The affluent city of Del Mar in San Diego County has had a motorcycle history for decades. In the past, the one-mile dirt oval at the Del Mar Fairgrounds was a favorite for AMA Grand National events and, in recent years, has enjoyed a brief period of reinstatement for those events.
Encroaching development, urban noise complaints and a profitable thoroughbred racing season sadly ended flattrack racing, but the beachfront venue has hosted motorcycle concours in various incarnations for the last 20 years. The palm trees, ocean air and classic Spanish architecture of the historic paddock area frame a grand display area befitting the special machines showcased there.
This year the weekend-long Del Mar Concours d’Elegance was broken into separate events, with Saturday dedicated to the “Celebration of the Motorcycle.” Bike owners enjoyed full use of the paddock, and an estimated crowd of 4,000 spectators enthusiastically viewed nearly 160 machines displayed in 16 classes.
Taking advantage of the open area, the staggered rows of bikes allowed superb visibility for the crowd, who enthusiastically gathered ’round whenever an owner started one of the classics. Hearing a Brough SS80, a 1915 four-cylinder Henderson, a Matchless 80S or a Vincent Black Lightning fire-up clearly excited the gearhead crowd.
In attendance were special guests Bobby Hill, Bill Tuman, Dick Klamfoth and Ed Kretz, Jr. Hill won the AMA Grand National Championships in 1951 and 1952, and his longtime friend Tuman won it in 1953. Dick Klamfoth is a three-time winner of the Daytona 200. Ed Kretz, Jr, son of “Iron Man” Ed Kretz, Sr, was a successful TT and roadracer in the ’50s. Hill and Tuman were members of the “Indian Wrecking Crew” that routinely frustrated Harley-Davidson racers in the ’50s, and the two still travel together. All four AMA Hall of Fame members spent time signing autographs.
Judging was handled by Chief Judge Tom Meadows, Somer Hooker and Ed Gilbertson, all veterans of the famous Pebble Beach Concours. There was no Modern Custom Class, which kept the focus of the display on machines that were rare, famous or noteworthy of design.
Best of Show was awarded to well-known restorer Steve Huntzinger for his 1915 Henderson. The Chairman’s Award went to Mike Howarth and his 1956 Ariel HS Scrambler. Oldest machine in attendance was Larry Feece’s unrestored 1899 DeDion-Bouton trike. Feece says the Peugeot trike was built in Paris a mere two years after the invention of the variable spray-tube carburetor, and was one of the first engine designs that successfully used ignition timing. Because the DeDion engine design proved itself to be durable, it was ruthlessly pirated by others and became the dominant engine architecture of the 1910s and ’20s. Feece occasionally rides this machine; only the batteries have been replaced.
Nearly two-dozen examples of pre-1920 machines were shown, with the majority from the collection of Jim Lattin. His entrants dominated the original and unrestored Preservation Class with seven machines, including Lattin’s all-original 1912 Flying Merkel. He won the class with his 1913 Iver-Johnson.
Denver resident Gene Brown wowed the crowd with his trio of desirable machines. His 1947 Indian Chief and 1938 Brough SS80 are stellar collectibles, and it was his Brough that won the British Production Class. However, it was Brown’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning that stole my heart. When he rode it through the crowd, the Black Lightning’s open exhaust echoed across the paddock and brought spectators running. The proliferation of cellphone cameras made gathering video difficult, but being able to hear the bikes was bonus enough.
San Diego artist Scott Jacobs, the official artist of Harley-Davidson, displayed some photorealistic art work. His bike paintings, as well as his paintings of glassware and bottles, demonstrate his skill at reproducing the specular reflections and highlights from chrome and glass. The booth even had a sign stating that the art works were not photographs, since the eyes of some viewers were clearly fooled. Jacobs produced a signed, limited edition poster for this show. It’s worth a website search to see his quality and skill.
A two-day concours with separate days for cars and bikes like Del Mar in October 2011 is a great concept; it allows full attention to be paid to each venue. At this writing a 2012 date has only been set for the cars (October 14), but the website (www.celebrationofthemotor
cycle.com) may have more information by the time you’re reading this.