‘Ron Finch That’s All You Get’ provides an intimate look at the life of master painter and custom motorcycle builder Ron Finch through commentary from friends, family and peers as well as from the mouth of the man himself.
He’s been called “the Salvador Dali of motorcycles and cars.” With such lofty laurels, a movie documenting the trials and tribulations of accomplished painter and metal master Ron Finch is only fitting. Part autobiographical through the eyes of the man himself, part biographical as told by friends, family, and wife Ruth, “Ron Finch That’s All You Get” provides an in-depth look at a man who has helped shape the custom motorcycle industry for the last 50 years. He can color-blend paints like few others and got into the mail order business early in the game, selling parts like Finch’s Springer front end, frames, seats, and a popular electrical box for Honda 750s called a “Finch Box.” A visionary in every sense of the word, the docu-movie paints a compelling, true-to-life portrait of the man who is truly one-of-a-kind. Directed by Danny Grinnell, music by The Dirtbombs, Sloan, The Witches, The Detroit Cobras, and PeRPLeXa match the tone of the piece.
This is evident at the beginning of the movie which has a psychedelic, ‘60s vibe to it. This is fitting seeing how Finch is a product of that era and started Finch’s Custom Styled Cycles in 1965. The herky-jerky GoPro footage in the beginning of the movie also works, demonstrating that first and foremost, Ron is a biker. Motorcycles aren’t merely his medium, they’re a way of life. Finch loves to ride for the same reason you and I love to ride. This despite almost getting killed on a motorcycle in June, 1981, when he was hit by a drunk driver. Doctors said he would never walk again and he spent six weeks in traction. While many would have shunned motorcycles after a harrowing accident like that, it only made Finch more determined to prove them wrong, shedding light on his grit and resolve.
Because there’s no questioning Finch’s determination. Through the movie, viewers learn that he had a speech disorder that kept him from speaking until age six. This impediment was one of the first big obstacles he had to overcome. As a child, he really wanted a Cushman Eagle scooter. To achieve that goal, he used to sneak into the Detroit Zoo and collect peacock feathers to sell for money, occasionally even plucking them from the birds if they hadn’t shed any. When he turned 16, he bought that scooter. Later in the flic, you learn that he quit a secure job at Chrysler to open up his own shop with little more than a toolbox, air compressor and a few paint guns. A work bench doubled as his bed. Despite frequent harassment by the local police force, he carved out a name for himself until his work began getting recognition on the cover of many major motorcycle publications. Then there was the accident and the physical and mental hardships that came along with it. Despite what life threw at him, Finch’s sense of freedom and fearlessness helped him overcome those obstacles to become one of the most respected custom bike builders around.
“Ron Finch That’s All You Get” gives an intimate look at the life of somebody as unique as his creations. His workshops have been sanctuaries where all are welcome, from patch-wearing club members to artists and hippies to George
Clinton and the Funkadelics. On any given day, you never knew what was going to show up at the carnival-like atmosphere of the shop as even a full-grown tiger came ambling through the doors one day in the ‘70s. Despite the distractions, Finch stayed true to his art, cranking out bikes like Kaleidocycle and Odin’s Axel that helped put him on the custom building map.
The movie also illustrates another one of Finch’s life principles, the importance of family. It starts with his wife Ruth, because you can’t mention Ron without talking about Ruth, too. It discusses how they met at Autorama, an unlikely couple that fell in love despite their differences in personality, and how opposites can complement one another to form a unified whole. Ruth is the rock that has kept Ron and the Finchmen together through the ages. In the film, Ruth says a lot of his artistic abilities came from his mom. The solidity of his early family life parlays into the children he and Ruth rose as their own. Their children talk about how growing up with such a creative dad made life different and fun while he still taught them core values like hard work and the value of a dollar.
The movie gives a glimpse into Finch’s creative process when he’s rummaging through boxes of old airplane parts. What others see as junk, Finch finds purpose in. Creating the new and wonderful out of other people’s discarded scrap metal is his signature. As is his rod work and paint, but the ability to create something out of nothing has been a Finch trademark for a long time. Just look at his studio and the way he salvaged glass from a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house to make it a castle. The airplane parts he found in those boxes would ultimately lead to the creation of “Chopper at Large,” the construction of the 13-foot-tall, 20-foot-long motorcycle whose creation serves as a second narrative within the larger narrative in the film about his life.
Depth is added to this narrative with the addition of first-hand accounts from friends and motorcycle industry contemporaries, from Arlen Ness to Tony Carlini to Gary Maurer. Ted Smith from the Rat’s Hole tells about the relationship Ted Sr. and Finch formed, how they couldn’t wait to see what Finch brought to the show yearly and how winning the Rat’s Hole helped expand Finch’s international appeal when he was sent to Essen to represent the US scene overseas. The man has touched and influenced the lives of many people, his low-key demeanor and approachability attracting people to him. Ron’s demeanor is a refreshing twist for someone who status as a rock star in the custom building scene could have fostered hubris and ego. But not Ron.
Before the hour-and-a-half long movie is over, you get a sense of how larger-than-life Finch is. There will only be one Ron Finch. I can’t think of anybody who has brought the worlds of art and motorcycles together like he has. His work has been featured in several prestigious museums, even being displayed at the Clinton Presidential Library. All it takes is one look to recognize something Finch has created. Swap out a smarmy mustache for an endearing beard and you do indeed have the Salvador Dali of custom motorcycles.
If you’d like to enjoy the movie, too, you can purchase one from Finch’s webpage, Finch’s Custom Styled Cycles.
“Ron Finch That’s All You Get” DVD – $25