Rides & Destinations: The Owen Collection
By Joe Berk
What: The Owen Vintage Motorcycle Collection, Walnut, California.
How to Get There: Call first to arrange a visit (the museum will provide directions).
Best Kept Secret: The collection itself.
Avoid: Showing up without an appointment (you won’t get in). Call (909) 594-9209 well in advance to arrange a visit.
More Info: owencollection.com
More Photos: California Scooter Company
The Owen Collection is a private museum tucked away in Walnut, a small community in southern California. Kelly Owen was a motocross racer who started racing on a 100cc Penton Berkshire in 1970, when he was just 13 years old. Owen raced professionally, including the 1974 and 1975 Los Angeles Coliseum Superbowl of Motocross. He knew he was good, but he also realized he couldn’t make a living racing motorcycles. Owen retired from racing in 1976 and apprenticed in his father’s construction business. After learning the trade he launched Clarion Construction in the 1980s. Clarion became very successful; its focus is on large-scale cold storage facilities in the food and related industries.
Motocross racing and motocross motorcycles were still in Owen’s blood, and even though Clarion Construction was thriving, he couldn’t stay away from motocross. Owen returned as a vintage motocross racer in 1988 on CZ and Honda Elsinore motorcycles. He started collecting vintage motocross bikes that same year. Owen’s first restoration project was his 1973 Penton, a motorcycle he retired in 1974 and then restored in 1988.
The 1973 Penton became the seed that started the Owen Collection. Two or three restoration projects followed each year. The collection is focused on motocross motorcycles from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Owen was a consummate craftsman who performed much of the restoration work himself. Other motorcycles were purchased as new-old-stock machines still in their crates, and still others were returned to pristine condition by professional restoration experts. The emphasis was to not over-restore the bikes, although in some cases the original paint and metal work’s lower quality was exceeded in the restoration process.
The Owen Collection emphasizes first year of production samples of the approximately 75 bikes on display. The collection is immaculate and impressive. Montessa, OSSA, Bultaco, Honda, Penton, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Triumph, BSA, AJS and other vintage motocross motorcycles are supported by OC Powerstands, a motorcycle stand invented by Owen. 1965 and 1966 Triumph TT Specials are part of the collection (these were 650cc racers I lusted after in my youth; I could have spent the day looking at just those two). All of the bikes run and are in perfect condition. It’s a stunning collection, easily among the best I have ever seen.
David Fair (a Clarion Construction employee and the Owen Collection curator) explained that Owen made a special effort to ensure all of the bikes had original equipment tires. Doing so was one of the most challenging aspects of each restoration. Fair is the man to call to schedule a visit (his card reads “Curator/Chief Tire Inflator“).
Every Destinations article includes a “best kept secret”; in this case, the best-kept secret is the Owen Collection itself. It’s not advertised and I only discovered it after an internet search for motorcycle museums. The Owen Collection can be viewed by appointment only.
Sadly, Kelly Owen passed away unexpectedly in 2016 at the very young age of 58, from a stroke. He was active right up until the end. Clarion Construction and the Owen Collection live on.
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