From dealership to pop-up museum: Modern Classics at Martin Moto

If you wanted to buy a new Kawasaki, Motus, Suzuki, Triumph or Yamaha motorcycle at Martin Moto in Boyertown, Pa., on March 4th or 5th this year, you’d have been disappointed. While scads of Kawasakis, Suzukis, Triumphs and Yamahas packed the showroom, they were from years past and accompanied by marques like BSA, Bultaco, Greeves, OSSA, Velocette and that unicorn of racing motorcycles, Britten.

Every March for the past six years, the dealership’s president, Dennis Martin, and his team have emptied the showroom and filled it with the bikes that changed motorcycling after World War II. According to Jack Broomall, manager of the Modern Classics exhibition, the bikes with the greatest appeal are “the bikes that made you a motorcyclist.”

To most of Martin Moto’s customers, those are the British bikes of the late ’50s through the early ’70s and Japanese machines from the mid-’60s through the ’90s, although a bunch of American and European motorcycles are also included.

For those who want to see “the entire history of motorcycling,” Broomall explains that it’s relatively easy to go to a major motorcycle museum like Wheels Through Time in North Carolina or the Barber Motorsports Museum in Alabama. “But Martin saw an opportunity to specifically serve the bikes and enthusiasts of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” he says.

In the first year of the show, the Modern Classics organizers didn’t quite reach their goal of 100 bikes, but they still managed to stage their museum for a day and pack in more than 700 guests. As word of the show has spread, it’s become easier to find bikes each year, so Broomall and his team are able to cast a wider net.

More than 100 bikes are invited, but because the weather is unpredictable in March, attrition will usually whittle down the final count. For 2016, though, the rain and snow stayed away, and 107 bikes packed the showroom. Attendance set a new high, with about 1,300 guests visiting the Friday night preview and the Saturday exhibition.

From the beginning, the Modern Classics show was carefully thought out. Dennis Martin sits on a planning committee along with Broomall, several other area enthusiasts and Joe Luppino, a professional photographer and part-time dealership employee. The committee not only locates and selects bikes, it also helps select the year’s featured category, whether it’s singles, twins or enduro bikes. The chosen category must be an integral part of motorcycling in the ’60s through the early ’90s and, says Broomall, “ideally it would expand the reach of our show by bringing in new enthusiasts.”

One of the hardest parts of organizing any show is finding the bikes and owners; word-of-mouth and personal contacts are critical. Originally the bikes came from a relatively small local area; in recent years, they have come from as far south as southern Virginia, north to New England and stretch out to western Pennsylvania. Now, Broomall says, many of the exhibitors “look for us and for an opportunity to show off their pride and joy.” For 2016, the committee pored through more than 200 applicants to select the best bikes for the show.

Another change regular attendees may have noticed was the show’s scope creeping into the 1990s, an effort to more fully engage millennials.

To take the Modern Classics theme even further, in September 2015 Martin Moto began a Modern Classics Ride-In, which encourages owners of older motorcycles to use their bikes. BMW, Harley, Honda and Yamaha riders all converged at Martin Moto for cold drinks, grilled hot dogs and music.

While the business benefits of the Modern Classic events are difficult to quantify, the dealership now attracts clientele from greater distances and is building new relationships. As a result, the show and Ride-In are secure for the immediate future. However, it’s unlikely that the Modern Classics show will get much bigger; the showroom is at capacity and can’t handle many more visitors. There is, however, room for growth for the Modern Classics Ride-In, with plenty more parking for bikes and no need to shut down the showroom.

Both the show and the ride-in, Broomall says, serve as tools to build friendships within both the motorcycle enthusiast community and the broader community at large. Most important, the show and ride reinforce the idea that Martin Moto is a destination for enthusiasts and by enthusiasts.

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