Leaving New Orleans,we headed north out of Louisiana, through Mississippi and then into Alabama to the site of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum which is located about halfway between the city of Birmingham and the Talladega racetrack. As we drove north, the vegetation changed from tropical trees, live oaks, the occasional banana and palm tree, to being more of a mixed, almost temperate forest and the sugar cane gave way to cotton fields. The swamps gave way to rolling hills and obviously we were no longer at sea level.
The Barber collection of vintage motorcycles is counted as being the largest in the world, and one of its several claims to fame is that 99% of the bikes can be made to run within an hour. That would likely not be true of the single example of the Suzuki GT750 they had as it was incomplete, and not really ‘correct’ which was a bit disappointing. By way of compensation, the other bikes that were on display were beautiful and there were many I’d only ever read about: Munch Mammoth, Kawasaki 1300 6 cylinder, Benelli 750 Sei, Allen Millyard’s V8, 1300 cc Kawasaki etc. It’s almost too much to grasp as there is something like 1200 machines in the collection ! I could probably have stayed there for days, but we did have a firm appointment for dinner that evening with some friends so eventually, and regretfully we had to leave. There is an annual swap meet and auction held at the facility in October and I had hoped to attend this year, but that just didn’t work out from a scheduling perspective, however I am seriously thinking of going next year. And you can be assured if I do, that I will be spending much more time in the museum – highly recommended.
The next day, we went to meet Jess Stockwell the new owner of a company called Rotary Recycle in a little town called Tullahoma in Tennessee. On the way there we drove by the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, but we didn’t stop – if you can believe it, it is located in a ‘dry’ county (has been so since prohibition) – so there are no sales of alcoholic beverages, and no tasting on the tour ! You have to drive to the next county to buy a bottle of JD – weird.
Rotary Recycle was started by Sam Costanzo who bought the remaining RE5 stock and spares from Suzuki when Suzuki decided to give up on the rotary (Wankel) engined RE5 motorcycle that they produced in 1975 and 1976. He also bought up whatever parts and pieces he could track down for the Hercules W-2000 rotary engined bike, built by Sachs/DKW in 1974/1975. With Sam’s retirement, the business was sold to Jess who has relocated the stock and parts to the new warehouse location he has put together in Tullahoma. The business has been open at the new location for about 6 weeks and the web site is still a bit rough, but hopefully things will come together in the next short while.
Walking through the warehouse (visits are by appointment only), I was amazed at the amount of material on hand as well as the number of certified, used engines and parts bikes on hand for both the Suzuki RE5 and Hercules W-2000. It is an immense collection – most probably the largest gathering of rotary engined motorcycles on the globe, and I really hope Jess can make a go of it as it would be a huge loss to the RE5/W2000 owner community if he doesn’t. If you own one of these rotary engined motorcycles, give him a call.
Next stop – the National Quilt Museum !