Last year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering Best of Show award having gone to a 1961 BMW R50/2, proudly entered by Tim Stafford, perhaps inspired BMW owners this year to bring more of the German marque to Carmel. Gary Lewis’ 1924 BMW R-37, plate number 37, is the second-place award winner in its very competitive Antique Through 1940 class.
Moving on to British bikes corralled alongside Brown’s SS-80 Brough and ’52 Vincent Black Lightning, I find his 1961 BSA Goldstar to have the Vincent in its tank! What owner Brown will later tell me, the BSA has only one original mile on its clock. Discovering more details on more bikes, I prowl the range of alluring machines with the curiosity of a kid in a magical land.
In bikes, I’ve always found irresistible the mix of old and new, and so stand staring at a BSA pair, always a favorite British make while never having owned one—Triumphs, Ariels, and the JEL, yes. I study how Budd Schwab’s 1921 BSA, a striking example of Sammy Miller restoration, differs from a nearby Bonhams auction bike, also a BSA, though 36 years newer and powerful Beezer statement in form of a Daytona Beach Special racing Goldstar.
This number 12 plate ex-factory Goldstar has period Dayton racing history, coming second under Albert “Slidin’ Al” Gunter to Joe Leonard’s Harley-Davidson in the 1957 Daytona 200. Bobby Sirkegian rode it as a Daytona rookie in ‘58, also racing it later at Riverside and Ascot. In his seventies, Sirkegian still owns this big tank former Daytona pole sitter. But how long can I spend thinking of those speed duels on the sand? With almost 200 bikes at The Quail, I kept moving.
If anything will stop me in my tracks, it’s David E. Neal’s 700cc red-tank 1967 Moto Guzzi “V-7” and his same-year yellow 850cc P-11 café racer hybrid that started life as a dirt bike with Norton Atlas engine in a Matchless frame. And then, moving on again, it was more Beemers. Old ones placed here and there like sparse poetry.
Gary Wasserman brought out his BMW Renn Sport Café Racer created from a 1968 R60/2 by modifying its fame and doing high performance work on the original 600cc boxer twin through lighter flywheel and crank and oversize pistons. The huge tank is period Hoske and rear sets are custom, as are the bike’s headers and exhaust. The racing front end is handmade, the brake an Italian Grimeca, and alloy fenders feature a Domi racer taillight. That shrinking red glow might be all you’d see of this bike on a dark night.
There’s something about a sidecar that stirs romantic visions of flight and fancy. Ideal for an English summer’s narrow lanes is Theresa Worsch’s immaculately turned out 1932 BSA W32-6, complete with luncheon wicker for that genteel pause in a motorcycling day’s escape from the mundane. Intended for sidecar use, this Brit “Beeza” and its 499cc side-valve single with tank-mounted hand shifter epitomizes the height of a prewar sidecar craze in the British Isles.
Thirty years on, postwar Germany’s BMW 1963 R69S carried this 2-tone Steib sidecar in swifter, but still elegant, passage. I was expecting to see a sidecar class at The Quail, but found it regrettably missing, at least for this year’s edition. A treat to behold, as well as other sidecars present, is Brent Hansen’s black and green chariot bred for the road to adventure.
And then there is “The Creamer”—the Harris Vincent Gallery red delight that’s motored about by a Vincent Touring Rapide, both dressed for the ride in matched cream upholstery and all-together unbearably enticing. In his company’s esteemed span of restoring Vincents, Harris has done two Red Rapides before, and this third one here, he says, “is conceived with flair.”
Situated at the hub of The Quail’s lush show field, “The Herb Harris Camp”—as I take liberty to call it—is a sort of theater proscenium in itself. I ask Harris about the red Vincent and sidecar and, as usual, his gracious response is rich in detail.
“I ran across this Blacknell Bullet sidecar and bought it,” Harris says. “Vincent made some bikes, not a lot, in red, a very powerful bright red. They also made a few bikes, not many at all, with a cream sort of upholstery. I thought the combination of those two would be perfect. They were stock Vincent colors, so we set out to restore a Touring Rapide with this Blacknell. When we got into it, we found a serial number off of a Vincent Black Shadow on the Blacknell, so this sidecar was originally installed at the Vincent factory on one of their bikes, listed in their catalogue as a ‘sports option’.”
The sidecar restoration was intimidating, but worth it. Says Harris, “It has an extensive wooden frame in it, and every joint was loose, so it was like a bundle of sticks rattling around inside a sheet metal can, and this sidecar took almost as much time as the motorcycle did to restore. Vincent never made a red bike with cream upholstery and a sidecar, but on the other hand it’s all spec correct. It’s a numbers matching Rapide. We went down to the crankshaft and replaced all of that, and we’ve never had an engine failure on one of our bikes. It all came together well, and it says something that I like to say about our company.”
Ever looked inside a Vincent’s heart? Not likely. But here you have it—in Harris’ Series “C” Black Shadow Works Sectioned Engine. He tells me about this “King of Cutaways”—assuredly the best one of only three V-twin Vincent sectioned engines ever built, this one being the only example in private hands. Another, belonging to the Monarchy, resides in the British Museum, and the third is kept in cherished respect by the Vincent Owner’s Club in England.
“The amount of sectioning is spectacular,” says Harris about this rarity among motorcycling jewels. “It’s cut all the way down into the very epicenter of the engine and the paint is the original British stove enamel.” Built for 1950’s All British Car & Motor Cycle Exposition in New York, Philip Vincent personally brought the engine to the U.S. After trading hands at high levels, Harris eventually acquired the distinguished cutaway. “I take good care of it,” he says, “and make certain that it’s treated with respect.”
And there’s more to see that Harris has brought to the show. It is, as I say, theater, and this stage is his.
“This is a very special Black Shadow,” says Harris, about to start the straight-piped V-twin liter bike for a gathering crowd. “It was made from the racing engine built at the factory in 1952 as a spare engine for their world record breaking Vincents.” Herewith an intriguing story unfolds. “This bike and engine then went to Vietnam in the 1960s,” he says, “and got traded to an American pilot by a blackmarketeer. I saw it on eBay as a bitsa and I did the research on the engine and found out what it was. Nobody knew.” Moving around the bike, Harris says, “Look at the carburetors hanging off of it! They look gigantic! It’s an original Vincent racing engine and we only put in new valve springs, and piston rings.”
Harris isn’t going to foot crank this steadfast Shadow—no way. He’s put an electric starter in it. “I’m glad I did,” he says, his decision based on intimate knowledge of these HRDs. “People love to see Vincent motorcycles not start,” he adds with a laugh. “They get a big kick out of that. My customers don’t like to be ridiculed, and that’s why I do the electric starter, so they can get on with the fun and not be the center of attention for a bike that won’t start.” Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrah, it goes with its tuned 2-inch straights!