Scott Di Lalla proudly sits on The Harbortown Bobber flanked by fellow filmmaker Zack Coffman, some of the guys responsible for the Triumph’s resurrection and riding buddies.
Indie film maker Scott Di Lalla felt so inspired by the So Cal Sinners crew when filming Choppertown The Sinners, he just had to have a Triumph bobber he could call his own. Di Lalla’s a lifetime gearhead. It started as a boy stripping down dirt bikes to build them back up again to sell for a profit. His passion spread to three-wheelers as he got older and peaked when he got his first true chopper, a sick 1972 Sporty with a girder front end and a cool sissy bar with a cross. Add a drum rear brake, no front brakes and throw in an air-brushed tiger on the tank and you’ve got the quintessential ‘70s chopper. Being an enthusiast helps Di Lalla capture the passion behind the art of custom bike building. And not that pseudo-crap you see on TV. The characters are real, the pride they take in their craftsmanship is real, and the camaraderie between bro’s wrenching on bikes and drinking beer in garages across America is palpable. The Harbortown Bobber captures the way bike-building culture gets passed down from generation to generation and keeps it from becoming a dying art.
On the outside, it’s a chronicle of Di Lalla’s ground-up build, a 1969 Triumph. It starts with a frame Kutty from Choppertown The Sinners turned him on to. It continues with the 1971 Bonneville 650 engine he salvaged from an abandoned project bike and how it is shipped off to Meatball of Hell of Wheels for rebuilding. Vignettes of bombing around the streets of LA, specifically the harbor region, carries the action between scenes as the bike continues its exodus from rust bucket to rippin’ bobber. The 1969 Triumph is the protagonist of the documentary, but it’s the characters involved along the way that carry the storyline.
There’s J-Bird and Johnathan, the two who started the transformation of the 1969 Triumph TR6e. Johnathan demonstrates the artistry involved in a hand-welded tank, from making the bungs to cutting a hole for the gas cap. J-Bird is a master out of making something out of nothing. He creates a “cocktail shaker” oil tank and later in the project
fobs up a fender. The way he scrolls a fender mount by wrapping it around an old pipe sitting in his back yard gives credence to the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. In his soft spoken voice, he delivers the line that epitomizes the subculture of garage builders.
“There’s a spirit to it that will last forever,” J-Bird says.
There’s Irish Rich of Shamrock Fabrication and Dennis Goodson of Fantasy in Iron. Standing side-by-side, the long-bearded duo could be mistaken for Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill. They’ve been wrenching and building bikes as long if not longer than ZZ Top has been making music.
Irish Rich offers little pearls of wisdom like “You can’t weld over the top of brass” as he restores the frame, removing ill-fitting brackets and MIG welding holes in the frame. The way he plugs the porous neck while fortifying the frame is nothing short of builder magic. Irish Rich also supports the importance of imparting the knowledge he has acquired over 40 years as a builder/fabricator to the next generation as he takes his young protégé Steve under his wing. The old rusted Triumph frame undergoes an amazing transformation when it comes out of the sandblaster as Dennis from Wadda Blast preps if for Irish Rich and Steve.
The episode where Dennis Goodson, the master of hand-forged air cleaners, shares with viewers the details of the vintage Harley he built for artist David Uhl is an intriguing segment. Goodson shares how he captured the essence of Harley’s art deco history by using as many period-correct, salvaged parts on the Uhl Axe as he could, like taillights from a 1937 passenger car, an old syringe circa the ‘30s that he converted into a license plate light and a brass switch from WW II that turns on the running lights. He even cut down the tanks and inlayed them with art deco graphics that were popular during the period.
The fact that Di Lalla enlisted the services of characters who have been wrenching on bikes since the bygone era from which the bike originated adds authenticity to both the build and the documentary. Nowhere is this more evident
than in the outtakes featuring Earl Kane of Cycle Art by Earl. When someone with the skills of J-Bird says Earl is a true Triumph Bobber guru, you know the guy’s gifted. Besides working on the plumbing of the bike, Earl helps shape its character by showing Di Lalla how to hook-up an old school license plate bracket, a sweet spade-shaped kickstand and a simple but functional ‘60s-style chain tensioner. The clips of Earl’s old hang gliding footage brings to light how the freedom and fun of that era was a precious thing and how unbridled freedom like that will never be experienced by people raised in the overly regulated era we live in.
Then there’s one of the most memorable characters in the documentary, the “most hard-to-explain lady you’ll ever meet,” Cindy from Century Cycle. Cindy Rutherford and her family have been a staple of the SoCal bike builders scene since the 1930s. Her dad made money by racing for pinks in both drag and road racing long before the TV show. Cindy recants stories about famed pin striper Von Dutch and her father. She also endears herself to viewers when she reveals she has the last factory-built Vincent Lightning in her bedroom.
The look and smile on Di Lalla’s face when it all comes together, just before its maiden run, is classic. The end result is a beautiful, elemental Triumph bobber that any true enthusiast would love to own and ride. Not only does it look fantastic, but as Di Lalla states, “It’s fast, it’s a hardtail, and you’re hanging on for your dear life.”
Being a documentary, it takes a little time for The Harbortown Bobber to build up steam. But riding footage from Ortega Highway, the PCH around Malibu and scenes of Di Lalla and his buddies lane-splitting around LA helps the pacing. So does the punk/rockabilly music that suits the tone of the underground bike building scene. The Harbortown Bobber provides a peek into the subculture of garage builders who do it the same way it’s been done through the years and helps capture their spirit for posterity’s sake.
One World Studios The Harbortown Bobber – On Sale for $24.95
* Scott and Zack already have another documentary out, One World Tour Europe, which depicts their crazy six week trip across Europe as they showcased their indie motorcycle documentaries overseas. They’ve also got plenty of other cool stocking stuffers at their Choppertown Store, so be sure to check ‘em out.