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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!