Where has time gone? 2013 has been a busy year and low and behold I haven't updated this blog in over 2 months. Good things are worth the wait I suppose. Here's a quick sneak preview of tomorrows events at The Quail, in Carmel California which I'll be covering extensively.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Presentation is everything, at least in my opinion. Mike Slate, Scott Rosenberg, Jimmy Foster, curators of the permanent (and semi private) installation of classic motorcycles at The Broom Factory takes presentation to the next level. The backdrop of early 20th century industrial architecture, with modern renovations and amenities provide a brilliant juxtaposition for the later 20th century motorcycles contained within. So how did this massive 4 story factory become the ultimate clubhouse for a few older boys with an impressive interest in classic motorcycles? Quite simply, the building has been in Scott Rosenbergs family for over 100 years - and yes, they did make their fortune in the broom manufacturing business. In 1989, the Atlantic Southwestern Broom Company shut it's doors for the final time but fortunately someone had the insight to see the value in the buildings architecture and history and recognized the potential in commercial real-estate. Street level spaces have been rented by retailers while upstairs suites house offices, photo-studio, casting agency and yes motorcycles - lots of them.
For the past three years, the three men have been generous enough to hold an open house for friends (and friends of friends) to view the collection and celebrate some of the great brands from the glory days of racing. This year, the featured marquee was OSSA motorcycles but included a number of Penton's, Bultaco's as well as a few Triumph and BSA scramblers from the late 60's and early 70's.
|The hosts at the Broom Factory had exceptional design on their posters and signage.|
The Spanish OSSA brand was first launched in 1924 and was originally known as Orpheo Sincronic Sociedad Anónima (O.S.S.A.) - their leading product being movie projectors. After WWII the focus on inexpensive lightweight transportation in the form of two-stroke motorcycles became the companies leading product. By the 1960's, the sports of observed trials, motocross and enduro racing saw an increased demand for lightweight, powerful competition bikes and OSSA became a leading exporter to Europe and the United States. As the British motorcycle empire was waining in the 70's the European invasion was booming. 60's Stars like Dick Mann became involved with the Spanish label with a Mann signature model to follow. The Yankee Motorcycle Company (United States) made a twin cylinder OSSA based 500cc monster in 1972 - also with the help of frame designer Dick Mann. Watch the iconic Bruce Brown documentary On Any Sunday and count the OSSA's Bultaco's Maico's Pentons and Husky's. They dominated the burgeoning off road competition but fell short as the Japanese market made lighter, faster and cheaper bikes in the later part of the decade. By the early 80's OSSA went bankrupt.
|The original stairwell the workers would've used on their way to the production floor.|
|The dangerously powerful twin cylinder 500c Yankee - 1 of 750 produced.|
Broom Factory's key men: Scott Rosenberg, Mike Slate and Jimmy Foster cut their teeth racing during this exciting era for motorcycles, so it's no wonder they want to preserve the history and the legacy with their impressive collection of bikes, riding gear, trophy's and memorabilia. The show room on the third floor trumps anything a dealer would have put together. Rubberized wood chips cover the floor, bikes highlighted by strategic lighting, signed photographs adorn the walls, trophies, jerseys, helmets and everything involved with the European Pillaging of the US dirt track scene of the 70's - a virtual two-stroke Valhalla.
|Tidy Triumph Bonneville "Street Tracker" complete with Bates seat and headlight and Cerianni forks.|
|Cheyney framed round barrel BSA Victor 441cc. - the dying days of British off-roaders.|
The 70's are long gone and with it, so are the great names like OSSA motorcycles - well not entirely. OSSA was relaunched in 2010 with a focus on observed trial riding. Penton Motorcycles eventually became known as KTM - another dominant force in dirt track and dual purpose motor sports to this day. The Broom Factory may not be producing sweeping devices - but the commitment to preservation of not only the building but the contents inside is quite remarkable.
Being a product of the 70's myself, the disco era of dirt bikes never seemed "vintage" to me. I guess because admitting this era is vintage, might mean that I am getting older - but I digress. Witnessing the evolution of anything over the course of 30 some years, it's sometimes difficult to see the change happen - because it's so slow and gradual. This weekend I was presented with a comprehensive look at the golden era of off-road two strokes and it looked beautiful.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Theres just something about walking into a warehouse for the very first time and having your vision clogged up with the site of old bikes floor to ceiling. It's a lot to take in and more questions are raised then answered. Where did all this stuff come from? Who owned these? What are the stories behind each and every item. It's a very romantic notion, I know, but I'm a hopeless romantic at heart - what can I say?
John Geiger's romance with Italian motor scooters started over 20 years ago and like me he's a polygamist with his machines. An ex girlfriend turned him onto Vespa's and while she faded out of the picture, the relationship with scooters grew from an infatuation to a way of life. It's not often that someone can earn a living working on the things one loves, but it's even rarer to be able to have such a tight focus on one particular machine such as old Vespas and Lambretta's and still earn a living.
As a side story, I first got my '74 Vespa in the late 90's. I loved the styling of the scooters and I loved the folklore of Mods riding through London in the early 60's. I found my Vespa resting in a barn in Western Mass with a seized engine and a heavy blanket of dust and splattered paint. Though it was rough, it was complete and the price was right (free). I had owned two motorcycles prior to this, a 70's Honda XR75 as a kid and later a Triumph TR25 - both of which came to me in running order. Finding a machine in need of love (and a whole lot of sorting out) was a whole new experience for me. With the help of my father (who was building a Triton Cafe Racer at the time - perfect irony - see mods vs rockers) we got the piston unstuck from the cylinder and had the scooter running in a few hours. For the next month I tracked down tires, fuel line, petcock and carburetor parts all while doing my best to clean and restore the Vespa's appearance. Working on that machine gave me a sense of ownership, understanding and love that I never experienced with a motorcycle before. I also had one of the best bonding moments with my father that I can ever recall. This moment carried forward and I still love rescuing beaten bikes to this day. It just makes it so much more special.
Over the years my Vespa served me well but wear and tear on the engine began to set in and I knew it needed an overhaul, complete with boring, honing and rewiring (if you've ever wired a vespa than I don't have to tell you about fishing wires through the pressed steel frame). The bike eventually went into the corner of my garage and began to gather dust. After many failed attempts to breathe new life into the old girl, I threw my hands up and took her down to Geiger Works in the Kensington section of Philsdelphia.
Jon is one of those guys who loves riding small displacement vehicles on journeys that some would think twice about even on a large motorcycle. He builds his engines to be fast and reliable so when the need to ride 500 miles on a scooter arrises, he's ready. I met Jon at a motorcycle rally a few Novembers ago up near Reading PA. He was on his P200 all the way from Philly (a 120 mile round trip on an icy day). I knew he was the man to take on my engine's reconditioning. When I went down to his shop to drop off my bike I was pleased to see he was an even bigger hoarder than I am. Scooters and motorcycles covering every inch of floorspace and stacked to the ceiling on large industrial shelves. An old lathe sat on a crate in one corner "I found that in the trash" Jon boasted to me "I couldn't let it get scrapped". I could certainly relate.
Jon started working on scooters like anyone else: He found an old Vespa that needed work, so he took it apart - though that bike is still apart and up on a shelf. The passion for mechanics definite;y stuck because soon Jon was working as a mechanic for Philadelphia Vespa. As scooters gained popularity, Jon and his crew of avid riders became the centerpiece for scooter rallies and events. After leaving Hostile City scooter club (because too many new plastic scooters were showing up), Jon helped co-found The Rabble Rousers - a hardcore group of vintage scooter riding, beer swilling hooligans from the City of Brotherly Love. Again I could relate to the passion of keeping it all vintage - I was in the right spot.
I talked to Jon for a few hours from bikes, machining tools to punk rock. Turns out we both had a fondness for the Bad Brains and we both were at many of the same shows throughout our days. I can't recommend Jon Geiger enough for reviving your old two stroke, he's a nice, honest guy with a solid reputation. I've seen pictures of his work on his site - but more importantly I've seen his scooters in action... and they're usually a long way from home.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
For those of us living in North East, winter is long, riding is for the brave and foolish (at least until the trees start to bud again) so the January indoor swap meet in York Pennsylvania is a beacon of light when the nights are longer than the days. This particular weekend was jammed packed with events including James Hammerheads NYC Launch party for his custom V7 Guzzi, The International Motorcycle Show at the Javits Center, but after the Vegas auction last weekend, I decided to stick close to home and possibly spend lots of money - which is not hard to do if you're like me.
Last year I had a ton of crap to sell, but after unloading a lot of the british spares I had on my friend over at Quaker City Motorworks this past fall, I really had a burning need to acquire versus purge. I have to say I'm proud of myself that I didn't pick up any more projects. I did score a 5 speed transmission for my future Triton build and a few cool t shirts, including one from my friends over at Urban Cycle Works and another from the Gary Nixon estate that was sold by number nine's close pal Bob Sholly.
I've covered this swap for a number of years so i have nothing much to add - so here's a few pictures which I figure are at least worth a thousand words.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Las Vegas is the playground for those who like to drink hard and place bets... Neither of which are a part of my life anymore so why am I here? Well, for the avid vintage bike collector (and for the record I barely call myself more than a small time scavenger) - the new year kicks off in the city of sin with a double header of auction-powerhouses, Bonhams and Mid America Auctions- albeit last years party was crashed by RM/Auctions America, leading to one of the strongest buyers market I've ever witnessed, but thats a story for another time.
|The RS225 Kompressor|
This year, Bonhms featured several highly-hyped BMW Rennsports, including an RS255 fitted with a factory super charger or "Kompressor" like the one ridden to the IOM TT victory in 1939 by Georg Meier. While the Rennsport offered by Bohnams was not the bike which was piloted by the first non-Brit TT winner, the factory components used to assemble this machine are original and quite simply, unobtainable. Prices were speculated to hit the half million dollar mark, and fell short by only twenty grand. Three other Rennsports were offered as well as other notable bikes with race history including an original 1970 Rob North framed BSA Rocket III which failed to meet reserve (of six figures) and a 1960 Matchless G-50 that was just shy of $60k. Apparently those with money are still spending it on necessities like collectable motorcycles.
|Rob North Framed BSA Rocket III|
Now no way am I in the league with aforementioned buyers, but i do get a kick out of seeing how the other half lives. The 1952 Vincent Black Shadow that brought a hefty $134,800 is not on my current want list or even dream list - possibly beyond-my-wildest-dream-list, but for now I like going to high ticket sales to get good stories and meet good people. So who are the people that go to an event like Bonhams or MMA? Everyone who loves 2 wheels. Museum curators to garage dwellers, race team owners and former pro racers to privateers who look back on their track-days as the best times of their lives. Yes there are jerks who buy that "old-ass board tracker" for their office to impress their buddies, but there are also the common guys who built, restored and traded their way up from humble beginnings.
You don't need deep pockets to get a kick out of the auctions, especially if you're open minded and enjoy meeting people of all backgrounds - ok I love judging people whom I don't know -- so I guess there's that too (like the aforementioned asshole who just wants office status... yeah that guy). For me it's all about the thrill of what MIGHT happen in Vegas. Sales in the volatile moto-market can sometimes break records and other times fall short leading to the bargain of a lifetime. You just never know whats going to happen and unless you're present, and if you don't play the game then you can only revel in other peoples "what happened in Vegas" stories. Last year I dragged home a crusty 1956 plunger-framed Triumph T-20 in its original paint and probably it's original oil as most of the engine was frozen. The price, even with shipping was well below what I felt to be market value. It's not the most desirable Triumph, but it's unusual in the States and it's interesting to me as I have a thing for the little 200 singles.
It's the love for motorcycles and the history of the sport that draws us all to that blazing oasis in the desert. Raise your bidders paddle and you get a true adrenaline rush from the prospect of a deal you might be getting - perhaps this is the humble beginnings to that unobtainable collection you never dreamt of owning. Be careful as you can quickly find yourself in a bidding war with the guy across the room who also needs that bike. You might just end up paying twice it's value. Its all a gamble I guess - so yeah, scratch that from the list of things I no longer partake in... Whatever, it's Vegas.
|1934 Harley 34B Single|
|1929 Magnat Debon 350cc|
|HMW cutaway engine|
|1938 Rudge 250 Special|
|1958 Triumph Thunderbird albeit wrong color|
|51 Triumph 6T Drag Racer|
|1950 Phelon & Moore Panther 600cc|
Friday, October 26, 2012
I recently had the opportunity to stop by Bob Oswalds machine shop in Parkesburg Pennsylvania which despite being just a few miles from my house, I've never visited before. Oswald, or Ozzie as he's know by his friends, is a master machinist and owner of Quiet Power Drive - the moniker for his proprietary line of primaries and electric start kits for Triumph, BSA and Norton. Ozzie's been in the game a long time and his reputation for quality is second to none. All his clutch baskets are set up to run a Norton style diaphragm clutch - a huge upgrade from the three spring pressure plate that comes stock. I knew Ozzie made everything in-house, but what I didn't know is that he makes all his parts the old fashioned way - with a lathe and a Bridgeport mill! Old craftsmanship at it's finest.
|piles of baskets, centers and pulleys are stacked everywhere in Bobs 2 car garage.|
Ozzie got into making belt drives in the 70's. So successful were his systems, that Triumph Motorcycles invited him to Meriden England to show the top brass the primary side electric starter as a possibility for factory production. Unfortunately, the weaker timing-side starters were already in place, and Triumph went under before they could upgrade. Far superior to the stock electric starter systems, which are prone to stripping gears, Bob continued to manufacture his own system for those who wanted improved reliability for their old Brit iron.
|The Mill where Bob Oswald spends most of his day|
|Bob shows me the electric start on this 1973 Commando|
|In his 80's, Bob shows no sign of slowing down!|