John Gee’s extraordinary Antique Motorcycles collection
Antique Motorcycles, in Moorabbin, outside Melbourne, Australia(Credit: Loz Blain/New Atlas)
VIEW GALLERY – 46 IMAGES
Tucked away in Melbourne’s urban sprawl is one of Australia’s true hidden gems. Antique Motorcycles features the amazing and ever-changing motorcycle collection of owner John Gee, who was nice enough to take us on a guided tour and tell us about some of his favorite machines.
I’ve lived in Melbourne, Australia nearly 40 years, and been into motorcycles for about half that – and yet this hidden treasure has somehow managed to remain completely off my radar until now. Tucked away beside Moorabbin Airport is a historic motorcycling wonderland, almost a museum, built on one man’s personal collection.
Antique Motorcycles is a monument to owner John Gee’s passion for anything interesting with two wheels. Walking in the front door, through the cafe/bar area, you step into a huge showroom/museum area where dozens upon dozens of bikes sit in beautifully chaotic displays. Model planes, minibikes, snowmobiles, bicycles and speedway cars hang from the rafters, and the place is chock-full of all kinds of memorabilia.
John took the time to take us through the museum area and talk about a few of his many favourites. We’ll let him take it from here in his own words:
Antique Motorcycles started in 1988, believe it or not. I’ve been going to the States since 88, buying classic bikes and bringing them back to Australia.
I got bitten by the motorcycle bug as an 8-year-old and the bug kept getting worse. By the time I was an apprentice motorcycle mechanic at 17, I owned half a dozen road bikes that I kept at a friend’s house so my parents wouldn’t know. It was around this time I started buying and selling bikes, and building a collection.
In the late 80s, I was traveling across the United States, and I noticed that Triumphs, Nortons and BSAs were cheap. So I planned a trip over there, went and bought 30-odd bikes, shipped them back, and I’d spend the year doing them up in the garage. Eventually when you amass a collection of motorcycles it attracts other people with the same passion. Before you know it, you’re importing bikes for other people and working on their projects for them. One day you wake up and you own a motorcycle shop! It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you do it long enough, you end up with a place like this.
We’ve got a bit of everything here. I’ve got a pretty big mini-bike collection – a hangover from that bug I had as a kid. I prefer original condition bikes. I’ve spent most of my life taking chopper forks and handlebars and Craig Vetter fairings and touring bags off motorcycles and returning them to their original condition. I’ve got choppers from the 70s, I’ve got turbo bikes, I like my British bikes, I love my German bikes … but Indians is my #1 passion.
We became a dealer for Indian about 12 months ago. We’re very happy to sell them, they’re not a hard product to sell at all. They sell themselves out of the box because they’re such a good bike. It’s great to see a serious competitor to Harley Davidson.
Destroyer II – Billy Gibbons’ custom Kawasaki Z1R
We’ve got a lot of famous stuff here … This is a bike that Billy Gibbons, from ZZ Top, had made. He called it Destroyer II, because that’s the kind of guitar he plays.
He got a ’78 Z1R turbo, which was probably one of the most expensive bikes available on the day, and he sent it back to the factory. They put a stage 3 kit in it, which is a bigger sump, a welded crank, 6:1 forged turbo pistons, undercut the gearbox, all that sort of stuff.
Then they sent it off to this mob called RC Hill’s of Orlando, and they did all the gold plating, and the painting, and the custom work.
We haven’t restored the seat, because the seat had Billy Gibbons on it. The time’s come, it sort of needs to be done, but I’ve held back, because it’s Billy’s own seat. Pretty cool bike, it’s only done about 6,000 miles.
I found it in a collection in Michigan. I was buying about 20-odd bikes off one guy. It was in a pretty poor state. But they were the fastest bike in the world at the time. They still currently hold the record for an 11-second quarter mile, sitting on the bike backwards. Quite incredible!
Mad Max Honda Four
This bike here’s out of Mad Max. The guy lived five Ks from here, and he came in and said he had an old Honda and he wanted to sell it. I went and looked at it, I didn’t know it was out of Mad Max, he wanted too much money … I was leaving, I was in the car ready to drive away.
But just as I was leaving, he told me the story of how he rode the thing in Mad Max, and I quickly changed my mind and bought it. There’s a picture of it, right here… There was only two Honda Fours in the film.
