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Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d’Elegance

By “LoDown” Dan Parker

A ‘delicious’ 2nd Annual

Peers, fans honor Willie G. Davidson

Half Moon Bay, Calif., May 5—Looking for all the world like an apparition in the Scottish Highlands, the stony edifice of the Ritz-Carlton looms above the ocean mists, giving the second annual Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d’Elegance a certain mythic quality. Might this be Camelot? If so, then surely its Arthur has to be Willie G. Davidson, Harley-Davidson’s senior vice president and chief styling officer, who was on hand to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Davidson, grandson of Harley-Davidson founder William H. Davidson, toured the show for several hours with his wife Nancy and daughter Karen. He chatted amicably with fans and patiently signed autographs and posed for pictures. With four decades of bike styling coups that range from the FX Super Glide to the Nightster, “Willie G.” didn’t need much of an introduction to the Legends’ crowd. It was a magical moment when, after stating simply that he loved motorcycling and the people associated with it, and that he was proud to receive the award, he thrust the trophy above his trademark black beret and beamed back amid the applause.

But most ethereal of all is the Legend’s assemblage of motorcycles—modern steeds of steel—that sprawled across the tailored lawns (ordinarily, the Ritz-Carlton is a golfer’s paradise). Some 300 bikes were on hand, spread over 16 classes and spanning production years from 1898 to 1975. Models displayed included Indian, Harley-Davidson, Triumph, BMW, Norton, Velocette, Ducati, Honda, Crocker, Bultaco, Matchless, Cyclone, BSA, Puch, Brough Superior, and many others.

This year, special focus was directed toward the legendary British marque Vincent and the American-bred Henderson and Excelsior. This was reputed to be the largest gathering of Vincents ever assembled. The condition of the bikes ranged from weathered, unrestored dowagers, to those “duded-up” decades-old bikes that have been lovingly rebuilt, repainted, and restored to stock specifications. For the competition entries, a distinguished panel of judges headed by Ed Gilbertson spent hours giving each bike the white-glove treatment.

While most official entries were street bikes, competition models of every stripe were on hand as well. This included bikes that have participated in motorcycle racing’s longest-running race, the Isle of Man TT (this marks the TT’s centennial year). Also present was the Vincent ridden on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1948 by Rollie Free when he set the world speed record (150 mph) for an unstreamlined bike. Iconic status has been conferred on the photograph of Free, clad only in a bathing suit and tennis shoes, lying belly-down, legs extended straight back while he streaked across the salt on the Vincent. Artist Jeff Decker has captured that same image in a sculpture on display at the show. Decker’s Sculptor’s Award went to the 1948 Vincent HRD Black Lightning ridden by Free and now owned by Herb Harris of Texas.

Many “display only” models—like the revived Crocker and a preproduction 2008 Ducati Hypermotard and several customs by well-known builders like Paul Cox and Matt Hotch—and special displays such as the Indian Larry Tribute fleshed out the show. Late in the afternoon, as the competition winners rolled or rode their bikes onto the Legend’s stage, Charlie Boorman, a British actor and avid motorcyclist who served as the show’s announcer (as seen with Ewan McGregor in “The Long Way Round”), declared many of the winning bikes—including Mike Madden’s Best of Show 1915 Henderson—to be “just delicious.” Indeed. Any way one sliced it, the Legend of the Motorcycle was a movable motorcycle feast.

Blitzing the Ritz
The brainchild of Northern Californians Jared Zaugg and Brooke Ronér, the Legend of the Motorcycle charts a course through that part of the world where gearheads rub shoulders with celebrities; where fine living and fine art include “collectable” motorcycles and related memorabilia. One of the vendors featured Aston Martins (the car James Bond is reputed to drive). And, yes, Men’s Vogue magazine hosted a movie night here, during which, we are told, a new Indian Chief with a secret compartment for a bottle of Moet & Chandon Champagne was unveiled.

However high-toned (or high-dollar) that all sounds, anyone who avoids the show—either out of reverse snobbery or to avoid the pricey $50 entry fee (in advance, $65 the day of)—is cutting off his/her own up-turned nose. For one thing, the show’s program is a beautifully printed and bound 78-page assemblage of vintage and contemporary bike photographs and rider/manufacturer biographical material that is well worth collecting itself.

Then there was the cigar bar hosted by the good people of Cohiba where they were giving away smokes, including some hand-rolled on site. What’s that? You’d like a nice adult libation to go with that puffer? No problem. Hennessy Cognac, also supplied gratis, flowed like, umm—let’s just say there was more than enough to go around. (Anyone wanting to dive into the world of “collectable” bikes could do so at the Bonhams & Butterfield auction held onsite at show’s end.)

On any Saturday
At its core, the Legend event is all about the machines and the folks who make them or make them work or make them go fast. And, if there is a little star gazing to be done along the way, so be it. After all, it’s not every day one sees Erik Buell, chairman and chief technical officer of Buell Motorcycle Co., conversing with Harley racing legend Mert Lawwill. Mert and his buddy Steve McQueen were featured in the seminal 1971 Bruce Brown motorcycle documentary, “On Any Sunday.”

Oh, and over there: That’s actor Peter Coyote laughing it up. Next to him? That is Al Crocker Jr. of the original Crocker Motorcycle building family. There on stage is Steve McQueen’s son Chad and stuntman Bud Ekins. (It was Ekins who did the bike-over-the-fence jump in “The Great Escape” that is often credited wrongly to Steve McQueen.) Now confined to a wheelchair, Ekins nonetheless held his own quipping on stage during an interview with Boorman while they presented the Steve McQueen Award to a 1968 Rickman Metisse 441 MK3 owned by Blair Beck.

And there was some riding to be done as well. Charley Boorman joined Peter Fonda and a gaggle of industry types on a private ride up from Los Angeles. Early Sunday morning, several dozen bikes entered or displayed in the show took a turn around the beautiful local back roads.

With trophies and awards going three deep in the 16 categories, and several special awards made as well, there were plenty of bikes in the winners’ circle at day’s end. One of the standouts among them was the Elvis Presley Award, sponsored by Lucky Jeans, that went to the 1939 Crocker Big Tank once ridden by legendary Boozefighter MC member Jack Lilly and now owned by Joe MacPherson. The Founders Award went to a 1932 BSA W 32-6 hack. An emotional Theresa Worsch told the crowd it had been restored by her late husband.

While the vast majority of the winning entries are owned by Californians, several were from other states and at least two were from out of the country. The international winners included Annie Rageys who brought a 1938 Velocette KTT MK VII from France that had belonged to her family for generations. Go to www.legendofthemotorcycle.com for a complete listing of all winners and special awards.

The third annual Legend of the Motorcycle is scheduled for May 3, 2008 and will feature MV Augusta and Norton.

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