What do you think of when you imagine St. Louis? My wife, a St. Louis native, immediately conjures up images of the St. Louis arch sweeping over the city skyline, framing St. Louis Cardinals’ star slugger Albert Pujols as he drives another run home at Busch Stadium. Me? I think of classic motorcycles and the Dave Mungenast Classic Motorcycle Museum.
The arch, baseball and beer are definite naturals here, no question — but thanks largely to the efforts of one man, so are classic motorcycles.
Forty-three years ago, an aspiring trials and motocross racer named Dave Mungenast decided to open a Honda dealership in South St. Louis. A motorcycle enthusiast with a strong entrepreneurial streak, Mungenast had worked his way through college as a motorcycle mechanic and was manager of a St. Louis imported bike shop when he decided the time was right to strike out on his own in 1965, opening St. Louis Honda.
Although the new shop kept him busy, it didn’t keep Mungenast’s from riding competitively. If anything, it seems to have pushed him to ride even harder. In 1966 he entered the famed International Six Days Trial (ISDT) held that year in Poland. It would be the first of nine runs he would make in the ISDT, garnering two gold, two silver and two bronze medals along the way. It was during this time that he became friends with racing greats like Malcolm Smith, who, Mungenast once said, "told me he’s never seen someone crash so much and still finish."
Mungenast loved motocross, and he’d ride just about anything as long as it meant he got to compete, including oddities like the automatic-transmission equipped Rokon. He also launched a fledgling career as a motorcycle stuntman in the movies, appearing in numerous flicks including Hooper and Cannonball Run.
As it turned out, St. Louis Honda marked the beginning of an automotive empire. After the Honda shop Mungenast established the city’s first Toyota dealership in 1967, and added Honda cars in 1974. At his untimely death from cancer in 2006 at the age of 72, he had founded five dealerships, a yacht club and marina, and the Dave Mungenast Classic Motorcycles Museum.
Open since 2000, the museum’s roots go back to the late 1980s, when Mungenast and Brian Slark, now head of restoration at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, formed Classic Motorcycle Marketing to restore and sell classic bikes, opening up shop at 5625 Gravois Ave., just four blocks away from Mungenast’s original Toyota dealership. While that business ultimately floundered, it set the stage for Mungenast’s Classic Motorcycles Museum. Road and competition bikes are well represented, with motorcycles ranging from a pre-WWI Indian to a 1983 Honda CX650 Turbo and an excellent sampling of classic Nortons, BSAs, Triumphs, Harleys and others.
But perhaps the biggest draws are the classic motocross and trials bikes on display in the back of the old brick building housing the museum, many of them from Mungenast’s personal collection and others loaned by local enthusiasts. Step into the back of the museum, a century-old industrial space with high ceilings and steel trusses, and you’ll find Pentons, Jawas, Triumph-engined Metisses, Greeves, Husqvarnas, Hercules, Hondas and Can Ams, plus an excellent array of vintage signage and memorabilia.
Although marginally conceived as a profit center, the museum was really Mungenast’s way of giving something back to the motorcycling community. "Everything I have I owe to motorcycles," Mungenast once said. "But I owe much more to motorcycling than just my business interests. If we can provide an opportunity for people to explore and enjoy motorcycle history, and have a gathering place to build the kind of wonderful relationships that motorcycling has given to me, then we are doing what we need to." More info on Classic Motorcycles Museum by clicking here. MC