commenced his own brand – Brough – that earned a reputation for high quality.  Young George was the factory’s official competitor in road and off-road events, which he often won with panache.


Young George Brough in 1912 aboard a 500c Brough 3 1/2hp single, after winning the London-Edinburgh Challenge Cup for three years in succession on his father's machines. [The Vintagent Archive]

During WW1, George Brough envisioned manufacturing an ultimate high-performance motorcycle, but his father refused the concept, so George set up his own factory nearby. He assembled the best racing components from engine, gearbox, forks, and wheel manufacturers for his first model, the Mk 1 of 1919.  It used a J.A.P. racing OHV v-twin motor of 1000cc and a heavyweight Sturmey-Archer 3-speed gearbox, in a very robust frame with a long wheelbase, crowned with the world’s first round-nosed saddle fuel tank, resplendent in nickel plating, black paint, and gold pinstriping.  A friend suggested he call it ‘Brough Superior’, as it so clearly was, but father William was not amused, presuming the family product was then relegated to ‘Brough Inferior’.

George aboard Brough Superior #1 in 1919, a Mk1 model with J.A.P. '90 Bore' V-twin with vertical valves. [The Vintagent Archive]
Brough Superior wowed the world with the extraordinary beauty of his products, their superb build quality, and their world-leading speed and handling, creating a new category for the industry: the luxury sports motorcycle. George proved the point personally, regularly entering road trials and sprints on his sparkling machines (he'd take them by train to the nearest station to an event), and invariably winning.  He was the original designer-manufacturer-racer, and always cut quite a figure at events, dressed immaculately with his signature cocked cap (which he designed).  His machines were full of industry 'firsts', including the first round-nose 'saddle' tank, the first sidestand, the first dipping headlamp, twin headlamps, crash bars, and interconnected silencers.

George aboard 'Spit and Polish', the first sidevalve motorcycle to clock 100mph, and the prototype for his SS80 model. [The Vintagent Archive]
In 1924, with the introduction of his SS100 model, cemented his position as one of the most gifted vehicle designers in history.  The SS100 was the fastest road-legal production motorcycle in the world, with each example guaranteed to have been timed at 100mph on the Brooklands autodrome.  Every Brough Superior was bespoke; tailored to the customer’s desires and physique, with special accessories, state of engine tune, gearing, forks, wheel sizes, fuel tank size, colors, and plating all optional.  One SS100 ordered by an Indian maharajah was entirely silver plated, another came with an electric starter for an officer who’d lost a leg in WW1; anything was possible.

The superb 1927 Brough Superior Pendine replica coming up for sale at Mecum Auction's John Parham Estate Collection at the National Motorcycle Museum, Sep 6-9. [Mecum]
If one wanted a racing SS100, Brough Superior offered the Pendine model, identifiable by three straps securing the fuel tank.  The Pendine was named for Pendine Sands in Wales, the site of racing and record-breaking, where Broughs often took FTDs.   George himself became the fastest motorcyclist on earth in 1930 at Arpajon France, when his SS100 clocked just over 130mph on a one-way run.  A mechanical glitch meant no return run for an official record, but the point was made.  Brough Superiors took the absolute World Speed Record three times between 1924 and 1937, besting BMW, Zenith, and OEC supercharged racers in a golden era of international top-speed battles.  The 1927 SS100 Pendine racer replica in the John Parham collection is a prime example of the exquisite mix of beauty and speed for this model, and is correct in every way, from its AMAC twin-float track carburetor to its three-strap tank, the whole machine resplendent in nickel plating, which was the ne plus ultra style of late 1920s track racing.  It is the most beautiful motorcycle in the National Motorcycle Museum collection, and this machine is known around the world as a peerless construction built to an absolutely period-correct standard.

The 1937 Brough Superior SS80 with Matchless MX motor: a sophisticated sports tourer. [Mecum]
Brough Superior offered other models for those not requiring the world’s fastest, introducing the SS80 model in 1923, with a sidevalve J.A.P. 1000cc racing v-twin. George raced a factory tuned version called ‘Spit and Polish’, the first sidevalve motorcycle to exceed 100mph, on which he won 51 of 52 sprint races entered. The bike finished first in that last race, although George was not aboard, having fallen off shortly before the line on the gravel course, a crash that put an end to his racing career.

The driver's seat of the SS80 - a grand expanse of fuel tank with double fillers, and sophisticated controls. [Mecum]
The SS80 became over time the most popular Brough Superior, a perfect luxury sports-touring machine with superb handling, guaranteed 80+mph performance, and total reliability.  The 1937 SS80 from the John Parham collection is a second-series model using a Matchless 990cc V-twin, with internal parts (a stronger crankshaft and special mainshafts) and tuning (hotter cams and better breathing) specified by George, as well as stronger shafts, gears, and racing ratios in the 4-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox.  It was amazing for a factory of such limited production (only 3048 built between 1919-40) to command special parts for their engines, gearboxes, and wheels, but that was pure Brough Superior, and suppliers were happy for the association.

The 1933 Brough Superior 11.50 at the National Motorcycle Museum: a potent motorcycle with 1100cc, and performance very near the SS100, and the sleeper of the Brough line. [Mecum]
As George Brough entered his 40s, after a life of racing (and crashing), he developed a new favorite in the Brough Superior model range: the 11.50, introduced in 1933, with a J.A.P. 1100cc 60deg sidevalve V-twin motor used by no other motorcycle manufacturer. While the specification might sound ordinary, the 11.50 is anything but, and with mild tuning proved to be (whisper it) as fast as the SS100, with greater low-down torque, and with its wider vee angle, even smoother.

