From junk to treasure: Ann Arbor man shares his passion for restoring old motorcycles
ANN ARBOR, MI – Patrick West inspects the ancient machine in front of him. He sees a missing part. The paint is damaged and before taking it apart he tries to figure out how well he can make this machine look authentic through the restoration.
For about 30 years, West’s labor of love has been restoring old motorcycles in his garage. From racing bikes to those produced before WWII, the 70-year-old Ann Arbor resident has restored around 10 bikes, with some projects taking years.
Although he has been doing this for a long time, he does it as a hobby and rarely sells his work.
“Most of what I’ve done, I still own it,” West said. “I do it because I love the process and a finished product.”
His first foray into DIY came when West was around 13 and worked with bikes and gasoline engines. He worked on the first car at the age of 14, discovering his love of mechanics early on.
“(I like) the function of all the parts that work together and how they work, why they work and how do you make them work if they don’t work? West says. “I guess I call it a puzzle.”
In high school, West began to find work at a gas station and lawn mower store. The latter, he had to harass the owner to get a job, while working on cars in the backyard of his house.
After serving in the military, he worked for Chrysler for about 30 years before retiring. During this time, he had children to raise, so he had less time for his projects, he says. Once they grew up he got more ambitious with projects, like old bikes.
West started restoring old motorcycles in the late 1980s, his first project being a 1965 Ducati racing motorcycle. He rebuilt the engine so he could race it antique. While he later sold this bike, he still has the second bike he repaired, which was another Ducati.
One of the first decisions he makes in his projects is whether it will be a faithful restoration or a custom, with freedoms taken. Restoration is when someone takes an old item and fixes it to look as close as possible to the original product, West said. With customs, sometimes referred to as “outlaws,” mechanics can take more liberties with their appearance and the parts used.
West is trying to make a real restoration. If the bike is in good enough condition, he might even keep it in its original condition.
“You can restore (a bike) multiple times, but it’s only original once,” he said.
West first takes the bike apart and removes the paint to get a better look at what needs to be fixed or replaced. The hardest part is figuring out what the bike originally looked and worked like, which usually involves looking at old photos or parts books, he said.
Once everything is fixed, West reassembles everything. He said some bikes need to be handled at the right angle for the parts to fit. He doesn’t paint the bikes himself, usually outsourcing the job to someone else.
West doesn’t mount most of his projects these days, usually starting them to confirm they are working. Instead, he just likes to see the finished product.
“Do you really want to put this on the road where someone is going to do something stupid?” West asked.
West’s most recent project is a 1936 BMW R5, a rare motorcycle considering only 2,600 were made. He bought the bike on eBay with the original engine, transmission, and front end, but had to get a copy of the frame for it. It took four years to restore it.
“I sometimes like (while) driving this vintage 1930s machine, (thinking)” How many more are in use right now? “” West said. “How many more are running this minute?” The answer is probably none.
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