There are a dozen stories within the most recent Barber Vintage Festival event at Leeds, AL. On top of mine, there was a reported 65,365 x 12 more stories that people are recalling from last weekend’s event. I can’t speak for them, but I’ll do my best to encapsulate my bi-yearly visit to the Birmingham region. To give you an idea of the venue events check this link:
My long-time friend, Ron Smith, just turned the big SEVEN-OH and wanted to celebrate the milestone event by taking another trip to this world-class motorcycle event experience. We have done this trip every other year, since 2010 and have enjoyed each and every one. Transportation has been a bit on the iffy side, as the first year our first flight was canceled before we could get out of San Diego. Some quick work by Ron on the phone and with airline agents got us on a different flight and different airline within 2 hours. The rest of that trip went well, as far as flight times went. The second trip took us through the gigantic Houston airport, which is a monstrous maze of gates and terminals, resulting in some very long walks between terminals. All connections were made on time, however, so no complaints on the 2012 visit.
For 2014, we started out fine, leaving San Diego on time, arriving in Dallas easily and managing to get across the terminal on the tram system with no issues. Coming back was a completely different experience, however…
Arriving at Birmingham airport in the late afternoon, we gathered our gear and hunted up the Avis Rental Car office, where we were assigned a “compact” car out in Space A-12. The key was to a VW Bug and as we approached we noticed “TURBO” on the rear deck lid and a small insignia for FENDER guitars, which is a special options package with enhanced sound quality. Opening the passenger door, I was astounded to see a beautiful recreation of a Fender Guitar Sunburst finish across the passenger dash board. Having owned a rare 6-string Fender Bass in the 1960s, I was having flashbacks to my time with this fine instrument. Here’s a link to info on the car
It turned out to be quite a snappy performer, in both wet and dry conditions. Speaking of weather, the forecast wasn’t particularly encouraging with 40-60% chances of rain throughout the weekend. Not long after the sun went down on Thursday night, the skies opened up with lightning and rain for several hours. Friday morning was met with more rain for the early part of the day, then broken clouds and sun for the rest of the morning and afternoon.
We rolled out after ingesting our $9.99 breakfast buffet at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel lobby where we were staying. Roads were still wet and we were still reorienting ourselves to the location of this hotel, which was just off Hwy 20/Hwy 11 junction. Once we mastered the route, the trip time to the track was about fifteen minutes. Friday was the first day of the event and traffic lines were long, stretching all the way back to the entrance road to the facility. The first day check-in includes scanning our tickets, obtaining wrist bands and getting directed over to the nearby parking lot, adjacent to the swap meet spaces. There were some 400 vendor spaces to browse through, so we were lucky to be able to park nearby the side entrance.
We started our swap meet parts sweep mode and scanned through thousands of bits and pieces of vintage motorcycle artifacts. A seller with a lot of CB77 parts caught my eye, which included a low miles speedo-tachometer for an early model Super Hawk. The asking price was $200 and I thought that I would just come back later to see if it was still there after the morning rush. I spied a decent wiring harness and a good tail light that was worth buying on a return run. We were to meet-up with our friend Randy Kilpatrick, who was at Barber for his own adventure which included buying a bike at the event and then driving it to Coco Beach FL, to visit his aged step-father and hang out for a few days before winging his way back home. He had setup a deal with a local Honda shop to store the bike for a few months at a time, in between business trips back and forth to San Diego.
The bit stumbling point was that he decided to take a chance on a 1979 CB750 LTD (he already has one in San Diego that doesn’t get ridden), but it was a familiar bike to him and was supposed to have been stored in a museum for an extended period. He won the auction, had the bike sent to a Birmingham Honda dealer for prep and was told that they really didn’t want to work on it and that it needed a master cylinder rebuild, caliper rebuild and carbs/fuel system all cleaned out and rebuilt. Well THAT wasn’t going to happen over the weekend, so Randy shelved the CB750 and enlisted our help to track down a better ride option. We considered another 1979 CB750K bike that had 12k miles and already had a windshield and rear rack installed. The bike was from SC and had been ridden around the event, but not ridden to it from out of state. Randy made an offer and then realized that he needed to come up with CASH in order to buy a bike from even sellers. He rushed off to the local banks and came up with $2500 in greenbacks, ready to make a deal with someone. Ron remembered seeing a VFR750 off in a far corner, one which he recalled seeing offered in the last event we attended in 2012. Ron has a mint 1990 VFR750 in the family, so is quite familiar with the breed. I came down to take a peek and found it pretty appealing for the $2750 asking price. The bike had a slip-on muffler, Corbin seat, long service history in the owner’s manual and the full tool kit residing beneath the seat. The extra bonus was a rear wheel stand and a box of the take-off parts included. Randy had ridden the bike briefly, earlier in the day and wanted my opinion once we returned from the other side of the facility where we were watching vintage bike races and hobnobbing with various racer friends.
Other than an overly-tightened drive chain, the rest seemed good. It had a lean off-idle hesitation when the throttle was opened slightly, but above that it sounded pretty crisp. For the price of a used 250cc Honda Rebel, Randy could own a legendary V-4 Interceptor that was in beautiful condition and would serve him well in a 10 hour jaunt down to FLA. The deal was sealed and we worked out the details about how to return Randy’s rental van to the airport and get him back to his hotel again, all the while Ron and I were setting up our Saturday night dinner with the “Critter Guys” which is always the highlight of our trip.
