You could live in Southern California for a long time without ever going to San Pedro, which dangles off the mainland like an appendix between the Port of Los Angeles and the chi-chi Palos Verde peninsula. That geography is both good and bad: Bad for big business since it’s not such an easy place to get to quickly. Which makes it good for small business, and allows Century Motorcycles to bill itself as “the oldest motorcycle shop in America.” The claim is somewhat open for debate but seems reasonable if you include qualifiers like “independent” or “in same location.” Most of the real estate in L.A. gets more expensive the closer you get to the coast, but San Pedro almost feels like John Steinbecks’s Monterey mixed in with Marlon Brando circa On the Waterfront – a small town barely attached to a big one with a blue-collar feel where everybody knows everybody and their extended family. It feels like a chunk of east coast transplanted west.
Tim Rutherford is the third-generation proprietor of Century Motorcycles. His mother, the illustrious Cindy Rutherford, ran the place right up until her death in 2012. Her dad, Wild Bill Cottom, founded the shop in 1953. It’s been hotbed and hub of British motorcycle activity ever since, though the shop sells all kinds of bikes now and its super-experienced mechanics out back will work on anything. Movie stars bring in their custom Nortons, rebellious youths get their scuffed GSX-R’s cords-showing front tires replaced while they wait (also the brake pads, which were down to about 0.001mm). If you’re a British bike nut, Father’s Day is the time to go to San Pedro, when the Norton, BSA and Vincent Owners Clubs all converge along Pacific Avenue, along with anybody else who likes motorcycles of any origin.
10. Gone but far from Forgotten
Cindy Rutherford was a larger-than-life woman who practically lived in the shop at 1640 South Pacific. She still sort of does; her ashes are in this tank. And her dad’s are in the black one next to it.
9. You need parts for a what??
Yes, they have it. And Tim knows right where it is.
8. And a gas tank for a GPz750 and an H2?
Yup, got those also. Say, are those pipes in the original baggies for a Z1?
7. Cool Customers
Manuel Muller the Customizer found just the Wassell tank he was looking for and his friend found the kickstand he needed for $7 instead of $200 on eBay.
6. Wild Bill’s Vincent HRD
When the San Diego owner of this bike died several years ago, a little investigating revealed that it had belonged to Wild Bill Cottom. A deal was made, now it’s back where it started out. William “Wild Bill” had bought the bike for his son, William Jr., to ride when he got back from Korea. That never happened, Billy was killed in action in 1952.
5. Billy’s 1941 Indian Chief
For unknown reasons, Billy disassembled his Indian before shipping out (my guess is to keep other people from riding it). Nephew Tim finally pulled the pieces out from under his house and put it all back together a few years ago. Yes that’s the original paint.
4. A Touch of Von Dutch
The legendary/infamous artist/pinstriper/wild man was thick as thieves with Tim’s mom, Cindy Rutherford, a.k.a. Gwendolyn Jane. Before email, people wrote things called letters which were delivered via the snailmail. One token of his affection was the knife (below), which you could’ve carried onto an airplane at the time. JL Bachs, or Joe Lunch Box as he sometimes called himself, died in September 1992, just a few months after addressing the letter. Kenneth Howard’s (VD’s real name) and Gwendolyn’s fathers were both sign painters by trade.
Other Von Dutch countermeasures included this Colt .25 pistol. Love him or not, the man sells t-shirts, or did there for awhile anyway. Guilt by association may see Century’s classic logo also adorning some fashion wear soon, which could nicely boost the bottom line. Why not?
3. Norton custom
How cool is this Norton street-tracker, or whatever it is? Built for a nameless famous person who brought it by for a little tune-up.
Triumph flat-trackers, Triumph bobbers, Triumph hill-climbers… the only thing missing are new Triumphs, which Century used to sell by the boatload alongside BSA, Norton, Vincent, et al.
1. Tim Rutherford and his Vincent Black Lightning
I know almost naught when it comes to classic bikes, but a quick glance through the interwebs says Phil Irving (legendary Vincent designer) said there were only 16 Black Lightnings produced, between 1948 and ’52. Tim’s mother acquired this one for his granddad.
Tim in the service department and his brother, at the parts counter, were practically raised in this place. The brother moved on. Tim stayed. “It’s an honor to be third-generation here,” he says, “a privilege to carry on what my grandfather started, and to carry on the values, the way he and my mother treated everybody who’s walked into this place since 1953.”
Including me. Thanks for the tour and a great day at the office, TR.