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25th October 2004


El Camino Show

In the UK, we have a classic bike show to go to almost every weekend. In California, Jim Algar has rather less opportunity to exercise his bike-spotting skills...

As popular as British bikes were in Southern California when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, there isn't what I would call an 'active' classic bike movement here now. We don't have bike shows or jumble sales every weekend... or even every month. So it was with some curiosity that I made the 50-minute blast down the 405 Freeway to take in the somewhat grandiloquently named 29th Annual El Camino Motorcycle Show and Swap Meet, which bills itself as 'one of the West Coast's largest Motorcycle Swap Meet and Antique Motorcycle Shows.'

The show is held on the grounds of El Camino Community College (thus the very clever name). Actually, it was on the top level of a two-story car park structure. The weather was fine, so with camera in hand I ventured forth.

I sometimes imagine someone looking at this picture and realising that the one part they need to get their project back on the road - the part they've been chasing for eight long years - is in one of the boxes pictured...

The swap meet was about what you'd expect. (No, I don't know why we call a jumble sale that; after all, things are bought and sold, but certainly never swapped). Some vendors had very organized displays, with everything neatly marked and priced; others simply put out the usual plastic milk crates, one for clutches, one for conrods, one for sprockets, etc. Sort of on the basis of 'if you know what you're looking for, and can recognize it, go ahead and ask me what I want for it.' And then there was the gentleman (?) who simply backed his van into his assigned space, opened the rear doors, and shoveled a dozen or so bushels of nuts, bolts and assorted bits onto the cold, hard ground. He then settled into his folding chair and promptly took a nap!

The bikes themselves could be found in three distinct areas. Some vendors had a bike or two in their space, some marked for sale, some just sitting there ('It never hurts to ask.') Then there was a dedicated 'sale' area, featuring bikes running the gamut from total basket cases to very nice examples. And lastly there was the judging area.

Perfect grips and footpegs, no bluing on the pipes... hmmm...

This last, I must report, was frustrating to me. Understand that I can go for months without seeing a single classic bike pass me on the street, so it was joy to have a chance to see so many at one time, in one place. Unfortunately, many (all too many, in fact) of these bikes were true 'trailer queens' which were walked into the judging area, having been unloaded from whichever trailer or pick-up truck brought them to the show. You just knew that they never actually turned a wheel on the street, and many were over-restored to boot, with levels of shine and sparkle that the factories never achieved, nor even intended.

Still, seeing over-restored bikes is better than not seeing any bikes at all (and not all were that bad, anyway). The numbers of each brand of bikes followed closely the marques' sales history in the US. Thus, there were lots and lots of Triumphs, a fair number of BSAs, followed by... just about anybody else. There were a surprising number of Ariels (the Ariel Motorcycle Club North America had a stand) with no less than six Square 4s, plus a twin, a single, and a lonely-looking Leader.

With its one remaining egg nestled under its warm engine, the Squariel waits patiently for the hatching to begin...

BSAs were well represented, including one of the few bikes I saw being ridden into the judging area; a lovely rigid-frame twin that its owner rode up to the registration booth and left idling on the centerstand while he filled out the paperwork. I snapped a picture wishing I could record audio of its lovely sound. There were four early BSA singles present, which was unusual since twins were most common in the USA market (except for the later Victor 441 dirt bikes).

Altogether now: 'chuff, chuff, chuff, chuff, chuff, chuff, chuff...'

Since my own Dominator project is currently in a state of limbo (explanation to follow in Chapter 5 of my Dommi Diary), I took inspiration from the various Nortons present. There was just one Dominator, in café racer garb, and only a single Commando, which was odd since that was Norton's most successful and popular bike in the US. There were a couple of the later Norton/AMC hybrids (N15CS and P11), and a couple of (very) early singles which, to be honest, I couldn't identify.

Triumphs? About what you'd expect, with all models represented: Bonnevilles, Tigers, a Trident, a Hurricane, even a lovely little Cub that might have been for sale, but I didn't dare ask (...'this way lies danger'). Oh, and a Tigress scooter! How on earth did that get over here?

There was the one obligatory Vincent Black Shadow, a Greeves, a single RE Bullet (a 'real' one, ie British-made). On the non-British side were Harleys, Indians, a couple of Laverdas, one Moto-Guzzi, and a smattering of vintage Japanese bikes (including a 1966 Honda CL77 305 Scrambler, the very model that was my sole mode of transportation when I was stationed in Japan in 1967-69 with the USAF. Oohh, heavy nostalgia trip. Like, far out, man!)


Triumph Cub stuff on eBay.co.uk
1966, and the start of something very big.

Having snapped a photo of every British bike in attendance, I headed for home re-energized and re-invigorated (no pills needed!) and determined to get my own Dommi project back on track. As shows/jumbles go, it was a good one for over here (though it might not have even budged the needle on the excitement meter in the UK). Quick, somebody, hand me a spanner!


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