The National Motorcycle Museum thrives on relationships with other museums, collectors, and even pickers, like Mike Wolfe, star of American Pickers. Motorcycles and memorabilia loaned for exhibit is how the Museum stays fresh and interesting, always bringing you something new. John Parham, president of the Museum asked Mike to put the bike on display, share his recent find, the XAVW with visitors to the Museum.
"Mike said to run down to the Antique Archeology shop and pick it up, so we were on our way. This bike is so cool and I'm really happy to have it on display here at the National Motorcycle Museum. Mike stressed, "Don't touch it!" so we carefully picked off some spider webs, rolled it up next to our Von Dutch Triumph and other VonDutch artifacts in the Museum. The patina will remain intact, cooked on grease and oil, even the green-ness of the chrome! There's nothing like original unrestored motorcycles and cars," says Parham.
With several auctions at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles over the past few years, plus the licensing of the Von Dutch trademark, there's been a renewed interest in the man's works. Probably best known as a car and bike pin-striper, sometimes a painter but rarely if ever someone who built a custom bike from the ground up, the XAVW Von Dutch built around 1966 is about as rare as they come. This machine also speaks to the high level of design and fabrication skills Von Dutch possessed.
Von Dutch realized the inherent smoothness and low center of gravity an opposed four cylinder engine could offer in a motorcycle and struck out to build his own. While others used BMW rolling chassis for similar builds, Von Dutch worked around a 1941 Harley-Davidson XA. A "boxer" or "flat twin", like the classic BMW which it emulated, the XA was a design requested of Harley-Davidson by the United States government to do service in the sands of North Africa during World War II. The shaft drive system would be more durable, lower maintenance.
Imagining the moment of the engine swap, Von Dutch probably grabbed a tape measure, compared engine and frame mounting points, considered whether the distributor would clear the frame down tube, removed the clutch and transmission unit from the XA and then got a buddy to help him boost the VW motor into place, just give it a try in the XA frame. So with a little spreading of the frame rails, and a VonDutch machined engine to transmission adaptor, then shortening of the drive shaft it seems the VW motor dropped into place and hooked up to the XA's drive line. Well, it looks pretty easy, but we weren't there to watch!
Front suspension on the original XA is a two inch lengthened Harley springer, decidedly pre-War, so Von Dutch located a 1951 Moto-Guzzi hydraulic fork and used the headlamp, wheel and fender as well. Cutting edge, perhaps, the design is even what we today refer to as an "upside down fork!" Harley-Davidson's plunger setup is intact at the rear, but the Guzzi fender is used. Wheels remain 18 inch, mufflers appear to be from a Triumph.
The 74 cubic inch, or 1200 cc VW engine at only 36 horsepower is a 50% increase over the 45 cubic inch XA twin, and it's likely power comes in at lower revs. Had he wanted to Von Dutch could have easily souped up the VW engine, or even swapped in a Porsche motor. The story goes that his friend Keenan Wynn asked Dutch to build him such a bike as a sidecar rig.
The masterpiece would not be complete without a Von Dutch graphics treatment. The Honda CB450 tank is two-tone with stripes, the rest of the bike pinstriped in red on the black finish. If you could not see the VW badge on the tank, would you very quickly figure out this is not a production motorcycle? Sure, the radiator is not very well tucked in and the battery box perhaps a bit hastily fabricated, but this is a brilliant amalgam of some cheap available components.
A few short years after building it, Von Dutch took the XAVW apart, then sold or traded it to Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, whose name still appears on the paperwork Mike Wolfe got with the bike. Then Randy Smith, a custom builder in Gardena, California restored the XAVW around 1970. What happened between then and now is yet to be known, but the good news is the bike is safe in Mike Wolfe's ownership and is on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa. You can sit down beside it and study what the hands of the great Von Dutch created almost 50 years ago. Go to www.nationalmcmuseum.org to plan your visit to the Museum which is filled with exciting bikes, many with stories like the Von Dutch XAVW.