1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114

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Lot 155
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin
Engine no. 40-61-114

US$ 495,000 - 595,000
£ 370,000 - 440,000
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin
Engine no. 40-61-114
• Formerly owned by Crocker employee Elmo Looper
• From the last two years of Crocker motorcycle production
• One of fewer than 30 Big Tanks built
• Engine and transmission overhaul by Mike Lange

It's been almost 80 years since Al Crocker's last V-twin roadster left the factory on Venice Blvd. in East Los Angeles. In the intervening decades, the brand's legend has only grown – today the Crocker is a bonafide blue-chip cult bike, sought after by enthusiasts worldwide, a must-have addition to any collection of classic American motorcycles. Of the 100 highest selling motorcycles sold at auction in recent years, Crockers are over-represented with 15 bikes on the list.

Six-figure asking prices did not always accompany Crockers. The current owner has researched this 1940 Big Tank, tracing its history back to the 1950s and an L.A. salvage yard rather ingloriously named Jungle Jim's, where the bike traded hands after an owner's mishap for a measly $50. Further delving into the Crocker's provenance unearthed a previous owner, Elmo Looper, who it turns out was an important player in the postwar history of the brand, known as "Mr. Crocker" to Southern California's hot-rod motorcycle community. Renowned for his skills as a machinist, and an especially expert cam grinder, Looper actually worked for Crocker during the war when the factory was turned over to production of parts for nearby Douglas Aircraft. With the coming of peace, Crocker decided to forego motorcycles and concentrate on industrial manufacturing, a far more profitable venture. Looper was in place to acquire the remaining V-twin parts inventory and tooling.

A member of the 13 Rebels motorcycle club, period photos show Looper aboard his Crocker looking very much the real-life counterpart to Brando's "Wild One" biker. Another snapshot shows the bike at a speed run on a SoCal dry lake bed. Besides riding and racing Crockers, Looper undertook rebuilds for customers, and supplied others with parts and advice to keep their bikes on the road. Of the remaining Crockers in those postwar years, very few weren't influenced by Looper in one way or another. One suspects, however, that the satisfaction of keeping the Crocker flame alive was not accompanied by a bulging bank account, so when Looper's machinist skills were increasingly called upon to set up printing presses, that's the direction he went. His Crocker was put up for sale.

The first buyer, a neophyte rider, forked over the $135 asking price but soon crashed the Crocker in the rain and swore off motorcycles forever, hence the trip to the scrappers where he was happy to take $50 for the wreck and be on his way. Over the next 50 years the Crocker found itself with a series of new owners, each with good intentions of bringing the bike back to life but none willing or able to take on the considerable task of restoration. The bike made its way from sunny California to Long Island on the East Coast and eventually to Maryland, where in 2004 the current care-taker acquired the parts and undertook a rebuild that would consume the next 15 years.

In tackling the work, two overriding precepts were adhered to: 1) Replacement parts, whether restored original or NOS, were chosen for their extreme correctness; and 2) only skilled artisans would lay hands on the Crocker. A list of those involved reads like a "Who's Who" among Crocker specialists. In the past Buchannan's Frame Shop had spliced two frames together to come up with a straight-and-true foundation for the project, and a replica fork assembly commissioned from Gordon Salisbury was attached. Mike Lange rebuilt the engine and gearbox, using Carrillo connecting rods in the former and NOS gears in the latter. A cast-aluminum toolbox, complete with inset Crocker logo, is from a batch of 50 made by Richard Morris using original blueprints. So too, the lovely cast-aluminum gas/oil tanks are reproduction from Crocker Toronto. Restoration ace Steve Huntzinger crafted the gas and oil caps. Chuck Vogel supplied the repop fenders that dropped perfectly into place. Chuck Vernon, Daniel Statnekov and Mike Madden, among others, chipped in with various NOS parts.

Having logged 200-plus break-in miles on the Crocker, the current owner has decided it's time for other projects and is offering the bike for sale. He informs us that the buyer will need to chase a couple of niggles, namely a minor top-end oil leak and a balky clutch that needs attention. Likewise the paint job has a matte finish intended to replicate that of a used machine, so the new owner may want to repaint to concours standards. Some chrome replating may also be in order.

In his life Albert G. Crocker was a degreed engineer, a racer, an Indian dealer, a producer of ohv conversion kits for flatheads and a maker of speedway racers, but he will always be remembered as the man responsible for a great American motorcycle, a V-twin hot rod so potent he promised to refund the purchase price if ever one of his machines was outrun by an Indian or Harley¬ – and never had to make good on the offer. After way too long in parts hidden behind closed doors, this 1940 Big Tank is back together and on the road again, a welcome addition to the Crocker registry.

Footnotes

  • As with all Lots in the Sale, this Lot is sold 'as is/where is' and Bidders must satisfy themselves as to the provenance, condition, age, completeness and originality prior to bidding.
Contacts
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin Engine no. 40-61-114
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