When you watch the movie and slow it down, you can see the Star mags, you can see the twin-disc front end, which is unusual for a Honda, they only had a single disc front end. And you can see the calipers are behind the fork – normally Hondas had the caliper in front. He customized his own bike, way back when, ’74 or 5.
They had a Mad Max reunion last year. We all went to Clunes. And they had just about every vehicle from every Mad Max film made. All the people in the clothing and whatnot.
I had this bike there, and nobody knew about it – it doesn’t exactly jump off the page. By the end of the weekend, I found out I had the only genuine vehicle out of any of the Mad Max films at the event. There were at least 10 Interceptor cars, and the MFP police cars, 10 or 12 of those … There’s a lot of passion out of there for Mad Max.
TZ750 race bike
Here’s a TZ750, this was one of Trevor Flood’s bikes. Reputedly raced by Michael Dowson … and Kevin McGee in the ’84 Swann series. I think they raced it to second place in the championship.
It’s a GP bike you could buy off the shelf. This one’s got around 130 horse, it’s running Lectron flat-slides, White Power suspension, Dymag wheels and Brembo brakes. All products that the Floods were the importers for at the time. I bought it from a deceased estate about 25 years ago.
I’ve ridden this one on track. You go flat chat down Phillip Island straight, and when you hit the hump where the tunnel goes underneath, the thing does a huge wheelstand and you have to back off. Whenever you ride this bike, you have the utmost respect for it. When you get off in the pits, you’re shaking, and you go “whew… I lived!”
2002 Indian Chief: Schwarzenegger bike from Terminator 3
This is out of Terminator 3, Arnie Schwarzenegger. They made four bikes, they destroyed two, and two survived. This is the one he actually rode in the scene where they’re chasing the crane truck, and the crane’s jib is pointed sideways and the whole world’s blowing up. It’s taking down the power lines, flipping all the parked cars upside down. Pretty spectacular scene.
This particular Indian was known as the Gilroy Indian. Made in Gilroy, California. Not to be confused with the Polaris product of current times, which is a much superior motorcycle. The chase scene was only a small part of the movie, but Indian fans would’ve been sure to notice what Arnie was riding. It was the first time an Indian had been used in a movie in a very long time. They had a lot to live up to, as previous Terminator chase scenes involving Harleys were also spectacular.
Honda CBX1000 Turbo
In 1978, Honda came out with the CBX1000 six cylinder. A stunning bike, with a motor that was described as “a block of flats.” Absolutely an instant classic. So what to do to improve it?
Meet the Honda CBX turbo! They only made 10 kits, which were dealer fitted. They weren’t factory endorsed, but the factory would’ve been happy they had a product that could run with the Kawasaki Z1R turbos of the time … So that’s one of ten of those. I’ve had a fascination for turbos and have owned many examples, from all the four Japanese brands. I currently still have quite a few, and also some pretty wild Frankenstein home-built turbo bikes. Always fun.
This kit doubles whatever horsepower it had. What’d they have, like, 75 horsepower new? Not much … It might have 140 now.
1942 Harley-Davidson WLA
This WLA was restored by the US army, it’s probably the best example of a WLA in the world. It’s cool shit. Like all bikes here, it goes. Bit of fuel, bit of choke, couple of prime kicks, ignition … (bike starts) Hey? Not bad!
It had the radio instead of the Thompson machine gun. It’s a communication bike. It’s probably the best example of a WLA in the world, since it was restored by the army. It’s not like WLAs are very rare – they made 90,000 of them. But they are rare to find like this.
I didn’t have to do any work on it. The work I had to do was count out the bills and hand ’em over. Haha! Serious stuff. This bike is now owned by one of our very best customers, and is part of his extensive collection.
1951 Harley-Davidson WR
WR Harley-Davidson up there, a 1951 WR, they made 23 in the world. That was Harley’s weapon on the flat tracks. This bike comes from one of the oldest Harley Davidson shops in the USA. It was a spare bike that only saw a few practice laps in its life.
In ’52, they already had the KR top end on the WR – the WR was on its way to morphing into the KR. By ’53, WRs were gone and the KR was born. Very fast bike for the time. They’d pull wheelstands down the main straight at over 80 miles an hour, I’ve seen it myself at the Davenport flat track.
