An impertinent history lesson about collecting

In Grade School (6th Grade), everyone was promoted automatically just for showing up. It was a pretty big shock that when Middle School (7th Grade) rolled around, they expected a kid to actually study and pass exams covering material presented in distinct classes much like High School. In addition, many families with small children purchased homes for “good school areas”, but then Middle School rolled around, many of these schools were located much further away.

So “getting to school” in the morning in Middle School became more problematic. It usually boiled down to bicycles for the “middle class” of kids or school busses for truly down and out losers.

Albuquerque, NM was a big desert in 1957, long distances between almost anything. I lived in the Southeast Heights and the facility I was assigned to Woodrow Wilson Middle School, about three miles from my house starting in 1956.  “Lizard King” Jim Morrison was in my homeroom (confirmed via school annual) and no, I don’t remember him. He looked a lot different then ;-).

There was no school bus covering that route, so bicycle was pretty much about it for most.  However, a lot of savvy kids had small motor scooters to get from home to school and back. The scooter issue was the beginning of my passion for and love affair with motor vehicles. Predated the apocalyptic onset of girls by about a year.

Everyone how was anyone had one. One’s social status in middle school was fully depended on whether you rode a bicycle of a motorized scooter. I’m convinced that this stuff set the stage for Fraternities in college. Of course, bus riders were categorically ignored by all.

Scooters were all parked directly across the street from the Wilson Jr High facade. The entire front lot of the length of the school contained among other brands, Cushman Eagles, Vespas,  “Allstates” (Vespa knock-offs from the Sears catalog painted all green).

ImageBut the motorized love of my life was the curvaceous Italian Lambretta. The curves on a Lambretta rivaled any supermodel to a middle school kid. Super models (or any ambulatory genotypic female) came later.

Cheaper models included the various Cushman step-downs, the tiny “Doodle bug” and the Indian “Papoose”. The Cushman Mustang led upscale models heading toward true motorcycle ethos. There was a 165 cc Harley in those days, a precursor for the Sportster. I loved them all.

In New Mexico, 13 year old could legally ride one without a license if the engine horsepower rated below 5 horsepower. The Lambretta hit 4.9. I desired a scooter more than anything in the world.  I held my breath, turned purple, cried, foamed at the mouth, seized, threatened suicide and homicide but all this was greeted by variations on the theme of  “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid” from my father the doctor.

There was NO chance of me given free reign in a two-wheel vehicle capable of 45 miles per hour, especially with my grades (four F’s and a D, as far as I know, still an institute record). So, I was left to lust after all of them, walking the parking lot rounds every day gawking at them and occasionally bumming a ride with one. That was about as good as it got.

I became the local technical authority on Lambretta. . I was like the sex expert that knew 385 positions but didn’t know any women.  I could recite specifications down to the minutest detail, even to the point of speculating Lambretta futures on the stock market. I would take the bus up to the downtown Lambretta store to gawk at the new ones for an hour or so till they asked me if I was actually going to buy anything, and then threw me out.

I built up a terrible desire debt for these things that was not to be fulfilled till many years later.

Cut now to last week as I idly perused one of the vintage motorcycle mags I get monthly. They all have vehicles for sale and one caught my eye, a ’57 Lambretta with the classic two-seat/rear-spare tire configuration that is now pretty rare. The guy selling it lives in Florida and has 150 motorcycles in his stable!  Said he was selling some of them as he prepared to retire!

It isn’t possible to go home again. Lord knows I have tried. I weighed 110 pounds in ’57 and I weigh 220 now. I would look just plain silly dwarfing this thing like a rhino on a pogo stick, even if it could get up the hill to my house with me on it (unlikely). It would just sit in my garage and I would gawk at it. Pretty expensive unusable toy. So, sadly, I gave it up and trudged over to my other “usable” classic/vintage bikes in the garage for solace. There was some to be had.

The history I have just related explains why I have become an erstwhile collector of vintage/classic motorcycles. Collecting vintage/classic automobiles is VERY expensive and requires huge space to keep and maintain them. There’s a classic car dealer near me with some incredible cars in their warehouse. ’57 Triumph TR-2s, ’56 Corvettes, assorted classic Ferraris and Porsches. Each PHENOMENALLY expensive to own and maintain. I marvel walking around this place.

But in the end, I can’t afford to warehouse a car so valuable it can’t be insured to drive on the street. I love the cars but I want something I can use every day to get back and forth to work and to the grocery store (albeit on nice days). So, I can afford ONE classic automobile (a Lotus Elise) that is beautiful and full of vim/vigor AND can be driven like a normal car. Following that, I fulfill my passions by collecting vintage/classic motorcycles, all of which can be ridden functionally, and all of which will appreciate in value as a straight up annuity.

I started with ‘70s BMW “airheads” (air cooled boxer engines) that were way ahead of their time functionally and still very all purposely rideeble today.  Inevitably, and ultimately I graduated to my first and true love- Triumph. the vintage Triumphs made in Meridian GB are harsh mistresses. They are finicky, idiosyncratic, difficult/expensive to maintain like your 30 years younger than you, soon-to-be 3rd wife, but when you walk into a room together, every head turns. (No jokes abut why heads turn, please).

The Triumph marquee has a history going back over 100 years and is far too convoluted to outline here. Suffice to say there are five or six thick books in my collection exploring that history.

ImageNow cut to now.  A couple of months ago I managed to acquire a mint condition ’72 Triumph 500cc Daytona. A VERY desirable collectable that runs like a Swiss watch and will appreciate in value as it’s ridden. I fell deeply in love with this bike which was just as well as my wife assured me I would be sleeping with the next one she found in the back garage.

As painful as it was to admit, I knew I must have another Triumph to keep my baby happy.  I denied it for a while, but I had my eye open.  This week, lo and behold there appeared two possibilities- an immaculate ’69 Bonneville and a concourse ’73 Tiger, restored by an award winning master restorer in Texas.

ImageIt was a tough decision, but I chose the Tiger because I liked the color (blue) and there were numerous safety issues.  The ’69 Bonnie had only one rear view mirror, drum brakes, no turn signals and a 4-speed transmission. The ’73 had all full mirrors, turn signals, disc brakes and a 5 speed transmission. In the end, safety prevailed which is just as well as I am not sleeping with the bike. There isn’t any room for me in the back garage.  I’m sleeping in the car.

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