Sunday, February 14, 2010

Blast From the Past: 2003 Indian Larry Interview

Indian Larry is a legend in the motorcycle world, his motorcycles are timeless and unique. Five year's after his unfortunate stuntriding accident, going into Daytona Bike Week 2010, most of us are giving a thought to Indian Larry. Daytona was one of his favorite rallies.

He was a skilled machinist, metal-sculptor, master motorcycle mechanic and visionary. He won countless custom shows and put his total attention and focus into everything he touched. Larry's inspiration came from the motorcycle clubs of 50s-60s, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and the legendary Kenny Howard better known as Von Dutch. Larry originated his own style blending the hard-core motorcycle, classic chopper and hotrod race bike to form a graceful piece of rolling art. For over 30 years he built custom motorcycles. His talents and beliefs transcended the OUT OF THE BOX theories of the day -- He used his brilliant imagination to build old school choppers even better then the builders of the 60's.

"His creations are works of art that boldly cut the wind like a sharp knife," said Don V. ( in a November 2003 interview with Indian Larry .

"The influences of the greatest creative minds in motorcycle history safely reside and are well kept inside this one of a kind artist! Indian Larry's friendly nature and willingness to help others as he did in the chopper build off with Billy Lane are his trade mark."

Here's the entire Q & A November 2003 interview, story and photos:

Don V: Who was the one person that influenced you the most?

Indian Larry: Ed Roth was my biggest influence; I met him in the 60's. I went to California as a starry eyed kid to try to work with him. But unfortunately he told me "you have no California experience kid!" So he sent me off to work for a great car painter by the name of Larry Watson. I did prep and primer work for Larry and then finally returned to NY still in pursuit of my dream! But the influence of Ed Roth still stuck with me because Big Daddy was the type who did not worry about what others thought he just built what he liked and that is exactly what I do. I don't care about what others have to say and now most of the bikes I build range in price from $65,000 to $100,000. I do things my way from concept to completion.

Don V: What do you feel is the most important detail when building a custom bike?

Indian Larry: Number one is to give the buyer exactly what they want detail by detail. A custom bike should be built to accommodate the person riding it and be ergonomically correct. I feel a rigid frame is the best, it should be stripped down to eliminate unneeded components and also be powerful, nibble, with quick response and speed. Choppers are a living sculpture and all the parts need to be visible to the eye. I don't understand sometimes what some of the custom builders around the country are trying to accomplish by hiding most of the inner workings of their bikes. A lot of the builders today do not even know how to spoke a wheel! The billet wheels in use today by most builders I feel detract from the looks of the bikes. I am old school all the way and always will be.

Don V: What are your favorite motors to use in your choppers?

Indian Larry: Well Don, 96 to 106 cubic inch motors are perfect and among the most popular but I have gone all the way up to 126. I use mostly S&S components because they are made well, dependable and are the oldest company reproducing Harley engines. I also like to use Patrick racing engines when the need arises. Most of the motors I use are sand cast shovels and pans. A 106 cubic inch panhead front and a shovelhead rear cylinder, with duel carbs is my favorite motor out of all of them.

Don V: Your seats are very low on the frame. Do you feel this helps the rider get in tune with feeling the bike under him?

Indian Larry: It provides a low center of gravity and helps tremendously when cornering. The rigid factor of the frame allows for a cool, comfortable overall feeling. It also helps the rider flow with the bike and enables him to feel as one with the machine. This to me is the best way to build a chopper!

Don V: Are all your bikes hardtails?

Indian Larry: I build both styles of choppers, but I would have to say the rigid frame is my favorite. I have no problem riding 300 miles a day on one. Ergonomics are a big factor with me because first and foremost the bike has got to be comfortable. So many people have told me that a rigid frame is bad for your back but I feel they are wrong and the opposite applies with me. I feel a rigid is good for the back and is very comfortable.

Don V: Of all the bikes you have built, do you have a favorite?

Indian Larry: The Rat Fink dedication bike is one of my favorites, but also the Wild Child bike I built for the Chopper Build Off with Billy Lane. It had a pan front and a shovel rear, and the thing is to make them both work together for smooth consistent power. I guess you could say all the bikes I build are favorites of mine and one of a kind. I loved building them all and will build many more. (Larry's creations can be seen at

Don V: Do you plan to build any special bikes for Bike Week 2004 or Sturgis?

