Thursday, September 15, 2016


It's not typical to auction a major classic vehicle auction for charity, but that's what the late Robert White stipulated in his will.  Jay Leno purchased his collection of 17 Brough Superiors last year, with the funds headed entirely to the hospital Mr. White wanted to support; a cancer treatment center in an area of Britain not well served.   Jay's video is a testament to a friend, and a plug for the upcoming Bonhams auction of the remainder of Robert White's motorcycles, cars, Leicas, etc.  The auction is coming up fast - Monday Sep 19th!

The variety of machines is impressive, including this 1920 1220cc Ace four in beautiful condition.  Eligible for the 2020 Cannonball!
What looks like an entirely original 1974 Ducati 750SS, with known history from at least 1985...
...and a gorgeous 1953 MV Agusta monoalbero 125cc raeer, which I looked over at the Banbury Run this year.  An amazing, drool-worthy machine.

Friday, September 09, 2016


Brian Bent and his magnificent Hot Rod Church of Sinners mascot car...
The Southsiders MC have been organizing rides in Biarritz/the Pyrenees/Spain since 2009, when we made up a baker's dozen for a few days riding on vintage machines.  I'd met Vincent Prat at the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours in Half Moon Bay in 2008, and he'd invited me to come ride with his friends in France. With exceptional riding roads, little traffic, and terrific Basque food, our merry band of vintagents had found a perfect combination of company and environment. 
Most of the crew who came out for a ride in the Central Coast of California.  The usual August fires were 30 miles away, and lent a golden haze to the light
The event was repeated the next year, and the next, growing with each iteration; by 2011,  the Southsiders added a party in Toulouse to the ride, with an art exhibit and music, which was the prototype for Wheels&Waves, which began in June 2012 in Biarritz.  That little ride with a dozen of us is now an event with 15,000 attendees, still with the ride in the mountains, and other fun in the region, like the Punk's Peak hillclimb/sprint, and now a flattrack race in Spain, along with the ArtRide exhibit, and music at the central 'village' at the Cité de l'Ocean in Biarritz.  It's a terrific mix of moto-centric fun, and a unique mix of the vintage, custom, chopper, surf, race, and skate scenes.
Go Takamine's Indian Chout - a Chief motor in a Scout chassis.  He said it took him 4 months of 'no sleep' to built it...
What does this have to do with The Vintagent?  It's a strategy: one-make vintage motorcycle clubs, and groups like the VMCC and AMCA, have an aging membership, and their members/boards lament and fret on how to interest younger riders in old machines.  Younger riders are in fact already interested in old machines - alt.custom sites like Pipeburn and BikeExif feature plenty - but aren't interested in hanging around a boring bike club.    A mix of old an new machines is happening organically at events like the BikeShed and Wheels&Waves; what better place to fan the interest of younger riders than to bring old bikes, and ride them in the mix at cool events?
Scotty Topnik's Shovelhead chopper at the Cayucos Skate Park; a natural combination, give how many recent chopper converts are/were serious skaters...
To support this concept, TheVintagent partnered with the Southsiders MC last month to host Wheels&Waves Cayucos, a low-key flag-planting on American soil of a great event.  A few friends were invited to the Swallow Creek Ranch for 2 days of riding through the Central Coast hills, and an opportunity to hang out without distraction.  Our mascot for the event was Richard Vincent, who raced Velocettes and Triumphs in Santa Barbara in the early 1960s, and surfed in the area too.  Richard brought his vintage surfboards, Velocette dirt racers, and a bunch of photographs from his racing/surfing days.  Susan and I shot MotoTintypes with our Wet Plate Van, and portraits of a few friends, which I'm sharing here, along with a few of my iPhone shots.  Stay tuned for next year's event!
The 'Hardley' from Revival Cycles beside an astounding grain elevator in Templeton, built entirely of stacked 2x6" boards!
Jalika and Alp Sungurtekin relax with their pup.  Alp brought his 172mph pre-unit Triumph land speed record bike
Jeanette Mekdara and her Triumph Bonneville
A few of the ladies chill out by Swallow Creek barn
Yours truly with my 1960 Velocette Clubman, and the very brave Suzie Heartbreak
Revival Cycle's fantastic Velocette-Rickman custom
Polo Garat, a Southsider over from France, on a borrowed Velo...
Conrad Leach and Matt Davis hanging around Brian Bent's hot rod... (MotoTintype)
Birds of prey circled the skies...even a rare Falcon was sighted.  It was great to see Ian Barry on the road again.  (MotoTintype)
Dean Micetich making it all look easy on his Panhead chopper  (MotoTintype)
Ana Llorente rode her Honda CB450 Black Bomber  (MotoTintype)
The ladies of the Southsiders MC are not to be messed with  (MotoTintype)
Those wild men from Revival Cycles - Alan Stulberg and Stefan Hertl  (MotoTintype)
Roland Sands brought his cool Servi-Car based flat track racer  (MotoTintype)
The Southsiders MC.  (MotoTintype)
Photographer Travis Shinn with Roland's H-D.  (MotoTintype)
There were waves, there were wheels.  These vintage surfboards belong to Richard Vincent, who displayed them along with his racing Velocettes, and photos from his racing/surfing days in the early 1960s.   The Southsiders MC - Julien Azé, Jérome Allé, and Vincent Prat - were happy to pose with them...  (MotoTintype)

