If you don’t know what OMG WTF stands for, step out of your cave into the sunlight and ask a teenager. After that, take a look at this Panhead-powered, VL-framed chopper from Morrow Vintage Customs in Ventura, California. Kurt Morrow built it for Mike Greco who uses it as a daily rider, of all things. You’ll see right away why we used modern text-speak to describe an old chopper.
This bike is completely hand-built. It’s a complete custom bike, not a customized bike. No two parts on the bike were ever together before this. Mike rides this motorcycle 80 miles round-trip in the San Francisco/Half Moon Bay area. Lots of torque and a very narrow setup make it great for traffic, plus the high ground clearance helps for the mountain roads.
Mr. Morrow let us pick his brain about this bike. He was very happy to talk about it and the work he does in his shop.
What inspired this style for you?
I got the frame first, it sat around, and I looked at it for years. I’ve wanted to do a VL with a Big Twin, keeping the floorboards and a reasonable seating position. All the VL customs I’ve seen have had crossed up controls. This just started out as a super-light little bike. I wanted it to be lighter and quicker but not real choppery. I like the rake of a VL frame, I had never ridden one (a custom one) and all the restored VLs I had ridden were a little too heavy to really do anything for me. Every part of this bike came from somewhere else; it is from my imagination.
I live and work in my shop. Years ago I got hooked on old bikes. Now I do ground-ups and vintage bikes.
What did you have to do to fit the Norton rear fender to the frame?
I cut and sectioned it to fit over the tire and welded it up to the frame. The brackets were done by hand.
What did you have to do to fit the Ducati 250 gas tank to the frame?
I put my own tunnel in, and put the tank mounts in it, created a new petcock location. Basically, I started with the shell and filled the tank up to fit the frame. I spent two weeks making a curved tunnel to fit the frame and no one’s ever seen it. [Laughs]
What did you have to do to fit the Benelli gas tank to the frame as the oil bag for the bike?
I widened it 1-1/2 inches, added new mounts and oil line fittings, then made brackets from scratch and welded them to the tank. A lot of this sort of work is a matter of seeing the piece, then you make a bracket to fit. It’s the same with the battery situation.
Why did you use a Ducati 250 tank and the Benelli scooter tank with the bike instead of Harley units?
I didn’t do it to save weight. I just liked the appearance. This was something I hadn’t seen before. The filler cap on the Ducati tank is bitchin’. It wasn’t a Paughco or a Sportster tank like so many people use. It was up to me to make them fit. That’s the sort of work I enjoy doing.
Tell us more about the wheels. Why did you build them in-house instead of going aftermarket? What did you make them from?
I don’t really buy anything aftermarket. I like to make wheels and this way I’m sure they’re straight. I’m real concerned about making it all fit together right since no one’s going to be able to just fix the stuff on this bike. None of the parts were originally meant to go together.
Why the Nissin caliper?
It was from a CBR 900. That was the caliper used to stop the fastest production bike going at the time it was made. Those calipers are so plentiful and well built but really ugly too. I carved on it to take the hard edges off.
Why did you use the 1935 frame with the 1950 Panhead? What did you have to do to make them work together?
There’s a cross tube from the neck to the seat post that had to be removed and arched to fit. The rear footboard mounts are in the way of the Panhead engine cases so I had to make a hole for the motor to fit and shim the motor mounts too.
How did you get started building motorcycles?
I started out late in life in my 40s, 11 years ago. I live and work in my shop. Years ago I got hooked on old bikes. Now I do ground-ups and vintage bikes. No new stuff. No one’s noticing me because I’m inching along. I started before the big chopper craze and it passed me up because I don’t care for that newer style of bike. I do early Triumphs, Nortons, BSAs. I do everything but the plating and I do a little painting. It’s a good business.
What was the biggest challenge with this project?
Making all those different parts look like they belong together, then making them work together and haul ass.
According to Kurt, riding this Panhead is also therapeutic for Mike Greco. That’s not something we hear associated with an old chop too often. Usually it’s something along the lines of “cool” or “fun.” As therapy goes, though, it doesn’t have Prozac’s side effects and it’s a damn sight better looking than Dr. Phil. HB