1937 Crocker V-Twin
Engine no. 37-61-24
A legend among American motorcycles, the Crocker has assumed almost mythic status since the last one left the Los Angeles factory 70 years ago. Only 60-or-so twin-cylinder Crocker street bikes were ever made, each one unique, and today these hand-built masterpieces are among the most collectible motorcycles of all time.
A successful enduro racer on Thor motorcycles, Albert G Crocker took over the Denver Indian agency in 1913. He moved on to manage the Indian branch office in Kansas City before finally settling in Los Angeles, California in 1928 as agent for the Springfield manufacturer. Al Crocker moved into motorcycle manufacture in stages, starting out in 1931 making speedway frames to accept the 45ci (750cc) Indian Scout v-twin engine. An overhead-valve conversion kit for the 30.5ci (500cc) Scout soon followed, but after more than a year of competition, during which the v-twin speedway racer achieved a measure of success, Crocker was forced to recognized that a single-cylinder engine made more sense for dirt use.
Introduced in November 1933, the speedway single was the first all-Crocker motorcycle. Bearing a passing resemblance to the British Rudge, the Crocker speedway motor proved itself superior to the Harley-Davidson CAC but was slightly down on power when compared to that offered by J A Prestwich, whose engines would dominate the sport for the next three decades. After 40-50 speedway Crockers had been built, the project was abandoned and Al Crocker moved onto fulfill another of his ambitions: the construction of a class-leading roadster.
In keeping with the mainstream American tradition, this new model had to be a v-twin, and Crocker's effort - powered by a 45-degree unit displacing 61ci (1,000cc) - was duly presented to the motorcycling public early in 1936. At the time of its introduction, the Crocker was the only American street twin with overhead valves, although unbeknown to Al Crocker the OHV Harley-Davidson 'Knucklehead' was only a few months from production.
The first five engines were built with exposed valves inclined at 90 degrees in a hemispherical combustion chamber the classic 'hemi' design before Crocker opted for the simpler arrangement of enclosed parallel valves for the remainder. Other advanced features of the Crocker included a cast-aluminium gas tank and constant-mesh transmission, although once again H-D was hot on Crocker's heels with its own constant-mesh 'box. Faced with competition from Harley-Davidson's newly introduced overhead-valve Knucklehead, Crocker responded with ever-larger engines. Crocker cylinders were thick enough to tolerate a considerable amount of over-boring, and the flexibility of small-scale, hand-built manufacture enabled Crocker to offer engines to customer specification in capacities up to (and sometimes beyond) 72ci (1,180cc). Al Crocker is known to have missed out serial numbers, which explains why some machines have three-digit numbers yet estimates of total production are in the 50-60 range.
Unlike George Brough in England, who relied on proprietary components, albeit of the highest quality, to produce his Brough Superiors, Crocker built almost everything in house, including carburetors, with only items such as magnetos, spark plugs, wheel rims, tires and other accessories being bought in. But unlike George Brough, who had few serious rivals and whose exclusive products commanded a commensurately inflated price, Al Crocker was forced to compete with the much larger Harley-Davidson and Indian. The result was a crippling loss on every machine sold. Al Crocker's last throw of the dice was the 'Scootabout', a stylish motor scooter, around 100-or-so of which were sold before Crocker finally pulled the plug on motorcycle production in 1941. The Crocker star might have burned but briefly, but during the late 1930s it was by far the brightest in the American motorcycling universe.
Equipped with coil ignition rather than the more common magneto, the Crocker 'Big Tank' twin offered here was purchased at a Chicago auction in September 2000, at which time it was stated that Mike Lange had worked on the engine's restoration. Since acquisition the Crocker has been on display in the vendor's private museum in the UK. The previous owner was Thomas M Baer of Janesville, Wisconsin, who had acquired it from fellow Janesville resident, Donald B Tucker (see old Wisconsin Certificate of Title on file). Accompanying documentation consists of the aforementioned Title, operating instructions and various papers relating to its purchase in September 2000, including the Bill of Sale. It should be noted that a defective valve has caused the rear tire to deflate and that the machine, which is sold strictly as viewed, will require further re-commissioning before returning to the road following its lengthy sojourn on static display.
With only 50-60 examples built, they don't come any rarer or more desirable than the Crocker 'Big Tank' twin, of which this has to be one of the finest examples currently available.
- Please note that the title for this motorcycle is in transit.