1966 Triumph Bonneville XR750
That’s a Triumph. We use that to test whether people know their shit or not. You just failed. Haha! I just put a Harley tank on a Triumph, because it fit … I was building a bike to race in New Zealand at the Burt Monroe challenge, and the tank came up in Just Bikes magazine, and it had a brand new paint job on it, so I stuck it on there. I was reluctant to take the Harley badge off, because I didn’t know if I was going to keep that tank.
One thing led to another, next thing, people are coming in and telling us they used to have one exactly like it … We left it on there for a bit of fun, we use it to qualify people. It’s amazing how many people will swear black and blue, that that’s exactly how the one they owned was – much to our bewilderment!
1975 Hercules Wankel
We’ve got two Hercules rotaries, we’ve got two Norton rotaries, the water-cooled and the air-cooled, and a Suzuki RE5 Wankel.
They’re a different thing to ride. We don’t call ’em a motorcycle, we call ’em rotorcycles. They’re a bit … heavy and slow to get going, but they’re quirky, and we still like ’em. When I was an apprentice motorcycle mechanic, we used to work on these things. I’ve got fond memories. We used to look at the engine and go “what the hell do you do with that?”
The Hercules is a very surprising motorcycle to ride. It is very quick off the line, it has unexpected power delivery, and it’s very quick and nimble. Quite the opposite to the Suzuki RE5.
The Garage display
That’s the old garage. We use all the stuff in here. It’s all rare stuff. ’23 Indian, there’s a ’39 Indian engine, a ’38 Indian engine, all kinds of important stuff in there. Transmissions, magnetos, carburetors … Whenever we’re restoring an old bike, this is where we come to get our bits.
We did it up like an old ’20’s servo you’d find in outback Australia. Couple of gas pumps out the front, a collection of stuff under a lean-to. We’ve got a bit of junk piled up in there today, it’s not really as good a display as it normally is …
Steve McQueen sidecar
Chad McQueen was just in Australia. I know Chad from the States, he’s one of those identities that kind of turns up at a lot of things.
I met him up at the Rock Store once, up on Mulholland Drive. He was driving an old Porsche. I just noticed this car, you know, it had cut slicks, and a full camber job, and all the body panels were fiberglass, and racing seats … It was a pretty rough old looking car.
I was looking at it, and this guy yells out from across the street, “get in! knock yourself out!” Like Americans do … Next minute, of course, he’s there, and he’s on for a chat. I was asking questions about his car, like how fast does it go, it looks pretty serious … He said “aw look, I’ve lost my nerve these days, after I hit the wall at Daytona doing 200 …” I was thinking to myself, typical American, bragging, or making up stories …
Anyway, he said “what’ve you guys got?” Well, I told him we had a rental car and we weren’t very proud of it, we’d parked it ’round the corner. But we’re into Indian motorcycles in a big way, and that’s what we ride at home. He said he had an Indian motorcycle with a sidecar. So we listened to his story about that. And I said, well, I’m not a fan of sidecars, but I do have one. I only keep it because it belonged to Steve McQueen … And he said “well that mah daddy!” And then I realized, shit, this is Chad McQueen – and that story about hitting the wall at Daytona at 200, that was actually true!
That’s the sidecar up there, and that’s the bike it was on, down below. It got caught in a fire at my previous address – one of the buildings burned down. It got a bit singed, but it’s still in pretty good condition. And I told him about it. He remembered the bike – and he said he hated it, because his dad used to make him polish it! Pretty funny.
1951 Indian Squad bike
This is my favourite Indian, it’s a 1951 New York police bike. It’s got a siren on it, still. I bought it off the original cop. Some of the towns, depends where you came from, you had to own the bike to be a cop. I don’t think that’s what happened to him, I think this was a fleet bike.
It was never a pursuit bike, it was a parade bike. So, when the president or whoever came to town, there’d be two of these out in front and two behind as a police escort, that kind of thing.
I’ve ridden it around the grand canyon, I’ve ridden it around New Zealand … It’s been my rider for about 25 years now. I can’t put my finger on why, this bike has something that reaches out to me. Whenever I’m going out for a ride, I look round the shop, and I always end up choosing this one. Actually I’d better get that bike up on the bench, I’ll be riding it the weekend after next. We’re going up to Mansfield in the high country. We’re doing the 25th annual Great Race – Harley vs. Indian.
2016 Indian Scout custom cafe racer
Here’s one we’re building right now, a cafe racer, something a bit different. It’s home grown, right here. We’re just giving people examples of what can be done using a Scout as a base. It’s about getting people’s imagination going, so they can then buy a bike and either get us to customize it, or run off and go and customize it themselves. It’s an awesome platform – 100 horsepower and very nimble handling.
