Webbs is auctioning one of the best collections of vintage and collectible motorcycles we've ever seen. Click through for details on seven of our favorites.
1936 Burt Munro/Duncan Meikle Special-Velocette Drag Bike
The story of Burt Munro's metal-urging genius is long and, in many ways, complicated. For a start, the legend of Munro was, and remains, fuelled by anecdote, fact and fiction which have become one; the blockbuster movie 'The World's Fastest Indian' is a wonderful testament to this. What is also true is that Munro worked and toiled with likeminded dedication and from this gained complex and lifelong friendships. One of Munro's best mates was Duncan Meikle, who worked closely alongside Burt for over 45 years.
As much as the public seeks a hero, the reality is always more complex. Munro may have lived alone but he never built alone. The machine offered here evolved through the hands of both men and is a great insight into the alien nature of the handmade. Totally unique, it is impossible to identify in any standard manner. You have to look at the style of the blow torching, the weight of the hammer's touch across the tank and the smashed line of the fairing wired together. It is a glorious mongrel, built and raced by two men who knew themselves and their machines better than most.
Duncan meikle was munro's lifelong friend and companion in many adventures in racing and record attempts. They both owned and developed the most drag-competitive velos in the world incorporating the same modifications they discovered over the years. Together they shaved, sharpened and scraped the optimum power and weight from each component of their Velocettes. It was the development of the Velocettes that bonded Meikle and Munro.
Like any modern development team, Meikle and Munro would tune and develop the two Velocette machines in tandem and would often race and beat one another. The machine offered here is the result of those years of mutual development, reflecting a crafted methodology of risk-controlled advancement in a very rudimentary way. they were mates, they built together and raced together; they created together. They were, in fact, inseparable, living within walking distance of each other. Munro the extrovert racer and Meikle the quiet spanner man, the tuner - together they would blueprint each incarnation of success and failure that was held within the metal of the machine. One of the greatest testaments to this friendship is captured by the events of 1959. The Velos were becoming potent machines and Meikle and Munro were at the local Teretonga race circuit near Invercargill practicing standing quarter mile starts. Munro decided to give a couple of young fellows a good head start and an even better beating, screaming past the surprised young men and giving them a wave bye-bye to boot. Unfortunately this sent the Velo into nasty tank slap and, within a fraction, Munro had bailed and the velo was twisted metal, 30 feet in the air and rising. As the machine churned down the beach, so did Munro.
Cut to: Meikle visiting Munro's mother and informing her of the unfortunate accident. Meikle's words, as captured by an interview, were: "I have come to report on burt; he had a bit of an accident yesterday". "Oh," she said, "Serious?" "Well no," said Duncan, "a few pounds of meat were ground off and a broken arm." The next query from Mrs Munro was: "I suppose it was on that motorcycle". "Yes," said Duncan. "That foolish Herbert; when will he ever give up those motorcycles?!" Mrs munro was 84 years old, Bert was 60! The extent of his injuries had him laid up in hospital for two months.
1928 Norton CS1
Ridden to its limit, no other production bike could come close. The CS1 (camshaft one) was Norton's first overhead cam engine. It replaced the influential overhead valve model 18 at the top of its range and thus became the basis for all Norton's racing efforts. It was designed by Walter Moore who had been brought into Norton to take over from the ailing James Norton. Moore knew that the way to secure more power was through higher rpms and that overhead cams were the answer. Blueprinted in 1926, the engine was first used at the Isle of Man TT circuit in 1927. In fact, the engine had never been tested before, let alone raced. However, Moore's faith in his design saw him rushing two fresh cs1 motors to the island and hiring a tugboat to get himself there overnight through treacherous winter waters. Once landed, Moore then faced the challenge of convincing the team mechanic and pilot (Alec Bennett) to fit and race the new power the senior tt by over eight minutes: a remarkable result by anyone's standards.
The CS1 is also famous for being the victim of corporate politics. By 1928 the motorcycle had been commissioned for production and the machine on offer here is a result of that fine decision. However, Moore wanted a seat on the board of Norton but was blocked by a faction who did not want to see the 'workshop' at the table. Soon after this Moore 'defected' to Germany where he worked for NSU. Adding insult to injury, Moore could prove that his CS1 design was produced outside of his working hours with Norton which allowed him to take his design to NSU who proceeded to produce their own version of the CS1 in 1929. Upon NSU realising their version, Norton's infamous low-slung CS1 was called out of production after only one season. This rare landmark Norton is one of the most sought-after of all racing machines.
The Bristol-based Douglas foundry took up motorcycle production in 1907, three or four years before this machine was created. There is something quite remarkable about a find such as this very early Douglas. Putting aside the validity of its design, whose fore and aft piston installation created a slim machine with a low, attractive and successful centre of gravity, and the early competitive success (the design took first, second and fourth place in the
1912 Junior TT on the infamous Isle of Man). What is so attractive about this machine is the fact it has endured. More importantly, the few known owners of the machine had the foresight to let it be. The adage 'don't fix what ain't broke' is stretched to its limit here. On close inspection, one can actually inhale every mile of this machine. The current owner layered it in wax grease some 25 years ago and has intermittently ensured that the inners have been well lubricated. The patina is more like a skin that has enveloped the past 98 odd years, since it was carefully hand built and rolled out of the foundry. Whichever way you look at it, this machine has mana.