In the end, all three of us dashed down separately to the airport in the car, van and bike. Randy signed off on the rental agreement, when I abandoned the van to Avis. I jumped back into the Fender VW with Ron and Randy headed back to the track to attend the VJMC dinner event. Meanwhile, Ron and I chose the Red Lobster as our destination, where we had had a previous dinner with the Critter Guys.” We drove to where we recalled the restaurant had been located and could NOT find it now. My Windows phone app “Local Scout” showed a Red Lobster Restaurant 10 miles away from where we were and the other one, which we knew was just 100 yards from our hotel. Turns out that they moved from the location we knew to the “new” one next to our hotel. The other one was more downtown and had been there for over 40 years, according to the manager there. After some snafus with the GPS function on the phone, we finally found the location, just minutes before the “Critter Guys” arrived. Our party of nine was soon seated and the fun and stories began after the more than required traffic traumas.
I guess I better clarify the “Critter Guys” and their warped sense of humor when it comes to their motorcycles of choice: 1960s Honda CA77 Dreams.
The bikes are decorated and named: “Possum” Rooster, Rhino, Timber Wolf, Feral Hog, Bear, Gator, Bass, Elephant, Buffalo, Pit Bull, Tiger and Eagle. See link below for the winning “Elephant” bike with the “supercharger” plumbing on the engine cover.
Searching for “Critter bikes” will get more videos of the adventure rides that these bikes and owners have achieved on ancient, clapped out Dreams. It is all just too funny to watch!
Barber Festival Events
With all the activities and visits with friends during our stay, we missed about 50% of what was happening in the venue. We spent much of Friday “window shopping” through the 460 vendor spaces and searching for alternative rides for Randy. Saturday morning was spent with the VJMC guys and viewing some of the great bikes that were on display. The formal vintage show was on Saturday with an awards show and dinner later in the afternoon. From there, we wound our way over to the pits and watched a few of the vintage class races, while trolling through the pits viewing race bikes that spanned about 75 years of production.
A notable story surrounds my friend Tim “Merciless” Mings, who has campaigned a 305 Super Hawk in AHRMA for many years. This year was no exception, but after several years of gathering parts and fabricating a whole new machine, Tim’s latest CB77 based creation was genuinely fast and competitive. He placed second twice over the weekend against some heavy hitters in the AHRMA 350cc classes. Tim’s bike has one of nine “Honda Revival” 4 shoe front wheel assemblies ever built, to the tune of over $5k each. Tim’s engine features the factory-made 5 speed transmission, dual oil coolers and extensive engine mods and parts. Tim rides hard and uses the bike to full advantage, so his weekend finishes were gratifying, but a couple of first places would have been even better.
Tim is based in Los Angeles and the trip to Birmingham was made in his 1966 Ford Econoline with vintage Honda logos on the side. Despite its age, the Ford trucked across the country with no problems getting 25mpg, however the lack of AC was probably a bit uncomfortable while crossing the deserts of AZ and miles of hot weather in TX and OK.
Saturday was also the day for the bike auction, which had a wide array of vintage bikes from many countries. There was a zero miles CBX among the entries and some beautifully restored Brit and Italian machinery as well. Bidding was open only to registered bidder, but the auction company just posted the results here:
Between chasing bikes for Randy, sifting through the swap meet spots and just visiting with many friends we were not able to visit the world-class museum this year or drop down the hill to see the many vendor exhibits. I guess four days would be too much to expect, but it is very difficult to cover all the activities in three days, due to the expanses of the facility and the volume of the activities going on at the same time. For hard-core enthusiasts, the Barber Vintage Festival is one of those “bucket-list” items that should definitely be experienced at least once in your life.
Our return trip was marred by flight delays starting with our Birmingham to Charlotte segment. The plane arrived a half hour late and we only had a 45 minute window to catch our Charlotte to San Diego leg. Leaving late and then sitting on the tarmac for another 15 minutes in Charlotte as the ground traffic cleared out, we missed the flight handily. US Air customer service tried their best to get us connected to the Dallas to San Diego flight, but the window of time was only 20 minutes, which is impossible to achieve at that airport unless your arrival and departure gates are next to each other, which probably never happens in real life.
Stranded at Dallas, we rode the tram around to where we could get to ground transportation and catch a shuttle to the nearby Hyatt Regency hotel, which is adjacent to the airport. It was nearly midnight before we had our room key and about 1AM before we settled in and turned out the lights for a much-needed good night’s sleep. After a $15 breakfast meal, we caught the hotel shuttle and arrived at the American Airlines terminal for our scheduled 12:15 departure. Shortly before the boarding time, they announced that the vacant boarding gate was to be filled with a plane from a nearby hangar. DFW is an American Airlines hub, so they have spare planes there for emergencies. Some severe weather was affecting the mid-west and may have contributed to the delayed incoming flight. Again we boarded over a half hour late and then sat in the 757 for another 45 minutes while they removed excess fuel from the aircraft. It had been serviced to be ready for long-distance flights and the 3 hour jaunt to San Diego was too short to justify a full fuel load. Eventually, the flight departed and we arrived at San Diego about an hour and forty-five minutes late… about 26 hours late overall. Other than the glitches on the return flights, the weekend was fabulous and worth the effort.