All Robert M. Nash photos,
Courtesy of Cultural Center
of Cape Cod
SOUTH YARMOUTH, MASS. – From September 20-November 24, the Cultural Center of Cape Cod will be filled with an extraordinary exhibit of Harley Davidson motorcycles and motorcycle art from the collection of David McGraw, who has worked for decades to acquire and restore iconic Harleys and other fine machines, including some so rare that even Harley Davidson does not own them. The exhibit will be celebrated with “Leather and Lace,” a special event on Friday, September 20, before opening to the public on Saturday, September 21.
“We’ve hosted hundreds of amazing exhibits since we opened in 2007, including rare Hollywood memorabilia and costumes and every kind of art you can imagine,” says the Center’s executive director Robert Nash, “but this one will take the cake. We can’t wait to open our doors to people from all over the world who love motorcycles and see them as beautiful examples of ingenuity, artistic design and America’s love of the open road.”
The exhibit will feature dozens of rare and unusual bikes, including a 1915 K Board Tracker, 1927 Pea Shooter, 1927 Hill Climber, 1928 JDH, 1936 El Knucklehead, 1949 Flat Track, 1950 Panhead, 1966 CRS Scrambler, 1967 XLRT Lance Weil, 1968 Drag Bike, 1970 XRTT 750 Daytona Roadracer, 1970 XLCH Land Speed Streamliner, a 2005 Destroyer Drag Bike and many others.
“The first bike I built from scratch,” says David McGraw, who has selected the bikes for the exhibit from his vast collection. “I restored antique cars for a business, and I’d always loved motorcycles … so I decided I would build one. It came out beautiful, but then a friend said, ‘You know, you put all this effort into this thing, and it’s worthless to anybody else except you because it’s not going to appreciate. So, you should really restore bikes.’ So, when I came across this 1928 Harley – they call it a ‘two can’ – I bought it. And that one bit me. And I started restoring them. I usually work on four to five motorcycles at once, and it takes me years sometimes to finish a bike.”
Although the collection is full of unique machines, each distinct from the next, there is a common thread. “When I finally decided that I was going to concentrate on bikes for a collection,” McGraw says, “my father told me, ‘You’ve got to pick one thing and try to be a little distinctive,’ … so I picked racing machines, because they have a history and they’re hard to find. Usually they’re thrown away. But I wanted my collection to be the full era, from start until now, of Harley race bikes.”
When asked if he’s missing anything, he smiles. “There’s one that’s called the eight-valve Harley, which is the Holy Grail. Don’t have one of those.”
His method, when he is restoring a bike, is both methodical and thorough. “When I find enough parts, I amass everything I need to assemble the bike … but before I restore it, I fit everything, do the body work, then take it all apart, clean it up, paint and polish, plating and then put it all together again.”
Likewise, the artwork on the walls during “Art on Two Wheels” is from a collection assembled with great care and patience. “All the artwork, with the exception of a few things, is original artwork. I see things over the years, and I barter or buy all kinds of artwork and memorabilia.”
The exhibit is sponsored by the Yarmouth Tourism Fund, Gatehouse Media, Cape Cod Harley Davidson, and others. Tickets for the exhibit are $10, for full day admission.
The Cultural Center of Cape Cod is at 307 Old Main Street. For tickets or information, 508-394-7100 or www.cultural-center.org.
Art on Two Wheels Painting, “1936 EL Knucklehead” oil painting by Scott Jacobs, commissioned by original owner of the bike.
1968 Drag Bike. The 96-cubic-inch motor is huge for this size bike. It’s called a “high gear only” bike, with just the top gear and a slipper clutch; the harder you press the clutch, the harder it engages. Detroit Mike raced this bike out of Harley-Davidson Freedom Center in Billerica, Mass.
1967 XLR TT. Lance Weil from California raced this bike in England and won 45 times. Its frame is from three different Harley frames put together. Found as just the frame, which is unique to this model, and believed to be Weil’s original. It took four years to restore this XLR TT with all original parts, including the tires. It’s entirely authentic.
1936 EL Knucklehead. This was Harley-Davidson’s first true overhead valve street bike, complete with new motor and frame. It was the first bike with four-speed transmission and the first to incorporate the speedometer, instruments and ignition switch on the dash. The “Holy Grail” of 1930s Harleys, it set the styling for Harleys until today.
Overview of McGraw private motorcycle collection.
David McGraw pictured on “Captain America,” the sequel bike built for Easy Rider: The Ride Back.
1916 Board Tracker. This is an extremely rare bike. It is a single cylinder bike, which was introduced in an effort to slow racing down and prevent the injuries that had become so common. Riders continued to want the bigger motor, which had twice the engine displacement, but the lighter 1916 is still a great racing machine.
1927 SMA Pea Shooter Road Racer. Road racing was uncommon in the United States, so this very rare Pea Shooter could have been used on a track. There are only a couple of these known to exist. The restoration took six years and started with just the engine, the frame and the front end.