1974 Norton Commando (supercharged)
There’s another bike up here that’s a bit far out … That’s a supercharged Norton Commando. You could buy a kit back in the 70s, bolt on a Drouin supercharger, and double your horsepower. So that’s just one that I knocked up. It’s a … let me think, a ’74 Commando. It’s got a Dunstall kit, Norman Hyde fork brace, alloy rims and clip-ons, a 2-into-1 exhaust …
Not everything’s for sale. Obviously I got into this because I was passionate about bikes and I wanted to build a collection of bikes. All of a sudden you end up being a motorcycle shop, and you’re buying and selling and you’re head-first into it.
But my passion is still collecting. And there’s still plenty of bikes on my bucket list that I want to get before I’m done. So once in a while, maybe I’ll sell a couple of bikes to get something else on my bucket list. It’s about experiencing them.
I got to about 130 bikes in my collection, that was stupid, I couldn’t keep the tires pumped up. It was a major job just looking after them, and there were bikes in there that were quite rough. So I cut it back. I’m probably at about 70 or something at the moment. I try to keep it round about there.
I’ve got a warehouse over the road, I keep a bunch more over there. I like to swap ’em around, keep it all alive. This isn’t a museum you walk into one time – you come back next week, it’s different. Come back the week after, it’s different again. There’s always a reason to come back.
Same with the museum we’re building upstairs. I know a lot of people with collections of very rare and exotic motorcycles. We’ll do a Brough Superior display, we’ll do a Harley-Davidson display, we’ll do all sorts of things, maybe an American brand display with Thors and Merkels and Popes, things like that. It’s always going to be changing, so it’s important to keep coming back.
Friday nights we have our Tapas night, which is where we open the bar and get drunk. There’s some live music, lots of fun. Two bands every Friday, and the cafe’s open every day except Sunday. So there’s the new Indian dealership, and the workshop and the team of mechanics. We work on vintage and classic bikes, which not a lot of shops would touch.
We’ve also got the Classic Racer Club based at the shop, we have rides every Saturday morning, 8 o’clock, heading off in whatever direction the riders choose on the day. Anywhere between 5 and 40 bikes, it depends who turns up.
After several hours chatting with John and photographing the bikes out back, I never felt like I’d scratched the surface of what’s in there – and John’s perfectly happy about that, telling me I should come back again and feature more of the bikes he rotates in and out of the museum.
We might take you up on that, John! There’s a ton of other stuff in the shop we’d love to feature.
1912 Indian Single is a two-wheeler that Jay Leno just couldn’t pass up. In this episode he highlights the stock 1912 Indian Single and talks to its owner. The motorcycle was part of the Motorcycle Cannonball Ride and given its age, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out. Yes, this 1912 Indian Single can still hit the streets. It’s owner Alex Trepanier tells us more about its history.
According to him, the 1912 Indian Single has been in their family since before he was born. His dad bought it for $650, back in 1962. Leno, of course, was pretty quick to offer twice the price. However, in this state, the 500cc bike has a current market value in the $70,000 range. Given the fact that it is unrestored and is still functional, the prize range makes sense.
When it comes to power, the 1912 Indian Single has a 4-horsepower single-speed. It has completed more than 3,000 miles in the Cannonball event. Also, it features a total-loss lubrication system. Thus, an interesting fact is that the engine probably consumed 5 quarts of oil each day.
Nevertheless, what Jay Leno is trying to point out is how much effort was put into making motorcycles in the early days. Not many could do it as Indian’s hand clutch and twist-grip throttle was pretty challenging. That’s why it took several false starts by Leno to make the vintage thumper run along. The 1912 Indian Single motorcycle’s top speed is around 35 mph.
But be that as it may, it surely is an exceptional experience to hop on this machine nowadays. The sound of the engine isn’t as pleasant as you would imagine but, all in all, it’s totally worth it. Check it out!
America’s first motorcycle company, today announced its Scout Inspired Custom Series; a chronology of the rich, century-long history of the Indian(R) Scout(TM) motorcycle. Throughout 2015, Indian Motorcycle will unveil a series of custom Indian Scouts designed and crafted by some of America’s leading custom bike builders — each designed to celebrate an important Indian Scout milestone or achievement since its debut in 1920. Each of the custom Scouts will be accompanied by vignettes to share the legacy of the Indian Scout.
