Ty Tuazon

‘Von Dutch’ Auction, Los Angeles (2007)

[This article was originally published in The Vintagent on Nov 11 2007]

Kenneth Howard, aka 'Von Dutch', became a legend in California hotrod circles as the originator of the modern style of pinstripe decoration. I think he can also be credited with the creation of the logo t-shirt, and probably the logo trucker hat as well, for better or worse. Since his death, the cars and motorcycles which he owned or decorated have exploded in value, and to take advantage of this situation, Bonham's auction house held a sale of his motorcycles and related memorabilia at the Peterson Museum. Most items were from the collection of Stan Betz (who was also famous in hotrod circles, and supplied V.D. with his paint). Betz was a master paint mixer/matcher for show cars and motorcycles.

The original Von Dutch sign from his pinstriping business, sun worn and perfect: I did buy the door to his shop, but the sign would have been the prize! [Paul d'Orléans]
Von Dutch had Hollywood friends as well, including Steve McQueen, and the auction included a few items which had this double-whammy provenance, including a lowly Kawasaki 100cc dirtbike, and a Scott two-speeder. Both machines sold for many, many times what a normal example would fetch. My favorite item from the auction is a sign from Von Dutch's shop in Tempe, Arizona (he moved back and forth from LA over the decades). This sold for $16k, and frankly, I regret not having stepped up for it. I don't consider the man a tremendous artist, but he did some very nice work at times, and is an important figure in the now-huge world of 'kustom kulture'. It's about 4' in diameter, and an impressive piece of folk art.

A BMW R51/3 striped up by Von Dutch, with a few interesting custom mods. [Paul d'Orléans]
Next two photos show a '53 BMW R51/3 - not a bike you would expect Von Dutch to customize, and he's noted the fact on several locations - the tank logo says in very small letters 'would you believe its a', then a normal size "BMW?". The tank is from a Ducati single, although a similarly painted Hoske tank was included. I like the detail shot from the rear of the tank - "Von Dutch is still alive! '66", perhaps indicating that his popularity was waning at the time, due to changes in youth culture post-British Invasion, and the advent of the psychedelic era, which repudiated the macho image of hotrodders and Boozefighters. Speaking of whom, the Friday night reception at the Peterson Auto Museum was filled with a neo-Boozefighters club, so I presume someone has resuscitated the name. Who were they originally? If you've seen 'The Wild One', that's who they were; a SoCal bike gang made up primarily of de-mobbed WW2 soldiers, roaming around the state, and eventually morphing into the Hell's Angels.

A Moto Guzzi striped up by Von Dutch, showing the style he developed in the 1940s that reverberates to this day. [Paul d'Orléans]
What was Von Dutch's motorcycle pinstriping like? Here's a '55 Moto Guzzi Falcone which he personally owned. If you squint, I think you can see the seed of the Modern Primitive movement on this Guzzi - picture all the young hipsters you've seen who have tattoos just like this. This young lady, who shall remain nameless, chose to provide the sexual drama she felt necessary to spice up the auction preview party on Friday night. She's standing behind 'Ringadingdoo!', which was Steve McQueen's 1970 Kawasaki 100cc G31M Centurion, which Von Dutch decorated, as apparently McQueen didn't like the original Kawi green. The Ringading bit refers to the sound of a two-stroke dirt bike... some of the foreign auction attendees didn't get the reference, so I'll explain it to the world. It sold for $45,000, plus auction fees and tax, which totals out at $57,125.25... Kaching-adingdoo is more like it! By the way, the dapper fellow on the far right of the photo is Andrew Reilly, who works at Bonhams in SF, in the motoring division.

Ring a ding indeed! Another Von Dutch special. [Paul d'Orléans]
Next pic is your selection of Triumphs for the day, sir. Is it good marketing to line up 12 nearly identical bikes? Well, it looked cool anyway, and there were some very nice machines on offer, including a 1959 Triumph T120 Bonneville that sold for around $25k. These two women were considering the prospect of owning a piece of history, but I don't think they bought anything on the day.

The lineup of non-VD Triumphs at Bonhams' Petersen sale. Highest price was $25k for a 1959 T120 Bonneville: prices have not risen in 15 years for Triumphs, but quite the opposite. [Paul d'Orléans]
Considering the purchase of a vintage motorcycle, and fully geared to ride one away. [Paul d'Orléans]
Most beautiful bike on sale at the auction was this '56 Matchless G45, which came complete with its original crate and a bunch of spares in the box. Discovered in South Africa, the restoration was very high quality, as apparently the bike was totally correct and complete when found. I've always thought the G45 one of the best looking machines ever; it wasn't especially successful as a racer, having been developed from their G9 roadster (and thus a humble pushrod parallel twin 500cc).

