Pebble Beach Concours to Feature Motorcyles for First Time

Vincent Black Shadow Rollie Free Bathing Suit BikeThe Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is inviting motorcycles to appear on its show field for the first time.

On Sunday, August 16, amid the classic Bentleys, Bugattis and Ferraris, a select group of motorcycles, including Vincents, Brough Superiors, Nortons, BSAs, Velocettes, Triumphs, and Ariels, will debut on the 18th fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links.

This year’s class of motorcycles will focus on British bikes built through 1959, and collectors with unique and storied examples are invited to request an entry application (contact Sean Jacobs at [email protected]). Future motorcycle classes are also likely to focus on bikes from specific countries or regions.

“International interest in collecting classic motorcycles is on the rise, and we want to celebrate them and do all we can to support their preservation and restoration,” said Sandra Kasky Button, Chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours. “These motorcycles will both complement and contrast the automobiles on our field. In a very real way, they expand on the history of the car; many early automakers started by making two- and three-wheelers — and some still do!”

Included among the British motorcycles heading to the 18th fairway will be two legendary Vincent HRD V-Twins — the famed 1947 works racing machine known affectionately as “Gunga Din” and a 1948 bike built for US sportsman John Edgar and often nicknamed the “Bathing Suit Bike” due to the scant attire of its primary rider, Roland “Rollie” Free.

By all reports, Gunga Din began life as a standard Series B Rapide with a 998-cc V-twin engine. It was retained by the factory and perhaps tricked out just a bit for a publicity test ride, and then factory tester and race enthusiast George Brown determined to campaign it. It soon went on to racing glory, setting records and winning numerous road races, sprints, and hill climbs at venues like Ansty, Shelsley Walsh, and Silverstone. One period reporter noted the name Gunga Din was “a name to be feared by the opposition for it usually meant ‘going to win’!” Along the way, Gunga Din also served as a test bed for new technologies, so it both inspired and contributed very directly to the development of the Vincent HRD Black Shadow and Black Lightning race bikes.

The John Edgar bike racked up even greater acclaim for the motorcycles of Philip Conrad Vincent and designer Phil Irving. This bike, the ninth in their new Black Shadow series, was prepared specifically for Edgar, who was determined to break the American speed record for motorcycles—then 136+ mph, recorded by a Harley-Davidson. Edgar hired Rollie Free to make the attempt on the Bonneville Salt Flats on September 13, 1948. Free initially removed the bike seat and laid flat out on his stomach to minimize wind resistance, and when the stitching on his leathers failed and they began flapping in the breeze, he discarded them too, opting instead for a simple pair of tight bathing trunks, a swim cap, and a pair of tennis shoes. Tragedy could have been the result, but Free averaged a smoldering 150.313 mph, smashing the previous American speed record and establishing a new world record for unstreamlined and unsupercharged bikes. The bike was subsequently called the Black Lightning, and a similarly named series of race bikes was introduced.

The Edgar bike, now owned by Herb Harris of Austin, Texas, has had just two legal owners throughout its history. The works racer Gunga Din was not so lucky. After Vincent concluded production in 1955, its assets were sold, and Gunga Din eventually made its way to the United States. At one point in the late 1960s an owner began to dismantle the bike and sell off parts, but then enthusiast Keith Hazelton of Chicago stepped in to buy what remained of it and set about regathering its components.

“Keith saved this bike,” said the current owner Paul Pflugfelder of Concord, Mass., who is now completing its restoration. “Keith gathered the parts and began to piece it back together. I’m just the current keeper.”

The resurrected Gunga Din will get a chance to prove itself, alongside the John Edgar bike and others, on August 16th when it comes under the eye of the judges at Pebble Beach.

[Source: Pebble Beach Concours]

Show Comments (2)

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  1. Yeah, when they say “capitalize on growing interest” they mean jump on the band wagon of Legend of the Motorcycle Concours. Sandra Kasky has adamantly said no to motorcycles at Pebble Beach for the last decade until she saw that someone proved there was genuine, international interest and now she wants a piece of the pie. Who are they kidding? I’m all for bikes getting their due but bikes at the Pebble car show will still be a third wheel. Besides, isn’t Pebble Beach located on 17 Mile Drive – the road that doesn’t allow motorcycles? Enough said.

  2. What a wonderful surprise to discover that Gunga Din lives! In the 1960’s while stationed at F. E. Warren AFB, Cheyenne, Wyoming I became friends with a quirky individual – Tom Pelkey, who purchased Gunga Din from the defunct factory and had it shipped to the base (around 6 or $700 I believe). After uncrating it we fired it up. The incredible sound could be heard a mile away. In spite of the funky tires we couldn’t resist riding it and immediately began breaking speed limits on the back roads of the base. Over the following months Tom cleaned it up and allowed me to ride it numerous times. I was undoubtedly the first (and perhaps only)rider in the US to take it to the limit (which at the 6000’+ elevation was an indicated 140 or so) out on US 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie (Oh to be 19 years old and heedless again!). I was in those days riding a 1960 Harley XLCH so it was a special privelege to get a few turns aboard a truly sophisticated V-twin. I still have a B & W snapshot of Gunga Din w/Tom standing next to it. Was he perhaps the guy who began selling off its parts? He owned a Shadow and a production Rapide, as well, although I’m sure he understood the historical value of his newest acquisition. He, however, never seemed to really love riding – just collecting.

    Anyway Gunga Din was (and is) an amazing motorcycle. I’ll never forget the thrill of passing cars at twice the legal speed limit – no silencers, no fairing – nothing but the huge Smiths speedo between me and the crisp high plains air. (The big Smiths I see has disappeared, to be replaced by a standard size clock. Many other parts appear as they do in my snapshot – that’s good!)

    Incidentally, my current bike is a modified 2006 Sportster 1200R – I’m still in love w/motorcycles and big V-twins, in particular, sophisticated or not.

    Feel free to contact me.

    Michael Vensel
    308 Manfre Rd.
    Watsonville, CA 95076