Monday, October 15, 2012

CATCHING UP WITH CROCKER

Pd'O in a Wet Plate image; not as suspicious of the new machine as I look
Back in May at the 2012 Quail Motorcycle Gathering, I met Michael Schacht and had a good look at his new Crocker Big Tank, which he'd just completed.  The bike looked and sounded good, and I wrote a piece for Cycle World on its début.  Schacht invited me to test ride the machine next time I was in LA; last week that opportunity arrived, and I met him at the secret Crocker warehouse/assembly shop.  That first, unpainted Crocker sat with an Indian 101 Scout Schacht restored back in his 'Indian days', the prototype Crocker C4 futurismo mockup, and a frame table on which sat the makings of New Crocker #2.  [For a history of Crocker motorcycles, click here]
Cylinder barrel raw castings, with enough meat for variable engine capacity
On the mezzanine level, a wall lined library-like with casting patterns keeps company with racks of rough castings and core boxes; the makings of the next 15 Crockers, which Schacht says he'll build 'whether I have orders or not... I'm going to make them'.  He's invested a huge amount of time and money, and staked his reputation on building real, functional motorcycles.  I only know one other such privateer motorcycle producer - he's making Brough Superiors - and they share a certain passion, a bit of blind faith, a lot of tenacity,  and an inspired vision of what they're contributing to the motorcycle world.  In Schacht's case, that vision would be nothing less than the resurrection of the Crocker marque.
Michael Schacht explains changes to the cylinder wall oiling on his barrel casting pattern
Shacht has become an expert in Crockers, as one must in order to replicate them, and I received an education on the various detail changes Al Crocker incorporated into his eponymous machines.  From 'hemi' head and Small Tank, to the later enclosed rocker, parallel valve Big Tank models.  It's amazing how many changes were made during the short, 1936-42 run of less than 100 machines.  Seeing how much attention Crocker paid to his improvements, and the level of customization he was happy to incorporate into paint jobs and engine spec, it's no wonder Crocker never made money on his Big Twin project.  He designed an incredibly durable, quality machine, with a steel gearbox casting acting as a lower frame lug, cast-aluminum fuel tanks, and heavy-duty everything.
Wet Plate image of the raw-metal prototype...
Al Crocker's could be forgiven if it were a little beastly looking, but as it turned out, the man had styling chops equal to the best.  The Crocker Big Twin is simply a gorgeous motorcycle, on par with any work of George Brough or Edward Turner, although in the American vernacular.  Custom motorcycle builders have tried to capture the tough elegance of his design for over 70 years; the man simply got it right the first time; the sweep of the fenders and tanks, that taillight (copies of which were seen on thousands of Harleys and Triumphs in later days), the big v-twin engine, it all sings together.   It's no surprise they've been coveted and collected since they were new; they're better looking, and better performing, than any other American machine of the day.
Easy to handle, light on the fingertips, well balanced.
That the Crocker was so good when introduced meant trouble from his competition, HD and Indian, the last two American bike builders left standing after the Great Depression.  It was faster and better looking than anything they had to offer, even trumping Harley's first OHV production v-twin, the Model EL 'Knucklehead', by 6 months.  The Crocker in 'base model' form (a mere 61cu.in) was easily 10mph faster than the 'Knuck', and big-engine Crockers simply rocketed away.  Al Crocker offered a money-back guarantee that his machine would outrun any Harley, and no Crocker owner ever collected, as they never needed to.
Michael Schacht warms up the big engine...
Schacht has gone to extremes to build a faithful replica of Al Crocker's machine, and has endured  harsh words from some of the Crocker faithful, whether for his business practices, his fallout with his first partner, or his cheek in buying the Crocker name, and daring to build a bike. Putting all that aside, there's a motorcycle to test, so let's take it on its own merits.
The man and his creation; it works.
Schacht copied collector Chuck Vernon's original Crocker engine dimensions, and this prototype machine clocks in at a whopping 1800cc.  I watched a good friend break his ankle kick-starting such a beast, and chose starter rollers for my test ride (I had a second road test, of the Falcon 'Black', to do next day, after all...).   The big beast started easily, and soon ticked over like a hotrodded twin usually doesn't, although the ground shook a bit with the near-liter explosions inside each jug.  Once warm, and in the saddle, the riding position was surprisingly comfy, with a big leather Meissinger saddle and typically Yank pullback 'bars.  Footboards for feet, foot clutch for gears, big knob lever on the tank side...all typical American stuff, and thank goodness this Crocker didn't have a 'suicide' clutch (ie, springs to engage it when you move your foot) like the last one I rode, during Pebble Beach Week.
In the background is the 'C4' Crocker modern prototype, as seen in the first Legend of the Motorcycle Concours
The clutch was smooth and light, and the gearshift was silent, as I slipped into first, and balanced opening the throttle with easing my foot back to engage the clutch.  With such a massive engine, even low rpms in first mean you're away fast, and the Crocker fairly launched itself forward with a loping, torquey gait.  The engine is smooth and silky, and shockingly powerful; really fast.  I reckon at 60mph in 3rd gear the engine is ticking over at 2400rpm, and at top whack the beast would easily top 110mph.  It seems to breathe well, but I didn't have a chance to really open her up at speed to find the character at higher revs.  I would feel completely safe doing so, as the bike is rock-solid, with completely neutral handling characteristics.  The only letdown is the brakes, which are crap.  Nobody expects much from the front, but the rear wasn't much better, and needs to be fixed - not a big deal, but it should definitely be sorted out before my next, high-speed run on open roads (hint!).

