Reviving an Icon
Markus Karalash (left) and Michael Schacht with Al Crocker Jr., the son of original founder Al Crocker.
New Crocker Motorcycle
Years produced: 2007-present
Claimed power: 60hp @ 6.500rpm (est.)
Top speed: 110mph (est.)
Engine type: 1,000cc (61ci) overhead valve, two valves per cylinder, air-cooled 45-degree V-twin
Weight (dry): 222kg (490lb) (approx.)
Interest in Crocker motorcycles surpassed availability some time ago. With fewer than perhaps 100 made, prices for good — and bad — examples continue to skyrocket. Enter two Canadian entrepreneurs who started the New Crocker Motorcycle Company and plan to build Crocker replicas at a quarter of the current price for an original.
As the classic bike scene lit up in the late Eighties, certain bikes acquired an almost mythical status. Justified or not, a few classic marques excite interest and emotion head and shoulders above the norm. One of these is Crocker.
Along with fabled marques like Vincent and Brough Superior, prices of original Crocker motorcycles have skyrocketed. In 1996, Crockers tended to trade hands for less than $50,000. In 2006, the ex-Steve McQueen 1937 hemi-head Crocker (one of five built) fetched $276,500.
In the late 1990s, Markus Karalash of Toronto, Canada, was busy restoring Indians. “A friend asked me to cast some footboards for Crockers, so I built a foundry, and cast and machined them. He started showing the footboards to friends, and that started my [Crocker parts] business.” It wasn’t long before Markus was selling Crocker parts across North America and to Japan, with no advertising other than word of mouth. “In Japan, especially, people are building custom bikes. A customer would tell us they had a taillight, for example, and wanted the rest of the bike.”
Although he enjoyed restoring Indians, Markus wasn’t satisfied. What he wanted to do was build something really special. “Crockers struck a chord, with the history, desirability and rarity. They were not something every guy was going to have,” Markus says. The idea of building a Crocker replica moved forward when Markus restored an Indian for Michael Schacht.
“Michael suggested he would finance the [Crocker] project,” Markus continues. In 2002, Michael became Markus’ business partner. “We moved into a machine shop and [the Crocker parts] business has been booming ever since.” The company now has three employees.
As the inventory of Crocker motorcycle parts grew, the goal of building a complete replica motorcycle came closer to reality. A major hurdle was getting legal rights to the Crocker name. “There were some issues in the United States, but since we were serious about building a motorcycle and the other people only wanted to sell T-shirts, their rights were expunged. We are now the legal owners of the Crocker name in the European Union, North America and Japan. Australia is pending.”
While the lawyers were doing their thing, Markus was reverse-engineering a replica Crocker motorcycle, which is now very near to production. “We aim to be true to the original, but since we have CNC machines, we can work to closer tolerances than Al Crocker could,” Markus explains. To that end, the new company has created some 1,300 Cad-Cam drawings and almost 100 castings for their replica Crocker. “The alloys we use are better than those available in the 1930s. We pin- and silver-solder the frames instead of brazing them [as on the original]. They aren’t coming apart. Barry Wardlaw of Accurate Engineering in Dothan, Ala., is building our engines. He says he has never seen a V-twin engine run this smooth,” Markus claims.
Speaking of engines …
Both the original and the replica Crockers have 61ci (1,000cc) overhead valve engines and a three-speed constant-mesh transmission. The New Crocker Motorcycle company plans to start with the second generation Crocker engine, which featured fully enclosed parallel valves, but eventually will also reproduce the first generation hemi-head.
The differences between old and new are mostly in the improved alloys and casting technology now available. The new heads are aluminum instead of the original’s cast iron — Markus believes problems with cracking and dropping valves were due to the foundry. In the 1930s, it was difficult to control the formation of hot spots and “cold shut,” a defect where metal does not completely melt together in the form.
The bottom end is similar to the roller bearing original but with improved lubrication, a tapered roller bearing on the primary side and a sprocket shaft adaptable to a Harley-style sprocket, allowing conversion to a belt drive.
The replica’s clutch is a multi-plate wet clutch, as in the original Crocker twin, and the transmission has the same massive gears as the original. The original selector forks tended to break, so Markus added a rib to the design of the forks, which adds strength without adding much weight. And they’re interchangeable with the originals.
Crocker started out building his own carburetor, but quickly reverted to a Linkert M5. Linkert built special versions of the M5 for Crockers, and these have a small “c” cast into the bodies. The new Crocker motorcycle factory has located a small supply of vintage Linkerts for preproduction models, but the production replicas will have Mikuni carburetors.
The original Crocker motorcycle produced spark via a 6-volt Edison Splitdorf magneto. The replica will have electronic ignition, housed in a case that appears to be a magneto, and the 12-volt battery is hidden in a vintage-style black battery case.
The front end is a copy of the original, but with better metal and springs. The original triple tree is a two-piece casting, but Markus has designed a one-piece casting that is neater and, he claims, stronger. The single-leading-shoe brakes have aluminum shoes and modern brake lining materials, and are mounted on high-tensile aluminum hubs.
It’s so much like the original that Chuck Vernon, a respected Crocker expert, wasn’t able to tell a reproduction frame from the original until he spent five minutes examining it. Concerned that the new engines will be mistaken for the old, engines produced by the new Crocker motorcycle company will have very different serial numbers. “We do not want to tamper with the original bikes,” Markus states.
Will it fly?
Chuck is guarded on the question of the new Crocker’s potential success. “I question,” Chuck muses, “whether the Crocker name itself carries enough recognition to make the new factory a successful concern. I do hope they succeed. I also hope that by reflecting the Crocker lineage in a recognizable way, the new bikes will enhance the older bikes.”
“Crockers have gotten so expensive,” says Daniel Statnekov, a well-known collector of American racing motorcycles, “that owners don’t really ride them any more. It didn’t use to be like that. My first ride on a Crocker was on Chuck Vernon’s. He just said, ‘Go out and ride it.’ Without modern replicas, people today would not readily have the experience of riding what was the Superbike of its day.
“You could probably have a similar experience riding a modern motorcycle, and it would probably perform better and be more reliable. The ride quality of a Crocker is very much like a Harley Sportster. The difference is, people get passions, and Crockers seem to evoke those passions. The guys in Canada who are making Crockers will be successful if enough people get passionate enough about Crockers to buy one,” Daniel says.
Markus and Michael realize that getting a motorcycle production facility off the ground isn’t for the faint of heart. In the last decade, failed attempts were made to revive Excelsior-Henderson, Norton and Indian. The only successful revival has been Triumph, which took years to turn a profit.
“We plan to follow Triumph,” says Markus. “They avoided making a lot of mistakes, and we plan to use their good example. To this point, Michael and I financed the effort out of our own pockets. The first money is the hardest — you have to establish yourself. Once you establish yourself, money is easier to get. In Canada the government has an exceptional grant program and may guarantee loans.”
Markus and Michael plan to offer 100 bikes as kits, and say that their engines will soon be DOT certified. The rest of the bike can’t be DOT certified and remain even remotely true to the original, and the kit concept meets legal requirements. “The lighting and braking can’t come up to present-day standards and still be true to the original — it’s a reproduction of an old Crocker, after all,” Markus points out. And that, of course, is central to the appeal: It’s not supposed to be “new,” it’s supposed to trade on the mythical status of Crocker motorcycles. And if the new Crockers are even close to what Markus and Michael are promising, they just might succeed where other brand resurrections have failed. MC
For more information, visit www.CrockerMotorcycleCo.com.