A Unique Motorcycle Collection in Southern California Wine Country

On a recent road trip to Southern California, we stopped in the small town of Solvang, in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley wine country, north of Santa Barbara. Nature’s beautiful November colors were evident everywhere we looked. Perfect riding weather! Although Solvang, which translates to “sunny fields”, is one of the most visited tourist destinations in America for its Danish history, there is a special treat for motorcycle enthusiasts. Located at 320 Alisal Road is the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum . . . “where the past comes to life.”

Virgil Elings, age 83, is the collector and owner of rare motorcycles dating from 1903 through 2001. Virgil is originally from Des Moines, Iowa and is well known in Santa Barbara for his generous charitable contributions to youth athletics. Virgil earned his PhD in physics from MIT in 1966 and for the next 20 years he was a member of the physics department at the University of Santa Barbara. In 1987, he cofounded Digital Instruments which created scanning probe microscopes. He began vintage racing with his sons, Jeff and Mike, in 1989. His interest in mechanical engineering has inspired his collection of motorcycles. Opened in 2000, over 100 examples of rare motorcycles are housed at the museum and others are rotated in and out of the display.

Geoff and I happened to drop by the museum on a Friday morning and found Daniel Brierton showing another couple around the bikes. He was kind enough to let us in, to look around and take photos of the collection. Admission was only $10 per person, which was truly a bargain for three hours of enjoyment. Daniel is friendly and enthusiastic about Vigil’s collection. Author Pat Hahn along with photographer Tom Loeser used Virgil’s collection to create a book titled “The Art of Speed Classic Motorcycles”. We picked up a copy as our souvenir from our trip to Solvang. We hope that you enjoy the following photos taken at the museum and consider adding the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum to your list of road trips.

1975 Harley-Davidson XR750.  The XR750 was the AMA flat track machine of choice.  At 748cc it produced 82 HP at 7,700 RPM with twin 36mm carburetors.  They hooked up better than British and Japanese vertical twins because of their single-pin crankshaft and natural close firing order V-Twin design.  Harley-Davidson produced the original big bang motor.  At the time a rear brake was optional for Mile and ½ Mile competition, as the AMA had changed their rules allowing rear brakes.

A race fan’s dream view.  Who hasn’t dreamed of this view on a TZ750, in 6th gear with the tach reaching 10,000RPM, the competition far behind and the checkered flag quickly approaching?  This is a shot from behind the windscreen of the Yamaha TZ750 A.

1973 Yamaha TZ700 A.  Not sure about this one.  In 1973 the TZ700 A (actually always referred to as the TZ750) was 694cc’s that produced 90 HP at 10,500 RPM.  In 1974, the TZ750 B was enlarged to 747cc’s producing 105 HP at 10,500 RPM.  No matter the case, this is a beautiful example of the privateer’s dream production racer.  Giacomo Agostini signed the fuel tank when he visited the Museum.

The ultimate motorcycle crate motor.  This is an Indian Scout 45 ci (500cc actually 471cc) purchased by Lawrence “Pete” Peterson for a project, after returning from WW II.  Pete never got around to using the engine, and it sat in its original crate for more than 70 years.  It was purchased in 2018, still in its crate.  The engine was inspected and shows that it has never been started, not even at the factory after assembly.  It included the generator, generator sprocket and kickstarter.

1913 Thor boardtrack racer.  This is a real un-restored barn find, with the original friction tape on the handlebars.  This bike was raced by a grandfather, son, and grandson.  There is no rider operated throttle opening. It’s closed or wide open.

1953 NSU Rennmax 250 with Dolphin Fairing.  This bike won the 1953 French Grand Prix with Werner Haus at the controls.  The NSU Rennmax is powered by an Air-cooled, DOHC parallel twin 247 cc engine creating 31 HP.  The “Snout” was developed to add more engine cooling and better aerodynamics, after the FIM no longer required front fenders.  The fairing, fuel tank, and seat are hand formed aluminum.  This is NSU Rennmax 250 serial number 6.

1963 Honda RC93 Production Racer.  The RC93 is an Air-cooled DOHC 125cc parallel twin with 4 valves per cylinder, producing 14.5 HP at 12,000 RPM and reached 100 MPH, they sold for $1,400 and were produced in 1962 and 1963.

