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THE LAST CROCKER EVER BUILT

The Duesenberg of Motorcycles

By Steve Klein with images from the Bob T. Collection
8/31/2021


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The Crocker motorcycle has long been known as “The Holy Grail of Motorcycling” due to its rarity.
 
 
It also carries the nomenclature, “The Duesenberg of Motorcycles,” due to its hand built high-quality, and finally “America’s Superbike,” due to its performance. Three titles suggesting strongly that no other machine has reached such a high pinnacle of acclaim.



From 1896 – WWI, 200+ different motorcycle manufacturers existed in America, so how can only one brand accomplish this? This Crocker enthusiast, owner and rider can personally attest to its validity. To understand why one must first immerse themselves in the history of Albert Henry Crocker to begin to understand how this legacy came to exist.



Young Al Crocker was a very early participant in the fledgling moto-cycle industry in the preteen years of 1907-1909 where he raced moto-cycles manufactured by Aurora Automatic Machine Company, Aurora Illinois (Chicago area). Aurora Automatic Machine manufactured components for many of the earliest manufacturers of the day. They built frame forgings, castings, pedal cranks, wheels and motors.



When George Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom, Hendee Manufacturing, started building Indian Moto-Cycles in 1901, the components were all from Aurora. By 1906 Hedstrom Indian started building their own engine plant and Aurora then offered their own moto-cycle under the Thor brand. Al Crocker raced these Thor’s and was extremely hard to beat. So hard that Indian offered him a contract to race for them. Crocker simply declined and entered college to become an engineer.



After college Indian pursued Crocker knowing he was visionary, and that he knew how machines should be built to withstand the rigors of riding with no roads and increasingly higher speeds. Crocker loathed the idea of working in a controlled corporate environment so Indian offered him an Indian dealership in Denver in 1919 to keep him close to their brand.



Crocker later moved to Dodge City Kansas and operated a dealership there until moving back to California in 1928 to open an Indian dealership at 1346 Venice Boulevard. Throughout his Indian career he constantly tinkered, designed and built his own new ideas into working realities. Crocker was even distracted by Harley-Davidson for a brief period, hiring him to help them get back into the winner’s circle.



In 1931 Crocker finally focused on building his own Speedway motorcycle first utilizing an Indian 45 ci motor and later his own 500 cc single overhead valve design. He built approximately 40 such units before focusing on a road machine.



In 1936 Crocker unveiled Crocker #1X. It was a single front down tube rigid frame of his own design with an integral transmission forging that allowed the transmission to be bolted in place from two sides, with the engine also being a stress member, thusly creating a far more rigid driveline.



The single spring front forks, later twin spring forks, and motor were also of his proprietary design. The motor was a 45-degree, V-Twin with a bore of 3 ¼-inch and stroke of 3 5/8 inches utilizing thick cast iron walled cylinders and aluminum hemispherical heads. The cylinders were cast this thick to allow customers to order their machine from 61 ci. (1,000 cc) to as large as 72 ci. (1180 cc).


It is believed that between 17 and 25 of these original hemi-heads were built along with an additional 25 motors. The hemi-head motor produced 54 hp at 5,800 rpm. The aluminum hemi head however was short lived as the head bolt pattern created a torque cracking problem from the immense heat transmitted upward from the enormous cast iron cylinders. Crocker then designed the later vertical valve heads utilizing both lifter rods enclosed in one nickel plated tube per cylinder.



The world was forever changed as Crocker custom hand-built 70 machines from 1936-1942. Crocker told his buyers, “If anyone got beat by a stock Harley or Indian, he would buy the motorcycle back.” He was never forced to honor that claim.


“The Crocker was handcrafted in very limited numbers, exhibited superb performance, is a work of art in terms of design and is as stunning today to view as it was in 1936,” said Chuck Vernon, author Crocker Registry.



Each wheelbase was between 57 and 62 inches, with 59 inches being the most typical, the frame was low slung with a seating height of only 27 inches, and along with the cast aluminum gas tanks these machines looked fast standing still.



The period from 1936 –1942 was economically tough in America and for any business coming out of the Great Depression. Only very few consumers could save much money to spend on recreation. Crocker offered his buyers choices of paint color, engine size and offered additional parts polished or even chrome plated. Buyers were far more interested in performance than appearance, so most Crockers were somewhat understated with cadmium plating and only a few polished parts, chrome handlebars and a chrome exhaust system.



This writer and Crocker owner can personally attest to the high level of design and finish of these machines.


“They are simply beautiful to view in every detail throughout, but until one steps on the kicker and brings one to life, does one truly understand the brilliance and intense focus of Al Crocker,” said Don Whalen, founder of Sierra Madre Motorcycle Company.