Monday, August 08, 2016


Blackie Bernal on his reverse-head Triumph Thunderbird, which averaged 144mph at Bonneville in 1952.  Blackie is wearing long underwear, hi-top tennis shoes, gloves, a helmet, and nothing else!
I purchased a 1952 copy of Cycle magazine at the flea market last weekend, which included a tremendous cover photograph of Blackie Bernal's Triumph Thunderbird record-breaker, ready to be foot-shoved off the starting line at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  The pusher's foot sneaks into the photo, but most dramatically, Blackie is wearing nothing that might be called safety equipment, barring a 1930s era 'pudding basin' helmet.  As Rollie Free proved in his 1950 Vincent 150mph 'bathing suit' speed record, less clothing means less drag, and no doubt less heat under the Utah sun.  While the Salt Flats sit at 4200', and temperatures are rarely above 90degrees, the blinding white salt and utter lack of shade on the dry lake bed can be punishing.
Note the large intake funnels - free supercharging?  Also note the significant ding in the tank - that was courtesy Tommy Smith, which led to skin grafts.
Blackie Bernal is best known for his use of a 'reverse head' on his Triumph, with the carburetors facing forwards, presumably in the interest of free 'supercharging' of the incoming fuel/air mix.  To this end, he fitted huge metal funnels to his carbs to focus the incoming wind, which presumably included a measure of salt spray as well! He ran and re-ran the black-line course for a full 8 days to reach his goal. While the engineering philosophy behind his work is questionable, there's no doubt his machine was very fast; he averaged 144.338mph over two runs, giving him the 40 cubic" Class A American speed record.
Blackie Bernal being 'footed' by another rider to start his Triumph Thunderbird, at the starter's scaffold.
That speed was purchased at the expense of a considerable swath of skin from Bernal's rider, Tommy Smith of Turlock, CA.  He'd come off at over 140mph, and according to Cycle, "had a spellbinding spill. When he had finally stopped grinding bodily across the salt, Tommy arose and waved to the crowd that he was all right, before sinking back to the ground."  Racing on the salt was then suspended for 4 hours, while the ambulance was away with Smith, who required several skin grafts.  One shudders to think of a near-naked bodysurf across the surprisingly rough surface of the salt flats - rubbing salt into the wound indeed!
Doing the 'Rollie Free' aboard a supercharged H-D Panhead; Jack Dale running Bus Schaller's machine, which didn't set a record...
The fastest time of the meet in 1952 according to the organizers the Southern California Timing Association (then only 3 years old!) was 168mph, achieved by the 80 cubic" Harley-Davidson Knucklehead of CB Clausen and Bud Hood.   The Knuck had no fairing and no supercharger, but probably ran special fuel - a respectable speed in any era!

