“When you paint something, how long does it last? A few years, and then it’s gone!” – Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard
I have to admit the first time I saw the classic “Von Dutch” logo was plastered across the front of a T-shirt being worn by one of the kids down at the mall, I figured it was just another fad like any other passing fashion designer. It was only by chance that I learned that Von Dutch was the pen name of Kenny Howard, one of the fathers of Kustom Kulture. In fact, it was while painting a sign for George Barris that Von Dutch used the Ks that help to identify Kustom Kulture.
Prior to the end of the 30s, it was fairly common for manufacturers to paint pin stripes on their cars. After GM decorated their last car in 1938, the technique was unused until Kenny Howard started adding small decorations to motorcycles that he was repairing. His boss then assigned him to detailing duty full time, and the legend of Von Dutch was born. It’s estimated that he applied pin stripes to thousands of motorcycles over the next few years before gaining additional fame detailing cars. While I love the work he did on cars, it’s the bikes that have my rapt attention. Here are five notable bikes that received the Von Dutch treatment.
1) The XAVW
The Von Dutch XAVW motorcycle is a perfect showcase for his talents. He took a Harley Davidson XA frame and wedged a Volkswagen motor into it. Once the bike was mechanically sound, he lavished it with attention, making it a thing of beauty. The bike was featured in magazines and sat in the shop window where people could stop to admire it. Then the bike vanished from the public eye. It was while filming American Pickers that Mike Wolfe got wind of the location and tracked down this classic bike. Unlike most of his picks, this has become part of his personal collection which he displays with pride at motorcycle gatherings and reminds people of how awesome Von Dutch truly was.
2) The Moto Guzzi Falcone
The 1959 Moto Guzzi Falcone was sculpted and formed over a five year period by Von Dutch with over 5,000 hours of work invested. He hand carved the molds used to shape the fender and headlight nacelle. Separate switches were applied to the back of each headlight at the front. A rich black paint was applied before receiving the caress of Von Dutches brush. The results of his efforts remain unique and won the 1971 Cycle World Show Best Street Custom award. Opinions are divided on whether or not the bike is attractive but there no denying it is one a kind.
3) The Triumph Tiger 650
Part of what makes Von Dutch’s bikes so desirable these days is how poorly many of them were treated. David Edwards wrote an in depth series about a Von Dutch customized 1957 Triumph Tiger 650 that he won in an auction for $3,350 a few years ago. The bike had been left outside and was in even worse shape than he thought when he placed his bid. The rod had snapped at some point in the past, cracking the crank case. The gas tank was rusty and all of the paint on the bike was brittle. David chose to restore the bike, keeping all of the hand painted pieces separate for display with the bike at shows. This allows him to enjoy riding it while preserving some of the original art work.
4) The Honda Scrambler 305
It’s always fun when someone uncovers something special like this 1968 Honda Scrambler 305. Don Ince of Vintage Viking spotted this bike for sale on Craigslist and noted the registration history listed Kenneth Howard as a previous owner. It also listed a Mr. James Douglas Morrison as the original owner. A little investigation confirmed this was the same James Morrison famous for being front man for the Doors. Don’s listing isn’t active any longer so it’s safe to say he sold it. I’m curious which lucky collector made the purchase and how much the bike sold for.
5) The Scott Super Squirrel
Looking at other celebrity bikes, there’s the 1929 Scott Super Squirrel previously owned by Steve McQueen. Even without the celebrity attachment, this was an impressive bike with advanced technology like water cooling and telescopic forks. Von Dutch was hired by McQueen to restore the bike. During the restoration, Von Dutch applied his famous pin striping and flying eyeball logo to the bike, not to mention he painted the wrong year on the front plate. McQueen gifted the bike back to Von Dutch prior to his death and changed hands a few more times before it was purchased by Tonny Sorensen, current owner of the Von Dutch brand.
Bonus) While I’m aware there are many more Von Dutch bikes out there worth mentioning I have to include Eddie Munster’s chain bike. The Munsters were already famous for driving around in Barris creations, Dragula and the Munster Coach. It was decided that Eddie should have his own ride based on the popular Schwinn Stingray. George drafted some plans and left the fabrication to his brother Skip. Skip enlisted the help of Von Dutch who welded together chain links, using the Stingray frame for reference. While the bike never ended up being used on the TV show, there are lots of stories of young Eddie riding around the lot on the bike when he wasn’t needed on camera.