There are two world-record holders on display in Headingley — both labours of love by local antique motorcycle enthusiasts.
One is a 1938 Indian Junior Scout, which broke the land speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats in 2005. The other is a 1948 Harley Davidson that set five land speed records from 2006 to 2011.
Ross Metcalfe of Headingley now owns these two beauties and other motorcycles on exhibit at Jim’s Vintage Garages at 5353 Portage Ave. in Headingley.
Now superintendent of Interlake School Division, Metcalfe said his addiction to motorcycles started at a young age. "I saw Steve McQueen jump the barbed wire fence in The Great
Escape," he recalls.
There’s a family history with motorized vehicles dating back to the early 1900s. Metcalfe said Manitoba licence plate #52 was owned by a relative.
Metcalfe said in 1913 there were approximately 1,800 motorcycles in Manitoba, as many farmers bought them as an alternative to using a horse and buggy, and prior to the widespread introduction of the automobile.
"That was the golden era," he said, adding many motorcycles ended up slowly rusting in farmyards.
He, his father, and mentor Colonel Bert Bentley scouted out farm auction sales for precious bits and pieces of old motorcycles. Eventually he bought a 1910 Harley Davidson, a 1941 Indian Sports Scout and a ‘42 Harley Davidson Canadian Army-issue motorcycle. The Harley was one of hundreds built for military use in the Second World War, and was available at a reasonable price in the 1960s.
At age 23, Metcalfe wanted to share his passion for old motorcycles, and founded the Antique Motorcycle Club in Manitoba in 1977. From 19 members, the club has grown to over 100.
"It’s all about the preservation and love of old motorcycles."
Metcalfe came across the Indian Scout in 2004 in Regina.
"It was a basket case," he said, and recalls almost having to shovel it piece-by-piece into his truck.
However he and three other Winnipeg enthusiasts, including skilled mechanic Ted Horton, formed a consortium after coming up with the idea of trying to race the Indian Scout with its 500cc, flathead engine at Bonneville. The existing speed record for this type of motorcycle was 74 miles per hour then.
Metcalfe said, because the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah is situated a mile above sea level, any engine loses about 20% of its normal power. That meant they had to aim to get their bike’s speed up to 100 mph under test conditions to see if it could reach 80 at Bonneville.
The partners tested the restored Junior Scout on a stretch of new highway, and it was able to reach 100.
Horton was the rider who managed to beat the standing record in September 2005. Metcalfe said he’s sorry he wasn’t able to be there, but his work duties didn’t allow that.
Bitten by the racing bug, Horton worked on the 1948 Harley, using handmade parts to create the body and engine. He was able to modify the engine to race in multiple categories over five years, and capture speed records for the bike’s class.
"This is the fastest flathead in the world," Metcalfe said proudly, adding, "It’s called the Ancient Lady."
When the movie The World’s Fastest Indian, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, was released in 2006, the film company contacted Metcalfe and his group and asked if they were willing to have the record-setting Junior Scout displayed in the theatre lobby for the Winnipeg premiere. They agreed, only asking for free movie passes for themselves and their wives in exchange.
Metcalfe continues to seek out parts for his projects and is on the board of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. But he said he prefers to leave out the politics and
concentrate on continuing to enjoy motorcycles.
"I don’t want to ruin my hobby," he added.