The first 15 machines sported Brookland’s style mufflers and then Crocker designed his own more-free flowing unit with his own fishtail cut design.


At idle the machines are smooth and quiet. When rolling on the throttle a very distinctive bark arrives and under full throttle the resonance is authoritative and angry in tone-- The very sound that each Harley and Indian rider heard when losing a race to any Crocker.



By 1942 WWII was growing and the small team of 7 people at Crocker found themselves not able to obtain necessary raw materials to machine and fabricate motorcycles any longer. At this time Crocker switched his tiny Venice Blvd. machine shop to building parts for the war effort.


The Last Crocker, #42-61-310 was assembled and sold without fanfare. So how does the last Crocker built sport a #310 serial number when only 70 total machines were built? Al Crocker had no interest whatsoever in ever being a production motorcycle company, but he also wanted to create the illusion that he had built far more than 70 machines. Thusly he was well known for skipping large sequential sets of numbers on his machines. Number 310 is fully documented by The Crocker Registry as The Last Crocker.




It unbelievably left the Venice Blvd factory and remained very close to its birthplace its entire life. “When I purchased it, it was located less than 100 miles away,” said Steve Klein.

Ernie Skelton is credited with keeping Crocker’s legacy alive for more than 30 years when it likely would have slipped into obscurity. Crocker #310 was owned by Skelton and later Gordon Clark. Both Skelton and Clark each owned numerous Crocker’s as one could buy them in the ‘60s and ‘70s for $1,000 - $1,500. Today Crocker’s demand very high values as only 47 complete machines are documented and 41 are documented as being in running condition. Their values have steadily climbed to this day.



In 2014 Crocker #310 rolled into Steve Huntzinger’s shop for a full restoration. The machine was as complete as it left the factory. The frame was beautiful and untouched. Huntzinger stated the motor and transmission were in terrific condition for its age and he simply re-honed the cylinders while rebuilding the engine. The last set of Crocker factory footboard rubbers and handgrips were used.

Even the 4.00 x 18-inch tires are NOS (new old stock) 1942 Firestone Chevron pattern. The only new parts utilized in the restoration were four tall head bolts that Huntzinger had to machine since the original ones showed too much pitting.



The handlebars were made new, the front brake cable is remanufactured and of course the spark plugs are new. The Messenger seat rides on Al Crocker’s “cantilevered” seat bracket and pulls on two springs located horizontally inside the top rear frame section, instead of two compression springs as found below most solo saddles. The Crocker Registry states that only six machines received Crocker’s new seat bracket.

The scalloped paint job in White and Midnight Blue (almost black) is stunning. Huntzinger is well known as a premier restorationist, and his level of detail is never less than utterly amazing.



Recently I put oil and gas in #310. I set the choke full on, gave it two good prime kicks and backed the choke off two notches. I could tell that the machine was no longer a 61 ci. displacement. It kicked more like a 74. I turned the key on and when my foot hit the floor on the first kick, she roared to life and settled into a strong, yet quiet idle.

While getting settled in the saddle one’s mind wishes to quickly remind oneself that you are about to ride a $1M machine. I instead closed my eyes and pictured myself in the early 1940s in Southern California going out for an evening ride. I pictured the cars and hot rods that must have been on the road, the drive-ins and movie theatres and then I let out the heel-to-go clutch. The Last Crocker certainly did not disappoint.



Its heartbeat is indeed very strong, and its soul is undeniably of race pedigree. The machine rides smooth with its longer wheelbase and low seating style. It likes to corner hard and pulls like a train down straightaways. Mind you, I am only adding another 10 miles to the existing 14.9 on the brass Corbin speedometer, and high rpms were never attempted. With each mile the grin on my face and the warmth in my heart grew.



“To study the history of these great machines is very enjoyable. To visually study any Crocker in person is a rare event to be cherished. But to start and ride one is something that very few people in history have ever experienced. Thank you, Al Crocker, for your vision, persistence seeking perfection and contribution to The Wonderful Sport of Motorcycling,” said Steve Klein

Author/owner Steve Klein
Author/owner Steve Klein



Editor's Note: Steve Klein is owner of SierraMadreMotorcycleCompany.com and assists collectors and museums with valuation, acquisition and/or disposition of rare collectable motorcycles. He has been a riding enthusiast for 55 years and routinely supports, participates, competes and writes on vintage motorcycling events in North America.


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Reader Comments


Absolute thrill just to sit on this bike, would've loved to hear/see it run! Proud to have Steve Klein as a friend

Richard Fish
Canyon Lake, TX
Thursday, September 2, 2021
Editor Response You made his day.
--Bandit

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