Indian Larry: I am working on one right now, and getting it ready for Sturgis. It has a pan front, shovel rear with an Evo crankcase. I should have no trouble getting 225mph out of her. I am really looking forward to it, and I feel the fans will appreciate this beautiful work of art.

Don V: Do you have a favorite hang out in Daytona?

Indian Larry: After finishing the day I like to get on the bike and head out of the city and ride to St. Augustine or some place where I can get a good meal, relax and take a swim if possible. I love my fans and feel it is an honor to meet them all but want some time alone to regroup for the next day and I find a nice long ride provides the needed medicine.

Don V: Are you and Billy Lane planning anything special for Bike Week 2004?

Indian Larry: This year we will have the entire lot in front of Stevens Tires across the street from the Wreck. Our tee shirts and pictures will be available, but it also gives us a chance to meet the fans one on one and shake their hands. It is a great experience for me, I love it! I have always felt that everyone should do what they love and some day the recognition will come without seeking it. I feel humbled by the fan attention and appreciate every one of them.

Don V: What is your favorite event to attend?

Indian Larry: I like them all but I think Daytona, Sturgis and Myrtle Beach are the best.

Don V: Are custom cars also a passion with you Larry?

Indian Larry: I used to build a lot of cars, I am a real gear head at heart. But I found my passion was to combine my love of cars and motorcycles and built hot rod bikes.

Don V: What kind of stunts do you perform?

Indian Larry: I do the triple firewall crash, stand on the seat at about 55+mph, ride with no hands, wheelies and lay down on the bike seat backwards.

Don V: Have you ever ridden the Wall Of Death?

Indian Larry: Not yet but it would really mean a lot to me. I would love to do it with your friend Samantha Morgan, Don!

Don V: You are also an artist Larry, are any of your metal sculptures on display anywhere?

Indian Larry: I have helped on several projects and worked as an ironworker in NY, but my motorcycles are my artwork. They are a true expression of my creative talents and feelings. The best day is one of creation, when I can take nothing but raw components and make something meaningful by putting all of my creative energy into it.

Don V: You mentioned something to me about coming to Florida. If you did, where do you think you would like to locate?

Indian Larry: Well, as I said I love to swim, so Miami is probably where I would like to be when we get ready to leave NY.

"Take me home, carry me home, back to Gasoline Alley where I belong;" That's how the early 70's Rod Stewart Song went, and it still hold's true today. Old Skool choppers like "back in the day" still rule at this NYC shop. Deep in the heart of Brooklyn, NY's industrial waterfront district lies Indian Larry's GASOLINE ALLEY NYC. Neatly tucked between warehouses and commercial buildings, magic is being made daily.

I caught up with Indian Larry and his partner Gerard while the Discovery Channel was at the shop filming another biker build-off for their Motorcycle Mania show. This time it's Indian Larry vs. Master builder Paul Yaffee. It was hetic, indeed. The Horse will feature the Gasoline Alley NYC crew's bike from conception through the building process and final judging at the Laconia M.C. Rally this June in an upcoming issue.

Gasoline Alley was started about three years ago at this location on Brooklyn's North 14 Street. Both Larry and Gerard have a long and illustrious history of chopper building. Their clients include the likes of Tyson Beckford and Evan Sienfield of Bio-Hazard and OZ on HBO among many other notables. They don't discriminate to just the celebrity set. You will find folks from every walk of life drifting in and out of Gasoline Alley NYC. Larry and Gerard take pride in treating everyone equally. From the highest of the high to a dirt bag photojournalist like me. Everyone is made to feel welcome and they take the time to make sure you get just what you need.

Indian Larry's resume reads like something out of fiction. A metal sculptor, motorcycle artist, stuntman and movie celebrity, Indian Larry was also featured in a previous Discovery Channel biker special with Jesse James. As for Larry's other credits, the movies QUIZ SHOW, 200 CIGARETTES, ROCKET'S RED GLARE as well as TV commercials for Burger King and Harley-Davidson and a bunch of music videos.