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Sunday, July 17, 2016


Cliff Vaughs at the Motorcycle Film Festival panel discussion, which I moderated - a film of his visit to NYC is being edited as we speak (photo courtesy the Motorcycle Film Festival).
Cliff Vaughs, best known for his creation of the ‘Easy Rider’ choppers, sailed away from this world quietly on July 2nd from his home in Templeton, CA. Had it not been for Jesse James’ ‘History of the Chopper’ TV series, Vaughs would have likely vanished from history, but the question ‘who built the most famous motorcycles in the world?’ needed an answer. That led Jesse to a sailboat in Panama, where he found Cliff, who’d left the USA in 1974. Why he lived alone on a sailboat in the Caribbean, instead of soaking up praise for his work on ‘Easy Rider’, and his filmmaking , photography, and civil rights work, is a long story. I told some of that story in my book ‘The Chopper; the Real Story’, but Cliff’s life was too big to fit into one chapter of a book, and he dismissed 'Easy Rider' as "Three weeks of my life". 
Cliff Vaughs on Malibu beach in 1973, on his white H-D Shovelhead chopper. (photo courtesy Eliot 'Cameraman' Gold)
Cliff Vaughs was born in Boston on April 16th, 1937, to a single mother, and showed great promise as a student. He graduated from Boston Latin School and Boston University, then earned his MA at the University of Mexico in Mexico City – driving from Boston in his Triumph TR2. Moving to LA in 1961, he encountered the budding chopper scene, and soon had a green Knucklehead ‘chopped Hog’, as he called it; that’s where he befriended motorcycle customizer Ben Hardy in Watts, who became his mentor. Cliff was recruited to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1963, and brought his chopper to Arkansas and Alabama, where he drag-raced white policemen, and visited sharecropper farms “looking like slavery had never ended.” He added, “I may have been naïve thinking I could be an example to the black folks who were living in the South, but that’s why I rode my chopper in Alabama. I was never sure if the white landowners would chase me off with a shotgun. But I wanted to be a visible example to them; a free black man on my motorcycle.”
Danny Lyon's photo of Cliff Vaughs at a sit-in in Maryland, 1964.  This photo is currently on exhibit at the Whitney Museum in NYC in Danny Lyon's career retrospective 'Message to the Future.' 
Cliff’s chopper adventures in the SNCC was a story never told – he was too radical, too provocative, too free for the group. Casey Hayden (activist/politician Tom Hayden’s first wife) remembered Cliff as “a West Coast motorcyclist, a lot of leather and no shirts. Hip before anyone else was hip. A little scary, and reckless.” Cliff’s ex-wife Wendy Vance added “He was a true adventurer. ... There was just some sort of fearlessness in all situations. It did not occur to him that he was a moving target on this motorcycle. At a march in Selma, the civil rights leader John Lewis refused to stand next to him. ‘You are crazy,’ Lewis said, ‘I will not march next to you.’ The fear was that, somehow, Cliff would make himself a target.” 
A never-before published photo of Cliff on his white H-D Shovelhead chopper in 1973 (photo courtesy the Easyriders archive)
Cliff was indeed a target of many failed shootings, and his tales of riding his chopper in the South were incorporated into ‘Easy Rider', after he returned to LA in 1965 to make films like 'What Will the Harvest Be?', which explored the nascent Black Power movement. Cliff was Associate Producer on 'Easy Rider', and oversaw the creation of the Captain America and Billy choppers, which became the most famous motorcycles in the world. He didn’t get the recognition he deserved for those bikes, partly because the whole crew was fired when Columbia Pictures took over production, and Cliff’s payout/signoff included a clause keeping him off the film’s credits. Publications like Ed Roth’s ‘Choppers Magazine’ explored Cliff’s role in ‘Easy Rider’ from 1968 onwards, but both Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper at various times claimed credit for building those bikes, and Dan Haggerty took credit too. Hopper acknowledged in his last year the seminal role Cliff Vaughs played, as did Peter Fonda, in 2015. Cliff went on to produce ‘Not So Easy’, a motorcycle safety film, in 1974, but left the US to live on a sailboat in the Caribbean the next 40 years.  He was brought back to the US in 2014, as appreciation spread for his contribution to motorcycle history, and he was celebrated at the Motorcycle Film Festival in Brooklyn last year; a documentary from his time in NYC is being edited as this moment. Godspeed, Cliff.
Cliff Vaughs with a re-creation of his 'Captain America' chopper in 2014
- For my first discovery of the lost black history of 'Easy Rider', click here.
- For Cliff's story on his role in 'Easy Rider', click here.
- For Peter Fonda's acknowledgement of Cliff's role in 'Easy Rider', click here.
- For the NPR story on Captain America, click here.
- For copies of 'The Chopper; the Real Story', click here.

Friday, July 01, 2016


This article was commissioned by The Automobile magazine for their June 2016 issue.  The Automobile is the best old-car mag on the planet, and features my work fairly regularly.  It's reprinted here with permission:

