Motorcycles at Monterey

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Ken Freund, Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

It only took 59 years, but on August 16, 2009, motorcycles finally received due recognition with their own class at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Indeed, motorcycles have been featured at other car shows, and bikes have had their own venues, including The Quail Motorcycle Gathering, Legend of the Motorcycle (which took the year off), and Del Mar. That said, having motorcycles at Pebble Beach - arguably the world's most prestigious annual automotive show - is a victory that demonstrates the respectability bikes have gained at this premier event.

The first Pebble Beach Concours was held in 1950, along with sports car racing on the nearby 17-Mile Drive. Admission back then was free; now it's a hefty $ 175 at the gate.

Organizers said the new category was added due to increased interest in motorcycle collecting and the role early cycles played in the development of autos. Mr. Jeff Ray, executive director of Barber Vintage Museum told us, "I'm thrilled to see motorcycles here. Pebble is one of the finest events of its kind worldwide and I'm glad to see motorcyclists get their foot in the door."

2009's Class X for motorcycles paid homage to the legendary Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races, with British Motorcycles through 1959 selected for this inaugural display. The 2010 theme will be pre-1959 American motorcycles. Future shows will likely feature bikes of certain styles, periods, and regions.

Entries ran the gamut from a 1913 Premier 3½ hp to a 1957 Manx Norton Featherbed 40M. Some of the stunning highlights included a 1938 Triumph Speed Twin, a 1956 Ariel Square 4 with Garrard Sidecar, a 1953 Matchless G45, 1954 AJS E-95 Porcupine, and a duo of dashing Vincents.

The 1948 Vincent-HRD Black Shadow Special - the first Black Lightning - was once the world's fastest standard motorcycle. In 1948, Roland "Rollie" Free, riding this 988cc prototype, raised the motorcycle speed record for un-streamlined and un-supercharged bikes to 150.313 mph on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. At first, he could only reach 147 mph, and his leathers were flapping so much they began to tear. Apparently safety rules weren't as strict then: Free stripped down to a bathing suit and cap with a pair of sneakers for his record-setting run, lying prone on the bike with his legs extended aft. A photo of this famous undertaking was on display with the bike.

Also on display was a 1947 Vincent-HRD 998cc Series B Rapide Special dubbed Gunga Din. This bike was tested back in the day by Charlie Markham of Motor Cycling magazine, who quoted a line from Rudyard Kipling's poem: "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din," implying the Vincent's capabilities were greater than Markham's. From then on, the name stuck. This bike started out as a standard Series B Rapide V-twin. Factory tester George Brown decided to race it, and soon it was setting records in sprints, road races, and hill climbs at venues such as Silverstone, Walsh, Shelsley and Ansty. Additionally, Gunga Din served as a test bed for experimental technologies that led to the development of both the Black Shadow and Black Lightning racing bikes.

The Envelope, Jeeves

First place in Class X went to the fabulous 1954 AJS E-95 Porcupine of Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Leeds, Alabama, valued above $ 250,000. One of only four E-95s built, the Porcupine is a modification of the AJS E90 horizontal twin. Interestingly, the porcupine name comes from the way the cooling fins radiate from the separate cylinder heads. The E-95 was one of the final factory bikes in the Tourist Trophy races of 1954, and it's likely the last English factory entry into Grand Prix competition.

Second place went to the unique 1947 Vincent-HRD Gunga Din currently owned by Paul Pflugfelder of Concord, MA. After Vincent closed in 1955, its assets were sold and Gunga Din ended up in the United States. In the late 1960s, its owner began dismantling the bike, but fortunately Keith Hazelton of Chicago saved it and began rounding up its lovely parts before Pflugfelder took over the worthy project.

Third place was garnered by the scrumptious 1932 BSA W32-6 with sidecar, belonging to Theresa Worsch of Rancho Santa Fe, CA. Powered by a 499cc side-valve engine, the BSA W32-6 was designed and built with sidecar use in mind, during the peak of England's sidehack craze. This one was sold new as a complete unit and has remained together all these years.

MidAmerica Motorcycle Auction

MidAmerica Auctions (www.mid-americaauctions.com) held a sale at Pebble Beach during the Concours weekend, with some wonderful bikes up for bid. Total sales amounted to $ 557,600, with a 1949 Vincent HRD Rapide Series C bringing $ 42,000, a 1924 Nimbus Stovepipe 746cc hitting $ 80,000, and a 1912 Flying Merkel VS 60ci topping the sale at $ 90,000. There were many interesting machines for lower prices as well.

Other Nearby Events

Thursday's pre-show Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance included Morgan Sports. Drivers stopped at the historic Carmel Mission for a special reception and centennial celebration for Morgan. This was the first year that the Concorso Italiano (www.concorso.com) was moved to a new location at Laguna Seca Golf Ranch, near the famous racetrack. Held on the Friday prior to the Pebble Beach Concours, it's mainly a car event, but there are always some delightful Italian motorcycles and machines from various countries. If you decide to go to Laguna Seca to watch the historic races, you'll find plenty of two-wheeled eye-candy there too. Overall, the Monterey, CA events are mainly for autos, but there's plenty for motorcycle aficionados - and if you love both cars and bikes as I do, you'll be in heaven! Just be sure to book a room months in advance.