Monday, May 12, 2008


A friend asked how he might become a judge at the Legends (I'll get to that later), so I'll take you along with me, via my constant snapshots, during the Friday and Saturday of the Legend of the Motorcycle show.

It had been a harried week prior, preparing my own motorcycles and transporting two of Paul Adam's Norton racers ('37 350ccManx Grand Prix and '52 500cc Daytona Manx - see top pic of loaded Sprinter), from his home in Shingle Springs CA, to Half Moon Bay. I had only arrived from my European tour of all things motorcycle the prior Sunday, so was juggling work and family needs with show prep. I borrowed a trailer for my two Nortons, as the van was full of Manx, and dropped Darcy at the front of the Ritz to check in, while I unloaded the bikes into the secure storage area (normally a fitness center). I had a moment to change clothes and have a drink with the Three Fates in the Ritz lounge (my favorite part of the hotel, with an exceptional view of the cliffs and sea), before the mandatory 6pm Judges Meeting (see pic of Crystal, Kim, and Darcy). Unmistakeable in the lounge was Yoshi Kosaka of the Garage Company - Darcy and I made a bet on whether his jacket was Gucci or not - I lost, it was YSL. Yoshi is a true Sartorialist.

Ed Gilbertson (chief judge of both the Legend and Pebble Beach Concours) gave us a rundown of the 'rules', ie guidelines on how we were to score each machine, and standardized deductions for certain items (3 points off for powder coating! 1/2 point off for clearcoating over a transfer with no 'witness' mark of the transfer's thickness!). The judging pool grew to 42 this year, and although most had 8-10 machines in their roster, I had the same number as the previous two years - 14 bikes to judge between 9am and 11:30, when our tallies needed delivering to Ed and his wife Sherie. In that 20 min per machine, my partner Mark Upham and I had to look over every nut, bolt, washer, wire, cable, etc, on the machine, making notes on a dozen categories (paint, plating, fasteners, engine, gearbox, frame, forks, wheels, controls, electrics, rubber, etc). The meeting wasn't too painful, and only a couple of fights broke out; one instigated by George Cohen concerning the necessity of safety wiring on racing machine (or at least, holes in important nuts which COULD be wired); the other fight concerned paint.
Fight! Over! Paint!
But, of course, some of the judges, and most of the entrants, had spent countless hours and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring a derelict relic to Show Condition. So a little passion about minutiae is forgivable.
Our judge's reception was all schmoozing and champagne, as this was our first chance to catch up with familiar faces, as most had been present the prior year, either as a judge or entrant (some of the entrants had morphed into judges this year). And, to be honest, this begins what is the most pleasurable part of my whole motorcycling calendar - the chance to speak fluent Motorcycle with the experts. We have often read about each other, heard references, or even met at shows, but working together at the concours means time spent discussing what we all love, and in the most intimate of terms, with humor and seriousness of purpose. Hard to describe, but it's starting to feel like a community. As an example, at the top of this paragraph is a photo of Mick Duckworth and Mike Fitzsimons. I've read Mick's work for years in various magazines (Classic Bike, etc); now I've had a bit of a chance to interact. I've also spoken with Fitzi for 15 years about Brough Superiors, but had met him only twice prior to the Legend show in 2006. (photos at reception; judges Malcolm Clube and Julie Summerville; Daniel Delfour - more on him later - with Mike Jackson; Don Lemelin of Scuderia West, San Francisco's KTM/Aprilia dealer)

Saturday began at 5:30am with an unwelcome wakeup call from the Ritz; although some judges had wisely retired early after our welcome reception, I couldn't pass the opportunity for a late dinner with 'the Brits' (Jackson/Clube/Upham/Beale), which included Phil Read this year, whom I actually never spoke with, although we shared a table many times over 3 days. Perhaps all the tales being told in his absence were sufficient! Enough said.

Saturday morning is the best time to be on the grounds; bikes in the fog make an eerie scene, and at 6am very few people are around, and it's a chance to catch a first glimpse of a few show bikes, plus the odd three-seater prop-driven bicycle. How I wish they had fired it up and ridden it over the grass... Coffee, pastries, and bagels are provided to everyone on the field at that early hour.. pictured cheerily in leather is the Lucky girl (the Lucky Brand Jeans rep from LA).

From a three-seater bicycle to a two-seater Henderson, which would have done well last year - these early Hendersons are the most distinctive of the early American machines. An early riser, note the lack of company on the grass. Next pic is a blaze of yellow clearing the morning fog - two 'Yellow Peril' Norton Commando production-racers, and a bevel-drive Ducati 750 Sport. Note Airstream trailer in the background - Airstream is BACK! These new models have a ramp at the back, to a compartment for your motorcycles - nice. Jesse James debuted an Airstream sidecar outfit as part of their sponsorship.
Last morning pic - my '26 Norton Model 25, with two of Paul Adams' Nortons, at risk of golf ball damage at the edge of the golf course. Yes, there were golfers at play, although this year they had to skip a hole and drive around the motorcycles.

At 6:50am I had to stop snapping pix and run back to the Ritz for our Judge's assembly, at which we were handed our scoring sheets and exhorted once again to have them back by noon.