The Matchless G45 was an exquisite production racer, at least in style. Why more Matchless twins weren't converted to cafe racers in this style is a mystery to me... [Paul d'Orléans]
Coolest bike on offer was this Crocker-engined special, with the big v-twin shoehorned into a badly abused Triumph rigid frame and forks, and topped by an Ariel tank. This machine was clearly a barn find, and always had a diaper underneath as the oil was still oozing out. Best surplus part on offer was this Crocker racing engine, a unique prototype 500cc chain-driven OHC item, clearly inspired by the AJS K10/R10 series. Al Crocker made this up as his ultimate Speedway motor (which is what he was known for until that time), but soon decided to embark on his high performance v-twin motorcycles which bore his name. Thus this engine is unique...if you had shown up with $100k last Saturday, you could have taken it home and built it into a real giant slayer.

Crocker power, Ariel chassis. By today's standards, it went cheap. [Paul d'Orléans]
The other Crocker on sale was this OHC prototype speedway motor, from the first period of Crocker production, before he went into V-twins. [Paul d'Orléans]
Here's the other McQueen/Von Dutch machine; Pete Gagan's '23 Scott two-speeder. I've ridden this machine through the hills of NorCal, and enjoyed it, once I'd gotten the hang of the two-speeds and keeping up momentum. If speed was maintained at 30-40mph over the hills and through the corners, it would go up any incline with no problem. Cornering hard to keep up the pace was a breeze as well, as the frame is excellent. The water in the radiator tended to boil off after a while though, and Pete cautioned that if it suddenly seemed to lose 20% of its power, it needed water! His reason for selling; given the intere$t in McQueen/Von Dutch, he could sell this machine, buy another Scott, and pocket the balance. As the bike went under the hammer at $38,000, I'd say he was quite right...

Pete Gagan reckoned he'd done well selling his 1923 Scott painted by Von Dutch for $38k.  Two years later it was sold at a New York watch auction for $276k. I had the pleasure of riding this machine over Skaggs Springs Road in CA a year prior on an AMCA run I organized: if kept hard on the throttle, the excellent handling made rapid progress possible, but it boiled its water off every hour of riding, like a steam engine.  [Paul d'Orléans]
There was a Clark Gable Harley for sale, and a collection of Charles Bronson dirt bikes too. Then, 'Along Came Zaugg'; Jared that is, founder (with wife Brooke) of the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours, who wanted a piece of Hollywood history too, and bought this '72 Honda XL250, complete with Bronson's tools, registration, and old gum packets in the tool bag, for the princely sum of $800, which is probably what it would sell for on ebay w/out the Bronson connection. Auctions are funny things.

Jared Zaugg, co-founder of the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours, was happy to buy Charles Bronson's Honda. [Paul d'Orléans]

SOME THOUGHTS ON AUTHENTICITY

An Indian sold as 'original paint'... [Paul d'Orléans]

Here we have three photos of a 1912 Indian Board Track Racer; the first shows what appears to be a lovely, patinated, racing machine. Detail shot #1 shows the conjunction of the frame, seat, fuel tank, and oil tank. Note the different colors for each of these items. I've learned a few things rubbing elbows with restorers and other concours judges at events over the years, and a most useful skill is spotting when a motorcycle (or part of one) has been updated, replaced, or patinated to appear original. This Indian was advertised as being in 'complete, unrestored, and original condition'. So, here we see that the frame is a darker color in the photo than either of the tanks, or the wheel rim. Logic would indicate that they would all oxidize at the same rate, given that they were painted at the same time and with the same material. So why should the tanks and wheel rims be brighter? They've clearly been repainted at the very least, more likely replaced, and might be brand new in fact - there's almost no way to tell within the time constraints of an auction.

...but on closer inspection, three colors of paint were present, and the nickel was new and patinated with dark brown goo. [Paul d'Orléans]
Years ago I discussed this with Mike Smith, who's since passed away; Mike restored and sold early American machines. As I have extensive experience with faux-finish painting, we dissected the techniques he used to 'patinate' a new part for an 'original paint' motorcycle, in order not to disturb the visual continuity of the machine. He was quite frank about doing this, not wanting to deceive, but to harmonize. But of course, a later purchaser might not be so clear when re-selling the machine, which muddies the whole picture. The third photo shows the nickel-plated handlebars; close inspection showed the nickel in perfect condition, but with an interesting overlay of what looks like a liquid chemical antiquing agent, to make it appear old. Caveat Emptor.

 

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

San Francisco Art Deco Day, 2006

The Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco held an 'Art Deco Day', honoring their current exhibit examining Art Deco jewelry and art. The Art Deco Society of California was invited to grace the opening day with period cars and lavish costumes, including a parade of cars across the Golden Gate Bridge to the museum. I 'crashed' the party, being the only motorcyclist present, but at least I had correct period 1920s gear and bike - my 1928 Sunbeam TT90. All the drivers/passengers associated with the cars were done up in 1920's style, with a lot of period extras like gramophones playing, wicker picnic baskets, etc.  Note the fellow in the tux attending a 1934 Talbot Lago, in the background of the Sunbeam photo. The 1926 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is my idea of a good time on four wheels, sounding fantastic while driving down the road.

