Picture Intermission – San Diego Automotive Museum

In Intermissions by AbhiLeave a Comment

Vy and I went down to San Diego to ring in New Year’s last weekend, and one of my highlights was a quick visit to the San Diego Automotive Museum. Based on the name I wasn’t expecting to see many motorcycles, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. Come check out my favorites!

The first thing that greets you when you walk in is a Honda Mini Trail…

…but I want to start off with one bike that made the whole visit worth it – a Dan Gurney Alligator!

If you’re not familiar with the Alligator, it was the brainchild of Dan Gurney (and eventually integrated into his company, All American Racers) and one of the most interesting recent ideas in motorcycle design. As a tall guy, Dan felt that the normal riding position was too high and tight – he decided to do something about it and create a bike that one sat in, rather than on.⁠

It utilized a Honda XR650 motor that had been bored out to 708cc. Claimed hp was 63 with a 0-60 time of 3 seconds and a quarter mile of 11.8 seconds @ 140 mph.⁠

They have a few exhibits, such as this one dedicated to “Star Rides”:

Said stars included Peter Fonda, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Evel Knievel. This is a 1968 Bultaco Pursang that Fonda rode in Easy Rider.

This is a 1970 CZ 250 “Side Piper” that Paul Newman rode in Sometimes a Great Nation – Paul got in trouble because he took it for a joyride one morning before filming that ended up with him breaking his foot and pausing production for two months.

This is a Honda CR250M Elsinore that Steve McQueen once owned.

The last Star Bike I want to share is Evel Knievel’s Stratocycle – I’ve featured this on Bike-urious a few times in the past when it’s been up for sale, so it was very interesting to see it in person.

There’s also a Harley-Davidson exhibit.

The one that really tickled my fancy was this XR750.

Also cool was a Harley-Davidson WLA – their bike built to support the American war effort in World War II.

That seems like a good segue for the Indian exhibit, as they had a semi-competitor to the WLA which was also featured at the museum.

Meet the Indian 841. I say this was a “semi-competitor” because it didn’t directly compete with the WLA. During World War II, the US Government asked HD to build a motorcycle similar to what BMW was making for the Germans – with shaft drive, boxer engine, and other features that made the bikes low maintenance. Their creation was the XA, which stood for “eXperimental Army.” Indian’s version was the 841, though they didn’t copy BMW’s R71 as much as Harley did. The main differences were Indian’s longitudinal-crankshaft V-twin engine as well as a girder fork. The compression ratio was just 5.1:1 so that it could be run on low quality fuel.

Those of you familiar with WWII vehicle history may know that the US Army ended up passing on both motorcycle designs and focusing on the GP (Jeep) instead. Good call.

My favorite non-war Indian at the museum was this ’48 Chief with a sidecar. What a beauty.

In addition to the themed exhibits, the museum had a dedicated motorcycle section that spanned all sorts of ages and styles. Here are some of the notable ones, in my mind:

1948 AJS 7R Boy Racer – this was a production racer designed by Phil Walker. 1948 was the first year of production – by ’54 the engine was putting out 40 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and won the Isle of Man TT. It weighed 285 pounds and was capable of hitting nearly 120 miles per hour.

1935 Rudge Ulster – this example is said to be completely original with just two owners. The current owner acquired it from the original owner (duh) in 1968. The model got its name due to racing success at the Ulster Grand Prix.

1912 BSA – ~500cc side valve 4-stroke engine that produces roughly 4 horsepower.

1928 Moto Guzzi Falcon – 489.4cc air-cooled single paired with a 4-speed transmission. The entire package weighs just 287 pounds.

1930 Terrot LPP Polulaire 175 – Terrot was one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers in France for the first half of the 20th century.

This model was up-spec and it featured an extra brake ring on the rear wheel. The engine is a 175cc single-cylinder two-stroke paired with a 2-speed transmission.

2016 Kawasaki H2 Drag Bike – this was built by champion drag racer Rickey Gadson and it features a Adams swing arm (11″ longer than stock), JR shocks, and BST carbon fiber wheels.

While I normally don’t pay too much attention to cars, there was one that I found absolutely fascinating: Louie Mattar’s “Fabulous $75,000 Cadillac.” You have to go to the museum’s website for more info, but the short story is that Louie bought this ’47 Cadillac with the intent of setting a cross country record. With the help of two friends, he set said record in 1952 by driving from San Diego to New York and back (6,320 miles) WITHOUT STOPPING.

The car towed a trailer which held 225 gallons of gas, 10 gallons of oil, and a small dining area.

The car also contained “all the comforts of home” in a limited space – there’s an electric stove, fridge, washing machine, toilet, ironing board, medicine cabinet, and even the cliché – a kitchen sink.

What’s most impressive to me is the engineering implemented to ensure that the car could complete the trip without stopping. During the 7-day run, refueling stops were completed by a moving gas truck (there was an automatic catwalk to assist in the refueling process) at airfields in Kansas City, MO., Camden, NJ., and Omaha, NE. The axles were drilled in a way that they could inflate the tires while turning, the engine bearings, tires, brakes, and transmission were automatically cooled, the cockpit had access to coils, condensers, generators, and four fuel pumps, there was a nation-wide mobile telephone, and hydraulic jacks allowed for the tires to be changed while the car was moving.

The sign about this car says that “it took Louise Mattar 7 years and $75,000 to make his dream a reality. But this car was worth far more to Louie. he said, “if I sold hat car and ha dll the money in the bank, i wouldn’t meet the important people I do. That’s worth all the money in the world.” For context, Louie put $75k into this Cadillac at a time when the MSRP was $2,523.

Thus concludes my abbreviated tour – there’s a few more photos of different bikes in this album if you’re truly hankering for more, otherwise I suggest you find yourself an excuse to visit San Diego and then stop by this museum!