by Alan Buehner

Originally printed in the 2003 issue #21 of Still….Keeping Track

res-to-ra-tion  1. The act of restoring a person or thing to a former place or condition. 2. The bringing back of a building or work of art as nearly as may be to its original state; also, the restored building or object.

pre-serve 1. To keep in safety; protect from destruction, loss, death, or detriment. 2. To keep intact or unimpaired; maintain. 3. To keep from decomposition or change.

At last year’s “Penton Day at the AMA”, Mark Mederski, Director of the AMA Museum, pointed out three Harley Davidson motorcycles from the 30’s that were on display. One was a restoration, with bright chrome and shiny new paint. The second bike was all new, built from the ground up with new old stock parts. The third was a used unrestored bike that had all of the original parts on it which was obvious with the dull chrome parts and faded painted parts.

Mark pointed out that the third bike was the more valuable of the three because of it’s “original” condition. It was a historically correct example of what that particular model bike looked like. The paint colors are correct and all nuts, bolts, and body parts are intact and accurate. The unrestored bike also serves as a reference model for someone in need of restoring a bike to see what parts and colors are correct and needed for that bike to be accurate.

Mark explained that the three bikes were on display to show the difference between them. There is an argument going on in the collecting world as to: when do you restore and when do you not restore and just preserve a bike? The argument also extends to the value of restored vs. preserved bikes.

This argument extends also to the Penton motorcycles, however it is obvious, in my opinion, that preservation of an unrestored Penton will command the highest price. Yeah, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but 80% or more of these bikes are in need of restoration if they haven’t been restored or modified already.

Let’s face the facts. These were dirt bikes, built for competition, not street bikes that were routinely washed and waxed once a week. They were purchased for off-road racing through mud, water, trees and rocks. They were built under John Penton’s specifications to be dependable. They were too dependable and as a result the average rider did not treat them like race bikes by performing the required maintenance after every use and just kept riding them until they finally broke or they were parked because a newer model bike was bought to stay competitive with the new innovations that came out every year.

Some of these “parked” bikes were rediscovered after a few years of sitting idle and were desecrated by new riders who continued riding them until they became beat to death because they did not know anything about maintenance, repair manuals, or where to buy spare parts. These are typically the bikes that we have been finding for the past ten or more years. The frames are all rusted, body parts are missing or busted, and the motors are worn out, broken, or torn apart.

During the past year I have received a few phone calls from some “new” Penton owners that had come into possession of that rare “like new” Penton motorcycle and are calling me for advice on paint colors and parts availability to restore their new found pride and joy. After asking them questions about the condition of these bikes I have to plead with them NOT to restore it. This is a tough argument to get across to most of you guys because shiny new paint does attract attention which goes hand in hand with pride of ownership.

The Penton brand of motorcycles are very collectable in the vintage dirt bike world. Placing a value on one of these depends on year, model, if it runs, and if it is all there. However, future value will also be based on the unrestored condition just like you see on the Antiques Road Show. Someone brings in some furniture and is shocked when they find out that by restoring  it they devalued it by thousands of dollars.

“Like new” Penton motorcycles are still out there. They  are the bikes that someone bought because their buddy bought one, they tried it and didn’t like it or got hurt, so they just parked it in their barn or garage and forgot about it. The crazy thing about these bikes is that if you discover one, the owner will just give it to you or sell it dirt cheap to get it out of their way.

Preservation is the way to go with bikes that have obvious signs of little or  no use. I talked to Mark Mederski and he offered the following recommendations:

The first step is to clean the bike thoroughly with detergent and water.

Motor, nuts & bolts - clean with kerosene or mineral spirits. Apply with a spray bottle and brush.

Painted surfaces - clean with mineral spirits and a brush. Use lacquer thinner on a rag to clean up tight spots, like frame gusset joints. Scratches and chips can be repaired by applying touch up paint with a brush (do not use spray paint from a can). Use a retarder in the paint to slow the drying speed. Use a pure paste wax to seal and protect.

Upholstery - clean with a vinyl cleaner.

Chrome & Alloy - use super-super, fine bronze or brass wool to clean off oxide (check furniture refinishing suppliers for this) - do not use steel wool! Use a pure paste wax  to protect finish.

Tires - clean with “Miracle Crystalline Wax”. Apply it with a clean scrub brush. It is a museum quality wax with neutral chemicals that seals the rubber against decomposition.

Note: Do not clear coat any parts on the bike. Stay away from using brake fluid as a cleaner. When in doubt, ask for information. Do not rush through the cleaning process - take your time and think it through. If your bike has stickers or decals on the gas tank and fenders, consider leaving them on - they are a representation of the time period and show that it was a race bike. Preston Petty fenders also represent the time period and can be cleaned and shined up with polishing compounds specially made for them.

Storage - make sure that all fuel is drained from tank and carburetor (today’s gasoline might contain some form of alcohol which attracts moisture). Exposed metal parts should be coated with a rust preventive such as “LPS-3”.   Make sure that the motor is vented (tranny and ignition area) to prevent condensation build up.  The motor can be drained of motor oil but inside should be coated with a rust preventive such as “LPS-3”.