Paul d'Orléans' 1928 Sunbeam TT90 was a period correct party crasher at the Art Deco Day party; a 1934 Talbot Lago convertible lurks behind. [Paul d'Orléans]
This 1926 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in red and polished aluminum looked and sounded amazing! [Paul d'Orléans]
Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

Legend of the Motorcycle Attire

Two more pix from the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d'Elegance. Top pic is Adolfo Orsi from Milan, who is touching a Brough Superior SS100! More importantly, his outfit; he told me it was bespoke, made from an old Milanese design, for motorcycling. Love the socks! Adolfo is a delightful character, who had flown from Italy just to attend/participate in the event; he is more regularly scene at automotive events (like the Concorso Villa d'Este)as an expert on Maseratis, as his family owned the brand for many years.

Adolfo Orsi, heir to the Maserati name, and his custom-made Italian vintage motorcycling outfit at the 2006 Legends of the Motorcycle Concours d'Elegance. [Paul d'Orléans]
Lower pic shows Jared Zaugg, who with his wife Brooke Roner organized the Legends Concours, requiring two years in the planning, that was financially guaranteed with his personal credit cards! That's commitment. He's wearing a great vintage-y outfit with those spectator shoes, and looking pretty darn good for a guy who hadn't slept in a couple of days. I'm wearing a vintage Dunhill coat, one of the few items of clothing I've bought on eBay, but being a judge at the event required a blue jacket and khaki slacks - standard Pebble Beach attire. A polka-dotted necktie is doing double-duty as my pocket square, which matches my ca. 1970 Sears polyester shirt. Yes!

Event organizer Jared Zaugg with author Paul d'Orléans in 2006, the inaugural Legends of the Motorcycle Concours d'Elegance, which was an enormous success. [Paul d'Orléans]
Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

Ride Em Don't Hide 'Em

This is the Legend of the Motorcycle overall Concours winner from the 2006 event, a Crocker with a near-perfect restoration. The photo was taken the weekend following the Concours that May, on a pre-1916 ride (I know, it's later than that, but I was on a post-16 as well) near the famous Pozo Saloon. The owner - Mike Madden -  rode the machine with gusto, scraping the footboards on the twisty roads (guess all those 'fast Crocker' stories were about straight-line races!), and generally enjoying the heck out of his historic machine. Not all show winners are trailer queens!

Mike Madden's 1938 Crocker Big Tank, an immaculate machine that still gets ridden! [Paul d'Orleans]

For more on Crocker motorcycles, read 'The Crocker Story' here.  It's a fascinating tale of one man's aspirations becoming legendary with time.    

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

Goodwood Revival 2005: Planes, Cars, Motorcycles

Goodwood Revival; if you're a fan of old cars, planes, motorcycles, people in period dress, great photo ops, a Veuve Clicquot tent, bespoke tweed suits (special 'Goodwood' weave) by Lord March's personal tailor, or having a shave and haircut while watching the races in an old leather barber chair...this is the place!  The mega-estate of Lord March encompasses within its vastness a full racetrack, a sprint course, a castle, an airfield, numerous houses and private drives, restaurants, etc.  The 12,000 acre estate is well situated in the south of England, with easy access from London, and has become a magnet for Revivalists and fans of vintage vehicles of all types. 

A Spitfire crew in period dress...and the planes are flown in and out many times daily. [Paul d'Orléans]

Cars, planes, motorcycles, people in period dress, great photo ops, a Veuve Clicquot tent, you can even buy a bespoke tweed suit (special 'Goodwood' weave) by Lord March's personal tailor, or get a haircut and shave while watching the races in an old leather barber chair. Top pic shows a Spitfire and attending crew, listening to a gramophone, before scrambling and taking off in the plane! Center pic shows a Rolls 'howdah' (maharajah's hunting jitney) with prey, pardon the paper bag in my hand but if you buy a program, you get a lot of goodies, including a single-earpiece radio to listen to the commentary (otherwise inaudible due to the racing). I think the bag also held my lunch, which was brought to me by Peter Miles (thanks Peter!). Third photo is a random shot by the race staging area; everyone looks the part. The cars are Formula 2, with Ford 4-cyl engines. The video shows these cars taking off for the race - if the film had been in black and white, it might be 1964!

Amazing Rolls Royce Howdah from India. A hunting rig with victim displayed! [Paul d'Orléans]

Car and motorcycle races from specific eras and competition types (Grand Prix, F1, F500, prewar, postwar) run on the track all day, while the grass airfield is abuzz with regular takeoffs, landings, and flyovers of vintage aircraft, including the Spitfire above, and B17 Flying Fortress, B24 Liberator, plus truly ancient biplanes and more modern jets. The Spitfire and attending crew (above) listened to a gramophone, before the pilots in WW2 gear 'scrambled' and took off!

 

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