Coffee Table Customs

Satisfy your inner child as well as your sophisticated outer adult with something special from the toy box of Don Nowell. Nowell creates motorcycle models, but put away the glue, because we’re not talking about boxfuls of plastic pieces or even those stamped-out “collector specials” mass-produced in the thousands. He designs and hand-fabricates one-off quarter-scale custom motorcycles that are authentic to the last detail.

Photograph by Cordero Studios/

With a background in car racing, engine building, classic car restoration and custom motorcycle construction, all of Nowell’s talents converged in 1994 when he decided to create something entirely different. It took 13 months from the blank sheet of paper to the first finished model, which debuted at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Recently, the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company purchased one of Nowell’s works of art for its new museum. You can have your very own model too, created entirely from Nowell’s imagination or based around your own specifications.

Photograph by Marcus Cuff. (Click image to enlarge)

To truly appreciate these rare beauties is to know the fanatical attention to detail that goes into them. Having opted for the quarter-scale configuration, Nowell calculated the correct ratios for his first 24-inch-long machine, then focused on making miniaturized laced wire wheels that included stainless spokes and nipples. Needing the correct tires to match, he chose a tread design approved by the Avon Tyre Company, down to the logo and arrows indicating tire direction, then designed and fabricated his own mold.

The bike’s frame involved a painstaking and expensive period of R&D. It required bending the raw tubing, fabricating fixtures to hold the frame, and milling and mitering all of the joints. The body parts required equal effort. The gas tanks are of thin-wall investment cast aluminum, while rear fenders are CNC-machined from solid aluminum.

For the engine, transmission, carburetor and other components, Nowell machined the prototypes from 6061 aluminum billet, then had a foundry make molds and cast the parts in aluminum. Like any custom bike builder, he offers a choice of engines: the Evo Big Twin or classic Knucklehead.

Photograph by Cordero Studios/ (Click image to enlarge)

Nowell upholsters his seats in fine glove leather. The tiny speedometer features the correct red tip on the indicator arm. The operational clutch and front brake levers are fitted with springs and a section of rubber to simulate the real feel. Standard equipment includes working suspension, with 3/4 inches of wheel travel front and rear. To create an accurate replica of a full-sized headlight lens, Nowell had to invent a process to produce the required electrode for the Electrical Discharge Machine that would burn the faceted design into the mold used to make the lens. All that work for a part that measures 1.25 inches.

Even the derby and inspection covers are separate pieces that literally bolt on. To form each of the 152 tiny bolts visible on the swingarm pivots, triple clamps, axles, and elsewhere, Nowell hand-machined special stainless hardware out of bar stock. The crowning touch on any custom is the paint, and options include solids, candies and pearls. The metal components are chromed and the stainless rotors and billet 7075 T6 parts are polished to show brilliance.

Photograph by Rich Cox.

Few things are more magical than contemplating the artistry that has gone into creating a miniaturized masterpiece. Finding a Don Nowell custom under the tree is guaranteed to make even the most seasoned enthusiast feel like a kid again.

Price: from $18,000 to $22,000 and up.

818.363.8564 |