Saturday, April 17, 2010

Barber Motorsports One

I have long wanted to visit the Barber Motorsports complex outside Birmingham. I got there thanks in large part to my wife's help getting out of the city using her GPS equipped iPhone. Grrr. Modern technology helping me feed my nostalgia... But then you walk through the doors and there is a pristine Ducati 750 Sport sitting in a display case like a model, and who care how you got here?The museum is set in the pine forests east of Birmingham, south of Exit 140 on I20 towards Atlanta. They carved this incredible place literally out of the forest and it was open and operating and for $12 (three dollar Triple A discount) I pretty much had this whole place to myself. I think there were three or four other visitors on a weekday afternoon. It was utterly fabulous and I only two and a half hours to see it all.No one actually showed up by motorcycle, these were displayed from the collection. There was a ton of Triumphs everywhere in the museum and I wanted them all.The five storey building only displays half the collection at a time and the machines are strewn about largely at random, at least they appear at random to the overwhelmed gaze of a first time visitor. The ticket taker suggested taking the elevator to the top and then walking (slowly!) down the circular ramp in the middle of the building to the next level down. Motorcycles everywhere, with a few Lotus race cars thrown in (the largest such collection anywhere we are told). I was there for the bikes of my youth. This Bianchi was a bit before my time but men in the village where I grew up used to use bikes like these as daily riders (!) when I was a kid.I will doubtless repeat myself over the next several essays in this blog which will be dedicated to the Barber display, but I would love to see modern Triumph build a modern 500cc single like the old BSA B34 series, Reliable, light, economical and easy to ride for the 21st century. I remember when this Benelli appeared on the market to take Honda on head-to-head. Italy used to have import quotas to protect the Italian motorcycle market of the 1970s. The protectionism produced some lovely machines.The original 1957 Sportster. I hate the handlebars!This Triumph from the 60s has the original flatter English style bars. You can buy a parcel rack for the tank of modern Triumphs which sticks to the tank in imitation of the original. I've thought about adapting it as a map carrier for longer trips (I'm am not a GPS fan despite my wife's success as a navigator!).Another Italian single from before my time (Parilla). I love the clip ons. Motorcycles to the ceiling.
A 1924 Moto Guzzi Normale 500, This was the original flat single motorcycle that was still for sale in modern dress when I was buying my first motorcycle in 1974. I always wanted a Nuovo Falcone Civile but it was one of the many bikes that got away from me. I went with a sporty twin instead.
A more modern version in the more traditional red, behind the very early Moto Guzzi.
I bet you've never heard of a Hesketh motorcycle but I remember when Lord Hesketh started offering these exclusive machines for sale. They are still for sale in England, hand built by Broom Engineering.On this trip I took very little time to check out the really old machines but there they were, the origins of our sport: The Water Buffalo, a Suzuki GT750, featured in a cross country trip in the current edition of Motorcycle Classics magazine. This was an amazing, water cooled two stroke motorcycle at a time when gas was cheap but didn't seem to be cheap, especially if you barely got 30 miles to the gallon.I'd have liked to look at this iconic 1970s motorcycle up close but the Barber displays often don't permit that as the machines are displayed at heights not convenient to people walking by...Below we see my all time favorite before-my-time-motorcycle, the Brough Superior, about which more in another essay to come.The Norton frame with the Vincent engine, another icon from the past:Can you imagine being close enough to touch these delights, for the first time in your life? Touching is strictly not allowed but you are close enough to, and being allowed to be so close gives you a freedom that produces reverence, such that you would no sooner touch them than set light to these fabulous machines. How the hell did they get this Harley in original Guam military livery?This was the Super bike of my youth, the Kawasaki 900, four cylinder of raw power and wobbly frame.Fair enough, but barber goes one better with this wild machine on display. All machines are said to be in running order, as there is a complete restoration shop on the ground floor. I never heard of this machine before even though the original 900 was very famous:
A modern V-Max by Yamaha and an ancient...er...in-line four (Pierce). Next to each other. Why? I haven't a clue.I did own a Gold Wing briefly, the 1200cc version of this which is the original 1000, and a water cooled flat four was an amazing leap forward when I was a kid. I had a dream once that I was riding a Gold Wing (this is a true story) so I figured...better try it once in my life. It was huge, heavy and difficult to throw around the Santa Cruz mountains. It was even difficult to push out of the garage and down the gravel driveway. I sold it quickly, and at a loss as usual.They tried to sell the original as a sport bike then they realized it was a tourer and started tarting it up with fairings and bags, but it was the Benelli 900 six cylinder, still competing with Honda, that made me drool.It was the throughly uncomfortable Ducati Sport that I lusted after, among others and here it is in the flesh.And the most super super bike of them all, the BMW 900 complete with hard bags and shaft drive, super expensive and utterly fabulous. Never could afford one though.As I wandered they were outside practicing driving boring old cars on Barber's in-house race track. Is this place amazing?That was when I came across the motorcycle that one day I will own before I die, or when my wife gives me $12,000 to waste on whatever I want. Whichever comes first.This machine tried to be as reliable as the BMW, as fast as the Kawasaki and as uncomfortable as the Ducati. That it failed at all of those goals does not make it one iota less desirable.Even down to the bizarre orange stripe on the nose cone fairing. I want it. And we close with a quick look at Britain's answer to the 1970s super bike challenges. The venerable X75 Hurricane designed for the US market.I took 220 pictures at Barber and I want to showcase a few dozen more over the next couple of days. Come back next week for pictures of something other than classic motorcycles. Wieners, all those that can pass up these lovely machines.