Top judges table photo; Don Danmeier (founder of the Clubman's Show), Jim Thomas (Pebble Beach judge), Pete Young, Jim Lattin (early motorcycle specialist).

Second table pic; George Beale (constructor of replica Honda 6's and Benelli 4's), Mark Upham (British Only Austria), Mark Wilsmore (Ace Cafe), and 'Red' Fred Johansen (on the board of the AMCA).

Here's a better look at Pete Young's fancy bow tie; check out the later pic with his straw boater hat and check pants - very Gatsby, barring the sneakers... Saddle shoes next year, Pete!

Mark Wilsmore again, with Industry Judge Michael Lock, CEO of Ducati North America. Industry judges aren't bound by any rules, and can choose whatever bike strikes their fancy. No judging sheets, no need for instruction... lucky.

At 9am sharp I'm out on the field with Mark Upham, and our first stop is the '37 Ariel of Kim Young, which she and Pete finished a few nights prior. Full disclosure; I sold them the bike as a pile of bits, about 10 years ago. They're still speaking to me, and the bike now looks lovely with new paint and plating. It doesn't smoke anymore either! Conflict of interest? Yes, terribly, but luckily the bike is non-standard enough not to figure in the top 3 of our class, otherwise I would have had to recuse myself (which happened in another category - judge and Manx guru Ken Mackintosh had rebuilt three of the Nortons on show!)

Next came Fred Meyer's 1948 Sunbeam S7, a very early production model with some features unique to only a few of the earliest of these inline-twin 500cc ohc models. This bike was hard to fault, with lots of New Old Stock parts and a proper paint job (ie, not too good! So many restored bikes have paint which is far better than original). Suddenly the judging looked like it was going to be difficult.

Until we came across John Menefee from Tenessee and his 1942 BMW R75 750cc ohv twin outfit, with a lockable differential to the driven sidecar wheel, complete with MG machine gun ('Does it work?' 'Only on judges!'), saddle bags, gas mask, wehrmacht helmet and leather coat, hand grenades, jackboots, etc, etc. Period accessories (including sidecars) don't add any points to one's score, by the way. Mark commented that 'back home' (in Austria) John would be jailed instantly... which I thought a bit extreme, although I found this fellow's enthusiasm a tad suspect. The biggest difficulty, though, is that a military machine can be built up of any old mismatched nuts and bolts, painted with a tar brush, and still be 100% correct and in period. Thus, impossible to judge, except for the quality of components present, and their condition.

Next bike (I didn't photograph all 14) was the 1937 BMW R66 600cc ohv, which was another near-faultless restoration. Owner Evan Bell cheerily showed his original tool roll - tools and a manual (if originally provided) are expected to be with the bike during judging, and most importantly, everything is required to WORK - lights, horn, stoplamp, and most importantly, the engine. All of our class ('Production' 1906 - 1956) fired up easily, barring the 1904 FN 4-cyl from the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA. This was ironic, as the handlers admitted, as the Petersen prides itself on having mobile displays, and all their cars and motorcycles are runners. This FN, though, was probably the oldest in the world, and concern was expressed for its rarity and fragility. Still, the rules are, 'no start, no award', and we had to disqualify the machine.

Darryl Richman brought his 1928 BMW R52 500cc sv, complete with Bayerische hat. I have a soft spot for 'flat tank' BMW's, having owned an R63 (although it was a bad restoration and I sold it), and I had the week prior seen the best example ever in Leichtenstein - an original condition 1928 factory racer (for a later post). Darryl rides his R52, which brings up another judging point; no points reduction for road wear or evidence of use. As several of the First in Class winners showed, evidence of use isn't a handicap at all! So, take your show bike out for a ride, and give the rest of us a treat to see it.

This 1952 Jawa Model 15, owned by Jeff Elghanian, was restored by a couple of fellows who appeared behind 3 of the bikes in our class - they've been busy. Jawa invented the nacelle headlamp enclosure (which Edward Turner copied for the Triumph Speed Twin and other models), and the engine is an ohc 500cc vertical twin, with a unit construction engine. I don't think they were ever imported to the US, but a few were brought over to Daytona in '54 (?), which had magnesium engine cases and twin carbs. This Model 15 is an early version, with a worm-driven overhead camshaft - later models used a gear-driven cam, as the worm gear wore out quickly (much like the final drive on the S7 Sunbeam - see above).

There were other bikes in our class (late Rudge Ulster, Ariel Square 4, etc), but things got difficult when we encountered Bryan Bossier's '49 Vincent Series B Black Shadow. This was a near-perfect restoration - not over-polished or -chromed, all minute parts present and correct (note manual and tools on seat), even the little leather washers under the wheel rim security bolts, and raised clearcoat over pinstripe lines and transfers. The only fault I could find was the use of plastic valve caps for the innertubes, rather than period metal items. As we say in CA, 'pinner stuff'. (second pic - Mark deep in conversation with the restorer, who was delightfully open about his process)

The difficulty? We had 3 bikes of similar quality; Sunbeam S7, BMW R66, and Vincent Shadow, all rare, all running beatifully, all within 1/2 point of each other. They were actually equal on my sheet, but Mark had his own judging system, and our cumulative told the tale - Vin 1st, BMW 2nd, 'Beam 3rd. Our first job was finished, time to hand in our sheets and grab some lunch.

