South Florida's Vintage Scene | Mods vs. Rockers vs. the Sun

South Beach Burn-Up!

By Rafael Tassitano, Photography by Rafael Tassitano

On a late October morning, Mods and Rockers again gathered at a seaside resort town for an epic event. But this wasn’t Brighton Beach in the 1960s; it was Fort Lauderdale 50 years later. Mods and Rockers in South Florida? Why not—it’s the second-largest motorcycle market in the country after Southern California; it’s just known more for blinged-out choppers and sportbikes than cool café racers. The annual Mods vs. Rockers Rally has proven to be a fantastic gathering of motorcycles and scooters that highlights South Florida’s nascent vintage scene.

The rally is the brainchild of Louise and Chris Dutton, whose collection of roughly 20 vintage bikes ranges from a ’65 Honda CB450 nicknamed “Bart” to a ’75 Norton Commando. “We had read about these Mods vs. Rockers Rallies in Dallas and Chicago, and decided to have one here. It’s the perfect place for it,” explains Louise. Home to a growing group of collectors, riders and restorers, South Florida was eager to show off its well-loved replicas and restorations. Once the logistics of staging the rally were worked out, it was time for the Duttons to find sponsors, which they did in the form of the area’s premier specialty shops.

Wes Scott is a renowned restorer of British iron. He got his start in ’66 working at the local Triumph dealer while still a senior in high school, and now Wes Scott Cycles restores bikes for customers all over the country. Most of his business is from fellow Floridians, however, including AMA Daytona Official Roland LeCuyer, for whom he built a 1960 BSA C-15 that is now on display at the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Ohio.

“A lot of bikes in the closets are coming out, which is great and a lot of fun,” Scott says in reference to the emerging vintage scene. “However, a lot of these bikes are kind of skanky when they get here. They’ve been sitting in someone’s barn for 20 years.” This just means more work for Scott, who does ground-up builds including a professional clear-cadmium plating of the hardware to replicate the original finish. Of course, not all of his customers want brand-new, preferring a more "aged" appearance. “They call it patina,” explains Scott. “That’s a good word for nasty.”

While most of his clients are in the 40-60-year-old range, Scott is also seeing a few younger people getting into vintage bikes. But it’s not a universally easy sell: “Trying to get young people interested in vintage bikes is like trying to push a car up a hill with a rope.” To Scott, the appeal of these old motorcycles is obvious. “Classic bikes are like comfort food.” But in South Florida, the cool, compact classics have a tough time competing with fat tires and stretched swingarms.

Fellow Euro-bike enthusiast and world-renowned Ducati restorer Rich Lambrechts is also a rally sponsor. His shop, DesmoPro, is just across town from Scott’s. Although DesmoPro started in Ohio 15 years ago, Lambrechts moved to Fort Lauderdale a few years ago when he met Vicki Smith, founder of the Ducati.net group and the Ducati Club of South Florida. A former car racer, Smith is also the Ducati Owners Club Liaison for North America, and met Lambrechts while organizing the 2005 Vintage Motorcycle Days event at Mid-Ohio. They bonded over their mutual passion for Italian bikes, so much so that the front room of their shared office/workspace resembles a mini-museum. Official factory prints from the Mid-Ohio Vintage Days Ducati exhibit line the walls, while display cases hold a plethora of Ducati collectibles including a Manens condenser from 1926—Ducati’s first part. “I would venture that our total collection of Ducati factory electronics is more complete than the factory’s,” says Smith.

The shop itself consists of various rooms piled with Ducati bikes and parts including two SL1s—50cc two-stroke café racers built in the ’60s. “There are three of them in the country and two of them are here,” boasts Lambrechts. “Ducati doesn’t have one, and we got both of those within 10 kilometers of the factory. Their eyes weren’t open!”

Most of Lambrechts’ work comes from museums and high-end collectors. In fact, his best-known bike is Déjà Blue, a bolt-for-bolt replica of Old Blue, the 1977 Daytona Superbike winner commissioned by the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Alabama. Smith explains that DesmoPro’s customers appreciate “the absolute authenticity of not just the correct rubber piece, but the correct rubber piece with the correct OEM stamp on it!” Most of his restorations are exact, down to the wire-ties.

