Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance - Special Feature

As summer winds down, a look back at the most exclusive summer concours.

Photography by Bob Stokstad

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Fog, drizzle and soaking-wet grass greeted the hopeful as they drove their show cars into place on the 18th fairway before dawn on the 60th anniversary of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. In the area reserved for Classes X1 and X2—the motorcycles—some bikes had spent the night in the open while the rest of the 27 pre-war American motorcycles arrived at daylight. Positioned on a gentle slope overlooking the Pacific, their presence made the heart pound, and the mind wonder: What have these motorcycles seen and done in their long lifetimes? History, in the form of these vintage cars and motorcycles, covered the fairway. Just standing among them was to go back in time, to a different place.

The owners and handlers of the motorcycles were very much in the present, however, swishing their polishing cloths, making last-minute adjustments and running tests. (Like, would it start?). The moment of truth came with the arrival of the blazer-clad, clipboard-toting judges. In five or 10 minutes they would inspect, question, deliberate and, before moving on, invariably thank the owner for bringing this piece of history to Pebble Beach.

Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

These well-dressed ladies dispensed white, red and blue ribbons to the class-winning cars.

It’s already a significant achievement just to be able to display a vehicle here. The selection committee accepts applications and makes sure that only the best—the most original, most authentic and elegant—appear at Pebble Beach. Always in search of excellence, the committee occasionally invites entries, an invitation hard to refuse.

Tom Hensley didn't say no when the call came, and started the work to bring his salt-flat streamliner into Concours condition. It hadn't run in public in more than 20 years, so there was plenty to do. But there it was for all to behold, and hear—the World's Fastest Indian, the 1920 Indian Scout motor in the streamlined faring that New Zealander Burt Munro piloted to fame at Bonneville in 1967. Nearby on the grass stood six board-track racers varying in age from a 1908 Indian to a 1929 Harley-Davidson, and a set of four Indian Scout Team Racers from 1939, completing the racing class.

Road and racing motorcycles co-mingled on the lawn but were in separate classes for judging. Talk about variety and rarity: Besides the well-known Harley-Davidson, Indian, Henderson, Excelsior and Crocker marques, how many of the following names could you drop at a cocktail party: Flying Merkel, Reading, Sears (as in Roebuck), Iver Johnson, Ace, Thor, Pierce-Arrow and Yale. Got four or more? You’re an expert. This collection of brands is the equivalent of a museum’s special exhibition in which works of art are selected, brought together and the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts.

While a collection like this is an inspiration for spectators who can just enjoy it—like Jay Leno, who paused at many of the bikes to ask questions, point out interesting features and chat with the owners—it’s more like a nightmare for the judges. How can they manage to decide? This isn't separating apples from oranges—it’s picking diamonds among diamonds. But judges David Hansen, Somer Hooker and chief Jim Thomas considered originality and authenticity and then made the tough choices for the three winners in each of the classes—and must have been glad when it was over.

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The awards ceremony started at 1:30 p.m., sort of. By the time the master of ceremonies had introduced all the dignitaries and mentioned the honored marques and important sponsors, it was 2:30. Then the 27 classes of cars were called up: third place, second, then first, one at a time. There were incredibly beautiful classic cars parading by—Dusenbergs, Packards, Pierce-Arrows, you name it—and elegant ladies in white gowns and lovely hats presenting ribbons and roses to the owners. Motorcycles came last in this long line.

The first motorcycle to ascend the ramp (along about 4:30) was a 1936 Crocker. Now Crockers are quite the collectable these days. A recent CW story "Building the Perfect Crocker" tells about this rare marque, its history and why they are so valuable. Small world—the Crocker in the article and the Crocker receiving the white ribbon are one and the same! The then-anonymous Louisiana collector who had bought it for a king's ransom, Brian L. Bossier, Sr., was now riding his new possession on a rose-lined stage. Next up, for the red ribbon, was a 1915 Excelsior V-Twin owned by Steve Huntzinger. Best of class for the road motorcycles went to Mike Madden for his 1915 Henderson Long-Tank. Hey, wait! Haven't we seen this bike before? Indeed—at the 2007 Legend of the Motorcycle where it won Best of Show.

Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Judges Somer Hooker, David Hansen and chief class judge Jim Thomas confer.

