The arrival of a rare 1924 Ner-A-Car, ridden by a gentleman in full period attire, was the highlight of the 3rd Annual Barber Vintage Festival. As he sputtered by, the crowd eagerly followed to see where he would stop. Even with today’s motorcycle technology, it’s hard not to appreciate an 83 year-old 100 mile-per-gallon motorcycle that still runs.
Cameras were clicking left and right as I fumbled for mine. I remember thinking that a still picture wouldn’t be enough to capture this spectacular moment so I clicked over to movie mode before I missed it. Once the man dismounted his original family-owned machine, he pointed out some of the unique features such as the friction-drive transmission and hub-center steering. Seeing this marvel in person reminded me how important it is to go to vintage events like these, because pictures don’t do the machines justice.
With the top cover removed, you can see a simple gear selector that slides a friction wheel to varying diameters of the heavy brass flywheel. Wow! A manual CVT in 1924! When you get the chance to see over 1000 motorcycles in the Barber Museum, under one roof, in chronological order, you begin to fully appreciate how advanced early technology was.
Also in the museum, was a special display for the “World’s Fastest Motorcycle”. Accompanied by Dennis Manning and his Bonneville racing team, the 350mph machine is what you’d get if you spliced a Formula One racecar with a salmon.
Manning brought with him several historical land speed racers, including the 1970 record-setting streamliner he crafted. This machine had been piloted by the legendary Cal Rayburn and featured in the classic film “On Any Sunday”.
The basement of the Museum, usually off-limits to the public, contains a full restoration shop, the latest CNC machines, and a separate warehouse with another 800 untouched motorcycles. Today, the basement was open to the public for the motorcycle auction; the perfect opportunity to purchase that restored beauty you’ve been searching for.
If you have time to stop for lunch, the “track food” at the Barber Park goes well beyond expectations. The giant Turkey Leg and Fries for $6.50 can easily feed half your pit crew.
It’s really hard to explain the energy you feel at the museum, while discovering some of the rarest two-wheeled machines on earth. And, if you’re lucky enough to be there at the right time, you may see a highly-skilled technician peddle-start a 100-year old machine, like the breath-taking FN Four from Belgium with its simple shaft drive and magneto ignition.
Witnessing in person the world’s first four cylinder motorcycle sputter to life again is an experience even the Internet cannot replicate.
All photos: Brian Case