The judge's work isn't over though, as the Class winning bikes had to be rounded up by the Class Hosts (volunteers who liason between the judges and owners, ie finding them when they win!).
First up were the Special Awards and Industry Awards, which included the Custom Culture prize, going to actor Jason Lee's Bullet Falcon custom, built by Ian Barry and Amaryllis Knight (pictured in a huddle before riding to the podium) around a 1950 Triumph. This bike garnered quite a bit of press before the Legends as a 'new breed' of custom - let's hope so, as the old breed is tiresome. Kudos to the special builder who creates art which can be properly ridden!

Jason Lee had other work to do, as he and actor Giovanni Ribisi delivered the 'Elvis Award', for the 'bike Elvis would have liked'. This year, old buddy Paul Adams, looking like Elvis' Arkansas cousin with that floppy hat, took the award for his 1923 Norton 16H. I would have though Elvis preferred a Honda Dream or Harley bagger, myself. Sigh, another statue for Paul's sagging trophy shelf. Here Paul confers with Bruce Bern, who was Chief Class Host. Bruce and wife Medea run the Hillsborough Concours d'Elegance.

Here's what I was referring to as 'evidence of road use', Gus Veratakas' 1969 Norton Mercury 650cc parallel twin. I do believe Gus is the original owner, and the bike has never been restored, and is close to 100% original. The 'Mercury' transfer on the tank top is gone, but it's shadow remains in the paint - cool! Chips in the faded paint, a few rust pits in the chrome, but the bike still won 1st in Class.

Mike Hailwood's Honda 500cc dohc 4-cylinder GP racer also won a 1st, and sounded magnificent. Here it's attended by an old friend, 'Nobby' Clarke, who spun the wrenches on this machine when it raced under Mike the Bike. A poignant moment.

Happy local couple Toastacia Boyd and Charlie O'Hanlon won a 1st with their '69 Honda CB450 Police model - they were thrilled! Charlie runs THE local vintage Honda shop, and did a very nice restoration, with a lot of correct and rare parts.

When all the Class winners were assembled, the judges were at it one final time, for the worst task of all; choosing Best in Show from these 14 beautiful bikes (note the fellow behind the third BMW - that's Tim Green, 'greenie' to you ebayers, and you've probably bought a book or two from him! Also, Ian Barry is contemplating Bossier's Shadow).

Here's how it works; each judging team had a Team Chief, whose job it was to vote for Best in Show with a small ballot. All 14 team Chiefs looked earnestly at the bikes lined up, as we hadn't until this moment known the winners of other classes. As we had been busy judging our own class all morning, the other 13 machines were new to us, and our ballots had to be at the podium in 30 minutes. Difficult work - note the pensive look on Mike Jackson's mug as he considers the options while smoking his pipe (even Clubie, in the background, looks semi-serious for once). There isn't much conference between the judges, surprisingly, and I've never seen any pressure or boostering for any particular bike.

Our ballots are handed over to Ed Gilbertson, who adds them up and declares Best in Show. This year's winner was the anti-restoration; a 1908 'Torpedo tank' Indian racer, owned by Vince Martinico, in original and unrestored condition. Ironically, as it has no clutch, it couldn't be ridden to (well, stopped at) the podium, so was fired up in the winner's circle, then pushed to Alain de Cadanet, who enthused appropriately
over this incredibly rare, probably unique machine from the second year of Indian's v-twin production - the bike is a fully documented factory racer. The fact that it remained unrestored and in very good condition is remarkable, and the bike crackles like a gattling gun when it's pedalled into life (that's right, we gave the big prize to a moped...). If you look closely at the photo, you'll see two long tubes connected to the front frame tube - the red one is the battery ('accumulator'), and the black tube is the ignition coil. It looks humble in photographs, but the little bike had a Presence. Remarkably, it won 4 awards at the Legends, from four different sets of judges, which is testament to the esteem in which the bike is held. I saw Vince turn down a large cash offer for the Indian, later that afternoon... but I think he preferred a victory hug from the 'umbrella girls' (Kim and Crystal again!)


drsprocket said...

1907 first Indian twin. This machine is documented factory racer.

drsprocket said...

Indian's first twin was in 1907. This 1908 is an original factory racer with the paper work.

Throwback said...

thanks for the effort and time and great pics that you put into this blog. That show is something special and I'll surely be back next year.

JTH said...

Excellent post
Thanks you

Already making plans for next year, trying to figure out how to get some of my old bikes in.

JTH said...

Great post
And thanks for the insight as to judging.

'08 was my first visit, but won't be my last.

Sorta wish I'd paid more attention earlier, brought my John Player, Norton Interstate.

Richard said...

ran accross Darryl Richman's restoration page for his R52, and he has a picture of you standing next to his bike as he talks about the great time he had at the legends.