Rare Birds: Restoring a 1907 Curtiss Motorcycle
Dale Axelrod’s restored Curtiss motorcycle is both a personal treasure and a valuable antique.
It’s every motorcyclist’s dream: The classic bike parked and forgotten, waiting to be discovered and turned loose on the road again. In “The Vincent in the Barn,” Tom Cotter has chased down 40 great stories of old bikes and the collectors who unearthed them.
Photo courtesy Motorbooks
Every motorcyclist dreams of hearing the magic phrase: “You know, I know where there’s this old bike that’s been sitting at the back of this garage for years …” With those momentous words, the hunt begins. Too often the machine revealed is a worthless Hondazukimaha pile of hopeless oxidation, but sometimes, it’s a collector’s dream: a genuine classic motorcycle. The Vincent in the Barn (Motorbooks, 2009) by Tom Cotter offers 40 stories of motorcycle-hunting dreams come true. In this excerpt from Chapter 6, “Rare Birds,” Dale Axelrod tells the story of restoring a Curtiss motorcycle to its original splendor.
Dale Axelrod became interested in Curtiss motorcycles years ago. It’s actually a dual fascination for Axelrod. He loves old motorcycles, but he also loves vintage aircraft. The retired diving instructor and paramedic from Middleburg, Florida, explained how his two passions are contained in this one bike.
“Just like the Wright brothers, who went from building bicycles to airplanes, Glenn Curtiss went from building bicycles to opening a bicycle factory, then motorcycles, and finally airplanes. Interestingly, it was Alexander Graham Bell who talked Curtiss into becoming involved with flight.
“The Wright brothers also built bicycles, but I’ve never found one. That’s why the Curtiss motorcycle is so interesting to me.”
Glenn Curtiss was an early aviation pioneer, who later was actually in competition with the Wright brothers.
“The Wright brothers always criticized Curtiss for sneaking out and watching them fly their early airplanes and stealing ideas,” he said. “While they were alive, there was bad blood between them, but when they died, the government merged the two companies to form the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.
Well before that merger, though, Glenn Curtiss manufactured very interesting motorcycles, ones that used engines designed for aircraft. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
In 1992, Axelrod attended an Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) swap meet in Harmony, New Jersey. He had spread the word to his friends about his interest in a twin-cylinder Curtiss, but because of the bike’s rarity, he didn’t really expect to hear about one anytime soon. So when his friend came up to him at that swap meet and said there was a Curtiss frame for sale, he got excited.
“There are so few of these bikes left,” he said. “Four, five, maybe six twin cylinder bikes remain in the world. I paid $500 for a rotted 1907 frame and an original-paint gas tank.”
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