Taken on its own merits, the new Crocker is a gorgeous animal, with impressive performance even by modern standards.  Al Crocker built one hell of a motorcycle, and Michael Schacht has built a faithful re-creation, which is also a hell of a motorcycle.
Sponsors!  Helmet and gloves by Ruby; jeans by Edwin, sunnies by Allyn Scura
Questions of value have yet to be answered; is the public ready to drop $150k for this machine?  I can't make an assessment of whether it's 'worth' that, but if I was horny for a Crocker, the prospect of saving a few hundred grand is certainly appealing.  The upsides; it's all new, you can get parts, and it's half the price of a 1930s Crocker.  The downsides; it will never be as collectible the original machine.  If I had the money to play with, I'd probably try to break this new Crocker by riding it everywhere, hard.  I can't imagine too many bikes which give the visual satisfaction, the name recognition, and the performance offered here; it's a heady mix, and I'm game to try it again.

Many thanks to Michael Schacht for the test ride, an exclusive privilege for The Vintagent...

9 comments:

Hairy Larry said...

Yeah, a different kind of 'New old stock'. Looks good. Good luck to him.

Graham Motzing said...

yes please!

Too bad more of the folks paying top dollar for these vintage machines at auction aren't of the 'ride them as the maker intended' mind set. Most of the folks in that tax bracket seem more interested in having a rare, coveted display piece or a mothballed investment property. Much thanks to you and your blog, as always, for showcasing the dark side of the vintage motorcycle moon, unobtainable for all us middle class mortals.

$150k seems a bit on the steep side, though, especially considering the work Paul Brodie did with the Excelsior OHV for 100k. The post-war market is tricky like this, when you get to the point of building what (to a novice collector) amounts to a vintage-looking bobber with an S&S remake engine, what is the exceptional quality of the design that distinguishes this replica from yet another Harley replica?

Just playing the devil's advocate, as this is obviously a much more desirable machine where it counts, but for the top dollar enthusiast who wants a vintage replica, the Excelsior or Brough make sense as they are entirely remarkable from every angle. The pitfall of the Crocker may be its similarity to a replica harley or indian which could get pieced together for a third of the price.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Hope to see one ripping up a nitrous aided quarter mile in Mission one day.

mm.riders said...

Sill half of the price of original one makes me more then sure that it is not worth it.
I prefer to spend $300K on sth that gains value with time rather then $150K on sth that can only loose.
Few years ago I builded Chief with Kiwi engine - it costed me about $40+ - guess it is about $20K market value now.
$150K would buy a nice collection of knuckleheads - some original paint

Hairy Larry said...

'S&S remake motor'...? If I had the money or hit the lottery, I'd buy a really nice replica of a Crocker. Anyone who does buy one is going to know what it is and the amount of work and tooling up that went into it. Maybe I'll buy a couple tickets tonight...

GuitarSlinger said...

IMHO opinion Mr Schacht is a bit patso .... if you catch my meaning . But ......... he's the kind of Patso this World could use a hell of a lot more of !

Is the bike worth $150K If the finished product lives up to his claims I'd say yes . Will enough folks stump up for that kind of money ? I'm kind of betting they will

Lets face facts here . A Crocker ... in name and construction ....... for a third or less than an original ..... so you might actually ride the thing rather than stick it in your private museum/ living room

Heck there's a ton of custom choppers out there at $150K that you'll never be able to ride .... reasonably that is !

So yeah . Its worth the money ....... assuming you've got it ;-)

Anonymous said...

I think the magic number is $75K.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing about magic numbers. Everyone has one in regards to their dream machine although those numbets never seem to apply to cost or value.

Anonymous said...

GOOD LUCK. I WOULD NEVER BUY A REPLICA. THEY NEVER KEEP THEIR VALUE. GET AN ORIGIONAL.