Okay, we gotta admit it’s a tiny bit macabre to find a stellar group of antique, vintage and high-performance motorcycles on display at a cemetery, literally the last place a bike fan wants to visit. But, there was lively reasoning behind the appearance of 13 “celebrity” two-wheelers at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, the 1906 historic landmark located in Glendale, CA. The museum, part of the 300 acre property since 1957, has previously offered a wide variety of exhibits as they are “committed to enriching the community through the educational and entertaining presentation of artwork that focuses on history, culture or religion.”
The museum’s permanent collection contains some 1000 beautiful stained glass pieces, Western bronze sculptures, American historical artifacts, paintings, and even every coin mentioned in the Bible plus exact replicas of the British crown jewels. Cultural artifacts include an original Easter Island statue, named Henry.
In this case the exhibit, co-curated by Forest Lawn Museum Director, Joan P. Adan, and motorcycle/hot rod show promoter, John Parker, includes motorcycles, championship helmets, gas tank art, motorcycle-inspired paintings and sculptures, all gathered in one venue to produce a “captivating display of speed and the art it conjures.”
Among the artwork on display are bronzes by Harley-Davidson‘s official sculptor, Jeff Decker, (hippodromestudio.com) and paintings by Harley’s official painter, Tom Fritz, as well as art work by Keith Weezner, Syd Mead, William Stout, Von Franco, Drew Struza and others. We did catch one small faux pas; a gas tank painted by Pete ‘Hot Dog’ Finlan of TV’s Monster Garage fame was misidentified in the exhibit as a Harley piece but is actually from a 1960s Norton P-11. The museum’s gift shop also offers a variety of motorcycle related souvenirs from the exhibit.
The 13 bikes, both vintage and modern, included a 1914 H-D V-Twin; a rare 1910 Flying Merkel; a worth-its-weight in gold 1938 Crocker, originally built locally in L.A. and one of less than 200 made; a 1938 Indian Sport Scout flat tracker brought to the exhibit by Tony Dodge of Dodge Brothers Racing fame, the bike having won the 1938 California State Championship when ridden by Harry Pelton, Jr.; and a 1939 Indian Chief, brought by Tom Hart and once ridden by Steve McQueen, purportedly painted a custom blue to match McQueen’s favorite cigarette package color. Another Milwaukee entry was a “California Cut-Down” big Twin side valve or UL, an ex-Long Beach police bike customized in the late 1940s with mods added until 1982, then finally restored to its former glory.
European bikes got their due, as well. Nod to the most “svelte” machine goes to the 1953 Gilera road racer, the full-faired factory beauty added to the exhibit by Barry Weiss aka L.A. wildman rider, TV reality series star, all-round living legend. Fast forward to 1999 and a Ducati 996RS, probably the Italian company’s most successful Superbike, the last edition sold in 2001, costing about $85K and pumping out 170 HP. The exhibit’s example had belonged to Carl Fogarty, holder of four world titles on Ducatis, the rare Duck now owned by Kaming Ko. The other Italian entry was a Von Dutch flavored Moto Guzzi Falcone built by iconic SoCal restorer/hot rodder Mike Parti. In addition, Bobby “Boogaloo” Schwartz brought his 1968 Czech-built single-cylinder Eso Speedway racer. Eso was later acquired by the famous Jawa company.
Another exhibit bike’s resume included two championships at Willow Springs International Raceway — Rocky Caceres’ highly modified 2006 Suzuki GSX-R1000 race bike, good for 187 hp. The newest and wildest bike on display was “Chromia,” a 2009 Suzuki, one of six built by William Kenefick’s crew in 30 days for Michael Bay’s “Transformer” movie series. Word is that it’s for sale and ready to transform its new owner into a super star.
Probably the baddest bike was simply named “The Hog,” a 1945/1965 Harley drag bike, first built and raced in 1950 by drag race pioneer, Stan Dishong, then modified through the years. The 96 cu. in. Knucklehead set a Bonneville speed record of 151 mph, then in 1958 won the West Coast Drag Racing Championships. Seen at the exhibit in its final incarnation circa 1965, it was made available by owner Louis Fisher.
Co-curator Parker, nephew of Bud Ekins, sums it up in the Vroom exhibit’s stellar (and free) brochure’s accounting of the importance and history of motorcycling in the U.S. “Beautiful, sexy, dangerous, loud and fast. I can’t think of a better combination. That’s why I want to thank all the generous collectors who made these works of rolling art available for your viewing pleasure, and welcome one and all to the exciting world of rare and collectible motorcycles and art. Enjoy.”
Vroom: The Art of the Motorcycle Exhibit continues through January 4, 2014. Admission and parking is free, the museum open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More info at www.forestlawn.com. Many thanks to Forest Lawn Museum’s Director Joan P. Adan for facilitating our visit and photo session.