The 34th Annual GP Sidecar Rally in Southern California
story and photography by Paul Garson
Don’t start dusting off your roadracing leathers, the GP in the title above refers to Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, perennial home to the L.A. Zoo and Griffith Park Observatory.
Both the Zoo and the Observatory have been “under renovation” it seems since Noah dropped off the animals and Percival Lowell thought he saw canals on Mars. Well, maybe not that long, but the Orangutans now have a bigger, better equipped playground than my kid’s school and the Observatory will finally get some new music to replace Pink Floyd for its Saturday night laser light show. Call it progress.
However, there’s been no interruption to the annual flow of sidehack fans spinning their three wheels toward the semi-lush Crystal Springs picnic area of Griffith Park, where for some 34 years people wearing “Got Hack?” T-shirts have been trundling around on motorcycles with sidecars, aka sidehacks, aka flying chairs. All flavors of sidecars have made an appearance, including those designed and manufactured in Britain, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Russia and China, as well as in the United States.
Coordinated as usual by its founding father, Doug Bingham, aka Mr. Sidecar, aka owner of Sidestrider Inc., this year’s event went off the deep end. Although your usual sidecar suspects showed up, one blew the previous shows out of the water…literally. Case in point, the “boatcar” built by antique auto and aviation fabricator Bob Foster of Green Valley, California. Foster calls himself The Alloy Cowboy. He rides roughshod over some semi-bizarre but always beautifully executed aluminum marvels, everything from aircraft-riveted lunch boxes to all-alloy Land Speed Record prototype cars, to the “boathack” seen on page 102 attached to Les Gunnerson’s 1935 BSA. Foster was still wrenching on the “boat” the night before the event, but all was in place including the beautifully polished 1930s era 2.5-horsepower outboard motor. Its foldable, flip-down/ flip-up design was just the right powerplant for the sidecar’s dual in-and-out of water roles. Constructed by Foster from mahogany, the boatcar echoes the style of the classic ’30s speedboats, and already has additional customers signing up with Foster, who’s about to launch a version powered by an inboard motor. (Foster also makes alloy motorcycle body parts including gas tanks—e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Another handmade sidecar, this one fashioned from red oak and Baltic birch, was found attached to a meticulously restored 1948 Bonneville. “I bought the bike for myself for my 50th birthday present,” says its owner Chris Morin, who then proceeded to restore it piece by piece and then build the sidecar to boot. More in keeping with the concept of a “flying chair,” Morin’s design seems to have a bit of the chariot style going for it. Ample storage space, accessed through a rear door panel, increases the utility of the sidecar.
A small herd of splendidly appointed BMWs under the banner of the local Venice, California, vintage BMW club, was grouped together under some shade trees. Among them was architect Jamie Ehrenclou’s “hybrid” combo that featured a 1960’s /2 frame with a transplanted, larger displacement 900cc R90/6 engine. The sidecar was also something special; in fact, it was a rare, factory-made BMW “Spezial” model. The bike’s gas tank, literally its centerpiece, is an aftermarket legend in its own vintage right, an eight-gallon Heinrich, the massive unit summing up the word “Teutonic.” Not to be confused with the other large-capacity Hoske tank, both can set you back four figures, and that’s not counting paint.
Fast forward to the future of sidecars. We chanced upon Brad Byrom and son Casey with their four-legged pal Trek, who had ridden from Oceanside, California, in their 2003 Suzuki Burgman 650cc scooter harnessed to a color-matched Velorex sidecar, the combo put together for Brad by Doug Bingham. Keep in mind that the Burgman was touted as the “world’s largest motorscooter” when it debuted and can well handle a sidecar. But you don’t have to be massive to have tons of sidecar fun with a scooter. Check out Hector Moreno’s petite 125cc 1959 Vespa with matching 1957 Sears sidecar. While no freeway flyer, Moreno says it’s built for fun and has also starred in a couple music videos.
Motorcycle rigs also come “Fast and Furious,” the fast example being Karen Briefer’s Yamaha V-Max-ified sidecar set-up. The custom-built fully enclosed “car” is modeled after her hometown Bakersfield’s fire department and serves as a mini-camper. The award for most “furious” entry at this year’s GP Sidecar Rally was Tony Messinger’s 1942 German World War II military issue Zundapp with “from the factory” Steib sidecar. The combo was built for service in the Wehrmacht and abandoned in Greece after the end of war. It was recently rescued by Messinger, who added to its historical ambiance by dressing in the uniform of an Afrika Korp Luftwaffe officer. Oddly enough, while he lives in Orange County, California, where he runs a fitness gym, Messinger hails from England, his predecessors probably riding BSAs and Enfields rather than Zundapps. But with the MG 40 mounted on the sidecar, no one was quibbling.
Asked for his assessment of this year’s event, organizer Doug Bingham said, “People kept telling me it was an even larger turnout than last year, and we also had an overflow parking lot full of non-sidecar, solo riders who joined in as well, motorcycles from one end of the park to the other. Now next year’s event will be our 35th, so that should raise the bar again.”
Come see how high that bar really is—the event is scheduled for October 2006. For more information about the upcoming rally or sidecaring in general, log onto www.sidestrider.com; call (818) 780-5542; or e-mail email@example.com.
[From the May 2006 issue of Rider]