My day job puts me in contact with all different types of people. And even though we're talking about insurance or financial services, you can bet the conversation eventually turns to something totally unrelated. Like old stuff.
Every time a client or prospect even hints at an appreciation of old stuff, I ask, "Hey, you don't have any old motorcycles lying around, do you?" That was the question I asked Hal on the phone one day at my desk.
And that’s how I discovered the 1971 Norton Commando 750.
I didn't know Hal very well at that time but he said, "Yeah, I've got some old motorcycles." He said he could be in town in 15 minutes. So from the time I hung up the phone with him conducting insurance business, it was probably only 20 minutes to when he was rolling up the doors on his storage unit.
Hal revealed several motorcycles covered by sheets in the storage unit. A pre-unit Triumph, a 1968 Triumph TR6, the 1971 Norton Commando, and a handful of other bikes; some complete, some not, but still worth keeping, worth holding, worth renting a storage unit from year-to-year to protect them from Alaska’s elements.
Hal mentioned he’d found another motorcycle he really wanted. He was interested in funding the purchase by selling a few of his bikes in storage. In less than an hour I had two motorcycles on my trailer. One went to a good friend; I simply passed it on to him because he grew up with one; obviously, his historical connection to it was much stronger than mine. Sure it was a cool bike but I knew my friend would appreciate it more. He was over the moon about it.
The other motorcycle was the 1971 Norton Commando 750. We took it in the garage in January. It was an unexpected find and we had plans for other builds over the winter, but this bike was one I couldn’t pass up. It was a beautiful motorcycle, all original condition with only 9,000 miles. Just unheard of. At the time, I didn't value stock motorcycles nearly as much as I do now, so we transformed the Norton into a café racer.
About that same time, I’d had some mind-opening conversations with a new friend, Ron, who has specialized in antique and vintage Harleys for decades. I was blown away by how much people were willing to spend on vintage bikes to return them to original state. I was thinking to myself, "People are going to spend thousands of dollars to undo the things I’m doing to a motorcycle."
Those conversations with Ron were a turning point for us. These fascinating old motorcycles were a blast to customize, but we realized that somebody, someday, was going to pay to undo everything we did. Because of that turning point, we've changed our approach to motorcycle builds in that we restrain when making any permanent modifications to them. I keep the bars, the seats, the controls; everything we've stripped off to make it our own. I save all of the original parts so that my son, my grandson, or anybody in the distant future can return the motorcycle to its original state without having to hit Craigslist to find original parts. The Norton was the first bike we built with a “customized but reversible” approach.
We didn't get into the motor; we just left the patina. We colored up the tank, the seat, we changed the bars, and we did some work on the gauges and drive train. We colored the primary case, installed rear seats with modified Z-brackets. We did a few things that were primarily aesthetic but we made a café racer out of the ‘71 Norton.
We hadn’t planned to do the Norton build. We already had all kinds of other projects lined up that winter. But man, what a great “interruption” it turned out to be. It was our first foray into British motorcycles after dealing exclusively with BMW builds.
It was also the project that made me realize I’m truly living my passion of restoring and preserving pieces of our past. It brought my family into the restoration fold with our first staged photo shoot – complete with vintage era costumes. The project also started the creation of a whole community of new motorcycle nuts becoming instrumental in future builds. A community of people like Steve, who helps us tremendously with motors and electrical.
Interruptions like the Norton are a growing trend in my world. Of course, I invite these opportunities for interruptions by keeping the Norton, a few motorcycles, a juke box, vintage gas pump, and other items on display in my office. They make pivoting from insurance to motorcycles and vintage pieces a seamless conversation with clients.
So now I have no one to blame but myself every time the phone rings and it’s a client saying, “Guess what I found” or “I know who’s got something."
And I welcome those interruptions as another opportunity to live my passion.
Bike Metric - September 2015