Brim’s Imports in Kenton, Ohio, is a gearhead’s dream. From the outside, it looks like any other unassuming used car dealership, but walking through the front door is like entering another dimension where row upon row of rare and vintage motorcycles are crammed together handlebar to handlebar. A 1950 Vincent Rapide is anonymously sandwiched between a ’58 Velocette Venom Clubman and a ’48 Norton Manx. Across the room, an Excelsior boardtrack racer’s gleaming pinstripes are echoed in the red and silver tank of a 1960s Ducati Mark 3. A faded 1919 Harley, in its unrestored glory, sits in contrast to the metal-flake paint of the XR750 Evel Knievel crashed at Wembley in 1975. And this is just a small sampling—from one building.
After wandering around the first of three buildings surrounding the car lot, I’m so overwhelmed, I can’t help but exclaim, “This is incredible!” Owner Tom Brim smirks and replies, “No it isn’t,” and invites me to view “the rest of the bikes” housed in additional buildings around the neighborhood and in the salvage yard he owns on the edge of town.
Brim, equal parts museum curator and junk collector, currently owns around 437 motorcycles, but also a few cars—1960s Porsche roadsters, American muscle cars, old Jags. The motorcycle collection comprises bikes from every era and from around the world, famous marques and obscure ones, racebikes, dirtbikes, scooters, modern and vintage, the most rarified to the most mundane. This makes going to Brim’s far different than visiting a staid exhibit where only prime specimens are deemed worthy. It suggests that, to Brim, every machine has inherent value and intrigue. And since all the machines are for sale, it’s more showroom than museum.
We hop in Brim’s pickup to go see the offsite buildings and Brim makes some room on the seat for me, moving a box of Ducati rain gear thrown in with a recent purchase. “If you buy the motorcycles, you’re required to clean out the closet as well,” he jokes. We drive a block or two from the car lot to a small cinderblock building with partially boarded-up windows. There are a few worn-out dirtbikes, a perfectly restored Suzuki two-stroke from the ’70s and a BMW Isetta 300 with its torn-apart engine sitting on the concrete floor in front of it. The afternoon sun streams on a pearl-white 1935 Harley VL that Brim says came from Spain as he hangs up his phone. “It has a sidecar mounted on the wrong side,” he points out. “Every time the exchange rate changes, bikes change hands.” A gearhead’s take on international commerce.
“Time to move on,” he says, and we get back in his pickup to drive a few blocks toward a larger warehouse where he borrows some floor space from a trucking company. He cursorily points out several vintage cars before stopping to admire a Jaguar XK140. “This belonged to the Greek ambassador,” he says nonchalantly. Tucked against a far wall there’s an immaculate ’67 Triumph Bonneville that looks like it could have been parked there yesterday, its two-toned aubergine and gold tank and chrome exhaust shining in spite of the dim light of the garage. No time to pause too long as Brim is moving again, his mind evidently on the next site. My mind is still on that perfect Bonneville. The fact is, I’ve never seen such a fine example. “Oh, I have four or five of them,” Brim tells me.
Many of the machines in Brim’s collection are ones I have admired from the pages of books, but have never actually seen in person, so when Brim dismisses them so casually, it comes across as a bit cavalier. My first thought is that having had so many motorcycles come and go over the years, Brim has become inured to their charm. But I begin to realize this isn’t the case.
One of the first things I noticed back at the car lot was a custom glass-walled box truck containing a 1917 Indian 8-valve boardtrack racer, a Jefferson single and a 1907 Indian tri-car. These motorcycles are about as valuable as they come—real trophies deserving of, well, a display case on wheels. But Brim never really mentions these bikes. Instead, he gets animated talking about the $500 beaters tucked into a dusty corner somewhere. “My Brits love this stuff,” he says. His Brits, it turns out, are a group of English enthusiasts that visit every year and buy a few bikes to sell back home. Over the years, he’s developed a friendship with them. His wife cooks them dinner whenever they’re in town. I begin to realize that as he’s looking at the bikes, he’s thinking about the people.
“The people are what make the bikes fun,” he says. Each car or bike is associated with a person for Brim—the previous owner, someone who gave him a low-ball offer, another friend or collector who admires the vehicle. Brim begins a story with, “My Brits, two guys from Japan and a couple from Texas….” In another circumstance, I would take this for the start of an off-color joke, but with Brim, it’s another story. It’s clear he’s only remembering friends he’s made along the way.
We drive a couple miles to the salvage yard, a lonely 60-acre gravel plot surrounded by corn fields and a towering array of silos that look more industrial than agricultural—probably the tallest buildings for miles. Rows of wrecked cars organized by make and model lead to a building that was originally a caboose factory. There are still train tracks running down the middle of the floor. Inside, towering shelves are labeled and stacked with rusty engines: the innards of long-deceased cars. It feels incongruous that among these miscellaneous parts there are some very nice vintage cars and motorcycles, including a ’60s Ducati 350 Sebring, one of perhaps dozens of Ducatis, both old and new, currently in the collection.
After returning to the car lot, Brim gives me free rein to wander the main buildings. As I walk the narrow aisles between bikes, it strikes me how the quality and scope of the collection lends a museum-like aspect. But the motorcycles are not rotating on plinths, bathed in the warmth of a spotlight from above to encourage a reverent gaze. There is no pretense here. Machines are packed tightly together and industrial shelving topped with motorcycles and memorabilia line the walls. In the main office, where some of the most valuable motorcycles are on display, if you swing the front door open too forcefully you risk knocking into an Indian or Thor from the earliest days of motorcycling. The overwhelming volume of motorcycles makes it impossible to give each one its proper due. It’s easy to fixate on say, a Triumph X-75 and completely overlook the John Player Norton or Harley VR1000 superbike sitting behind it.
Undoubtedly, this place is a motophile’s paradise. It’s easy to lionize the rows of beautifully cast cylinder heads and sweeping exhaust pipes, but for Brim it’s more than merely a collection of machines. It’s about each one’s story: its history, and its future. And perhaps it’s the part he plays in that narrative as a custodian of the rare, the beautiful and the worn-out.