Ace Café kick-starts bike program at new museum

Concours draws 250 entries showcasing 90 years of motorcycle production



The first Vintage Motorcycle and Scooter Festival drew approximately 250 collector bikes to the nine-acre field adjoining the LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Wash., on Aug. 25. A concours was followed by a 110-mile bike ride to 14,409-foot Mount Rainier the following day.

The Summer Shakedown kick-started a bike component to the museum complex, which opened on June 2 after almost 15 years in development. The $65 million, 165,000-square-foot building is laid out like a parking garage with sloping ramps so that exhibits can easily be replaced. As part of their $40 entry fee, bike concours entrants received museum entry to view the more than 100 cars on display.

The museum building, which includes four floors, looks like Ridley Scott crashed a spaceship beside the Tacoma Dome alongside Interstate 5. The gleaming, corrugated aluminum worm is a symbol of the hard-scrabble port city’s revival. Fittingly, Harold LeMay began his 3,500-car collection (at one time the world’s largest) by salvaging cars through his garbage and scrap business.

The theme of the bike and scooter festival was “Meet at the Ace,” and Mark Wilsmore, who now owns the London bike mecca, gave an entertaining seminar on the history of the one-time 24-hour truck stop, which closed in 1969. An ex-police officer and lifetime biker who once led bike tours in the UK, Wilsmore revived the Ace Café on its 25th anniversary in 1994, and 12,000 people showed up. Now the Ace’s annual festival draws up to 150,000. An Ace Café is scheduled to open soon in Orlando, Fla., spreading its ecumenical message to American bikers, mostly known for dogged brand loyalty.

Following Wilsmore and co-host Michael Lichter, American Mark Gardiner talked about living on the Isle of Man and racing in the astonishing TT (Tourist Trophy) races, which see superbike riders lapping the dangerous 37.7-mile course at average speeds of over 130 mph – mostly on two-lane roads bordered by stone walls. Following Gardiner’s talk, many took the opportunity to watch the bike movie “On Any Sunday” yet again.

On the field, show bikes included a couple of race-worn classics – a 1956 Ducati DOHC 125 Grand Prix bike and a 1960s Norton Manx belonging to Peter Hageman, of Kirkland, Wash., along with the most desirable bevel-rive Ducati – a  “green frame” 1974 Ducati Super Sport from Kevin Davis of Bellevue.

Gary Lewis’s immaculate 1924 R37 BMW was only the second model built by the company and dated from BMW’s second year of manufacture, while a Suzuki-powered Bimota SB2 showed how far ahead of the competition the tiny company was in 1977.

Other bikes ranged from the elegantly battered original 1913 Sears of Art Redford, through a mix of original and restored 1920s Harley-Davidsons, to better-than-new British Triumphs, BSAs, Nortons and Matchlesses from the 1950s and ’60s. In a lovely touch of irony, a 1968 BSA Hornet was displayed with a complete set of apparently unused tools.

Equally well-restored Hondas, Suzukis and Yamahas evoked the 1970s, though an example of Honda’s original 1955 Honda OHC Dream was a real eye-catcher, especially when you consider Hondas weren’t sold in the U.S. until 1959, by which time they looked quite different.

A seven-bike Ducati lineup showed an excellent range of early singles and bevel-drive twins from1956-74, while an obscure but handsome 1950s Cecatto single served to remind that motorcycle manufacture in Italy was a cottage industry with literally hundreds of bike builders.

A dozen sidecar combinations included several BMWs, a glittering white Moto-Guzzi and a 1924 Harley-Davidson with the “chair” unusually on the left. Vintage sidecars still race against “the other” three wheelers in England, but a Mathless-powered 1938, V-twin 1938 Morgan, belonging to Brian Pollock of Mercer Island, appeared to have been restored in Las Vegas.

Oddities made the day. Brad Hummel, of Olympia, showed a 1975 barn-find – a 125cc, two-stroke CZ still in its crate and covered with a mix of oil and dust, along with the rear reflector that was factory installed with “top” at the bottom. Dennis Daily of Gig Harbor putted around the field on his tiny 1947 Doodlebug scooter with a rare Clinton engine. It’s one of five he owns.

“All the rich kids in school had these,” he said. “Now they are all in rehab. I stayed a motorhead and I’m OK.”

The most eccentric entry came from Randy Grubb of Grants Pass, Ore.  Looking like a baked potato with a cow-catcher on the front, Grubb’s aluminum “Decopod” tortoise can enclose “any kind of scooter you like. It’s a ‘Flintstone’ car – you can put your feet on the ground, it has a door on each side, and it can’t tip over since it’s so wide.” Grubb’s resume includes concept cars for Jay Leno, and he can build you a Decopod of your own for $8,000, if you provide the scooter.

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