Sunday, April 05, 2009


What was 'The Clubman's All-British Show', held in one exhibit hall and exclusive of other Makes and Countries, began to change two years ago, as enterprenurial event producers pondered attaching barnacle-like to this long-established event. So, initially a European Vintage show appeared next to the Clubman's, and this year saw a Classic Japanese hall as well...

The San Mateo County Fairgrounds has yet more exhibit halls, and a rumor is circulating that Antique American Motorcycles will be the next addition to the weekend's events, which would encompass nearly the whole world's production, barring AustralAsia/China, from which many motorcycles sprouted and continue to be produced in huge numbers - but not much Vintage machinery from China or Australia comes to our shores. It does exist though!

Ariel being the featured marque this year, the variety of Selly Oak machinery was mind-boggling - and the array of Square Fours was a delight. I knew that the Red Hunter 500cc ohv model was a favorite of California dragsters and hot-rodders in the '40s and '50s, as there are still quite a few 'survivor' sprinters out there, including this beatiful iron-engined machine, raced in the late 40's through the 1960s. The dent in the tank is from 1952, and still says 'ouch'!

Squariels - they've been 'collector's machines' almost since the day they were produced, which is a kind of death for a motorcycle, as it means they are unlikely to be used, loved, modified, ridden. But evidence of love is found in the hand of the customizer - five amazing Period Specials were lined up, and none remotely resembled another. Most outrageous award goes to '2 by 4', which is a Rectangle 8! Two late alloy Mk2 engines linked by a belt primary, and sounding much like a v-8 with open exhaust.

Look at that tube-bending work - a bundle of snakes heading out to a seriously large drainpipe. This machine was built in 1986, using a Kawasaki front end and home-made frame.

This Healey 4 was an 'almost' production model - the Healey brothers shoehorning a late Ariel Mk2 engine into a very tidy and attractive frame, using Grimeca wheels and Ceriani forks.

Ariel never produced the Sq4 with a swingarm frame, only going as far as the Anstey Link rear suspension, which is prone to wear and wobble. I think the Healeys only made around 6 of their beautiful machines - more's the pity.

Here's a Featherbed Ariel, this time using and iron Mk1 engine, with the cylinder head reversed! The layout does make for a tidy exhaust line; no need for a talented tube-bender when a straight pipe will do.

This Bobber Sq4 was my favorite - an original Survivor, as modified in the 1940s no doubt, and exactly the sort of machine to be found in California in those early post-war days.

The bobbed rear mudguard keeps the bum off the rear wheel, holds the taillight, and little else. Note the finned timing cover - a nice period accessory.

Inside the show, the news was good for attendess, and merely so-so for vendors. Motorcycles and parts were selling briskly, although it seemed prices for the machines had dropped a bit. As an example, this amazing '61 Triumph Bonneville scrambler, in correct period livery and a good runner, took a couple of hours to sell - asking price; $3500. It went for less; amazing. I wanted it for my own Steve McQueen fantasy.

The good news; attendance was at its highest level ever, and by my reckoning the average age of attendees has dropped considerably. An amazing number of Twenty-somethings - hipsters, rockers, retro dudes - gave the hall a much-needed boost of energy. And what pray tell have they come for?

Well, judging from the cross-traffic between my website and the myriad Chopper Blogs which have sprung up like mushrooms, I'd say they were looking for Period Customs! Not only that, respect for 'stock' machines is growing as well. I had a conversation with one such fellow - he indeed has a '60s Triumph with rigid rear end and ape-hangers, but two completely stock BSAs keep it company in the garage. There Is Hope.

Among the vendors; Evan Wilcox (above), well-known here in the US for his aluminum forming skills, showed a few compounds and volutes in metal. The Ducati 'Jellymould' tank was my favorite. The wait for his services is long, but well worth it.

My personal favorite bike of the show? Kenny Egger's original BSA A7SS Daytona racer, on which he raced at that very venue! It has to be the best-looking parallel twin racer ever, and I love the crazy green color scheme. And, it won on the sand.

He brought along a couple of original posters from the race; below is a period pic of Kenny on another BSA racer. A close look at the machine is warranted; note the stacked revers-cone megaphones tucked under the right side of the machine - not siamesed. That 'toolbox' is actually the 1 gallon oil tank, and the modified alloy head has been reshaped to carry twin Amal GP carbs. Deeply sexy.

You meet the nicest people near a Triumph. Yoshi of the Garage Company was busily handing out posters for his upcoming Moto Corsa Classica races at Willow Springs.

Oldest Ariel at the show was this White and Poppe engined machine; the engine design was made under licenses and featured valves hung far away from the cylinder barrel. An early effort to keep the valves a bit cooler, as steels of the day weren't quite up to the job of keeping a poorly lubricated and very hot valve in one piece.


Frank Sider said...

Simply great
thank you for this post

Don said...

Hi Paul,

I've notice the same thing in the chopper department. It wasn't that long ago that I would see ads that said "want to buy British bikes - no choppers". Not the case anymore. I also enjoyed the Square Four times two. It always amazes me when people can graft multiple engines together.

Don Workman

Neckdeep said...

When and where was this?

vintagent said...

The show is always the last weekend of March, in San Jose, CA. I'll give a heads-up for next year.

R.Dress said...

Hi Paul,

Great looking machines. The Ariel Sprinter shown here looks as though it lacks a right side foot rest. Can you elaborate on that?


White & Poppe fan said...

The Ariel sprinter had been laid up in a garage for the last 20 years, but the owner pieced it together for the show, at the request of the Ariel club. He has the missing bits at home.


Brakes only slow you down said...

Ps, the sprinter foot pegs are mounted one inch in front of the rear axle


Affer said...

Another brilliant write-up! I must say that the idea of linking two Squariel engines is quite nuts; as mad as Simon Whitelock's 48 cylinder Kawasaki! Thank heavens such lunatic, inventive genius still would be so dull without these folk!