One of the true treasures of Metro Vancouver is the Deeley Motorcycle Exhibition.
At any given time 70 of the collection’s 260 historic motorcycles are presented in a themed exhibit, curated by exhibition director Brent Cooke. He’s just completed a new exhibit utilizing the 57 brands of motorcycles in the collection to illustrate how motorcycles have changed over the decades and how they have been used. It’s called 100 Years of Motorcycling.
Even though the retail store that houses the exhibit hall, Trev Deeley Motorcycles, turned 100 this year, Cooke emphasizes this not just an exhibition of Harley-Davidson products. Deeley’s was Canada’s only Harley-Davidson dealer when they started in 1917. The only other dealers at that time were in San Francisco and in Milwaukee where the motorcycles were built.
A 1917 Harley-Davidson is on display to mark the relationship between the Milwaukee-based manufacturer and Trev Deeley Motorcycles. Also displayed are obscure makes, including a water-cooled 1929 Scott Flying Squirrel, 1948 Velocette MAC45, 1953 NSU Konsul II and a hot AJS Model 20 chronicling a century of motorcycling.
“I picked five iconic bikes for the exhibit that had a profound impact on motorcycling and did a timeline using decades,” Cooke said during a tour of the new show. “I wanted to display really cool motorcycles like the 1947 BMW which is beautifully designed example of a bike that is almost art deco in its styling.”
He illustrates the featured motorcycles with giant blow-ups of print advertisements showing how they were marketed in the year they were manufactured.
A case in point is the advertisement for the 1950 Vincent Black Shadow, which boldly states: World’s fastest standard motorcycle. The tiny British company was so ahead of its time, it wasn’t until 1973 when Kawasaki introduced a faster production motorcycle. Fewer than 1,700 of this model were made. It is considered to be the world’s first super bike and is among of the most collectible motorcycles in the world with auction prices as high as $ 190,000.
The advertisement for the Brough Superior motorcycle of 1952 screams 100 MPH! Considered to be the Rolls-Royce of bikes, it was the first motorcycle in 1925 to achieve a speed of 100 miles per hour. Each Brough Superior motorcycle was custom fitted for its owner and the brand was made famous in the film Lawrence of Arabia.
A Sign from the East boasts a period ad for the iconic Honda 750 of 1973. Smooth running even at idle and requiring few repairs, the revolutionary ride featured industry firsts including front disk brakes. This marked the end of rule for British motorcycles that were left in the dust.
“Honda caught the British still selling World War Two models,” Cooke noted, adding, “(T)he new Hondas were gorgeous and had much better performance.”
He points to a 1973 Yamaha on display beside the Honda: “These machines were Japan’s answer to the new era of motorcycling.”
Trev Deeley became the distributor of Honda motorcycles in Canada – a relationship that lasted until 1973 when Deeley’s became the sole Canadian distributor for Harley-Davidson.
The iconic Honda Super Cub — released in Japan in 1958 and in North America five years later with a 50 cc engine that anyone could fix — had large wheels for better handling. It became the biggest selling motorcycle in history. To date, 100 million units have been sold and the motorcycle is still in production. This is the highest production number of any motor vehicle in history.
The advertising slogan “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” reproduced as a backdrop for the 1960 Honda Super Cub on display became a case study in advertising success.
The 1976 Honda Gold Wing was the first Japanese design-specific touring bike with its creature comforts and 1000 cc engine.
“Anyone serious about taking a long trip on a motorcycle had to have one of these,” Cooke said.
Another featured motorcycle is the Harley-Davidson 45 WL of which 88,000 were manufactured to help the war effort from 1939 through 1945.
The Chasing the God of Speed display shows the famous motorcycles used in 10 types of racing including hill climbs, road and track racing, trials and speedway racing. Among the 10 racers displayed is a 1940 Indian Sport Scout, considered to be the best racing motorcycle of its time
Cooke calls his row of 1950’s cruisers the pretty boy line, which includes a 1950 Harley-Davidson FL Hydraglide and 1953 Indian Chief.
Visitors will see the changes technology brought to motorcycles over five decades from the time Bell introduced the modern motorcycle helmet to self-cancelling turn signals, chrome alloy wheels, traction control and anti-lock brakes.
A drag racing motorcycle produced by Harley-Davidson? Yes there was: The 2006 Screamin’ Eagle V-Rod called The Destroyer with its engine called Revolution jointly engineered with Porsche was capable of 300 kilometers per hour in the standing quarter mile. Only 200 versions were ever produced.
The 2007 Augusta F4 motorcycle using carbon fiber and titanium on display has a 300 kilometer per hour top speed.
“Don James picked this motorcycle up from Harley-Davidson just after they bought the iconic Italian brand,” said Cooke.
The Good Times just keep on Rolling exhibit is a wall of photographs showing how motorcycling and styles changed through the decades. Here are bikers in tweed suits and motoring caps alongside leather-clad Marlon Brando riding a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T in the 1953 film The Wild One.
“Trev Deeley Motorcycles has been selling Harley-Davidson motorcycles continuously now for one hundred years,” noted dealership co-owner Malcolm Hunter. “Don James and I are very pleased with how the Deeley Motorcycle Exhibition has been able to capture our journey in developing the Canadian motorcycle community over the past century. It is a history and a journey we are extremely proud of and we look forward to sharing our stories with both riders and non-riders in our exhibits.”
For more information, visit deeleyexhibition.ca.
Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company.