Thursday, August 15, 2013

Barber Museum 1960s

I love the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum near Birmingham, Alabama. Sometimes they display not one but two examples of an incredibly rare motorcycle, like this:

The AJS "Porcupine" is a legendary race bike equipped with lots of spiky cooling fins on the engine, hence the porcupine nickname. It also had a huge weird saddle fuel tank. And here we see two pristine rarities displaying the wonders of this unique bike. Amazing to see two in one museum highlighting the particular oddities of the motorbike.

They have more than a thousand bikes here at Barber and the display does rotate from time to time, so on this visit I decided to focus on the 1960s, the time when I was wishing for a motorcycle and I could only read about them in magazines. Ah nostalgia.

If you have no interest in motorcycles skip this essay and wait for tomorrow! These pictures are purely my pleasure. The pictures of the bikes are accompanied by pictures of Barber's own notes on display, legible I hope on enlargement on your screen, as they are on mine.

First the 1960s icon, a Bonneville: well not quite actually. It just looks like a Bonneville. Read on and discover the single car TR6!


Here's an actual Bonneville 13 years on and not that different. Sigh, they had no money to improve anything, that the factory knew needed upgrading, so they just did some fancy paintwork to celebrate the Queen's 25 years on the throne and called it good. It was all they could afford in the 1970s at Triumph.

Harley Panhead 1961 Duo-Glide.

The valve cover on this Duo-Glide is supposed to resemble a frying pan, thus the nickname Panhead. Motorcyclists aren't always masters of the subtle.

Like these chromed "pans" on the replica of the chopper used to film Easy Rider. Both bikes used in the iconic movie, ridden by the late Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda had back up models in case of damage to the bikes that were actually ridden on screen, but all four of the original machines disappeared, so Barber has a replica on permanent display... A Panhead!

Yet this is obviously not a factory original Harley Davidson Panhead! Fonda said it was desperately uncomfortable and impossible to ride in anything but a straight line. Yet the movie got us on the road. I used a Vespa though I did think of taking a Harley on my cross country trip in 1981. That might have been tough!

The Trident built to save Triumph in the late 60s though it was ugly and lacked amenity and was fiddly to set up right and it got blown away by Honda. Bummer. This bike is why the signature of modern Triumphs is a three cylinder engine - done right.

Better styling and less maintenance came later... Very collectible today, are these beautiful and well put together later Tridents. They had five speeds, electric start and disc brakes. Too late to save the company.

BSA had their version of the triple, the Rocket 3 seen here with the small American tank and huge buckhorn handlebars.

Big touring Harley. Some things never change! And they are going from strength to strength today.

MV Agusta is known for sport bikes and in the Seventies they made some great machines, double overhead cam four cylinders with shaft drive (designed not to outdo factory race bikes with chain drive). I love them. My first motorcycle in 1975 was an MV350 twin, so I have a soft spot for it's big brothers. If Barber had an MV350B on display I'd show it, of course.

But their first big bike was a pig. No, really, look at this ugly 600cc four cylinder heaving pig:


I want to see a lightweight touring 500 single on the modern market, like these Indians.

Powered by Velocette in this case.



Narrow and light.


These bikes were part of importer Floyd Clymer's cunning plan to use a much loved American name and put a British engine in it. Ta Da! Not a success however and Clymer had a heart attack and died before he could work his marketing magic. He mixed British engines, Italian frames and US labels in ways that were very promising

Try this one out.. A Spanish 500 single by Sanglas.


They were popular in Spain when the Caudillo Franco limited imports into his dictatorship.

Slow sweet and simple. And old fashioned, even then.


Triumph had a hot 500. Ted Simon struggled round the world with this poorly assembled but fast twin. He got the last one from the factory and he became a mechanic fixing it as he went. Simon is no motorcyclist but he is a great writer and motorbikes are his schtick. He is revered by motorcyclists today ironically enough! In a fever in India he dreamed himself a god and thus the book's title, Jupiter's Travels was born .


But then in 1969 Honda changed everything. Clean reliable, electric start. Fast. Didn't leak oil and came in weird sexy colors. You meet the nicest people on a Honda.

And a few years later the much easier to ride and live with 500 version appeared.

Would rather buy this or the more expensive leaky, vibrating Triumph Daytona above?

I rode Italian bikes and in Italy Japanese imports were limited and expensive so I supported the Italian bikes which I thought were sexier. They were too but it was years before I rode a bike with electric start, mirrors or turn signals...this was the one I wanted but couldn't afford. And yes it turned heads did Moto Guzzi's LeMans Mark One. It's still lovely in Mr Barber's museum.

What a place.

I have been there previously:

Key West Diary: Barber Museum Revisited

Key West Diary: Barber Motorsports One

Key West Diary: Barber Motorsports Two

Key West Diary: Barber Motorsports Three

Key West Diary: Barber's Italian Collection