To kick-off the series, Indian Motorcycle today launched the Custom Military Scout in a vignette narrated by Mark Wahlberg. The Custom Military Scout is a tribute to the company’s nearly 100-year history of supporting the U.S. Military and to celebrate Indian Motorcycle’s partnership with USO. The Custom Military Scout was designed and built by world-renowned custom builder Klock Werks Kustom Cycles of Mitchell, South Dakota.
“Klock Werks Kustom Cycles is honored to partner with Indian Motorcycle on a project that pays tribute to the USO and their outstanding work on behalf of the dedicated men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces,” said Brian Klock, founder of Klock Werks. “Indian Motorcycle has a long and impressive legacy of supporting the U.S. Military dating back to WWI and all of us at Klock Werks are humbled to play a role in this important and historic endeavor.”
The Custom Military Scout is built on the award-winning 2015 Indian Scout platform, sporting a matte green paint indicative of a vintage military bike that was perfectly applied by Brad Smith of The Factory Match. It utilizes taillights that are modern street legal reproductions on a custom bracket to mimic the original military-style lights. The Custom Military Scout features Genuine Indian Motorcycle Accessory leather saddlebags, a Klock Werks “Klassic” seat kit and leather wraps for the base of the Indian accessory quick-detach windshield — all upholstered using matching leather hides. A custom gun scabbard mount holds a Thompson sub-machine gun with a custom gunstock by Boyds Gunstocks of Mitchell, SD etched with both the USO and Indian Motorcycle logos.
“Today we are proud to launch our Scout Inspired Custom Series with our inaugural episode dedicated to the USO and our mutual support of the U.S. Military and their families, and we are grateful to brand ambassador Mark Wahlberg and our friends at Klock Werks for their support and fine craftsmanship,” said Steve Menneto, Polaris Industries vice president of motorcycles. “The Indian Scout has built a long and storied legacy of racing wins, world records, engineering innovations and industry firsts, and along the way it has won the hearts and minds of fans around the world. Those achievements have materially impacted our current and future direction for the Indian Scout marque, and we look forward to telling some of those important stories through our Scout Inspired Custom Series.”
The Custom Military Scout and accompanying video vignette narrated by Mark Wahlberg can be found by visiting www.indianmotorcycle.com, along with upcoming stories in the Scout Inspired Custom Series.
ABOUT THE USO The USO lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families millions of times each year at hundreds of places worldwide. We provide a touch of home through centers at airports and military bases in the U.S. and abroad, top quality entertainment and innovative programs and services. We also provide critical support to those who need us most, including forward-deployed troops, military families, wounded warriors, troops in transition and families of the fallen. The USO is a private, non-profit organization, not a government agency. Our programs and services are made possible by the American people, support of our corporate partners and the dedication of our volunteers and staff.
ABOUT KLOCK WERKS Located in Mitchell, South Dakota, Klock Werks has grown from humble beginnings to an internationally recognized brand. Achieving status as “Air Management Experts,” Klock Werks credits this to the success of the original patented, Flare(TM) Windshield. Also supplying fenders, handlebars, and other motorcycle parts, Klock Werks proudly leads the industry through innovation in design and quality of materials and fitment. Team Klock Werks has been successful for years designing parts, creating custom motorcycles and setting records on the Bonneville Salt Flats. You will find motorcycles, family, and faith at the core of Klock Werks, along with a commitment to caring for the needs of enthusiasts around the world who enjoy their products.
ABOUT INDIAN MOTORCYCLE(R) Indian Motorcycle, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Polaris Industries Inc. is America’s first motorcycle company. Founded in 1901, Indian Motorcycle has won the hearts of motorcyclists around the world and earned distinction as one of America’s most legendary and iconic brands through unrivaled racing dominance, engineering prowess and countless innovations and industry firsts. Today that heritage and passion is reignited under new brand stewardship. To learn more, please visit www.indianmotorcycle.com.
Georgia Motorcycle History: The First 60 Years, is the culmination of tireless research, pouring over hundreds of archives, articles, family collections, books, and interviews. This stunning, 270-page, clothbound, hardcover coffee table book illuminates the earliest days of American motorcycling culture through the photographs and stories of Georgia. The exclusive collection contains nearly 250 black and white archival photographs, each image methodically researched and captioned in vivid detail. While several key figures in American motorcycling history are featured, the book also explores topics such as the motorcycle’s role as it was used by civilians, military and service departments, professional racers, and farmers.
