Sonny Angel Motorcycles
(Page 2 of 4)
The real surprise came as Sonny prepared to leave and the Vincent’s owner suggested a drag race. “My Harley was fast,” Sonny says, “but I got in a big wobble and got over the handlebars at about 115mph. I crashed, the bike caught on fire, and I beat the fire out with my jacket, but it burned my jacket and sleeping bag. He gave me an old leather jacket and some safety pins to hold it together, so I took that and hit the road for California.”
Back in San Diego, Sonny took a job as the parts man at Richard’s Motors, a Vincent dealer. One day a Rapide owner came in with a broken breather valve, so the shop traded him an Ariel Square Four and then sold the Vincent, a 1947 Series B Rapide, to Sonny.
But the road called again, and in 1951 he sold the Vincent and headed to Long Beach, working the shipyards before boarding a Norwegian vessel and setting off for Europe.
Before he left he had contacted Vincent, BSA and Triumph about possible work, and after bumming around Europe he ended up at Vincent (it helped that he’d met Phil Vincent at Richard’s Motors). Initially, Sonny assembled flywheels, but he must have impressed, because soon he was working on the first Vincent Lightnings. But soon enough Sonny was ready to move on, and he took a job on an oil tanker and headed out to sea.
On the tanker, he worked his way up to second engineer. He was making $1,400 a month, a lot of money back then, but after 16 months he was ready to head home, and this time for good. When Sonny arrived back in San Diego in 1953, he had enough money to buy back his Vincent and open up a motorcycle shop, and on Aug. 14, 1953, Sonny Angel Motorcycles was born.
From riding to racing
In 1954, Sonny started frequenting the Bonneville Salt Flats. His first run was on a 74ci Harley that belonged to pal Dave Owen; he was clocked at 110mph. After the run, Sonny went back to the pits and told Dave, “I can jump off that bike and run faster than that.” Dave threatened to put a supercharger on the bike, and Sonny said he’d bring his Vincent to the Salt Flats for a face off. The two friends went back to Bonneville the next year, where Dave’s blown Harley ran 138mph and Sonny’s heavily modified Vincent was recorded at 144.69mph.
Not content with simply blasting across the desert floor, in 1956 Sonny took up road racing. He started out on a Triumph but soon moved to an NSU 250 Max and then a 500cc Norton Manx. This is also when he started racing against the legendary Don Vesco at Paradise Mesa, a local drag strip outside San Diego that doubled as a road course.
Going to the TT
In 1960, Sonny convinced Yamaha (Sonny was one of the first Yamaha dealers in the country) to loan him two bikes for the Isle of Man race. The bikes were fast (110mph-plus) but fragile. As Sonny puts it, “The bikes were 100 percent reliable. They blew up every time I ran them.” In hind sight, Sonny admits he should have brought over his Norton Manx instead, but he was still glad for the chance to get a few laps in on the fabled Mountain Circuit.