Several entrants at the Concours had more than one motorcycle on display. Dale Walksler of North Carolina had brought two board track racers, a 1909 Reading Standard and an unrestored 1929 Harley-Davidson. The judges liked both a lot, but preferred the Reading and awarded it second place over the third-place Harley. The Harley, which has no brakes, no transmission, no clutch, and is unrideable anywhere except on a race track, had to be pushed up the ramp. Two winners for Walksler—not bad at all.

That left one motorcycle in the "corral," the area where the three winners of a class wait to learn who goes up last and gets the blue ribbon.  It was the Burt Munro Special, low to the ground, sleek and gleaming red. Replicas were used in filming The World's Fastest Indian, but here stood the actual streamliner that Munro built in New Zealand, brought to America in 1967 on a shoestring budget and set three speed records, one of which stands to this day. If anyone still harbored any doubt whether motorcycles belong at Pebble Beach, that sight should have dispelled it, once and for all.

But there was more to come. The FIVA trophy, a special award for the best-preserved prewar vehicle went to Vince Martinico’s original, unrestored 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Board Track Racer, also a Legends Best-of-Show winner and now the first motorcycle to win an award covering both cars and bikes. Martinico cranked up the Indian on stage, producing that distinctive open pipe, board track racer sound for an appreciative crowd.

Pride of ownership comes from a prize at Pebble Beach, of course. But one doesn’t necessarily have to own the prize-winning motorcycle to be proud of it. The case in point was Steve Huntzinger, a master motorcycle restorer, who had reason to be proudest of all. With the exception of the original-condition 1929 Harley-Davidson, he had personally restored all five of the class-winning motorcycles.

Looking back over the first two years of motorcycles at Pebble Beach, it's absolutely clear their inclusion at Pebble Beach—the pinnacle of automotive history, excellence and elegance—has been an outstanding success.

Concours Chief Judge Ed Gilbertson dropped by the winners' circle to congratulate the 'Munro Special' team. Gilbertson has been instrumental in bringing motorcycles to Pebble Beach.

Mike Madden and family with his 1915 Henderson, which won best of class for the road motorcycles, here in the winners' circle.

Tom Hensley accepted the blue ribbon for the 'Worlds Fastest Indian,' the 1920 Indian Scout 'Munro Special.' The ladies presenting awards for motorcycles wore appropriate attire.

Steve Huntzinger, who had restored the Crocker that just preceded him to the podium, rode his second-place 1915 Excelsior V Twin.

This 1936 Crocker Twin was featured in the June issue of Cycle World. Owner Brian L. Bossier, Sr. rode it up the ramp to get a white ribbon.

These well-dressed ladies dispensed white, red and blue ribbons to the class-winning cars.

By midday Sunday, the Concours fairway was filled with spectators, who had paid at least $150 each for admission. The winners' circle, to be filled a few hours later, is in the foreground.

Leno spent a long time among the motorcycles, clearly enjoying himself. He's hearing about the Henderson Long Tank's speedometer from owner Mike Madden.

Judges Somer Hooker, David Hansen and chief class judge Jim Thomas confer.

Now that the Harley ran, owner Dale Walksler could explain the finer points to judge Jim Thomas.

The Harley was bump-started by this 1936 Crocker, the only bike on the fairway capable of this not-so-delicate operation.

Some last-minute adjustments on this 1929 Harley-Davidson were necessary.

Vince Martinico starts up his 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Board Track Racer, a demonstration he repeated later on the podium when he received the FIVA Special Award for the best preserved pre-war vehicle.

Headlamp on the 1910 Pierce-Arrow Single Cylinder.

This detail of the Henderson shows what 'Long Tank' means.

This 1913 Sears Dreadnaught Twin was sold by Sears Roebuck as a road motorcycle. Behind it is the blue 1914 Yale board track racer and, in the rear, a 1915 Henderson Long Tank.

Jay Leno talks with Tom Hensley about the Munro Special, the actual streamliner that Munro rode at Bonneville in 1967 to set several speed records for the under 1000 cc class.

1913 Flying Merkel Twin and a 1934 Harley-Davidson Twin.

A 1938 Indian Four heads up this line of motorcycles that will form the front row for Sunday's Concourse.

This Reading Standard is probably the most elegant board track racer in existence.

The 18th fairway at Pebble Beach, graced by a 1909 Reading Standard Board Track Racer.