Classic trucks, legendary motorcycles

Mechanic restores American and British models

Sam Manganaro stands in his Dolores shop where he restores classic cars and motorcycles.

Restoring classic trucks and rare motorcycles are the forte of Sam Manganaro, a local resident who recently relocated his shop to Dolores.

Up on the hill west of town, a chronically empty lot is now showing off old-school trucks for sale - a 1936 Chevy, 1957 GMC, a 1939 Packard, and they are all in perfect working order.

"I like the location because it has a lot more exposure," Manganaro said. "It's been working out well so far. A lot of folks are looking for old trucks without the computers and all of the extra electronics. I like the pre-1970 body styles and they're fun to drive."

But step inside the shop and enter his truly expert domain, renovating rare Vincent motorcycles, a high-performance British classic that few can afford.

"They cost as much as a house," he said. "Collectors ship me their taken-apart Vincents, and I restore and repair them. I don't have any local customers."

No mystery there. Some of the bikes run from $145,000 to $500,000 because of their rarity and excellent engineering.

"They don't have a frame like other bikes, everything hangs off the engine. They have twice the horsepower and half the weight, which makes them handle and perform really well," he said. "The engines are really beautiful, no plastic, motorheads love that."

The famous Vincents broke race records in their day, but the company's commitment to using only the highest quality parts and machinery put them out of business in 1955. The limited remaining stock has been shooting up in price ever since, he said.

Just like gold, "When the economy is down, people will invest in Vincents because they really hold their value. They were ahead of their time."

Manganaro rebuilt his first Vincent in 1993, a 1949 Rapide, and instantly found his life's passion. He formed Vincentworks, LLC, and he is one of a few in the country who restores Vincents, the Rolls Royce of motorcycles.

A 1949 Black Shadow he restored sold for $145,000 in Las Vegas. There were only 1,700 made. A Black Lightning model, one of 39 in the world, was renovated by Manganaro and sold for $500,000.

"There is a waiting list for these bikes; I help people find them, and then rebuild them," he said.

The soft-spoken master mechanic is a bear of a man who loves people as much as classic bikes and cars.

"I work better at night because I'm shooting the breeze all day when people stop in. You know, solving the world's problems, talking bikes," he says with a grin.

Some of the company he keeps circle in the celebrity orbit. They land in Dolores from all over the world for his magic touch with the bikes.

The Discovery Channel featured Manganaro and a Vincent Cafe-style race bike he restored at his former shop at Road T.5

He brought back to life a Vincent White Lightning, owned by Pat Simmons, of the Doobie Brothers.

But local riders on more modest steeds know they live in motorcycle touring heaven, and the wealthy collectors are jealous, Manganaro adds.

"I take them on a 370-mile loop that goes through Disappointment Valley and the mountains and there is not one stoplight. It blows them away," he said.

Manganaro is a down-to-earth kind of guy. He is not beneath fixing up your busted up Suzuki you got on craigslist, if he has time. He's hip on trades, and does consignments as well. Discover a good deal, he'll even give you a finder 's fee.

"I'm amazed at all of the old vehicles people have stored in old barns and such, but there is no central meeting place for collectors," he said.

Sounds like he's solved that problem.