A big gang of Outlaws showed up February 5 for a very special First Sunday outing, a first-hand tour of Alan Travis’ spectacular garage filled with antique cars and motorcycles dating back to the very dawn of motoring.
Travis shared with us the stories of each of his ancient vehicles, and about his own remarkable exploits driving and riding them on cross-country tours, competitive rallies, even track days. Each of his more-than-century-old vehicles is a piece of kinetic artwork, and his collection of antique bits and pieces, photos, posters, headlights, victrolas and assorted automobilia is stunningly impressive.
Outside in a large open area behind the Travis’ Scottsdale home, our 356s and a couple of 911s and 912s were parked, numbering 20 in all. About 30 people attended the tour, which Travis often presents to various groups as part of his passion for educating people about early cars and motorcycles. Ours was an especially large group, apparently.
The fact that Travis restores and maintains his vehicles with his own hands is also impressive, as is his vast store of knowledge and understanding of how these oldsters are put together. As an engineer, he pointed out, whatever arcane parts he can’t find, he can fabricate; his well-equipped workshop has turned out many of his cars’ and bikes’ mechanical essentials.
Among his motorized gems is a 1913 Bugatti Type 22 Torpedo – the oldest operating Bugatti sports car in the US and possibly the world – an 1897 French racing tricycle, a grand-looking 1907 Renault and a sporty 1898 JeanPerrin runabout.
These cars are driven, Travis noted, with him and wife Mary Travis on board in rallies and events, and dressed in period costumes. He has driven or ridden (and won) the cross-country Great Race in the US. He rode the 1897 trike and, accompanied by Mary, drove his 1898 JeanPerrin in the iconic London to Brighton road rally for ancient vehicles.
Of note was his tale of riding his 1914 Indian board-track racer cross-country. This competition machine is the epitome of basic, with direct drive from the engine to the rear wheel, with no gearbox, no clutch and no brakes. To get started, you pedal until the engine catches, then push it off its center stand and ride off. To stop, you shut off the engine and let compression do the rest.
Somehow, Travis managed to ride this contraption from coast to coast. Which was a singular feat, he noted.
“Nobody has even crossed the United States on a board-track motorcycle, and nobody will ever do it again.”
The point to all this difficult and hazardous manhandling of ancient machines is obvious, he said. It has to do with “earning the right to own” them. In Travis’ world, you don’t truly possess these relics until you have been elbow deep in their working parts and piloted them on long journeys.
Travis calls fine old vehicles “essence cars,” in which you experience the essence of their mechanical beings as you drive them, feeling each beat of their pistons, their meshing gears and their connection with the road. He generously admitted our old 356 Porsches to the ranks of essence cars.
-- Bob Golfen