HAAS MOTO MUSEUM DALLAS
CHARIOTS OF FIRE
It’s been 25 years since the Guggenheim Museum first celebrated the art of the motorcycle with its acclaimed exposition (you’ve already guessed…), THE ART OF THE MOTORCYCLE. First assembled in the summer of 1998, it served as an appropriate exclamation point to our motorized century, as well as the motorcycle’s second century. I didn’t make it to the Guggenheim, and – regrettably – also missed the exhibit’s encore at the Guggenheim in Las Vegas…but I do have the accompanying book! So, if you missed the Guggenheim (or need a booster), you must – absolutely must – see the Haas Moto Museum in Dallas’ Design District.
Assembled by the late (having passed away in 2021) Dallas businessman, photographer and art patron Bobby Haas, the Haas Moto Museum artfully assembles the history of motorcycles in chronological order, beginning in 1899 and running through the present day. After digesting the main meal, for dessert the collection offers over 60 custom motorcycles in a separate wing of the display area’s 20,000 square feet; some customs were purchased by Mr. Haas, while others were commissioned by Mr. Haas. And know you don’t need to be into Orange County Choppers or wet T-Shirt contests to appreciate the artistry the custom collection constitutes; in almost all instances the various builders possess an artist’s eye and craftman’s hand. Thankfully, Bobby Haas had the checkbook.
The museum’s high points are too many to list, but worth a try, regardless. And while row upon row of vintage machinery can overwhelm, the chronological layout of the main showroom provides an easy-to-follow narrative, and makes very clear to both the history student and enthusiast the motorcycle’s evolution.
Prior to World War I there’s a clear connection between the motorcycle and bicycle. In fact, the collection’s earliest example is an 1899 Peugeot trike, its motor appearing to be little more than an afterthought.
Just as airplane design was accelerated during the first World War, so was motorcycle development. Wartime budgets also allowed motorcycle makers to survive – and perhaps thrive – at a time when they otherwise might not have stayed afloat. A clear example of that post-World War I refinement is seen in the collection’s 1931 Husqvarna and the 1936 BMW R4. In the BMW you can see the Bavarian automaker in the bike’s design and construction. Three years later (in 1939) the R4 would begin to motor its way through World War II.
After the war, the motorcycle market in the U.S. evolved in successive, decades-long waves, beginning – of course – in the ‘50s, where sales were dominated by America’s Harley and a last-gasp Indian, as well as – toward the end of that decade – the ubiquitous Brits. The ‘60s, of course, marked the arrival of the Japanese, and while the collection covering this period is extensive, Japanese brands are represented by but one bike, a 1965 Marusho. (For those wanting a vintage Japanese fix, visit Al Lamb Honda in North Dallas.) Britain and Germany are better represented during this period, and that – frankly – extends to the entire museum. Bobby’s enthusiasm for bikes was wide-ranging, but more easily jumped the Atlantic than bridged the Pacific.
Bikes on my personal radar as a teen and 20-something were apparently also on the radar of Mr. Haas. A short list includes Kawasaki’s H1R 500 (1970), BSA’s Scrambler 250 (1971), Triumph’s evergreen Bonneville (1974), Benelli’s oh-so-exotic Sei (1977) and Moto Guzzi’s LeMans III (1984). Of those, I was the lucky owner of the LeMans III for a few years…and would still own it, if my wife Tina’s career had started generating real money much sooner.
If the Haas collection of production bikes is mind-boggling, the 60+ custom bikes are jaw-dropping. It is a crazy assortment of seemingly anything and everything, with but one unifying theme: brilliant design executed by real craftsmen. And all of it is fully appropriate to the personal preferences of Bobby Haas and, of course, the museum’s zip code: The Dallas Design District.
Beyond its attraction as a showroom for exceptional motorcycles, the Haas can and should serve as a host venue for any gathering with a connection to design. And its long-term future should be secured by those movers and shakers of Dallas with a connection to transportation. (Toyota, Exxon/Mobil and Southwest Airlines come to mind.) Wanting to launch a new car in the Southwest? Incorporate the Haas Moto Museum in those launch activities. And for a meeting of the faithful (think BMW, Ducati, Harley or – of course – Honda), there would be few better places this side of Europe for those gatherings than 1201 Oak Lawn in Dallas.
The Haas Moto Museum is open
Thursday thru Sunday, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.
For info, visit www.haasmotomuseum.com.