If there’s one thing I love about my job, it’s picking the brains of the diverse handful of people that devote years of passion to a bike build. A bike that has THAT much love and attention showered on her is guaranteed to carry her builder’s personality – and this recent build is no different.
Meet Barry Weiss.
You might know him from the hit show “Storage Wars,” where The Collector always manages to get his skeleton-gloved hands on a valuable antique and THE most indestructible eyeglasses we have seen to date.
The man also shows off an incredible enthusiasm and attention to detail in bike builds – and his recent Art Deco-inspired project is turning quite a few heads, too, adding ‘Best British Bike’ at Born Free and The Quail’s ‘first year inaugural ‘Arlen Ness Memorial Award’ (for style and flow, awarded by Roland Sands) to her portfolio.
…and all with a prosthetic eyeball glued under the headlight and a devilishly ‘toothy’ grill for zhuzh.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your history with motorbikes.
My name is Barry Weiss and I used to be a top-rated international male escort in the eighties.
Always had a love for bikes, always will. It started when I was about 11 or 12 years old, since then, I’ve raced in Motocross, in the desert in the sixties…I’ve done all kinds of stuff.
Unfortunately, I was involved in a really bad accident about four years ago. Somebody pulled in front of me, I went down; afterwards, it was about five months in the hospital to learn how to walk again. I’ve got so much metal in my body now that I can’t really turn my neck…I literally can’t even throw a leg over a bike ‘cause one leg has so much metal in it, haha!
You know, I might not be able to ride anymore, but that doesn’t diminish my love for motorcycles – and I might have come a centimeter away from a wheelchair, but I’m not in one yet, right?
Ultimately I’m grateful.
What are your thoughts on new tech for bikes – things like radar sensitivity and live-time hazard warnings?
I mean, anything that can improve the safety of a rider would be helpful – especially when a motorcycle is amongst cars.
The real problem is that some of these accidents can go down so quickly in real time that, at the end of the day, all the radar on the world won’t be able to help you, you know?
Is there a motorcycle you’d be willing to trade your whole collection for, concept or otherwise?
…Yeah, actually. Well…
Yes and no.
I’ve always been a fan of the original Brough Superior, the 1000. I’ve always loved Broughs…Broughs and Vincents.
I’ll leave it at that.
Tell us about the bike you just finished – Year, make, model?
The year of 1963: The Triumph Thunderbird.
Was there a specific reason you chose this bike, and how long did the build take?
Oh, I specifically chose the Thunderbird because it reminded me of when I was a kid working for Triumph.
After I acquired the Thunderbird stock, I chipped away at it with an idea of what I wanted to do…really, the most important thing was that it needed to be seamless.
As for how long the build took, it only took about five years, haha…well, I’m being a bit facetious when I say only five years. I rode the bike quite a bit before I tore the thing down, but then I got in that car accident.
Three and a half years went by where the thing didn’t get touched, so doing the math…about a year, year and a half.
What was your inspiration and process for this design?
Inspiration was Art Deco. I wanted it to look like a concept motorcycle made by a manufacturer in the 1960s. Inspiration…a ‘30s Bugatti, Rolls Royce Phantom, maybe a Silver Ghost… a bike that starts at the front with that fender and then it just has that effect of a classy salon car, if you will.
As for my design process…had an illustrator, and my guy would get out a cocktail napkin, we’d park at a bar for about two hours and I’d talk and he’d draw.
It may not seem like much, but it was exactly what this build needed to come to life.
For the record, I want make this clear: I’m not a builder. I’m just a guy with ideas. I know what I want it to look like, and I’m fortunate to personally know a lot of the craftsman that were involved in the build.
So many things on this bike are subtle changes, but all those subtleties add up, you know?
I’ll bet you 90% of the people that look at this bike wouldn’t even notice the smaller details, but the other 10%…those are the ones that I’ve always tried to cater to.
Tell us a bit more about what was done to the bike.
Oh, it’s a lot, haha!
Anything silvery that you see – literally everything – is nickel-plated. Nickel-plating is a huge process, since even small things like brushed nickel trim mean you have to nickel-plate the entire part, then repaint it and leave the edges exposed to get that nickel trim to show.
There was a lot of nickel plating, okay? Haha…
Cost me an arm and a leg to get it all done, but in the end, worth it.
The engine had performance modifications. It was a 650cc from the factory, but there was a kit made in England that’s been out for years – called a Morgo kit – that raised the bike’s power to 750cc.
We even had the bike on a dyno; it makes a legitimate 67hp at the rear wheel, with a nickeled belt drive (from a chain drive, what it originally came with) and an aftermarket clutch and everything.
The case itself was particularly tough; there was a lot of stuff done to the case before we even drilled the hole in it to install the new clutch. There was a line where the angle of the way it went up on the case originally didn’t match the speed lines.
Oh, and we did some work to the engine cylinder head, too; the cooling fins were machined off the rocker cases (don’t worry, it doesn’t overheat on us) – not an easy job, to say the least.
Chassis bike frame. Did a little bit of alterations on it, but nothing big worth mentioning. I guess we did some hacking on the back – after all, the most important thing on any motorcycle is the initial stance.
Naturally, the bodywork came next. The rear fender side panels – that’s all aluminum, one piece. We got rid of the original steel fender, the bracketry, the license plate holder and the exhaust pipes, which in the end I’d say saved us north of 50 pounds.