Best in Show!  The 1928 Grindlay-Peerless 'Hundred Model' ex-'Boy' Tubb Brooklands racer 
Lake Como’s leafy sentinel towers over the Villa d’Este’s grand gravel terrace, but the hoary Sycamore is chopped further back every year, its once expansive canopy shrinking to a leafy fat spire, providing shade no longer, yet still the axis of the party. The villa’s Renaissance gardens and pebbled grottoes are intact these 500 years; swapping an elderly companion for younger model may be the habit of the Concorso’s wealthy entrants, but the tide of History demands respect for the old tree, as it does for the automobiles and motorcycles celebrated within the grounds.
A 1952 Ferrari 225S Vignale Spyder beneath the dwinding Sycamore tree at the heart of Villa d'Este's grand terrace
Anxiety over the Sycamore’s fate defines the beginning and the end of troubles at the Concorso d’Eleganza di Villa d’Este; as lucky guests and journalists float on the music of clinking glass flutes, the poor tree plays Cassandra for the real world’s troubles - vanishingly absent from the scene otherwise. Burbling Rivas deliver the happily elegant to the hotel’s shores, not the desperate, so we may rightfully celebrate the fabulous treasures of our world on the weekend, and return to reality on Monday. 
For BMW's centenary (it was established in 1916, making airplanes), this early BMW-powered monoplane was moved (not flown) from villa to villa.  When fired up, an LED display on the prop made the BMW logo - nifty.
For 2016’s iteration of the most coveted spot in the show-car/show-bike calendar, Nature offered a 3-day gap between torrents; tourist-brochure perfect days, suitable for the otherworldly perfection of 50 cars and 40 motorbikes gleaming with elbow-grease, from helper-hands conjuring prize-granting djinns via yellow microfiber cloths. And that, readers, is serious work, conducted by an unsung and invisible army, never thanked from the podium by the Jereboam-armed, ribbon-draped swells who paid their salaries. The Little People, as tactless Oscar winners once at least acknowledged, whose labors transformed the inert cash of connoisseurs into an invitation to this truly incredible party beside Italy’s most beautiful lake. As tax-haven oligarchs stage dramatic, black Amex duels at fine auctions houses, sending car (and now moto) values to the lofty heights inhabited by the finest of arts – the realm of the gods - rolling sculpture has become the last publicly visible evidence of real wealth, as great art disappears into freeport bunkers, and nested shell companies obscure ownership of part-time mansions. 
This original-paint 1939 Triumph Tiger 100 was originally owned by BMW! They bought it for testing/comparison, and soon blew it up.  It lay undisturbed for years, and was recommissioned recently, with its patina intact.  Fantastic.
Temporary membership to this sunshiney, sweet-smelling tableau grants one – e.g. me – a few days’ overlap with wildly different Venn circles; it only hurts when the bubble protecting wealth and beauty floats off, and the sweaty tang of real work and deadlines returns. My nominal job at the Concorso di Moto (judging the assembled treasures) is difficult only in the weighing, discussing, and choosing, which can only be counted a pleasure in such company as the since-1949 Motociclismo fixture Carlo Perelli, the director of Prague’s Technical Museum – Arnost Nemeskal, the chief of BMW’s motorrad design - Edgar Heinrich, French moto-institution Francois-Marie Dumas, and, god bless our host country, the editor of Italian Cosmopolitan, Sara Fiandri, who scatters Milan’s pedestrians like leaves aboard her racy Honda. 
Fellow moto-judge Sara Fiandri in the driver's seat of the 1911 Magnet Selbstfahrer, a remarkable machine, used as a taxi in Berlin originally! 
It must be equally true for our automotive counterparts that Choosing is a profession of thick-skinned devils, as subcurrents of politics, aesthetics, nationality, status, and history swirl around every vehicle, while judges argue – oh yes we do – their views on such matters. We have a day to observe, discuss, ponder, and reassemble before the prizegiving ceremony on Sunday, overseen in the case of motorbikes by the affable and poly-tongued Roberto Rasia dal Polo, while the four-wheeled crowd suffers the inconceivably smooth Simon Kidston, whose puns and light verbal pokes reveal his intimate familiarity with the assembly. 
Yours truly aboard the BMW R5 Hommage concept bike, which used original 1935 R5 engine and gearbox castings, with everything else new.  The grotto behind me is original toVilla d'Este from the 1500s.
