Packard Museum makes vroom for buffs of vintage motorcycles

By Jordan Cohen

The oldest motorcycle on display is a 1908 Thor that won the Race of the Century in Alabama in ’08.

WARREN — The 10th annual Antique Motorcycle Exhibit, featuring a collection of 30 mostly restored cycles, some more than 100 years old, attracted a sizable turnout at the National Packard Museum on its opening day Saturday.

The show, titled “On the Road Again,” conveys images of excitement and a connection with history.

“When you start these up, you realize you’re hearing the same sounds these guys heard so many years ago,” said Myron Otte of Southington, a member of the museum’s board of directors. “You feel so much of the joy they must have felt.”

Otte, who said he has been riding motorcycles for 50 years, owns one of the cycles on display, a 1951 British-made Ariel Red Hunter that he restored.

A 1965 restored Harley-Davidson Sportster caught the eyes of Bret Dennis, 32, and Brent Heitzenrater, 37, both of Warren. The two have been rebuilding and restoring cycles for several years.

“You have to look through the dirt and grease and then have a vision,” Dennis said, adding that the pair take old, run-down motorcycles and modify and restore them.

“We look for the diamond in the rough,” Heitzenrater said.

Spectators can get an idea of the work involved in restoration in a display of before-and-after models of a 1928 Indian 101 Scout. The unrestored version, with little more than its original frame and fenders, sits next to the brightly colored finished product.

One of the exhibit organizers, Bruce Williams, is especially proud of an original 1946 Harley- Davidson U, looking as run-down as its age would imply with dirt-stained fenders and a torn seat.

“They found this in a barn, and it hadn’t been run in 40 years, but in a few hours, they cleaned the points, put gas and oil in it, and it fired right up,” Williams said, adding that the owner has no intention of restoring it.

The oldest motorcycle on display is a 1908 Thor that continues to make history.

“This bike was one of 13 100-year-old bikes that ran in the Race of the Century in Alabama in 2008, and it won,” Williams said.

The exhibit contains models from companies that have been out of business for more than 40 years but are especially familiar to cycle lovers — names such as BSA Goldstar, Indian Chief and Marvel.

Otte said it is nearly impossible to find parts for many of the older models, which is a challenge for restorers, who may take several years to either collect or fabricate parts before putting a cycle together.

“This is why we want to show the process,” Otte said. “It’s a scavenger hunt that pays off into something unique and beautiful.”

“On the Road Again” will continue on display through May 30.

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