32nd Annual El Camino Bike Show
When It Rains It Pours Vintage Iron
Rust was upon us, the dreaded rust. Like the metallic taste of blood, the reek of rust hung in the air and assailed our nostrils. Or maybe it was the guy smoking a recycled ragweed vegan cigarette next to me.
In any case, here I was perched precariously atop the multi-story parking lot of L.A.’s El Camino College as the heavens barfed upon us in apocalyptic volumes. What gods had we offended? Thor, Vulcan? We even saw their namesake bikes hunkering under the monsoon-like downpour. Rarely seen SoCal rain clouds, dark and stormy, belched buckets on our little group crowded like sardines under one of those pop-up blue vinyl canopies. Huddling beneath that 8x8-ft. square of dryness were some of the rarest of bike collectors. Not bikes. Bike collectors. The bikes were outside being treated to the ultimate car wash whether they liked it or not.
Five guys, virtually indistinguishable from the hundreds of other t-shirt/blue jean wearing bike fans attending the event held an ace up their wet sleeves. They all were members of a club where membership was more exclusive that the Skull & Bones fraternity. They didn’t rule corporations or point their finger at the world and make it spin to their personal agenda, but they were investors, investors not in demon oil but in precious metals. Neither gold nor uranium was their forte, ’twas another unobtainium by the name of Crocker. Between their few numbers they owned perhaps a dozen examples of the American motorcycles of which only some 50-60 are known to exist, several still missing in action.
The Crocker was now at the center of the storm of collectible motorcycles. Two had recently been sold at auction for more than $250,000. Another was just on eBay where the owner turned down a high bid $202,000. Crocker was the bee’s knees of vintage bikes, and this select band of Crocker brothers had come to the El Camino show to see two examples recently unearthed. Literally. One, a 1939 Crocker 61-inch V-Twin shoehorned into a pre-war Triumph hardtail frame, had sat in a Colorado basement for half a century. Though crusty, the hybrid hipster still ran and had the bad boy look going for it. The other, meticulously restored and as tasty as any Czar’s Faberge egg, has just been “rescued” from Italy. There the two were, just a few feet outside the blue canopy, almost invisible behind a curtain of raindrops the sizes of .50 bullets, at least in the minds of the Crockerites.
Perhaps almost as rare was another motorcycle unveiled for the first time at the El Camino show. In this case it was of Swedish manufacture. Yes, they make more than meatballs over their near the Arctic Circle. Besides Saabs and Volvos, the Swedes make some of the most advanced fighter aircraft. Back in the 1930s they were kicking meatballs all over the place with their Husqvarna racers, in particular the 1934 TT factory bikes.
Sadly enough, all five of the bikes were destroyed in that year and it would take more than seven decades before their DNA would appear again. Five more were built by hand by a reclusive though brilliant modern-day bike builder in the hinterlands of Sweden, who using the original blueprints as a guide, replicated the machines. And today, here at El Camino, we were looking at one of them, literally just having arrived by air freight at LAX and debuted at the event by its owner Chris Carlson (who just happens to run a Volvo/Saab repair shop.)
Yet other ultra-rare and bizarre bikes lurked amongst some 200 vendors busy hawking their treasures to hardcore vintage bikes fans who braved the elements in search of their personal Holy Grail bike part. One bike, perhaps as rare as anything entered in the show competition a few hundred feet away, was a single-cylinder 1910 British-made The Bradbury (don’t forget the “The”) which had been restored to fine fettle and apparently one of only three known to exist. Nothing to do with the guy who wrote The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury. No price tag on that one. It was a keeper.
A few booths away a couple other bikes, though far from rare, or even expensive, caught my eye. A pair of khaki green “Condors.” Now I knew my WWII history and remembered that the German Condor Legion practiced for WWII by bombing fascist Franco’s enemies during the Spanish Civil War, but these looked too new, and since they didn’t have feathers I figured they weren’t an endangered species. But there was something odd about the engines. Although they sported the “Condor” imprint, they were exact lookalikes of Ducati 350 singles. Which it turns out they are. When the company who got the contract to build bikes for the Swiss military (yes, to guard the chocolate), they figured, why reinvent the wheel? So they popped their name on some Duc motors and turned out their bikes. They even included a shovel. The vendor was selling a complete runner for $2800. Sounded like a deal to me.
Costing a few more bucks, but another bike that earned my vote for best deal of the show was a gnarly Triumph Bonneville chopper/bobber built by one Earle Cane of El Segundo, CA. Dressed in basic black and polished alloy, the hardtail Trumpet oozed attitude. And according to Earl who’s been building this kind of bike for decades, it’s a fun runner in all respects. And he can build them starting at $7500.
Lo and behold, the clouds parted on cue and shone down on the bike show awards for the 60-some bikes of all makes, models and years that showed up for El Camino this year. Some of the highlights included the Best of Show winner, a 1908 Excelsior factory racer owned by master restorer Willie Chambers. Best Antique award went to Doug McKenzie’s1914 Flying Merkel, while People’s Choice was garnered by Jack and Mick Flavin’s spiffy 1963 Harley Sportster, the show celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the iconic Sporty.
Next year is guaranteed to be as rain-free and sunny as the smiles beaming across the show winners and spectators alike. More info about that at http://www.batorinternational.com/, the hosts of the show.