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Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

By Barbara Joans

Coming of age

Motorcycles mingle in the world’s premiere automobile show

Monterey, Calif., Aug. 15—To the rest of the world it’s known as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the most important automobile show in the world. All kinds of cars are on display, from the oldest to the very newest concepts. But now it is something more.

Two years ago Ed Gilbertson, chief Concours judge at Pebble Beach and lifelong motorcycle rider, persuaded this premier car show to feature vintage motorcycles, and biker history was made. Ed, one of the original columnists for Thunder Press, with his gritty, funny, no-bull column, Taking it To The Streets, persuaded the Concours d’Elegance to feature one class of vintage motorcycle, and it was a hit. The bikes were breath-taking and the enthusiasts were awed. Ed had been lobbying for this inclusion a very long time. Based upon last year’s positive reception, this year Ed, true to his biker roots, managed to get two classes of motorcycles into the judging and the turnout was spectacular. Class X-1 was Prewar American Motorcycles, and Class X-2 was Prewar American Racing Motorcycles. These were brought onto the judging field Sunday, August 15.

Two days before the judging day, some very special motorcycles were offered at auction. These were not the unique motorcycles in the two judged classes, but nonetheless it was an outstanding group of vintage bikes. There were Indians and Cushmans and Harley-Davidsons and Excelsior-Hendersons. I always figured that wearing a Thunder Press Media Pass gave me the license to be nosy, so I talked to everyone. The enthusiasts I talked to were genuinely thrilled to see such remarkable machines. I was genuinely shocked to see the sticker prices. A few were well over the $100,000 mark. There were both restored and original motorcycles ranging from a 1915 Indian 8 Valve Racer, to a 1948 Harley-Davidson WR Flat Track Racer. The action was run by Mid-America Auctions.

This event, the 60th annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, with all the fanfare, pageantry and remarkable machines, is a many-day affair. While the judging and the winners are announced on Sunday, the final day of the show, there are continual events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday as well.

The days were gray, overcast, sometimes chilly and always damp. The days were also exhausting. Pebble Beach is full of genuine hills and these must be walked to get anywhere, but the land is literally littered with gorgeous automobiles. While I always knew my husband Ken loved bikes, I had no idea he was such a gearhead. I could not pull him away from the Bugattis. But the people, all ages, both genders, were not only up to the walking and viewing challenges, they appeared to revel in them.

While I met many interesting enthusiasts, none were more exciting to talk to than Larry Feece, who besides owning hundreds of vintage motorcycles and appearing several times a year on the Jay Leno show, permitted four of his vintage motorcycles to be shown. These four bikes are the very last of the 1939 Indian Scout Team Racers. They are original, complete and unrestored.

While the Concours is truly an elegant event, its old world charm is coupled with American grit and earthy humor. In the motorcycle section of the Concours, women in beautiful flowing garden party dresses and high heels could be seen standing side by side with denim-clad guys busily wrenching, putting the final touches on their bikes.

The motorcycle space allotted on the Pebble Beach lawn is not large. While there are acres of wonderful cars, the bike section can be covered in a short time. But what is lacking in space is made up for in quality. Among the outstanding motorcycles were a 1909 Harley-Davidson Police Bike, a 1913 Flying Merkel Twin, a 1913 Sears Dreadnaught Twin and a 1938 Indian Four. One of the inviolable, unbreakable rules that Ed Gilbertson laid down is that any motorcycle or car eligible to win in the judging must be able to be ridden or driven up the lawn to the winners area. Other equally important guidelines were those of originality and authenticity. All these motorcycles must still be capable of performing. They are not toys.

When Ed and his colleagues finished judging, in Class X-1: Prewar American Road Motorcycles, the winner was the 1915 Henderson Long Tank owned by Michael and Karen Madden of Paso Robles, California, with Steve Huntzinger’s 1915 Excelsior V-Twin in second place and the 1936 Crocker Twin owned by Bryan L. Bossier, Sr. in third.

In the Class X-2: Prewar American Racing Motorcycles, the winner was the 1920 Indian Scout “Munro Special” now owned by the Hensley Family Collection of Los Osos, California. Second and third placeswere awarded to the 1909 Reading Standard Board Track Racer and the 1929 Harley-Davidson DAR Board Track Racer, both owned by Dale Walksler of Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

Also recognized in Class X-2 was Vince Martinico’s 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Board Track Racer, and it won the coveted FIVA award for best-preserved and regularly-ridden vehicle.

Bikes have had their own unique history. But now, along with poker runs, swap meets, club rallies, toy runs, and charity rides, a new motorcycle category is emerging. Vintage motorcycles, bikes sitting in our garages, restored and unrestored, are coming of age. While lovers of vintage and antique motorcycles have been around for as long as motorcycles have been around, they have never represented a large part of the motorcycle community. I suspect that their time is coming. Recognition by the larger world of automotive connoisseurs and historians represented by the Pebble Beach Concours can only hasten its arrival.

Now that there are motorcycles shown at this extraordinary event, I suggest we rename it The Pebble Beach Bike and Car Show. But don’t hold your breath.

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