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1923 Ace Sport Solo

Custom Motorcycle Feature

1923 Ace Sport Solo

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Due to a technical error, we mistakenly ran some incorrect text in issue 385. Below is the corrected text for the 1923 Ace Sport Solo. Thank you.

by Jim Babchak • photos by Don Kates/Shooters Images

Four-cylinder motorcycles have been at the cutting edge of vintage motorcycle collecting for as long as vintage motorcycles have been collected. This is a direct result of supply and demand, the driving force that shapes and determines markets and prices of all commodities. Desirability is driven by a number of factors, scarcity being the number one driver, of course.

Our beloved four-cylinder motorcycles have great prestige, and in their day were mostly viewed as high-end luxury machines. They were expensive to buy for the average motorcycle enthusiast because they were priced well above their twin cylinder and single cylinder counter parts. That is because they were expensive for the factories to build. They required more materials, they had a different set of skills needed to build the motors, they had more moving parts, and they had a different set of manufacturing processes that set them apart from other machines on the assembly line. So, in-line 4s were produced in limited numbers to satisfy a limited number of riders. Some police departments and other government institutions insisted on using them, as they wanted the biggest and best motorcycles available (this being a time when bigger was perceived as better), but mostly they were a luxury machine for the fortunate and well heeled. In most cases, four-cylinder machines were the loss leaders of the marque, manufactured to give the brand a complete line of motorcycles from smaller displacement single cylinder machines up through these multi-cylinder behemoths. Perception was everything, and they completed the brand’s offerings.

There is an aura attached to them that infuses them with soul and character, and their mere presence in a room demands attention. So, in the old days, rather than turn them in, junk them, or donate them to the recycling scrap collections for the war effort, they were relegated to the hayloft in the barn, put under a tarp in the furnace room, or disassembled and stored under the work bench in the garage in hopes of one day reviving them to again prowl the highways and bi-ways of America. Indians, Hendersons, Pierce Fours, FNs, and Cleveland 4s were tucked away by their then-insightful owners who knew, some day, they would be worth something.

Certain marques are even rarer than most, and the Ace motorcycle, with its limited production as well as its association with the Henderson Brothers, further adds to its charm and allure.

We have told the story of the Ace motorcycle many times through the years here in the pages of American Iron Magazine, but it’s always fun to have a short reminder about the history of Ace and how it came to be.

In 1911, brothers William and Thomas Henderson formed The Henderson Motorcycle Company in Detroit. Thomas ran the business side of the partnership while William was chief designer and engineer. Both brothers complimented each other well and brought balance to the organization. William’s 57 cubic inch motor cranked out 7 hp and used an in-line four-cylinder design with Inlet Over Exhaust heads, chain drive, and a long wheel base chassis. The prototype was completed and tested in 1911. It was stable and reliable, and in 1912 sales to the public began. Henderson attracted a lot of attention and built the business through the teens. In 1917, Ignaz Schwinn, of Schwinn Bicycle fame, took notice of the four-cylinder machine and bought out the Henderson organization to add to his burgeoning motorcycle manufacturing concern. It was the perfect motorcycle to anchor the upper end of his model line-up, his other machines being Excelsior motorcycles, which he had purchased in 1912 to add to his bicycle empire. The brothers worked for Schwinn on the Excelsior/Henderson platform, fulfilling their two-year obligation to successfully integrate the companies. William left in 1919 over design differences with management and went on to form the Ace Motor Corporation in Philadelphia with his partner Max Sladkin. Production began on Henderson’s newly designed Ace motorcycle, being careful to avoid the non-compete and trademark restrictions in its construction. Tragedy struck in 1922 when William was out test riding a motorcycle and was hit and killed by a careless car driver.

Ace carried on production until it was sold to Indian in 1927 and the four-cylinder machine was rebranded the Indian/Ace. In 1928, it dropped the Ace from the name and was simply called the Indian 4. It was changed and improved and remained in production through 1942, when WWII ended its run. A revival was attempted after the war, but the expense was too much and riding styles had changed, so the in-line Indian 4 slipped into motorcycle history.  

Our featured 1923 Ace Four Sporting Solo, owned by Jim Balestrieri, is a magnificent example of the Ace motorcycle brand and has been restored to a museum quality level by previous owners in Europe a few years back and remains in pristine condition to this day. The bike began its life as an export machine, having originally been sold in Norway, and later found its way to Sweden. Much of its history is lost to time, but it was eventually rescued from hibernation and lovingly restored by a collector with an eye for originality and the goal of perfection. In 2007, it was purchased by the MC Collection in Stockholm and remained part of that collection until January of 2019 when Jim was able to acquire it at the Mecum Auction in Las Vegas for his Throttlestop Museum in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

If you are not familiar with the Throttlestop Museum, it was founded by lifelong friends Jim Balestrieri and Tom Kostrivas and is the cumulation of decades of passion for cars, motorcycles, and racing. As kids, Jim and Tom competed against each other racing “anything with wheels.” These origins led Jim to become a regular racing circuit competitor at Road America, a passion he has now passed down to his son. Meanwhile, Tom was hard at work managing his own luxury automobile leasing company in Milwaukee. Together, and with the addition of General Manager Nick Piekarski, the team came together to combine their passions into building the Throttlestop in Elkhart Lake. In addition to displaying an extraordinary collection of cars and motorcycles, Throttlestop also sells luxury blue chip, investment-level automobiles, has a detailing business, stores collector cars in their temperature-controlled facility, and is a general haven for lovers of two- and four-wheeled transportation.

Throttlestop’s Motorcycle Museum section is a decades-spanning collection of vintage, rare, limited, and restored motorcycles. Visitors find themselves immersed in a showcase of motorcycle history dating from the turn of the century to today’s modern marvels. On display are between 75–80 unique models from the most iconic manufacturers including Harley-Davidson, Indian, Triumph, BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Ducati, and many more. They welcome visitors to “come explore Throttlestop’s Motorcycle Museum in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, with your own eyes and be a part of our culture!” Will and Thomas Henderson would be proud!

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