BMW, owner of the Concorso, litters the grounds of Villa d’Este with new Rolls Royces and prototypes, while neighboring Villa Erba, which hosts the Concorso di Moto, is saddled with drudgeries like a ‘Teens BMW monoplane, a terrific display of concept cars/bikes beside the machines which inspired them, and the public, which has free range on the expansive grasslands of the park. This year’s overall theme was ‘Back to the Future’, which translates from German as ‘retro’ – the concept car unveiled at Friday’s swanky cocktail party claimed parentage from the 40 year old BMW 2002 (though it was hard to see resemblance, it was a sharp effort by Adrian van Hooydonk), while the concept motorcycle was an industry first – no factory to my knowledge has ever used a vintage motor as the basis of a show vehicle. 
A terrific display of rally cars on the grounds, ready to spit some gravel skyward.  A 1972 Ford Escort 1600RS, 1973 Renault Alpine A110, and 1975 Lancia Stratos
The ‘R5 Hommage’ ridden in noisily by Edgar Heinrich (beside designer Ola Stenegard on an original 1936 R5) used the castings of an 80-year old engine as its heart, although the vintage 500cc OHV motor sported a new supercharger, disc brakes, and a discreet swingarm. While seemingly odd for a technophilic team like BMW to dig around its museum for the actual building blocks of a prototype, ‘heritage’ is the most potent design tool in the moto industry today, and the smooth castings of the old flat-twin motor just might point to an upcoming engine redesign? Back to the future, indeed. 
What it looks like in the jury room - not eleganza! But we're in the conference center at Villa Erba, near the motorcycles
Picking winners in the physical context of Lake Como and a pair of grand Villas seems almost gauche – if you’re there, you’ve won, as has your vehicle. But everyone loves the tension of a contest, and so the list: the under-16 public referendum went rightfully to a 1974 Lancia Stratos rally car, while the drinking-agers chose a bottlefly green ’71 Lamborghini Miura P400SV, which only proves the crowd was Italian, and excitable. The gentry strolling the closed party at Villa d’Este preferred a streamlined ’33 Lancia Astura Serie II, while the judges appointed an exquisite ’54 Maserati A6GCS as Best in Show, a title having much to do, I have learned, with what might look best on the cover of next year’s catalog. This was actually discussed amongst the motorcycle jury, and with vehicles of near-equal money-no-object perfect restorations, what Should tip the scales?
Epic; a 1937 HRD-Vincent Rapide 998cc V-twin
But, we are reminded annually that ours is a Concorso di Moto, not an Eleganza, and thus chose the charismatic and oh-so-English 1929 Grindlay-Peerless-JAP ‘Hundred Model’ with illustrious competition heritage from new, multiple Gold Stars from Brooklands, and a fantastically mechanical, and poster unfriendly, all-nickel finish. What bridged a chasm of disagreement among jurors between suavity and pugnacity was a special Jury Award to the very most elegant ’37 Gnome et Rhone Model X with tailfinned Bernardet sidecar, lovely awash in cream and burgundy, which pretty much describes lunch. Wish you were there.
The motorcyclists tour the lake on Saturday, finishing up with a burble across the grounds at Villa d'Este for the entertainment of the hoi polloi.  Several two-stroke bikes guaranteed a Zika-free zone.
Drama, with a 1937 Bugatti 57C Atalante and 1933 Lancia Astura Serie II
Lago di Como
At the far end of Villa d'Este, a Bizzarini, Lamborghini Miura S, and early Countach lurk
All bubbly; 1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato and '68 Bizarrini GT Europa
Pushing all that 1925 Böhmerland Reisemodell to the display
The Concorso di Villa d'Este has the best (hardback) event programs in the industry.
Puzzling out the relative simplicity of an early Ferrari V-12 engine
Instructions for Concorso losers
Happiness is Jürg Schmid on his 1938 Gilera VTGS Saturno
Some of the elaborate nickel-ness of the Grindlay-Peerless 'Hundred Model'
The Grindlay-Peerless logo is famously mis-spelled on this tank, and shows up in many books on vintage racers.  When I asked the owner if he'd change it, he said, 'the mistake is too famous now!'
Alberto Soiatti and his peerless restoration of his 1968 Hercules GS
Special Jury Award for the magnificent 1937 Gnome-Rhone Model X- Bernardet outfit of Jean-Claude Conchard
1980 Lamborghini Athon, with body by Bertone - deliciously understated
Timeless design - the Miura is eternal
Lovely BMW display of concept vehicles with the originals which inspired them.
Strike a pose, there's nothing to it. Vogue. But dig the pebble mosaic work on this 1500s grotto
Serial #1 'Black Pig', the 1967 MV Agusta 600 of Tobias Aichele
Head of BMW's motorcycle design team, Ola Stenegard, aboard an original 1935 BMW R5
Caught mid-flight, borrowing Sebastien Gutsch's BMW R5 racer around the grounds of Villa Erba
A proper view of the R5 Hommage - the rear end is a 'softail', with a vertical monoshock at rear.  Only the engine and gearbox castings are from the '30s, all else was built by Unique Custom Cycles of Sweden
Trying on the R5 Hommage for size.  But my suit; a commission for Dirty Needle Embroidery's Cody McElroy, who did a genius job on the Russian prison tattoo theme.  Soon to be copied by a major fashion label. (Photo by Hermann Kopf)