The 11.50 is a comfortable machine, with wide handlebars, and shifting is rarely necessary once underway. [Mecum]
The 11.50 was the sleeper of the Brough Superior line, and a favorite of police forces in the UK and Canada for its ability to catch any car. I write with experience, having owned an 11.50 since 1989, and riding one across the USA in 2014 on the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally, where it proved the fastest and best-handling machine among 100 competitors.  Fans of the Harley-Davidson EL ‘Knucklehead’ were served humble pie in a roll-on acceleration test in Colorado, where the 11.50 ridden two-up simply walked away from a beautifully restored EL.  Needless to say, prices for the 11.50 quickly doubled.  The 1933 11.50 in the National Motorcycle Museum is a superbly restored machine, just waiting for a new owner to discover what’s really behind the Brough Superior badge.  It’s a rare instance of a brand truly living up to its reputation, even the audacious boast of its name proving accurate: a Brough is Superior.

[Full disclosure: Mecum Auctions is a sponsor of The Vintagent]


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.


A Chris Killip Retrospective

While photographer Chris Killip was known as a social documentarian, his upbringing on the Isle of Man meant it was inevitable he'd take a few extraordinary moto photos.  A legend in photographic circles, and a professor of visual and environmental studies at Harvard from 1991-2017, Killip was born in Douglas, where his parents owned the Highlander Pub - perhaps you've had a pint there on a trip to Mona's Isle?  Who knows what inspired the son of pubholders to take up a camera as a profession, but of course, a public house is a natural place to develop one's skills at social observation at a neutral distance: the parade of customers passing through are highlighted on a gimlet-lit stage, locals and tourists in a never-ending spectacle.

From Chris Killip's book 'Isle of Man 1971. [Chris Killip]
Killip left school at 16 to train as a hotel manager, work in his parents' pub, and photograph tourists at the beach.  He moved to London at 18 (1964) and worked as an apprentice commercial photographer under Adrian Flowers.  He soon went freelance, alternating work in the pub with photo gigs, but by 1969 he abandoned commercial photography to pursue his own work. He won fellowships from several local arts councils to photograph local cultures in the northeast of England, including Bury St Edmonds, Huddersfield, and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, all of which were experiencing major economic changes as local industries (coal mining, shipbuilding, heavy industry) began to disappear in the 1970s and 80s.  As he explained in 2019, "I didn’t set out to be the photographer of the English de-Industrial Revolution. It happened all around me during the time I was photographing."

A secretary in the late 1970s, Tyneside. [Chris Killip]
Killip became one of the most important photographers of the 1970s and '80s, mingling with very 'local' communities around the UK that were left behind in a major global shift of Capital.  He immersed himself into the towns and people he photographed, and made deeply personal imagery of the Isle of Man, beaches, council estates, or in the mosh pit of a punk show.  He became a familiar figure at underground punk clubs in Gateshead in the 1980s, and captured the raw vitality of the scene in a manner only possible by a participant with camera in hand. He also documented the coal miners of Lynemouth, who, as he said, "had history done to them."

West End, Newcastle. Father and son.
From the project 'In Flagrante' 1973-1985. [Chris Killip]
Killip's breakthrough book collecting his photographic work in the northeast of England was published in 1988 as In Flagrante, with a text by art critic/theoretician John Berger and Sylvia Grant.  Shot on 4x5" black-and-white film, these portraits of Tyneside's working class communities are now recognized as among the most important visual records of 1980s Britain. Critic Robert Ayers called it "one of the greatest photography books ever published."

From his documentation of the punk scene in the northeast of England. [Chris Killip]
His photographic work documenting the Isle of Man TT Races date from 1971, and have only recently been published in a unique (and inexpensive - £6.70!) edition by Cafe Royal Books.  The collection is like no other TT photos I've seen: they feature none of the romance of racing, only its grittiness, its working class participants, and the dramatic changes to the 'biker' in the post-Easy Rider era.  Chris Killip kindly allowed me to include one of his photos in my most recent book 'Ton Up!', in the chapter about the 1970s (order a signed copy here!).  British motorcyclists of the 1960s were basically 'straight-edge', eschewing alcohol and drugs in order to keep their wits about them while riding fast.  By 1971, the rules had clearly changed, with the bikers aping American B-movie styles for their motorcycles and riding gear, and looking fairly wasted. In this era, the term 'Rocker' became synonymous with bikers on drugs with crappy choppers, and the old cafe racer vibe was long gone.

From 'Ton Up!' - a cafe racer BSA rider at Douglas, Isle of Man, in 1971. [Chris Killip]
Killip's books have been been recently published, including In Flagrante, and Cafe Royal sells a 5-volume set of their collaboration with the photographer over the past few years, before his death of cancer in 2020.   They include:  Isle of Man TT Races 1971, Huddersfield 1974, The Seaside 1975–1981, Shipbuilding on Tyneside 1975–1976, and Askam-in-Furness 1982.  They can be ordered individually, check out the Cafe Royal website here.

More from the Isle of Man, 1971. [Chris Killip]
If you’re in the UK, there's currently an excellent Chris Killip retrospective exhibition at Baltic in Gateshead.

'Isle of Man TT Races 1971', from Cafe Royal Books


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.