Gone But Not Forgotten – The Crocker Big Tank Motorcycle
There was once a time in the not too distant past when buying a custom motorcycle meant buying a really custom motorcycle – one distinctly tailored to the whims and wants of the rider and created specifically out of the factory for an individual rider.
Al Crocker built such machines.
A Crocker was built with a heavy duty cycle – and maximum performance – in mind. Each bike, like a Hong Kong suit, was custom-tailored to the individual rider’s specs and built entirely in Al Crocker’s own facility. Riders could choose color, the level of chrome trim attached, and had a choice of which gear ratio and displacement setup would work best for his or her needs.
Al Crocker founded Crocker Motorcycles in 1936 after spending more than 20 years honing his skills engineering and designing bikes for Indian. Crocker and his former foreman at Indian, Paul Bigsby knew from their experience in the industry that they had the know-how to compete in the market.
And they had something more important than experience. They had a vision of what a motorcycle should be…
Starting with hand-wrought speedway race bikes, Crocker and company gutted the competition of the day by setting new high-water marks for performance and quality. That new standard outpaced the efforts of Harley-Davidson, Indian and damn near everyone else a long stretch of years. Crocker was the standard by which motorcycles would be judged until 1942 when the company folded in the face of material shortages brought on by the war and an attendant economic slowdown.
But for their efforts (and only around 100 bikes came out of the factory in the company’s heyday) the Crocker’s that did exit the factory floor are now among the rarest and most coveted motorcycles on the planet.
During a MidAmerica Auctions motorcycle sale back in 2007, a 1941 Crocker big tank brought $230,000 and in 2006 a 1931 Crocker 61 sold for $236,500. A 1937 Crocker “Hemi-head” V-Twin sold for $276,500 and a 1939 Crocker 61 cubic-inch side valve model brought $200,000 during roughly that same time period.
So what made Crocker motorcycles such an object of desire among motorcycle aficionados?
A Crocker transmission was built to handle the massive amounts of torque his unique proprietary engine design could crank out, and a meticulously engineered three speed transmission moved the bike to unheard of speeds. Crocker was confident enough in his engineering prowess and manufacturing skills that he offered to refund the entire purchase price to any buyer who was beaten by a rider on a factory stock Harley or Indian, and he never had to make good on that promise.
A Crocker would do zero to sixty – in first gear – and in times that left the competition in its wake. The stock hemi-head bikes cranked out 60hp and were capable of a top speed of 110 mph, and no other machine on the market at the time came close to that kind of performance.
Utilizing a 3.25″ bore and 3.625 stroke, the 61 cubic inch Crocker engines looked like a beautiful cube. The cylinders were set 45 degrees apart and the compression ratio was 7:1 on most machines (and 11:1 certain custom bikes), and Crocker’s were designed to be customized. Massive cylinder walls 3/8-inch thick were made to be over-bored and some customizers managed to create Crockers boasting 90 cu. in. of pure, unadulterated horsepower unparalleled for the times.
Crocker Motorcycles has, in a sense, reemerged in back 1997 and began by producing parts for one an American restorer. The re-invented company officially incorporated Crocker Motorcycle Company in January 1999 and has been producing reproduction bikes. They’ve also, back in 2007, created a modern homage to founder Al Crocker, the C4 Concept.
Designer Daryl R. Tearne came up with the fourth model in the history of the Crocker marque (following the Speedway, the Small Tank and the last of the original breed, the Big Tank) and says the C4 was an attempt to build a modern Crocker the way Al Crocker would have done it today. Tearne says using Penske suspension, this new Crocker will make the company -like its forefather – capable of offering a custom fit for any customer. A single-sided rear swing arm, alloy accents taken from the Big and Small Tank originals and other touches complete the picture for the built-to-order offering by this latest incarnation from the Crocker Motorcycle Company.