Fred Lange’s restored 1916 Harley-Davidson and John Howard’s 1912 Indian, both boardtrack racers, may have once spit splinters at each other, but now they’re considered precious metal in more ways than one. While they may not be worth their weight in gold (though close!), their nostalgic luster helped create a Klondike rush of another kind as some 16,000 motorcycle fans congregated on the posh grounds of the Del Mar Fairgrounds in California for the 27th running of the Del Mar Concours D’Elegance.
Just a tick this side of San Diego and a two-hour ride south from Los Angeles, in the past the event has been called the “Pebble Beach of Motorcycle Shows.” The event’s new Director, Glen Bator, has set his sights on regaining that image in both name and form. He seems to be on the right track as the finest antique, vintage and classic bikes went on display nestled within the sumptuous grounds surrounding the Del Mar racetrack, the dirt mile of which was simultaneously being thrashed by an assortment of elder though still stout racebikes. No matter that many of the riders were as old as the vintage mounts they rode.
Stellar bikes in a sea of supernovae included Larry Feece’s John Surtees Replica Vincent racer that he humbly calls “The CopyCat.” Feece’s other entry, a ‘54 Black Shadow, would go on to take home the Dick Busby Memorial Award for Best Vincent, while fellow Vincentophile David Merritt would garner an armful of silver trophy cups for his entries. Although it didn’t take top prize, the Italian bike that got this writer’s vote (uncounted) was the 1955 Moto Rumi Junior Telescopico restored by John Pera and owned by Dan Barnes. Even with all the green grass, it was no picnic picking the final winners, and 15 judges of the Southern California Judging Coalition, headed up by Dave Carlton, took almost five hours to go over the 165 machines entered.
The weekend smorgasbord not only included two-wheelers of yore but also a modern custom category catering to a small herd of radically designed Vtwins, some fresh from the paint booth. The co-habitation of the very old with the very new created an interesting dynamic, a common love of motorcycles bridging any generation gap. A separate display area was reserved for motorcycles for sale, creating a show within a show and featuring everything from new Buells to rare pre-World War I Indians and Harleys wearing price tags. Yet another venue housed the swap meet area, predominantly Harley-Davidson-oriented. But for the observant eye a number of interesting British, European and Japanese vintage “odds and ends” could be gleaned.
Then of course you could sit yourself in the grandstands and enjoy the furious wheel-to-wheel racing as wave after wave of old iron took part in Eddie Mulder’s vintage competition. The legendary racer and movie stuntman could be seen speeding about himself, his ever-present toothpick clenched in his teeth as he kept everything up to speed.
In addition to the Saturday Vintage Mile racing there was more action Saturday night with the Skip Van Leuween Short Track National, Round 11 of the Formula USA National Dirt Track Series, part of the K&N Filters Del Mar Weekend. Then on Sunday the dirt flew at the K&N Filters Del Mar Mile, the final round of the Formula USA series, presented by Drag Specialties. Amidst some comments about a rutty track that raised safety issues and slowed times, the event was won by Harley-mounted Terry Poovey, 44, who claimed his second national championship. In addition, the Pro Signals National went to Honda rider Kevin Atherton while the Super Singles & Twins Challenge top spot was taken by George Roeder piloting a Harley-Davidson XR750.
Climbing down out of the stands you could take a food and beverage break and stroll through the vendor area for a taste of the latest in rider gear and glitter. It’s always nice to see someone taking a different fork in the road, and several unique machines made an appearance at Del Mar this year. A major charmer was Triumph restorer Walt Riddle’s one-of-a-kind “Winnetka Cycle” single, a reblast from the past circa 1910 or thereabouts. Walter spent 235 hours whittling the bike from scratch, the engine rescued from a cement mixer. Other standouts were the jewel-like minichoppers created by Michael Maisura of Los Lobos LLC as well as Phoenix-based Jesse Rooke’s 120-cubic-inch Merch-motored custom that took home the Best Custom award. At the end of the day, John Mitchell’s 1940 Indian four-cylinder took Best of Show while at the other end of the spectrum the Sponsor’s Award went to Pat Newley’s 1967 Jawa DT 500 ice racer. Yes, the Del Mar Concours D’Elegance was a study in contrasts, and all the better for it.
Event organizer Glen Bator summed up the event saying, “You couldn’t ask for a better day, and the San Diego area is a beautiful place, the Del Mar track and racing grounds a fantastic venue for this event. We’re very proud to be part of it, and we’ll be promoting the Concours and the Parts Exchange for years to come.”
Bator International, in addition to the Del Mar event, also stages three other California vintage and classic bike events including the Hanford Antique and Classic Show and Swap Meet in May and September’s El Camino Classic Motorcycle Rally at El Camino College in Torrance, California. Bator also helps the Los Angeles-based Garage Company with its annual Corsa Motoclassica vintage race and show at Willow Springs as well as Eddie Mulder’s Sacramento Mile Track Races. Their full schedule of events can be found at www.batorinternational.com.
(This story Investing in Precious Metals: The 2002 Del Mar Concours D’Elegance was published in the March 2003 issue of Rider magazine.)