Art of the Chopper: Gard Hollinger – First Look: Avant Gard.

21 Apr 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Art of the Chopper: Gard Hollinger – First Look: Avant Gard.
American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser

Art of the Chopper: Gard Hollinger – First Look Avant Gard.

Some wits—dim or otherwise—suggest riding a motorcycle is too perilous to consider doing while sober. Nevertheless, in Gard Hollinger’s shop, a Petite Syrah is more likely to be poured than Pabst Blue Ribbon and you just may hear an employee quoting Proust or whistling Paganini. This is an erudite bunch.

To the orthodox enthusiast, the word “chopper” means a motorcycle with a rigid frame, high tank and long fork; a style with more reincarnations than Vishnu. Hollinger’s more liberal interpretation represents a new species in the chopper phylum, which has evolved to include what he calls “retro-modernistic.” Just as present-day musicians sample earlier recordings and embed snippets of tunes within contemporary compositions, Hollinger applies classic accents to radically engineered machines by using familiar parts in unfamiliar ways to emphasize unconventional relationships.

For instance, he will mount an automotive oil filter where you might expect to see a carburetor and fit a gas tank that looks like a lunch pail between the top tube and motor mount. He has improvised the use of bicycle shock absorbers on a girder-like fork. On top of all that, literally, Hollinger enjoys the effect of blending textures.

The surfaces of his bikes are often powdercoated, anodized and shot-blasted, using no liquid paint.

Hollinger’s goal is not to engineer machines agile enough to take on the twisties; his bikes are made to turn heads, not corners. Still, an art bike must be roadworthy and reliable. “When you ride it, I want you to get a thrill,” says Hollinger, “I don’t want it to just be scary.” He concedes that a custom-built chopper is never going to be as dependable as a production motorcycle. But with tongue in cheek he comes clean: “Guys like me who build bikes … they’re breaking all the time. The worst thing you could do is go on a ride with five or six bike builders because you’re all going to spend most of the time fixing each other’s crap.”

Hollinger the artist will never create two identical bikes; Hollinger the entrepreneur sees no principled contradiction in creating production-line motorcycles in the fashion of a chopper. He has already designed two chopperesque models for Saxon Motorcycles. Still, he respects the difference between a one-off and something mass-produced.

Hollinger notes that interest in custom bikes has had a boost from television. Still, some builders seen through the incandescent glare of the boob tube have mixed feelings about their luck. If one hasn’t got the chops to back up such exposure with entrepreneurial aptitude and a business plan that transcends explaining how to use a planishing hammer, it is no longer an opportunity but a diversion.

Selling T-shirts and signing autographs doesn’t grow a business; it takes time away from building bikes. Hollinger, who has himself been on TV, already feels that his life has become more complicated.

It is worth mentioning that Hollinger has studied Method acting and oratory. He has performed Shakespeare in public. He toughed out Hollywood auditions for years, but even his Johnny Depp good looks did not put a star on his garage door. (If you watch very closely you can see him in movies like Waterworld and Heat . “But don’t blink!” he warns.) He has, however, been featured in an American Express commercial.

For someone like him, whose wife is a network television director, it was a no-brainer when the opportunity arose to host a cable-TV program called “Build or Bust.” But he didn’t make a big deal about it. He simply lamented, “Everybody in L.A. is an actor.” Ironically now, a lot of actors would love to give up their quixotic quest for stardom and become motorcycle mechanics instead. A chopper!

A chopper! My kingdom for a chopper!

Gard was born in San Francisco. Thereafter, his bohemian upbringing ranged from Waikiki to the Puget Sound, with Beverly Hills and the barrios of East L.A. ranging in between. In 1969, at the age of 10, in the backseat of the family ragtop on an L.A.

Freeway, two choppers blasted by, hair in the wind. No helmets in those days. The lead bike carried a lone rider full of pistons and vinegar.

The guy behind had a chick on the back. “It was a king-and-queen setup,” Gard remembered. “The guy in front takes his hands off the handlebars, pulls his shirt off, and throws it up in the air. And the guy behind him reaches up without missing a beat and catches it! I just thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.” It was choppers forever after that.

American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser
American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser

“I have an Associate Degree in Automotive Technology—whatever the hell that means! I knew I never wanted to be a car mechanic,” said Gard. As it happened, his first job was wrenching on boats at a local dock in Washington State.

Subsequently, he got into manufacturing motocross accessories, bought an off-road bike dealership, a limousine company and then a wholesale car business.

In a final bought of bohemian wanderlust he wound up in Jamaica growing dreadlocks. Then he saw an opportunity to take over a struggling Harley-Davidson dealership in Seattle. But in those days, the Motor Company was in sad shape. It would have been dicey.

Besides, he had just divested his off-road dealership because his passion for motorcycles was becoming a dreary job. He reasoned, “What could be worse than a bunch of moochy motocross guys? A bunch of moochy biker guys!” So, he passed the opportunity along to a friend, the late Russ Tom.

The Seattle Harley franchise, which cost a pittance, grew into a multimillion-dollar business.

Meanwhile, ensconced back in SoCal with his recent bride, Hollinger was running a shop in Culver City. Having kicked himself about the missed Harley opportunity, he jumped at another chance to become an Indian dealer. Bad timing.

Hence, the current L.A. County Choprods, now in Gardena, California.

Incidentally, Gard has a penchant for adopting Italian names for his bikes. For instance, there is “Il Pazzo,” “Poco Grasso,” “Tatsio” and “Funcula.” He wanted a musical lilt, but he did not want to copy the Hispanic trend of some other builders. So, what other languages, he wondered, are both mellifluous and sexy in that way?

Si! Italiano. Take Poco Grasso, for example, which means Little Fatty. French wouldn’t work: Gras Miniscule; German, worse: Kleines Fetthaltiges; Ukrainian: Malyj Hrubas. You get the idea. As for his own first name, he says, “I quite like it that Brits and New Yorkers call me God.”

American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser
American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser
American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser
American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser
American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser
American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser
American Classic Motors RIGID CHOPPER Cruiser


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