I’ve been around motorcycles, custom motorcycles and motorcycle restorations all of my life. I’ve been very fortunate to witness many of the best builders in the field. We have all witnessed greatness when it comes to motorcycling. I didn’t intend on blowing smoke. But you know the drill. Some builders reach way beyond the notion that motorcycles are just a machine.
Matt Hotch is one such builder. He can meld the mechanical with the artistic, and refined detail. I’ll never forget a builder from Lancaster, California. He didn’t work in a shop, but built just one custom motorcycle. It was absolutely a world-class winner from every element. A young guy by the name of John Dodson built a couple of motorcycles so mechanically superb as to defy imagination.
A 1921 Ace Racer by Rodan and Don Whalen.
When it came to restorations, I worked with a pair who turned stock classic motorcycles into something more. They weren’t custom, yet they went way beyond stock restorations. That was Don Whalen and Tom “Rodan” Evans. They built only a handful of motorcycles, but each one was amazing. I will run an image of an example here.
Several decades ago, I started to see more restorations and got to know one of the masters, Mike Egan, in Santa Paula, California. I hope Mike and his wife Patty are still going strong. Then one day, a bike was being delivered to a friend’s house. He was waiting with rapt attention for his 1915 Harley to be delivered from the hills above Santa Maria, from a restoration expert, Steve Huntzinger.
I stood outside his lavish brick garage in Beverly Hills, California as this spindly old Harley rolled out of the back of an enclosed trailer and started to glisten in the afternoon sun. Suddenly, a rattletrap old motorcycle became a refined artistic jewel before our very eyes. Every detail was enhanced. A carburetor never looked so good. Every delicate detail was polished, nickel-plated, refined, pin-striped, engine turned, gold-leafed, wrapped in hand-stitched leather, or engraved.
I met Steve during this exchange, but he was a man on a mission and we spoke little. A couple more times we featured Steve Huntzinger restorations in Easyriders, and each time I was startled by the complete mastery of each restoration.
Marsh Metz motorcycle.
I’ve wanted to reach out and write a feature on Steve for years, but was concerned. Perhaps he was untouchable; he only talked to customers like Jay Leno or major wealthy collection owners. That wasn’t the case, as I discovered after a four-hour road trip across Los Angeles then up the coast to Arroyo Grande (est. in 1911).
Steve decided the city wasn’t for him or his wife, and he restored a 1930 Cadillac and sold it and a 1933 Ford sedan delivery in 1981, and bought a place in this Central Coast, seaside suburban and rural area near wine country. He built his shop on his acreage away from town.
He’s getting to be an old fart like many of us in this wondrous industry. We finally discovered how lucky we are to live and work in the two-wheeled world. Steve grew up around the Pasadena area. In 1970, he scored a mechanic job at Pasadena Honda, but after a short stint he got bored and went to work for a furniture refinishing shop, then a polishing shop.
In 1974, he bought his first Harley, a 1912 single, and he still has it. It’s in his living room today. He’s one of the fortunate ones to be able to hold onto shit, like his first hot rod, which he sold when he entered the military. But when he got out, he saw it featured in a magazine and bought it back. He still has it.
After the military, he worked at John Mclaglen Motors and was the last mechanic before the dealership closed in the mid ‘70s. Steve met Bud Ekins and would head over to his shop when he needed a part. One time, he asked about a particular motorcycle’s shift linkage and Bud had one.
“Take what you need off that bike,” Bud said. “Make what you need and return the originals to me.”
“Do you need a receipt, or something?” Steve asked.
“No, you’ll only fuck me once,” Bud said.
Steve's daily runner.
Steve never did and always returned what he borrowed. As we wandered around his spacious, single-story shop, Steve pointed out bikes he restored and projects like a 1913 H-D Single. He recently built himself a beautiful 1940 Indian Scout with a modern Cycle Electric generator.
The last Crocker ever built.
Not too long ago, he restored the last Crocker ever built, number 310, built in 1942. Steve made the pipes and the mufflers. It was an interesting beast with a longer wheel base frame and a strange sprung contraption under the seat for suspension.
Cannonball competitor #100.
He had Chris Sommer’s 1915 Excelsior-Henderson. It ran in a recent Cannonball. Steve gets a kick out of each restoration challenge.
“It’s that bored mentality,” Steve said. “That’s why I like restoring old cars and bikes. Each one is different and poses different challenges.”
He’s worked with the same painter, Larry Fergureson, and pin-striper, Jim Ferren, for 25 years. We wandered past a 1901-02 Cleveland shaft-drive bicycle by Pope, then a Henderson four mini-Packard car, and an IMP Cycle Car powered by a Mac V-twin from 1915 and driven by two long leather belt chains.
He recently restored a 1914 Feilbach Limited for a friend, and during his restoration of the ’33 sedan delivery, he taught himself engine turning.
“It often won’t work around a specific mechanical process,” Steve said. “You just need to go for it by hand.”
He’s one of those guys who folks trust with their most valuable possessions. They turn it over and Steve will call them when it’s done. Each motorcycle has multiple stories, history, and restoration challenges, and no one handles them with the true spirit of an accomplished artisan as well as Steve.
In a sense, he is an artist capable of taking an old seemingly junk motorcycle and turning it into a Rolls Royce on two wheels. His art is even met with respect from antique bike judges who know and understand his over-restored model characteristics. They get it, respect his fine workmanship and celebrate each offering, rather than to scorn his accomplishment.