1922 Megola.  The concept came about because many World War I rotary airplane engines rotated with the propeller.  This motorcycle has a 5-cylinder 640cc Air-cooled rotary engine mounted in the front wheel.  The designers thought that they had solved the over-heating problems of multi-cylinder air-cooled motorcycle engines.  The wheel spokes are mounted to the engine case.  Over 2,000 of these bikes were produced.

1966 Honda RC181.  This is the Honda factory bike Mike Hailwood rode in the 1966-68 500cc Grand Prix’s and the 1966 Isle of Man TT.  Only three RC181 engines were built, the other two are in the Honda Collection Hall at Motegi, Tochigi, Japan.  This bike has the frame that was specifically built for Mike “The Bike” Hailwood.

Vincent Series C Black Lightning.  Could this be the origins of the first Yamaha “Monocross” single shock rear suspension?

1910 FN.  Pedal start, no clutch, shaft drive, air-cooled, in-line 4-cylinder 498cc, producing 5 HP.  The 1910 FN weighed about 165 pounds and had a top speed of about 40 MPH.

Ferrari V-12.  This precision miniature 4-cycle V-12 engine starts and runs on gasoline.  We only wish we could have heard it run.  There are so many items of interest at Virgil Elings’ Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum.

1969 Moto Villa “Grand Prix” 250 Racer.  The 250 G.P. is a prototype of two 125cc twins, creating a 250cc V-Four on a single crankshaft.  It is an air-cooled, 4 carburetor rotary disc valve, 2 stroke with a 6-speed transmission.

1971 Kawasaki 500cc triple H1-R.  Huge twin double-leading shoe drum brakes, equal very short wheel spokes.  The 250mm (9 27/32”) brakes are laced to an 18 inch Akront aluminum front wheel.  The history of this bike is not confirmed, but it is said to have been raced by Kawasaki factory rider Yvon Duhamel (R.I.P. 17 August 2021).

1974 Ducati 750 Sport.  The 750 Sport 90-degree L-Twin uses bevel gears to drive the camshafts and produced 62 HP at 8,200 RPM.  The 750 Super Sport had the famous Fabio Taglioni designed Desmodromic valve system, where the valves were mechanically opened and closed.  Only 401 Ducati 750 Sports were built.

1988 Norton Classic.  The Norton Classic used a twin rotor Wankel engine.  100 Norton Classics were built, this is serial number 100.  The odometer shows 51 miles.

1955 NSU Sportmax 250.  This is the only street bike based Grand Prix racer to win a World Championship.  This Sportmax 250 raced at Daytona Speedway in 1961 with Luis Giron at the controls.  It raced in the 250 class and finished third behind a Honda factory 4-cylinder and Mike Hailwood on a Mondial.  The fairing on the bike is the original hand formed aluminum “Dustbin” fairing.

This a 1995 Britten V1000, 1 of 10 ever built.  This is also 1 of 1, that was never raced and was first un-crated in 2004.  It has a 999cc water-cooled, 4 valves per cylinder, Quad Cam V-Twin producing 166 HP at 11,800 RPM and weighs only 303.6 pounds.  The Britten V1000 has a top speed of 188 MPH.  Britten motorcycles were hand built by John Britten (R.I.P. 5 September 1995 at age 45) and a small team in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The collection is truly one-of-a-kind. There are motorcycles in this museum that we had never seen before. And to think we happened upon it via a brochure in our hotel lobby. We obviously love to photograph motorcycle racing, and this collection leans toward that, given the Elings’ long participation in vintage racing. So many fascinating, one-off bikes here. This is a worthy day trip out of Los Angeles, especially through such beautiful country, in the middle of a wonderful little town as well. A hidden gem we are happy to shed some light on.

Geoff & Barb Nickless

For more info, check them out here:

Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum

Ed.- Check out Geoff & Barb’s handiwork here:

Nickless Photos

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  1. Robert Harbeck

    Great Museum, really a diverse gathering of motorcycles. Totally enjoyed the place.

  2. Robert Kyes

    Tried to go twice, both times closed. Next time for sure.


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