Friday, January 31, 2020

Vintage motorcycles tell stories at 2020 Dania Beach show

Motorcycle in military green.
Wartime Norton 16H served Britain's Fire Service at the time of the Blitz.
Vintage motorcycle shows always reward attention to detail, and the 2020 Dania Beach Vintage Motorcycle Show was no exception. The more you look, the more you see.

The 1939 Norton 16H shown by Bruce Gipson of Boca Raton, Fla., for instance, offered an usual history. It served with the British Fire Service during World War II and, afterwards, with the War Department, according to the placard beside it.

The antique helmet shown with it "is an original British 1942 Fire Service dispatch rider's," the placard reads.

Well worn helmet on motorcycle.
1942 helmet shown with wartime Norton motorcycle.
Bruce told me he was attracted to the Norton's Fire Service history because he was with the Miami Beach, Fla. Fire Department for 26 years as a fire fighter and paramedic. The motorcycle's history was documented in records collected by the former owner, in England.

"Central command would hand off notes/orders to the riders to escort the fire engines and show them where to go... the motorcycle riders were unsung heroes of the war," Bruce wrote me. Once he had the motorcycle he tracked down the National Fire Service helmet, which is stamped inside with "1942" and the name of the manufacturer.

(Checking online I found that some Fire Service riders were women and one recruiting poster specifically sought them for training as dispatch riders and drivers, as well as jobs answering phones or serving tea. They were trained to fight fires but after the war British women were typically excluded from strenuous jobs in fire departments and only made their way back in 1978.)

Red Matchless scrambler.
1961 Matchless was sold in the U.S. by Indian Motorcycle dealers.
A 1961 Matchless G80CS Westerner shown by William A. Tracy of Coral Springs had an interesting tale to tell. The name "Westerner" might sound familiar to American fans of vintage Royal Enfields.

Starting in 1955, after Indian stopped building motorcycles of its own, Royal Enfields were rebadged for sale by Indian dealerships until 1960, when the arrangement ended and Royal Enfield went its own way in the U.S.

So, up through 1959, the "Indian Westerner" was a souped up and rebadged 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet in trail trim. With Royal Enfield out of the picture, the Matchless scrambler became the Westerner in Indian Motorcycle dealerships.

Side of motorcycle showing the larger air cleaner.
Matchless off-road air cleaner was quite a production.
Built for competition, it had an off-road air cleaner, removable lighting and a high compression motor. This particular motorcycle was sold by an Indian dealer in Eastern Connecticut.

Unlike Royal Enfield Indians, Matchless Indians retained their Matchless badges. In fact, a placard alongside the motorcycle reproduced a period ad showing the Matchless logo with the stereotype face of an American Indian superimposed on it.

Logo on Matchless motorcycle.
Although sold by Indian, Matchless retained its British identification.
The placard also noted the lyrics to The Beach Boys 1964 song, "Little Honda."

"It climbs the hills like a Matchless
Cause my Honda's built really light"

"This the the bike they were referring to," the placard states. I always liked that song!

Information on a beautiful Henderson four-cylinder motorcycle at the show was harder to come by as there was no signage when I went by except a prominent "Hands Off!"

Sign says Please HANDS OFF!
Signage on Henderson motorcycle could not have been more clear.
It is an impressive, four-cylinder motorcycle and its historical connection to Schwinn bicycles between 1917 and 1931 is fascinating. Henderson was one of the "Big Three" including Harley-Davidson and Indian, and sales were still strong when Schwinn pulled the plug in 1931, concentrating on bicycle production as the Depression loomed larger.

Big, beautiful vintage motorcycle.
Henderson was beautifully made, with an impressive four-cylinder motor.
A real beauty. But what was really curious about the Henderson in Dania was the shiny stoplight style gizmo atop the instrument panel. What was it for? No one I asked had a clue. One fellow noted that it has a light bulb inside it, and a wire to provide power. It must light up.

Shiny bejeweled protrusion near motorcycle's instruments.
...but what is the curious "stop light" among the Henderson's instruments?
I guessed it was the dashboard light, illuminating the instruments around it. But if so, I asked, why the color lenses in stoplight style?

Again checking online I found a Jay Leno video describing a Henderson four he owns. He refers to a plain protrusion in that same position as the "dash light."

Another view of shiny feature on instrument panel.
Another view of the curious bejeweled protrusion.
I'd once seen a picture of this same stoplight-style thing perched on the tank of an old Indian. So I surmise that the handsome little stoplight may have been an aftermarket accessory replacement for the plain version of the dash light. It adds a bit of pizazz to an already glitzy motorcycle.

I never miss visiting the Swap Meet at the Dania Beach Vintage Motorcycle Show, even though it leans heavily toward Harley-Davidson bits.

"It looks like a bomb hit a Harley shop," one visitor joked.

Round black plastic cover surrounds front sprocket of pedal bike.
Plastic covering for what may be a gear-shift mechanism.
But plenty of mystery items show up as well. My eye settled on an old J.C. Higgins bicycle with an unusual gear-shift mechanism on the front sprocket. At least, that is what I assume it must be.

The unlabeled plastic box encircling the sprocket was controlled by two cables from a twist grip on the right handlebar. As the twist grip did not match the grip on the left, I conclude the mechanism was an aftermarket item. I wish I had checked it out more thoroughly but there were so many other things to look at!

Cables run from handlebar grip to strange cover on front sprocket.
Device is controlled by two cables from a twist grip.
Anyone ever seen one before? Leave a comment below.

And, finally, this dish of water, which came with its own explanation:

"Water for your dog, or short people with low standards."
How thirsty are you?


  1. The Indian Matchless is a rare one.

  2. Ah, a Henderson motorcycle for that authentic 'hands off' experience!


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