The book begins with an introduction of the motorcycle at the turn of the century. From there, the first chapter presents the story of Georgia’s first motorcycle and expands into colorful stories of America’s earliest enthusiasts and pioneering spirits. The second chapter recounts the exhilarating and dangerous tales of motorcycle racing, from its origins on horse tracks and the infamous motordromes to the later industrialized and professional sport that we know today. It wasn’t all fun and games though. In chapter three, the book looks into the motorcycle’s role in both WWI and WWII as well as its indispensable place in various municipal service departments. In the last chapter, Georgia Motorcycle History steps back and reviews the motorcycle’s evolution from a bicycle with a clip-on motor to an advanced technological mode of transportation, from a simple utility to a member of the family.
The pictures and stories included in Georgia Motorcycle History reach far beyond a simple documentation of local history. They embody the American spirit and represent a cornerstone of our nation’s culture. Over 200 copies of this stunning book have been sold to eager customers in 15 different countries within the first 2 months of its release and copies are now being carried by exclusive retailers and world-class museum gift shops.
For more information and to purchase the book, you can visit the authors website at:
The book is $50 and a great value! Let the author know you heard about it at the IMCA Website
Motorcycle board track racing was the deadliest form of racing in the history of motorsports. Hundreds of lives were lost, both racers and spectators, during the relatively short-lived era of the boards. Yet in spite of, or perhaps partly because of, the dangers, motorcycle board track racing in the 1910s was one of the most popular spectator sports in America. Races attracted crowds of up to 10,000 fans. Young riders knew of the dangers, but chose to ignore them because the payoffs were so lucrative. Top racers could make $20,000 per year racing the board tracks, nearly a half-million dollars in today’s currency. From America's Historical Newspapers. The reasons for the lethal nature of motorcycle board track racing were easy to understand. Motorcycles, even in the 1910s, the heyday of the board track era, were capable of speeds approaching 100 miles per hour. The boards were oil soaked and slick due to the engines being of “total loss” design, meaning oil pumped by the riders to lubricate exposed valves and springs sprayed freely into the air behind the speeding bikes. Riders raced with just inches between them, sometimes even touching as riders jockeyed for position. The machines had no brakes, and spectators were separated from the speeding machines by just couple of 2×4 boards nailed between fragile posts.
The first decade of the 20th century, with the advent of automobiles and motorcycles, saw an explosion of race track construction. The mention of motordromes in newspapers began as early as 1901. In the July 18, 1901 edition of the Kansas City Star there was news from Europe of government officials threatening to exclude automobile racing from all public roads and that motordromes could be the solution.
“Automobile News from Paris,” Kansas City Star, (07-18-1901), 7. America’s Historical Newspapers.
Motorcycle racing in America during the early 1900s was primarily confined to city-to-city runs and races on bicycle velodromes. But as engines became more powerful it was clear that the small bicycle tracks were not large enough to showcase the capabilities of motorcycles.
In 1910 the Los Angeles Motordrome, built in the resort of Playa Del Ray, was the first large board track built in America. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on April 9, 1910, that world records were broken in auto races on the new board track. The Albuquerque Journal on the previous day gave some of the specs of the new track. It reported the track “a perfect circle, a mile in circumference, banked one foot in three. The grand stands are placed above the forty-five feet of the inclined track. The surface consists of two by four planks laid to make a four-inch floor and laminated to give great strength. About 3,000,000 feet of lumber and sixteen tons of nails were used in the construction of the ‘pie-pan,’ as it has been dubbed.”
“World’s Records Are Broken On New Board Track,”
Salt Lake Telegram, (04-09-1910), 23.
America’s Historical Newspapers.
Jack Prince, the builder of the Los Angeles track, traveled the country proposing board tracks to city fathers and motor clubs. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on April 26, 1910, that Prince planned to build a half-mile motordrome in Salt Lake City at a cost of $100,000. The paper later reported, on June 18, 1910, that the new board track at Wandamere Park in Salt Lake City was constructed in less than two weeks.
