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21st October 2005

The 30th Annual El Camino College Antique Motorcycle Show & Swap Meet.

Jim Algar goes in search of Brit beauties and Euro stars at an American classic bike show. We'll avoid making any comments about Harley Mamas at this point...

After attending last year's show I had a pretty good idea of what to expect this time, and was not disappointed. As I have mentioned before, good motorcycle shows / jumble sales are few and far between here in the land of the lotus eaters, so I was more than happy to roll out of bed at the crack of dawn (I lie) and head south through the heart of LA: destination, El Camino Community College. With camera in hand, I was ready to wander the grounds, snapping photos of anything that appealed to me. I ignored, for the most part, anything and everything Harley-related. Nothing wrong with Harleys, mind you (and Lord knows they were everywhere), they're just not my cup of tea; but anything British and or continental merited my attention and a quick photo.

I made my way through the jumble sale area, keeping my wallet in my pocket. I'm not currently looking for anything for my Dommi rebuild, and don't really need a T-shirt that says 'Harley Mama'. I reached the bike display area. As before, there was both a 'for sale' area and an official judging area, in addition to the occasional bike tucked into someone's jumble spot. The bike sale area had a few interesting offerings, but I was not tempted. Well, actually, I could have been tempted… but my Dommi has already sucked up enough income, so problem solved. No money, no temptation.

Many of the bikes up for judging were, like last year, over-restored and under-ridden examples. I have a new personal yardstick; if there's no exhaust pipe blueing at the cylinder head, I'm less interested. But that's just me. To each his own (or some equivalent French phrase, no doubt).

How much?

Triumphs were everywhere, of course, so I tended to walk past them in search of anything a little less common (or at least less commonly seen over here.) Although there was an interesting Triumph strapped into the back of a pickup truck, yours for just $22,000 (yes, that's £12,367.88) I don't know what it was, and there was no one about to ask. Don't think it was a Metisse or Cheney; no doubt someone will recognise it.

Should smaller engined classics be cheaper than bigger engined classics?

There weren't many Nortons this year - I didn't see a single Commando or Dommi example - but there was a very nice 1965 Norton Electra. This was the first example of Norton's lightweight twins that I'd ever seen in the flesh; the American market demanded the bigger twins, so the Jubilee / Navigator / Electra models are almost unknown here. This was a nice, clean example, but since I didn't have $3150 (£1770) I was safe. A 1928 Norton single was a purposeful-looking bike, looking the business in silver and black; the at-hand fire extinguisher made you wonder, though. The only other Norton I saw was a featherbed single done up café racer style.

That fire extinguisher is a little... unsettling.

BSAs? Sure, you bet. A nice Clipper scrambler was on display, although looking much too shiny for an off-road bike. The early rigid frame twin that made such a wonderful musical idling note last year was back; it was balanced nicely by a 1971 Firebird scrambler, with its black high pipes sporting a bird-cage heat shield.

So much chrome, so little sunshine.

There were a fair number of BSA twins of all models in the 'for sale' and judging areas, and there was even a nice Bantam standing in someone's jumble area (shame about the silencer, though; why do so many motorcycles, my Dommi included, have a silencer that sports a dent from the kickstarter?)

Random BSAs on

I thought all Bantams came ready dented...

I admit to having a soft spot for big thumpers, so I was drawn to a Matchless G80S 500. No exhaust blueing, but I'll forgive it. Lovely bike. And for big and brawny, you couldn't do better than the Royal Enfield Interceptor. A Series II, I think, though I'm not the expert.

Big and brawny, brawny and big.

I remember back in the late '60s, when American bike magazines carried beautiful, full-colour, full-page advertisements for Triumph and BSA, but poor Royal Enfield had to make do with half- or quarter-page black and white ads. Probably paid for by the American importer, with no help from the factory. Last gasp, and all that.

Terra incognita: fear of the unkown. Who said that Italian GCSE was wasted?

Italian bikes are terra incognita to me; I know ****** all, but even I have heard of the MV Agusta 750, and sure enough, there was one on display. Absolutely spotless, and just as likely absolutely unridden since being restored, but still a beauty to behold. Say what you will about the Italians, but when it comes to bikes they know how to make a statement! Would have loved to have heard that one running.


And finally, my favorite bike at the event: a Noriel. Get this: an early Ariel Square Four engine, Norton featherbed frame, high pipes (with the exhaust turned around to exit to the rear), oil cooler under the headlamp. Not unheard of, of course; in fact, I'd seen one at the Ardingly show in 2004. The sort of bike that, when you first see it, elicits an immediate reaction of 'why?' closely followed by 'well, why not?' Odd, quirky, perhaps pointless, but absolutely glorious.

...or a pointless lash-up?

And now for something completely different (for me, at any rate): a club had a display of marine and agricultural engines set up. These stationary powerplants were something to behold, chugging away at a few hundred rpm, ready to patiently pump water into farmers' fields hour after hour. Pride of place in this display went to something called a Hicks Marine Engine, a true behemoth that was running so slowly that you could watch every moving part complete its slow coordinated dance. Slow boat to China, anyone?

Now there's a set of pushrods. Anyone know what the brass handle below the rocker shaft does? [We now think it's a decompressor or some sort of throttle. RM]

All in all, I counted it a good day, and worth rising at an early hour (I lie again) to see. I've already marked the calendar for next year.

I want to turn it and see what happens...

Anyone got any idea what this handle does?

[Answers so far have mentioned it being a throttle or some sort of decompression device. RM]


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