The detailed nature of the work can be grueling, though. “Sometimes, as a break, I’ll fix an engine or re-do a carburetor,” Lambrechts says. “It keeps me out there socializing with the general public instead of being a guy stuck in a cave.” This is the beauty of DesmoPro: the shop’s real connection to the community. Work on the bikes is often done by the people who own them. “Guys will come in and I’ll stick them in a corner so that I can work and they can ask questions, use my tools and get their hands dirty. We get guys regularly on weekends and evenings.”

Lambrechts has also helped grow the local scene by assisting customers in their purchasing decisions. “Most people don’t feel comfortable collecting the old stuff because they don’t know what they’re buying. You can pay a lot of money for a bad bike,” explains Smith. “Rich will tell them, ‘Yeah, that’s a good one.’ Or that it’s not. It’s a good thing to have some sort of cohesiveness that results in a more thriving motorcycle community.”

Collecting Ducatis, admittedly, can be a tough way to foster a vintage interest. They’re beautiful, but expensive and temperamental. “The real young guys don’t have $20,000 to buy a classic Ducati, unless dad’s buying it for them,” says Lambrechts. Even the parts are pricey. “We just sold a rim for a ’74 Super Sport for $3800 at auction.” They can also be mechanically complicated. “Some of the engineering is clunky, but the engines are like a Swiss watch inside.”

At the rally, Lambrechts fired up his ’73 Ducati 750 GT alongside Herm Narciso and Jason Michaels of Dime City Cycles and Discovery HD Theater’s Café Racer TV. Despite their love of Japanese bikes, the two admire Lambrechts and his Italian machines. “The intricacy of what Rich does amazes me,” explains Michaels. “He’s like a surgeon and we’re the nurses at day camp!” Part of the draw of old Hondas to the Dime City crew is their simplicity. “You open up these Hondas and you understand why the engineers did that—they make sense,” says Narciso. “Then you look at a Ducati engine and you think, ‘What the hell did they do that for?’”

Dime City is best known for a custom café racer, “The Brass Café,” built out of a ’69 CB450. “When the CB450 ‘Black Bomber’ was introduced in ’65, it changed all the rules as far as air-cooled twins were concerned. It could take on a Yamaha XS650 with only a tiny amount of tuning,” explains Michaels.

Since Narciso and Michaels only build a few bikes per year, the majority of Dime City’s business comes from supplying parts to other builders. In fact, the shop was born out of the difficulty the owners faced building their own bikes. “Finding the parts took some fun out of it—not because the search process isn’t fun, but because of the people we had to deal with,” says Michaels. The pair decided to apply their expertise in customer service to the motorcycle industry. “People are blown away when they place an order, and three days later the product is on their doorstep,” laughs Michaels. “We worked in the IT industry. Everyone there is all, ‘We needed it yesterday!'"

One of Dime City’s customers is 25-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident and rally attendee Andrew Clarke, who recently bought a headlight for his caféd ’72 Honda CB175. Clarke grew up riding dirtbikes, but had never actually owned a motorcycle before this one. Despite having bought his little Honda as a basket case, Clarke confesses, “I’d never worked on a bike. I never even knew how a carburetor worked!” His ride is eye-catching, though. “It’s a work in progress,” he admits. “I’m doing it piece-by-piece since I ride it everyday. I didn’t want to do the traditional teardown where you have the bike in a thousand pieces and it takes two or three years to put back together.” He may have gotten the headlight from Dime City, but not all of the parts are exactly what you’d call OEM. “I made the taillight out of parts from Home Depot!”

Clarke’s DIY café racer is emblematic of the new breed of vintage motorcycle enthusiasts. Thanks to events like the Mods vs. Rockers Rally and Fort Lauderdale’s circle of specialty shops, South Florida’s interest in vintage motorcycles is growing. It may not be Brighton Beach, but that’s okay: It’s a lot warmer and drier!

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By Rafael Tassitano
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