The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club track in San Diego, California, has serious history with the motorcycle community. It was long the site of a one-mile AMA flat track race, and has been a venue for classic Concours events for more than two decades. Encroaching urbanization and powerful residential landholders eventually put a stop to the racing, but the Concours events have survived. The bikes are displayed in the grass paddock area amid mature palms where the air is sweetened by salt breezes under the warm California sun. The quality of display is always top-notch and annually draws bikes from across the nation.
For 2012, the marque of choice was Vincent, and more than a dozen of the British classics were in attendance. Among them was the alcohol-fueled Black Lightning ridden by Rollie Free at Bonneville in September of 1948. Known as “the bathing suit bike,” Free was famously photographed at speed, freezing him forever in that iconic image, planked flat wearing only a Speedo, swim cap and borrowed tennis shoes, his leathers having been wind-damaged in a previous attempt. Free averaged two runs at 150.13 mph, breaking an 11-year record held by Joe Petrali. This bike is recognized as the first of the rare Black Lightnings, a limited series of detail-built, “blueprinted” machines. Only 31 were built before financial problems derailed production. The bike is currently owned by William “Chip” Connor.
Larry Feece offered his 1954 Vincent Black Knight; the fairing-enclosed model shown here is serial number #0001, the factory prototype. This particular bike was filmed in Michael Radford’s movie adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, where it was ridden by a member of the Thought Police. The all-black machine with its distinctive full fairing obscuring any mechanical familiarity lent an eerie air to the cold, dystopian future depicted in the film.
In 1953, Marty Dickerson rode his 1948 Vincent Rapide to an AMA Class C Land Speed Record of 141 mph. Phil Vincent, after hearing of Dickerson’s 1951 run of 129 mph, sent him special cams and exhaust pipes, no doubt aiding him in breaking the elusive 150 mph barrier on one leg of his ’53 challenge. Marty’s record would stand for 20 years, not too bad for a 61-cubic-inch motorcycle running 85-octane pump gas. Dickerson would continue to set land speed records on his Vincent until 1996, well into his 70s.
Vincent motorcycle production would ultimately succumb to the pressures of the marketplace. The business model of Phillip Vincent required that perfection be pursued—damn the cost—and ultimately pushed the price of the hand-built bikes above their demand. Factory production ceased in 1955, although many Vinnies continue to be ridden hard today by owners who appreciate the charisma and raw-boned raciness of the world’s first superbike.
Also on display were several bikes previously ridden cross-country on the Cannonball Endurance Run, including #93, a Steve Huntzinger restoration on Scott Jacobs’ 1926 Harley-Davidson J, and a 1915 Harley-Davidson 3-speed as ridden in 2010 by Cris Simmons, wife of Doobie Brothers musician Pat Simmons. The Chairman’s Award Winner was split between the Arlen Ness Custom “Smoothness,” and Jim Lattin’s Harley-Davidson 1925 JD, known as the “Long Beach Cut Down.” Lattin says the Cut Down was built by “Hungry” George Balint, a returning WWII Marine, specifically to ease his adrenaline addiction and to taunt the local police.
Best of Show was Stuart Garrison’s 1936 Brough Superior SS80 sidecar rig. Best Bobber went to Rick Callou and his 1952 Triumph Thunderbird, his everyday rider, and First Place for Japanese Production—All Years was awarded to Richard Brewer’s excellent 250cc Honda CL-72. Remember “Snuff-or-Nots?”
Occasionally an owner would start a bike, instantly drawing crowds. Hearing an Egli-Vincent revved hard or a four-cylinder race-replica of Mike Hailwood’s 250cc RC-162 run up briskly adds to the gearhead experience.
The Del Mar Concours has often been called “Pebble Beach South.” However, the event has long proven itself and should be allowed to step out from under that shadow and stand on its own. It’s a superb event set at a lovely venue and has earned its own place among the best Concours events in the country.
(This article Del Mar 2012 was published in the June 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)