In its seven years, the Quail Motorcycle Gathering has never really called itself a Concours d’Elegance, not like many shows where spit and polish is of the essence. The Quail has been much less formal, with the occasional barn-find, straw still in the wheels, sitting next to a $90,000 Vincent.
The organizing expert, Gordon McCall, has developed a very successful show, and something different appears every year. I’ve gone to all the Gatherings, beginning in 2009, and have never been disappointed. This year, the two surprises for me were a showing of military motorcycles, and a lot of chopped and bobbed customs.
Pay your 75 bucks, you get a program and entrance to a field where more than 350 very beautiful, interesting, oft-times expensive machines are on display. And an exceptional lunch. The people who own these bikes also anted up $75, got two entry tickets, but had to truck the bikes to the Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, California, set it up on a chilly, cloudy morning, and wipe every smidgeon of dust and dew off the beast. Smart folk like Jason Len brought along underlings to clean his Spondon-framed CBX and Buell.
All around the grassy sward were white tents housing a couple of dozen companies wishing to show off their wares, from MotoQuest tours to Tour Master apparel to Corbin seats and Hagerty insurance. Two large tents, one at either end of the place, were filled with tables to serve an excellent noontime meal to the 2,000-plus attendees. Out in the field, all the shiny (mostly) motorcycles were on display. It was a mixture of everything middle-aged to antique, from an impressive array of Formula 750cc race bikes, Ducatis to TZ750s, next to a few tiddlers from the 1960s, a half-dozen elderly Vespa scooters, down to a gorgeous 1914 FN single. A truly lovely Mondial racer attracted a lot of attention—and eventually won Best of Show. Two Los Angeles companies, Keanu Reeves’ Arch and IVI, also showed off their expensive customs.
In the military section, more than 30 motorcycles were on display, dating from World War I to Harley’s Rotax-powered single from the 1980s. When the Germans geared up for war in the late ’30s, they figured that a BMW or Zundapp with sidecar would be a great get-around, go-anywhere army vehicle, and the factories began turning these out at a great rate. The U.S. saw what was happening and did the same, even ordering Harley and Indian to turn out a few experimental shaft-driven bikes, Harley using a boxer engine, Indian a transverse V-twin. Then some bright light figured that building a lightweight four-wheel general-purpose (GP = jeep) vehicle would be a lot more efficient…there was one on display.
Behind the military show was the Indian Motorcycles tent, and Indian rep Robert Pandya unveiled a custom Scout done up by Klock Werks for the U.S.O., an organization that does good things for U.S. troops and their families. Nice piece, in olive drab with leather saddlebags and a gun scabbard housing a “decommissioned” Thompson submachine gun.
In a typical Quail surprise, over toward the band were a dozen choppers and bobbers. Many critics view some of these creations as works of art—and they were a pretty spiffy bunch. Anybody can mangle a decent Harley, but what was on hand showed a serious degree of inventiveness, whether it was a chopped Ducati twin or a bobbed Bultaco Alpina. After lunch, McCall sat on the stage with two legends of 1970s motorcycle racing, Mert Lawwill and Gene Romero—great guys who told great stories. And then the judges, headed by Somer Hooker, completed their thankless job, and 31 awards were given out.
Another fine Gathering. The 2016 event will be held at the Quail Lodge on Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. See you there!