Shrouding was a big priority; I wanted to make the bike look streamlined, and to do that I had to cover up the ugly bits like the wiring and stuff. There’s a ton of shrouding, all hand-crafted and placed to keep the bike’s lines flowing in the same direction.
Let’s go from the front to the back, starting with the left side.
Left Side: Front to Rear
Of course we had to do a custom front fender light.
See the cap-off at the bottom of the forks? I had those caps fabricated to cover up the axles and the bolts, and at the bottom of that same fork tube is a shroud. We altered a 1950s phantom front fender line from a fifties bicycle, and then my friend completely made the grill that sits inside of it from scratch.
That thing right under the headlight? It’s an all-seeing masonic eye – a real glass prosthetic eyeball from the 1920s. That eyeball is a hundred years old, older than the bike! Haha.
My buddy Jeff Decker is a pretty famous motorcycle sculptor – he has his sculptures in front of the Harley Davidson factory in Pennsylvania, and he made the eye originally as a limited run belt buckle.
When I decided to use the eye for the Thunderbird, he cast the bronze triangle behind it and stuff. You know, Some people are creeped out by it, think I’m into a cult or something, but I’m like hey, you’re reading too much into this! You’re overthinking it!
I wanted an eyeball, I got an eyeball. End of story.
Ah, I get a kick out of it every time.
The peak of the bike’s head was custom; I wanted to make the head, headlamp and nacelle (where the speedometer is housed and all that stuff) look more elongated, and I wanted any wires all covered up to keep the look seamless. That also meant ditching the rubber bits coming out of the handlebars at the head, and replacing them with metal.
As for the gas tank, she was a biggie. We purposely extended the tank in the front, and it goes further than a stock tank so that it can cover up a lot of the front of the frame. It also had to be nickel-plated, and we only used a little bit of the nickel showing, too; sure, the rest is black, but you gotta plate the whole thing just to get that tiny bit of nickel.
On top of the gas tank is a badge, right at the center; I had my jeweller make that badge, so it’s a one-of-a-kind homage to the bike’s ancestry and the Art Deco era.
The scallop that’s on the outside of the gas tank (where your knees go)? Hand-crafted. There’s also another shroud at the top where the motor bolts on the frame (where the nuts and bolts would be), so now the visuals are coming together better.
Footpegs are one-off, exhaust pipes are one off, complete with the ‘bass mouth’ design.
On to rolling duty: The wheels.
Tires were originally a Dunlop street unit, then they were made into slicks. Tires like this aren’t available in that size wheel and they never will be, so it’s the only way to have smooth tires on a ‘63 Thunderbird.
Those tires roll on nickel-plated rims, by the way, and feature the hub cap that Triumph only made for one year.
Oh! Almost forgot; the chainguard. We purposely had it fitted real low, and the cover was custom made to work with everything and keep the bike’s lines moving.
Right Side: Front to Rear
See the rocker caps? The caps on top of the engine. One-off. I took a design I liked of an Art Deco lamp and my machinist handmade those, and some of these photos show a mushroom type cap on the rocker box, because that was before I had the new caps made.
The nickel plating continues from the embedded dials on the massaged and reworked nacelle to the pipe, finished to match the speed marks of the side panels.
The pipes themselves are all one-off. Triumph never made those pipes – especially not the way my buddy brought them through the motor. Of course, the pipe’s collector box was also given the wrinkle finish to match the bike’s side panels…but not before it was nickel-plated!
As for that wrinkle paint, I liked the tone-on-tone effect, though I painted it that way against the advice of a couple of people. I was still working with different textures though, you know what I mean? I liked it.
The subframe shroud draws the eye all the way down to the swing arm, then left to the end of the swing arm where an oblong shroud not only adds movement to the bike’s visuals, but also hides the rear axle bolts and other fasteners back there.
Do you have a name for your bike?
I don’t really name my bikes, but I did this show in Texas earlier in the year – it was called the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show.
I displayed it this year at the Handbuilt, and in the entry form they asked the bike’s name…and i decided to be a smart ass, or whatever. So I said, ‘yeah it’s called One Gold Tooth or Un Diente de Oro in Spanish.’
I even had a little freaking sign made in Spanish – and the reason it’s one gold tooth is because I left one tooth in the grill!
What was the most challenging aspect of the build?
Probably just completely reimagining the bike. The scale of the project.
The only part that I kept that was original to the motorcycle was the front fender. That’s it. Everything else was hand-fabricated – the bodywork and gas tank would be the two major things.
When you don’t do your own work and you go by let’s say a hundred bucks an hour, there’s just tons of hours. I mean, everything’s handmade – the gas tank, the whole body piece that encompasses the rear fender and the side panels… I mean, all that stuff is hand-beat by a guy, and that takes communication and time. A lot of time.
How does the Thunderbird perform now compared to when you received her?
Bike handles and runs great! I have some people dubious about those shaved tires, but don’t forget – a big reason motorcycle tires have tread is to channel out water in case of rain.
Obviously I’m not gonna ride this bike in the rain.
Here’s a picture of my friend Wheely…doing a wheelie. Enjoy:
Hope you enjoyed this interview – I know I had a blast with the process.
Be sure to drop a comment below, get in some good scoots this weekend, and as always – stay safe on the twisties.