If you’re on this site and have even a little interest in two-wheeled motorized transportation, get your ass to Alabama and visit the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. You owe this to yourself.
The word “vintage” is somewhat a misnomer, as this place has everything two-wheeled, including race bikes and customs.
Now, if there is a perfect time to visit Barber, make it October for the Vintage Festival, where more things are happening than your time can possibly accommodate. Though there are plenty of modern bikes roaming the beautiful, rolling grounds of the Barber Motorsports Park, this event really is all about vintage. The tone is set in the host hotel parking lot in the morning when I overhear a guy on a cellphone saying, “He’s been cranking and cranking it, but it’s not firing. I think he warped the head again.”
Most definitely not your average meet.
On track, the American Historic Racing Association (AHRMA) races are underway and it’s truly a treat to see tank shifters trying to lay down a decent lap as they rumble by.
A great place for viewing is the Ace Café, located on a hill in the center of the track. Everything café racer style is here. Tables are set up where you can have a beverage, get some fish and chips, and watch old bikes race by. Or, step back and watch who’s pulling in on whatever crazy caféd-out machine a person could create — like maybe a stripped Goldwing with clip-on bars.
On another hill at another part of the track, stunt shows are going down. There’s the Wall of Death, where Charlie runs around a big barrel, aboard an old Indian popping and sputtering like it’s on its last breath. Next door is a guy on a trials bike, doing what most would say is the impossible. Currently, I see him going vertical over an old Chrysler.
Back on the track, some old Brittens are running around at speed. These V1000 racers are a treat to the ears as well as visually stunning. Only 10 were produced and about half of them are running around popping wheelies on the track.
In the vendor area, I find legend and Hall of Famer Malcolm Smith signing autographs and bench-racing with fans. He’s still a classy guy and is willing to spend time with folks who want to reminisce.
At the swap meet you’ll find just about anything and everything, including people trying to increase their collection. One guy has a sign begging for anything British. At another site, I see a bike that’s an Abingdon King Dick — as in King Dick Tools. I couldn’t make this stuff up. The U.K. tool-maker, it seems, used to make motorcycles.
Out in the fields, there are a couple of vintage motorcycle shows going on. The Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) showcases some rather obscure and fascinating artifacts from our past, next to the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club (VJMC) show, dedicated to all things old from that country. At the AMCA show, there’s a guy riding around on an old army WLA, wearing a period uniform. Impressive, but the Best in Show is a wonderfully restored, all-black Indian looking like it did nearly three quarters of a century ago.
Back on track, a Lap of the Century is taking place with a few bikes from the Cannonball Coast to Coast run included. These are bikes that look like they couldn’t make it across the state, let alone across the country. As a couple laps go by, one old bike, looking more bicycle than motorcycle, pulls in with smoke billowing. His ride is done as the others parade by.
Then, there’s the crown jewel of this wonderful meet, the Barber Museum. Housing more than 600 bikes on display, from a collection that has expanded to include more than 1,500, it is considered the premier motorcycle museum in the world. The collection includes the very first motorcycle ever built and covers just about everything ever produced and/or raced.
Next door, ground has broken to expand the museum so that more of the collection can be displayed.
You don’t have to love old bikes to enjoy the Barber Vintage Festival. But if you go, you may just find yourself starting to gravitate in that direction.