1929 Harley Davidson with Sidecar
This is the last H-D model to use the well-proven inlet-over-exhaust engine, which had formed the basis of Harley-Davidson's previous two decades of commercial success. However, the true value of this machine rests once again in its provenance and recommission. The 'essence' of this machine (including an engine full of mud and water) was acquired in the mid -'60s by Geoff Hockley, one of new Zealand's early motorcycle visionaries and dedicated enthusiasts. Hockley recognised the historical value of these machines. Shovelled off the back of a truck, Hockley's 1929 H-D finally took shape after hundreds of hours of 'spare time'. As hockley toiled away in the workshop and 'old whitey' came to life once again in 1975; from there, he and his most excellent machine enjoyed many years of rallying without missing a beat. It's machines such a
s this that pay tribute to the long-standing commitment a generation or two of new Zealanders have had to ensuring the existence of what are remarkable pieces of engineering. They also represent our collective desire to travel free, albeit with the missus in the sidecar.
1931 AJS S3
The AJS S3 was produced in an attempt to revive the flagging position of the AJS company which had over-diversified on the cusp of the great depression. As a result, the AJS activities were broken up and sold. The motorcycle business was acquired by Matchless, an everyman's brand that was well known for no- nonsense hard-working machines. Unfortunately the design philosophy of the s3 was a long way off and matchless squashed the innovative promise of the transverse v-twin and, according to authoritative reports, only 10 examples of the S3 were ever built.
The history of this example, as told by Alan Black, is well documented: sold new in Blenheim in 1932, the machine changed hands and belonged to the uncle of Trevor Harris (of vintage Harley-Davidson fame). By the late 1940s, it belonged to Peter Coleman who used it daily (Peter, at one stage, identified to Alan a small strengthening repair he had made). Alan Black acquired the machine from Peter Snell, who had found it in a fowl house in washington valley, Nelson where he and a friend were doing a spot of gardening. The machine was given to peter as part- payment for his labour! It then languished for a number of years in a basement under the black cat dairy in Annesbrook, Nelson, and from there landed in the talented and patient hands of Alan Black. Black spent eight years ensuring the machine was recommissioned to the highest possible standard, to the extent that even the burred nuts and bolts were carefully dressed so the originals could be used again. As a result, the machine won the 1989 New Zealand national vintage rally concours.
The s3 was one of the earliest practical applications of the simple engineering logic that said that by mounting the v-twin transversely in the frame it would be lined up for shaft drive. It also allowed more efficient airflow across the cylinder heads. Other exotic features of the S3 were that the side valves were operated by chain-driven cam shafts on the outside of the cylinders, and that it applied a dry clutch.
In 1931, AJS's development rider, George Rowley, was instructed to enter the S3 in the truly gruelling scottish six-day trial and to find two other riders to make up the team. However, the bike's poor (and unwarranted) reputation deterred any other rider from accepting the ride! In the end, against all odds, Rowley won the gold medal astride his lone AJS S3. For all its faults, it stayed the distance, just as this S3 has done.
1948 Indian Chief 1200cc
If ever there were a machine that captured the industrial design sensibilities of the roaring 20s it was, without a doubt, the Indian Chief. Designed with the throttle on the left-hand side of the machine to allow the police to brandish their pistols in the comic pursuit of all manner of bootleggers and slapper crooks, the Indian Chief was and remains the classic art deco machine of the 20th century. Inspired at a time when youth culture was 'the lost generation' and F. Scott Fitzgerald was prolifically writing his most enduring novels such as This Side of Paradise, the Beautiful and Damned and The Great Gatsby, the Chief was somehow able to sit on both sides of the law and win.
The Indian Chief, designed by Charles B Franklin, in some ways reflects the excesses of Indian's success. However, the true mark of quality in any piece of machinery is endurance and endure the chief did, remaining in production for over 30 years. Throughout that time, the machine enjoyed numerous development improvements including the pioneering adoption of front brakes in 1928 and no less than 34 colour options thanks to the factory's connection with E Paul Du Pont who bought the company in 1930. In 1940, the Chief was fitted with the large skirted fenders which have become the firm's trademark; they also gained sprung frames that were superior to those of Harley-Davidson. The 1948 Chief is a handsome and comfortable machine. Testament to this is the fact that the previous owner (one of New Zealand's leading Indian specialists) rode the machine to Webb's door - direct from Invercargill - a long goodbye of sorts. The machine is production year correct and offers a rider's patina.
1973 Kawasaki H1 Mach III
Raw and uncompromising, the mach III was nothing less than ferocious. Aimed squarely at the fearless and idiotic, this Darwinian time machine, designed by Kawasaki, was destined to cull the less-evolved rider out of existence. Although the production of the wildly aggressive triples formed a tiny part of Kawasaki's enormous heavy industry business whose core focus was producing trains, ships and aircrafts, the H1 Mach III is, without a doubt, Kawasaki's most infamous piece of engineering. Responsible for changing the vernacular of motorcycling, the term 'wheelie' and 'tank slapping' were invented by the exasperated pilots of the Mach III. With a top speed of 130mph, the combination of significant frame flex, negative rear wheel weight distribution and an extremely 'abrupt' power step at 6000rpm through to its redline (8,500-1,2000rpm), the Mach III was the most antisocial speed kit you could get your hands on. It was a truly terrifying experience for the inexperienced and a wonderful gift from the gods of speed to the slightly insane rider of the day. This particular example is 100% original right down to the authentic 'tank slap' trench on the left-hand side of the tank. A great example, the machine hails from a single owner/rider, who obviously survived the sweet wrath of the Mach III on more than one occasion.
Make sure you visit Webbs to check out the rest of the collection. Even though they're based in Auckland, New Zealand, shipping one of these bikes to the west coast only runs about $600.