While Indian and Harley-Davidson may be the biggest names in American motorcycles today, they weren’t always the only ones. Indian in particular owes a lot to Henderson, maker of four-cylinder bikes. Henderson was preceded in turn by another four-cylinder brand, Pierce-Arrow. And there’s another American motorcycle company worth celebrating. One whose bikes command higher prices than even a Brough Superior: Crocker.
The history of Crocker’s motorcycles
In the early 20th century, one of the most popular motorsports was board track racing. But as that became too dangerous, racers started to migrate to dirt tracks. And among them was one Albert Crocker, Vintangent reports.
Born in 1882, after earning an engineering degree, Crocker designed and raced Thor motorcycles for AAMC, RideApart reports. During that time, he got to know Indian’s founders and started working there in 1909. Although successful there, he started wanting to develop his own bikes. So, in 1930, he started the Crocker Motorcycle Company in Los Angeles, California.
By then, speedway racing, the international version of flat track racing, made its way to the States. And Crocker, as a former racer, wanted to take part. His prototype had a custom frame powered by an Indian 101 Scout V-twin. But even after extensive modification, he wasn’t satisfied with the performance. Thus, he decided to make his own engine.
The result was the 500cc single-cylinder 1932 Crocker Speedway Racer, Silodrome reports. And right from the start, it was an extremely competent machine. In its debut race, it won 9 out of 12 heats. Although Crocker kept experiment with its engine design, production remained limited. The company only built 31, Mecum reports.
But the Speedway helped Crocker create its most famous models: the V-twin cruisers.
The V-twin Crocker ‘Small Tank’ and ‘Big Tank’ were faster than Harley-Davidson’s bikes
When it debuted in 1935, the Crocker ‘Small Tank’ motorcycle was the fastest production bike in America, Silodrome reports. Initially sold with an overhead-valve 1000cc V-twin, it beat the Harley-Davidson Knucklehead by several months. And its design let it be safely bored out to 1491cc. This meant the Crocker Small Tank motorcycle developed over 60 hp and topped out at 110 mph.
This meant it was also faster than the Brough Superior’s SS100 and second only to the Vincent Rapide. And, RideApart reports, it means Crocker’s motorcycles are almost twice as powerful as the contemporary Harley-Davidsons and Indians. Crocker was so confident his motorcycles could beat anything from Harley-Davidson or Indian, he offered a money-back guarantee if one of their bikes beat one of his, Forbes reports.
The Crocker Small Tank, and the later ‘Big Tank,’ are also some of the most advanced motorcycles of their time, RideApart reports. They have cast-aluminum fuel tanks with built-in oil tanks, Hagerty reports. The 3-speed transmission is part of the frame itself. And Bonhams reports it can withstand up to 200 hp.
Unfortunately, because Crocker’s motorcycles are essentially hand-built, there aren’t many of them. And in 1942, due to WWII, the company switched from building bikes to making aircraft parts, Silodrome reports. Plus, after the war, Crocker sold the company to BorgWarner.
This makes Crocker motorcycles extremely rare—and extremely valuable.
Crockers don’t come cheap
Crocker motorcycles aren’t the most expensive bikes sold at auction, Cycle World reports. That honor goes the Vincent Black Lightning, an evolution of the famous Black Shadow. But of the top 15 most expensive bikes sold at auction, Crockers occupy the #7, #5, and #3 spots. A Small Tank model shares the #4 spot with a Harley-Davidson.
Exact production numbers are tough to pin down. But most estimate Crocker built fewer than 70 Small Tank and Big Tank motorcycles. That #7 bike, a 1940 Big Tank, went for $550,000 in May 2019. And that #3 bike, a 1936 Small Tank, sold in August 2019 for $825,000. That pricey Harley-Davidson? It sold for $715,000.
But, if you want a Crocker motorcycle, there is a cheaper alternative. There’s now a company making reproductions in LA. And according to Cycle World, they’re just as solid as the originals.
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