Halls Custom Vintage

Fix it, to Ride it

Meet Jake and Rob Hall of Halls Custom Vintage

September 2013 • Featured Capitalist Archive

Patience Personified

The business has prospered, and in addition to rebuilding British engines for racing, Halls Custom Vintage modifies antique bikes with more modern parts to improve reliability.  They also perform museum-quality restorations.

HCV has five lifts, not because they have five mechanics pumping out the work, far from it.  The key to restoration and modification of vintage machines is patience.  Jake works on five bikes at a time, so that he can take his time on each one: stopping work on one when thwarted, picking up on another.

The reasoning is simple.  Parts are usually the holdup, some taking weeks to find, while others have to be re-created from scratch.  If he were to work on one bike at a time, customers would be waiting far longer. Sometimes there are parts that cannot be bought, and cannot be recreated within an owner’s budget. “In certain situations, we only get one shot at repairing something.  I don’t want to rush into it.  I’ll try solutions out in my head, and let them percolate for days or weeks, however long it takes,” says Jake.

On the floor at his feet is a large aluminum part.  It’s the primary chain cover from an old Norton.  It is irregular in shape, with bolt holes around the perimeter.  The outside is gently sculpted and polished.  It displays the manufacturer’s logo embossed into the metal.  The finish bears the patina of 40 years — as well as a huge crack in the center that has radiated outward in three directions.

“I’ve been thinking about how to repair that piece for two weeks now,” confides Jake.  “Having a new one made, if I could find someone who could do it, would probably cost half of what this bike is worth.  I’ve talked to people and thought about it some more.  I’m ready to fix that cover now.”

Natural Born Business Sense

Rob and Jake work well as a team.  Engine machining is still Rob’s domain, which includes crankshaft turning, sizing main and connecting rod bearings.  He machines heads and installs valve guides and seats as well as optimizes gas flow.

HCV has valuable experience pertaining to vintage Brit bikes.  For example, cylinder bores must be honed prior to installing new pistons and rings. Modern honing techniques do not work well for these older bikes, the resulting finish is too slick, which doesn’t allow the older style rings to seat adequately, so the engine will burn oil and smoke.  Rob has figured out what honing grit works best on the varying vintage cylinder walls.

Vehicle dismantling, assembly and troubleshooting are Jake’s forte.  He gets the first look at a bike when it comes in, and test rides the final product. “We’re not just about servicing racers and producing meticulous restorations,” says Jake.  “We’ll help anyone with a British bike problem…simple repairs to installing modern ignition or carbs.  We want people to enjoy riding these motorcycles.”

Doing things right, and the attendant word of mouth, is the only way to attract business in the collection and restoration field.  A large collector will give HCV something really simple as an audition.  If the shop performs well, they’ll be rewarded with something more substantial.

As of today, HCV has attracted three of the country’s larger British motorcycle collectors who travel 1000+ miles each way to pick-up and deliver a rare bike.  Additionally, British motorcyclists have heard about the shop from Asheville.  HCV was recently the subject of a feature in the UK publication, “Classic Bike Guide.”

When HCV became a reality, the Halls didn’t finance the acquisition of shop equipment, they used what was on hand.  To this day, nothing is purchased unless they can pay cash for it. “Debt is a killer,” says Jake.  “It adds pressure to get bikes out the door, to keep the cash flowing.  Our lack of debt allows us to take our time, work on a bike until it’s perfect.”

With a strong backlog of restorations and a healthy balance sheet, HCV has been procuring more machining and welding tools to improve the quality of their work.

It’s Not Just a Bike

Making a living aside, what drives these young men to reach for their tools, harkens back to childhood: they hate to see a machine not running.  To them, all bikes deserve to be ridden.  Their love of these old machines creates an instant bond with their customers. For instance, HCV was finishing up the restoration of a 1958 BSA Goldstar for a local man, who’d owned it since new.  When they asked him if he was excited to ride it again, the owner said no, because he no longer had the strength to kick start it.

Nothing gets Rob and Jake as excited as getting someone back on the road.

Making a living aside, what drives these young men to reach for their tools, harkens back to childhood: they hate to see a machine not running. To them, all bikes deserve to be ridden.

 Motorcycles of that time period were started by leg power.  The men put their heads together and installed an electric start system.  This antique now starts with the push of a button, and the man who rolled it out of the showroom 56 years ago is still grinning like a teenager.

Most of us spend an entire career making money to enable our hobbies, dreaming of a far off day when our hobbies will somehow finance our lifestyle.  What looks so easy for folks like the Hall brothers isn’t easily reproduced.

If the 10,000 hours of practice rule is correct, HCV was created, one bike at a time, beginning when the lads were in elementary school.

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