It was for many years Coburn Benson’s pleasure to refuse the increasingly spectacular offers made to him by collectors for the classic Packards and Rolls-Royces sitting quietly in his barn in historic Concord, Massachusetts. Coburn’s interest was then in Vincents, and his little store, Merrimack Motorcycle Sales, contained treasures beyond price such as bronze cylinder heads for pre-war Vincent TT replicas. He was “an understander of legends” who would parry any implied criticism of Vincent handling by giving the name of the Vincent employee whose sure touch with the planishing broach guaranteed stability. In his world, all of modern motorcycle engineering could be traced back to “the two Phils,” Vincent himself, and his sometimes right-hand man Phil Irving.

One day in 1970 at Harewood Acres in Ontario, Coburn's 500cc Vincent Grey Flash single defeated my 500cc H1R Kawasaki triple, ridden by my then-business partner. Coburn saw to it that I was periodically reminded of this.

He liked to demonstrate that a properly looked-after Vincent could be started by one hand on what company literature called “the commencer lever.”

Another day, at Mosport Park near Toronto, while his Flash was being raced by another rider, Coburn decided his truck’s engine needed main bearings. Into the drain pan with the oil, off with the sump, and with the crank hanging by the loosened front and rear mains, with a brass punch and hammer he tapped the bearing shells loose and slipped new ones into place. Oil pressure was restored. Coburn was confident in his skills.

He ended that era in 2001, selling his 1740 Concord house—it was there when minutemen fired “the shot heard ’round the world”—and its 27 acres for $5.1 million. Away went the Vincent life, and in its place he put Stanley Steamers. Earlier in his life he’d discovered that Fred Marriott, who had in 1906 driven a steam-powered Stanley racing car, the Rocket, to 127 mph at Ormond Beach, Florida, was still living nearby. He made it his business to meet Fred and speak with him, drinking in history and honoring the man’s land-speed record.

Coburn moved to Limerick, Maine, and found new pleasure in racing Stanley Steamers in hill climbs. I had first met him in 1964. With his wild whiskers, uncompromising opinions, and deep lore he was an old curmudgeon then at age 29. None of us in the Boston bike racing scene of that time could imagine that he wasn’t born so.