The MEET At America's Car Museum: 1970s-Era Choppers & Classic Roadracers

Immersed in beauty and speed at the ACM’s vintage motorcycle festival.

Egli Vincent Café Racer
Splayed cylinders and swooping exhaust hang beneath a banana tank and solo seat on Patrick Godet’s iconic Egli Vincent Café Racer.©Motorcyclist

My mother’s motoring taste is informed by Silent Gray Fellows, pencil-thin mustaches, and XKE Jaguars. In Mom’s judgment, beauty without function is meaningless; speed without elegance, mere coarseness.

Egocentric, loquacious, and unapologetic, I am my mother’s son. These character flaws resulted in an invitation to judge 2015’s The MEET at America’s Car Museum (ACM), motorcycling’s concours d’authenticité, presented annually by LeMay in Tacoma, Washington. The MEET at ACM attracts bikes from all over the Northwest to be judged by riders from all over the country: a distinguished panel, plus me. In straw boaters, black shirts, khakis, and clipboards, we strolled the grassy aisles, stroking our whiskers and furrowing our brows officiously. Muttering over clipboards made it necessary to ignore the Cossacks, piled five to a Panhead, and a constant barrage of inverted trials riders.

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Vintage bike shows prize our favorite swatches of the past, willfully discarding every grimy disappointment of the good old days. We imagine the lyrical surge of torque from a 1920 Indian Powerplus without our thoughts once straying to the sure disaster of trying to ride that booming, Pimpernel Scarlet dream half as hard as your KLR650.

The MEET at ACM catalog featured ’70s chops and disco-era MX bikes rubbing elbows with classic roadracers, and thrilled to the ambiguity of “Vintage Japanese—Other.” We clucked over Combat Wombats and Excelsiors, zeppelin-styled flat twin hacks, cop bikes and rotaries, and anorexic café strutters with vented drum brakes the size of stuffed pizzas.

Conditions ran from one kid’s bald-tired Electra-Gramps through the bolt-perfect, centenarian refurbs of Antique Cycle NW, all the way to two perfect jugs overflowing from a bike almost too sexy to describe in a family magazine.

Of course, it wasn’t all dream bikes and sunshine. I ran into a few of my heroes too.

Ever wonder where you can meet the guys who wrote the articles that fired your high school dreams? Head judge was David Edwards, late of Cycle World and the man who’s done as much as anyone to fuel interest in motorcycling’s most American hot rods, the ruthlessly elegant bobbers. Fellow judge Clement Salvadori still illumines the pages of Rider and—judging from his James Bond-like presence—will continue chronicling his adventures long after I’m gazing skyward through daisy roots. He is a gentleman entirely. Mom would like him.

As an aside, Clem shared a couple of tips on bookselling. Firstly, one must not be embarrassed to plug one’s work. The second consists in loud berating of any “cheap bastard” who fails to procure a copy. I’m still working out how to implement these policies for Head Check: What it Feels Like to Ride Motorcycles, available through Amazon or litsam.com at verified “cheap bastard” rates.

Gathering for a box lunch in the soft glow of the basement Ferraris, we submitted our category winners and commenced wrangling over Best in Show. Emerging from contenders including the most meticulous and arcane micro-scooter restoration ever undertaken in the Willamette Valley, a single machine drew the most mumbles, whispers, and eyebrow waggles. No judge dared speak against her.

When Mr. Edwards finally asked why that one bike, our embarrassed silence was broken by one judge’s stentorious bray. “It’s merely the most gorgeous thing ever bolted together by the hands of man!”

An Egli Vincent by Patrick Godet is the moto equivalent of an English country lass volksmarching the Alps in Daisy Duke lederhosen: a sleek curve of speed, diaphanous and deceptive as a wispy cloud filled with thunder and fire. It’s what Mom would park in her living room if she had listened better when I was young. I might not murder for one of Godet’s girls, but that decision would not be automatic.

If they let me judge next year, I’ll try not to yell again. If I lose that billet, I’ll be back anyway. What I want to be when I grow up is a man immersed in beauty and speed.