2017 The Quail Motorcycle Gathering: Top Bike PicsI have an apprehensive love relationship with vintage motorcycles. I can’t say I’m keen on riding them, as they always suffer in comparison to modern motorcycles from a functional standpoint. Yet, I love to look at them and would greatly enjoy having a garage full of beautiful historic motorcycles.Fortunately, there are plenty of collectors and enthusiasts in the motorcycle world who lovingly restore and modify vintage motorcycles. Even better, they assemble at events such as The Quail Motorcycle Gathering and put their fabulous machines on display for our enjoyment.
Here are my top 10 personal favorites from the 9th Annual The Quail Motorcycle Gathering Presented by GEICO in Carmel, Calif. at the incredible Quail Lodge & Golf Club.1. 1979 Honda CBX. The ultimate in restomod, this CBX has been spectacularly modified by Imagine Vehicles International in California. With an aluminum frame, six straight pipes, Öhlins suspension, and Brembo brakes, you know this air-cooled inline-six is a blast to ride. I, of course, had to settle for just drooling on it.2. 1929 Velocette KTT Mk 1. Part of Paul D’Orleans’ Velocette Private Collection, this KTT Mk 1 is ready to return to the Isle of Man. The KTT took home the first place trophy in the Isle of Man Junior TT in 1926, ’28, ’29. As dangerous as the IoM is now, imagine circling the island on this motorcycle at race speeds with the minimal safety gear of the time. I can stare at that motor for hours.3. 1949 Harley-Davidson WR. Build as a Joe Leonard Tribute by Frederick Fortune of the Fortune Motorcycle Company, this is a standard street-going 750cc V-twin WR in TT trim. Not strictly a ’49, it has a motor from ’53 and tank from ’57. Leonard, who died last month, was a three-time AMA Grand National Champion in the 1950s, as well as an Indianapolis 500 winner and USAC Champion on four wheels later in life. This bike keenly reflects what Leonard rode in motorcycle competition.4. 1964 Rickman Matchless Métisse Scrambler. Before the European two-strokes took a stranglehold on off-road racing, the Rickman Brothers were building high-performance chassis for existing motors. A Matchless powerplant was chosen for this Metisse Scrambler, and it worked as good as it looks. Roger Riddell could take his Rickman Matchless to a pre-’65 motocross race right now and have a seriously competitive mount.5. 1964 Mondial 48 Super Sport V4. It’s hard to tell by looking at the photo, but this Mondial is a tiny motorcycle. Owned by Stewart Ingram, the 48 Super Sport V4 runs a classic 48cc two-stroke motor with a three-speed transmission and left-side kickstart. This meticulous restoration is a gem.6. 1939 Ariel Square Four Deluxe. I’ve always loved the square-four engine design, so it’s natural that I would be attracted to this Ariel owned by Ralph Nevarez Jr. As you can see, this motorcycle looks perfect. While Suzuki used water-cooling in the RG500 Gamma in the 1980s to make the configuration work more effectively, this 1939 square-four displaced 995cc and was an impressive powerplant as long as you kept the air flowing. This version sports the optional Anstey rear suspension.7. 1971 Ducati 450 Desmo R/T. Unlike the street-legal modern Scrambler from Ducati, the R/T was built as a pure off-road competition motorcycle exclusively for the American market. Being a four-stroke in an era of dominating two-strokes, the R/T was never competitive and rarely seen on a racecourse. However, the 450 Desmo R/T is arguable one of the most beautiful dirt bikes ever produced. Only a few hundred of these Ducatis were sold, and Peter Richardson has a meticulous example.8. 1975 Norton Commando Café. A brilliant restomod, this time by Bob MacLeod, the Commando gets modern brakes to go with the classic motor. Red paint and lots of chrome add bling to this iconic high-performance motorcycle. Perhaps the current Norton manufacturers could look to this bike for inspiration.9. 1968 MZ ES 250/2 Trophy. Do I love this motorcycle because of its ugly East German approach to styling? Sure! The jet-engine style headlight tank and huge fenders recall the sci-fi 1950s, but the communists were always a decade behind. Still, an off-road competition version this bike—part of the Wunderlich America Private Collection—did manage to have success in the International Six Days Trial in 1967. The ES 250/2’s two-stroke motor ran on premix and pumped out just 19 horsepower.10. 1970 BSA Twin-Engine Drag Bike. Oh yeah—this looks like a great idea! Actually, this was a good way to cover a quarter-mile in a short period of time in 1970. The motor-to-chassis ratio is way out of whack, but that minimalism is what helped this motorcycle clock in some impressive ETs. This dragster, owned by John S. Stein, has one impressive safety feature that was rare at the time—a front disc brake.