Soon motordromes were being built across the country. And the races drew large crowds. The Salt Lake Telegram on July 4, 1910, reported a crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 on the grand opening night of the Wandamere Motordrome. The race featured Jake De Rosier, the great Indian Motorcycle factory rider, as the main attraction.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on June 15, 1912, reported the grand opening of Philadelphia’s Pointe Breeze Park Motordrome. Pointe Breeze would become one of the most successful board tracks with a regular weekly program. Two of the leading motorcyclists of the era Morty Graves and Eddie Hasha were the featured riders that opening night at Pointe Breeze.
“Motorcycle Races New Motordrome at Point Breeze Opened Today,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, (06-15-1912), 11. America’s Historical Newspapers.
The safety failings of board track racing became all too obvious not long after the facilities were built. The Salt Lake Telegram on July 5, 1912, reported a serious accident in which a rider named Harry Davis was killed and seven spectators injured when Davis’s motorcycle crashed into and snapped a light pole. Throughout that summer a week rarely went by without reports of a rider or spectators being killed at the motordromes.
Two accidents in particular permanently tainted the reputation of the motordromes and eventually led motorcycle racing’s governing body to no longer sanction board track races. The first was a tragic accident at the motordrome in Newark, New Jersey, on September 8. 1912. The Lexington Herald on Sept. 9, 1912, reported that two racers (Eddie Hasha and Johnny Albright) died when they crashed into the outside rail. Four spectators were killed in the incident as well and 19 others suffered injuries. The story of this accident ran in newspapers across the country.
“Eddie Hasha and Five Others Are Killed Outright. Thirteen More Are Badly Injured in Frightful Motorcycle Accident at Newark Motordrome,” Lexington Herald, (09-09-1912), 1. America’s Historical Newspapers.
The following summer, on July 20, 1913, a freak accident at a board track across the river from Cincinnati in Ludlow, Kentucky, caused more outrage. A racer named Odin Johnson crashed; his motorcycle hit a light pole, kicking off a tragic domino effect. The motorcycle’s gas tank exploded. An exposed electrical wire from the light pole then sparked the fuel, spreading flames into the crowd. The ultimate death toll was eight as reported by the Salt Lake Telegram on August 1, 1913. Afterwards the widow of Johnson vowed to devote her life to ending races on board tracks.
The headline of an editorial in the August 1, 1913, edition of The Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Mich.) put it succinctly—“Thrills and Funerals.” The board tracks were referred to as “Murderdromes.”
“Thrills and Funerals,” Grand Rapids Press, (August 1, 1913), 6. America’s Historical Newspapers.
A Salt Lake Telegram article on August 22, 1914, tracked the rise and fall of the motordromes, citing the numerous deaths as well as revelations of fixed races as the causes of the decline of motorcycle board track racing.
By the end of the 1910s the board track era was largely a thing of the past. Besides the dangers of racing the boards, the tracks rapidly deteriorated and many burned down. A thrilling but deadly chapter in American motorsports came to a close.
The 1906 Indian Camelback, one of the first ever two-wheeled motorized machines, is hugely desirable despite its rusty appearance and could fetch £50,000.
This weekend Las Vegas will be hosting two prominent Vintage Motorcycle Auctions. Bonhams Auction on Thursday January 8th and Mecum’s Auctions on January 8-10, 2015. It will be an interesting weekend to see where prices go with our improving economy!
It was owned by the du Pont family, which bought the ‘Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company’ that built it, and this cycle was last ridden in the Seventies.
Whoever buys the machine will probably use minimum efforts to restore it to a working condition, but complete restoration would see its value reduce.
The Indian cycles were the great rivals of Harley-Davidson, but the company eventually went bankrupt in 1953.
It had a rudimentary braking system and a hobnail boot on the ground would have been needed to help it stop.
The motorcycle is going under the hammer at Bonhams in Las Vegas, U.S., on January 12.
Ben Walker from Bonhams said: ‘This motorcycle is in such demand because of its condition and to restore it would actually take value off.
‘The motorcycle will probably be ‘oily-ragged’, which means wiping it down with oil to preserve it as it is.
‘It will probably be rebuilt mechanically but with as little change to its condition.
‘India were the great rivals of Harley-Davidson and were at the forefront of motorcycles when they evolved from bicycles.
‘It would have been a quick machine with a fair turn of speed and no brakes on early motorcycles were much good – the were the same design as bicycle brakes.
‘This is an extremely rare thing and hs come from the du Pont family that owned the company.
‘It was a pedal assisted bike and it still has its original registration number on the rear mud guard.
‘These motorcycles have never really reduced in value – if I filled a whole sale with them they would all go for good prices.’