Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Jaguar Project (part one)

The picture actually represents the second part of a four part project: disassemble the bike. Take it down to nuts and bolts, fix what's broken, and give everything a thorough cleaning. Part Three: Put it back together. (not as easy as part two) Part Four: Ride it around. The first part, of course, is finding a bike like this one, and replacing all the missing stuff. I had that mostly done by 1980, but I never quite got around to part two. Thirty years later, I'm finally getting around to it. The bicycle is a 1961 Schwinn Mk IV Jaguar, the classic cantilever frame boy's bike updated for the space age with middle weight tires, four reflector rear carrier, a three speed gearshift, and stainless steel fenders. Here's another shot of the Jaguar:

After years of searching for a classic Schwinn, I found the '61 Jaguar, a 1955 Starlet, and a 1950 model B-6 during a brief burst of luck that lasted from the spring of 1979 until the fall of 1980. I rode it around for three or four years- actually took this heavy metal cruiser on fifty mile rides. It did service as a living room decoration for about a decade, but it's been crated up, and buried deep in the rat's nest of my garage since 1997. This was the second acquisition during that burst of luck so many years ago, and the first in line for a total overhaul now.

Of the three bikes, only the Starlet came into my care intact. The Jaguar here, and the B-6 (we'll get to the B-6 later) were missing major parts when I got them. And it took a wildly improbable web of coincidences to get all three machines into my hands, and help me spin together the missing pieces that put them within nuts and bolts of being 100% original.

I was nine years old in 1961. Back then I had an Evans 26" middleweight with a half tank, and rear carrier. Bikes like the Jaguar, and the the B-6 were around, and kids rode them, but back then they were just- you know- bikes. No one really paid a lot of attention. The first time a full dress Schwinn caught my eye was some time in the late seventies.
I'd been surfing at the Huntington Beach pier, and I was waiting to cross Pacific Coast Highway at the light at Main Street. A guy rolled up to the crosswalk on the gaudiest, most outrageous, and stone gorgeous thing I had ever seen on two wheels (without a motor, that is). I had to stop and ask him what it was. The bike was a fully restored 1948 Schwinn Autocycle, painted God and Country red white, and blue. It was big, round, heavy. Bulbous tires. Built in horn.Tanks. Racks. Lights. Springs. Curvy steel draped in gleaming sheet metal and dripping with chrome, and reflectors. This thing was Mae West with fenders. It was cool incarnate, and I knew right then and there that I was going to have one come hell or high water. But where did you go about finding obsolete bicycles?
Well. Sometimes you find them right around the block from where you live. Soon after, someone opened a small, what was then not-quite-antique shop on La Habra Boulevard just a few blocks away from the apartment I lived in. The place was called The Nostalgia Store, and sold all sorts of goodies, and trinkets from the 1950's. It seemed like an odd idea- keep in mind, that stuff was barely twenty years old at the time. The store didn't last long either. Anyway- point was- the coolest thing that the guy had was a perfect 1950's Schwinn Panther. For three hundred bucks. That was the price of a decent used car, or a good used motorcycle. No way. So I checked want-ads, and garage sales, and auctions. All I found was a 1950's Co-ed. A girl's bike. No, I wouldn't find my first full dress Schwinn for a few years to come. Not until I'd quit surfing, left my old job, and moved out of La Habra altogether. My new job with the utility company would have me in and out of neighborhoods, houses, yards, and garages all over a big chunk of L A County. If there were Old Schwinns out there, I would find them.


Jaguar Project Part Two

No comments: