If you didn’t already know it was there, you’d never know it was there. The brick retail/office courtyard suggests maybe a cheese shop, an insurance agency or a jewelry store. Or a Brooks Brothers clothing store, which it once was.

But for the last 14 years, the commercial storefront on the south side of Solvang, Calif., has housed Virgil Elings‘ motorcycle collection. Situated two blocks south of where the general tourist traffic turns around, where the Danish village architecture ends, the Vintage Motorcycle Museum remains a semi-hidden gem. The gallery is open to the public from 11 to 5 on weekends, and by appointment during the week. Admission is $10. Elings occasionally makes the collection open to regional motorcycle groups and charges no admission.

Elings is an eclectic collector with many interesting tales to tell, so stay tuned for a follow-up story on this fascinating man.

First, let us take a selective photo ramble through the aggregation, which you will note clearly deserves the appellation of unique. While many of these machines exist in individual and factory collections around the world, few have the complementary nature of this assemblage. Elings’ interest spans the motorcycle timeline from the early days till now, with the emphasis on racing and high-performance machines.

The Collection

Because pictures speak a thousand words, below you’ll find dozens of photos, while extensive captions provide details and historical context. The motorcycles in these pictures are only about a third of the inventory in the Vintage Motorcycle Museum. (Or a fourth if you count the 30-odd bikes awaiting attention in the back room.) It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the Santa Barbara area.

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A 1922 Swiss motorcycle, the Motosacoche was creatively restored in the ’80s by the legendary Von Dutch,, who chose a French theme for the graphics.

What appears to be brass plating is actually tobacco tar collected over two decades on display in the San Francisco bar Eddie Rickenbacker’s.

Old Guzzis have a special place in the hearts of old racers. Unlike the production models, this 1924 CV4 sported a 4-valve head and overhead cam.

The horizontal 500cc Single kept weight low in the chassis. External flywheel is visible behind carburetor.

The 1932 Brough Superior had a 680cc V-twin, little brother to the fabled SS100. Before the arrival of the Vincent V-Twin in 1936, George Brough’s machines ruled the road.

Reverse angle of the Brough Superior.

Among American road burners of the 30s, the Crocker was a top contender.

The Crocker was lighter and faster than the Harley Knucklehead, but production only reached about 100 examples.

The recreation of a 1921 German Mars, which employed a 1000cc opposed-Twin from Maybach.

The lever below the seat shifts from low to high drive chain. Rear wheel had two sprockets.

Now for something completely different, the German Megola of 1922 had a 640cc 5-cylinder rotary engine in the front wheel.

Gearing of 5:1 ran from crank to axle, which remained stationary as the engine rotated.

The carburetor limited ground clearance on the right, which was the least of its problems.

The 1904 Mitchell was built in Racine, Wisc. Production ended in 1905, though the company continued building cars.

The 1953 Mondial DOHC 175 grew from the factory’s 125cc racers, which won the world championship in 1949, ’50 and ’51.

The NSU Rennmax won both the 125 and 250cc world championships in 1953 and ’54. The so-called dolphin fairing was replaced by the fully-enclosing dustbin fairing, which was banned a few years later.

The tachometer on the NSU Rennmax.

Known mostly for enduro and motocross bikes, Maico’s 1957 Typhoon was a road model with art deco streamlining.

The DOHC 500cc Jawa twin was a road-racing force in the early ’60s, coming second and third in the ’61 world championship.

The 1938 DKW 350 was the factory racing model, a water-cooled two-stroke with four cylinders in a common casting and a fifth cylinder on the bottom for supercharging.

The 1928 DKW 500 was also supercharged by a bottom cylinder. DKW was part of the pre-war Auto Union, which ultimately became Audi.

A supercharged Vincent land speed record bike? Of course, why not?

Another approach to supercharging. BMW won the 1939 Isle of Man TT with this Boxer. Carburetors are mounted on the blower.

: CZ built 125 and 250cc DOHC Twins in the ’60s. When the Czechs changed the rules to allow only 2-strokes in the 250 class, CZ bumped the twin to 320 to run in the 350 class, where it had to contend with the Jawa Twin and Honda Four

Husqvarna also produced a pushrod V-Twin for Grand Prix competition in the 1920s.

The 1933 Matchless Silver Hawk had a bevel-drive overhead-cam V-4, in a common cylinder casting. Swingarm suspension with shocks below seat.

One of very few painstakingly accurate reproductions of the fabled Moto Guzzi V8 of 1955. Each distributor had four sets of points.

Francesco and Walter Villa built a V-Four 250cc 2-stroke in the mid-sixties, just before the FIM limited the class to Twins.

The Yale was built in Toledo, Ohio, from 1902 to 1915. In 1912 they offered the option of chain or belt drive.

The OEC (Osborn Engineering Company) of 1931 featured a 750cc JAP V-Twin and duplex steering. (Note front fork)