While I shot the new Discovery bike, I spied this sweet old skool Panhead tucked lovingly in the rear of the work area. As fate would have it the, lovely Suzy McCoppin, co-star of HBO's GAMES PEOPLE PLAY and INFAMOUS was also conveniently at hand. (Regular readers know that the old Teddy Bear always has a young lovely near by.) I just couldn't let this opportunity pass. Also on hand for the build was Paul Cox, master of leather. Larry surrounds himself with the cream of chopperdom. Paul made seats for Billy Lane's Choppers Inc, Jesse James West Coast Choppers among others and is also one hell of a machinist. In attendance was Knucklehead Steve, another renowned fixture in the NYC chopper scene. I sorta twisted Larry's arm and he agreed to share this sweet ride with us.

This baby is a neo/classic rigid style Panhead chopper right out of the past. Three months in gestation, it's birth was eagerly awaited by it's owner Chris Hynes.

It sports an 88-cubic-inch neo/Pan engine rebuilt by Accurate engineering with S&S cases and pistons topped off with STD heads and Mallory ignition. Also in the power plant are Andrews cams, Jims lifters and an S&S Super E carb. The hydraulic clutch helps shift the JIMS 6-speed tranny with graceful ease.

The frame is a custom 2002 Atlas/Gasoline Alley NYC special with a 35-degree rake and stretched 2 inches in the down tubes. It takes a Primo Brute IV 3-inch belt drive to handle the power.

The gas tank is a modified Paughco that was lovingly remolded and shot with sweet epoxy black pearl by Robert Pradke/Custom Auto Design and the oil system is a Gasoline Alley NYC custom design fed by a Choppers Inc. oil tank. The seat by Paul Cox Custom Leather Design is almost too damned pretty to put your ass on.

Up front 6-inch billet risers are topped off by a tasteful set of ape hangers. Keeping with the NYC tradition, there is no front fender and no speedometer. If you ride in NYC, you need balls of steel, and with this traditional set up, they'll be well tempered by the end of one rush hour commute. The Excel wheels and hubs with Avon tires mounted 21"x 215 front and 18" x 5.5" rear make this baby sit real proud.

Building a bike like this from the ground up is what Gasoline Alley NYC is famous for. Real Old Skool styling and new cutting edge technology can work exceedingly well together, if done properly and tastefully. You won't find the traditional Billet Barge here in this shop. Every bike is a work of art. Larry and Gerard take pride in their craftsmanship and every hand that works on a bike or that manufactures a custom part is the hand of a true artist.

" And if I'm called away and it's my turn to go,
Should the blood run cold in my veins,
Just one favor I'll be asking you,
Don't bury me here it's too cold,
Take me back,
Carry me back,
Down to Gasoline Alley where I started from"

Discovery Channel Shows - The scene could be a wise-guy movie, a London fog-covered street at dusk or a tale being told in a downtown bar. Although these all sound mysterious enough, we actually find former Marine corporal, Bill Cardone, in a Brooklyn back-alley rolling out another piece of art known as - the great American chopper.

Discovery Channel has recently departed the shop and the next craze of reality TV has captured a wide array of the international public. "Indian Larry" just beat out Billy Lane on "Biker Build Off IV" where men take raw steel and turn them into fine-tuned precision motorcycles. But where is the Marine Corps connection here on North 14th Street?

Cardone, 47, of Flushing, N.Y., a former Electronics Technician with MWCS-28, is burrowed into this famous East River shop known as "Gasoline Alley, NYC." Cardone, a right-hand man to world-renowned chopper artist "Indian Larry," has been in this business since the mid-80's.

"I started tearing down mini-bikes when I was a kid, and just kept with it," said Cardone.
Cardone credits the Marine Corps for directing his life. "I was running with the wrong crowd. The Marine Corps taught me discipline, how to act like a man and work with other people."

A meritorious PFC out of boot camp in 1973, Cardone got out as a corporal from Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., in 1977. He then worked as a truck mechanic until his itch for building bikes landed him with his first professional job at Jar Choppers in the Bayside area of Brooklyn, N.Y., for 10-years.

"I actually consider myself an artist," said Cardone. "It is a true sense of accomplishment to picture something in your head and eventually watch it roll out of the shop and down the street."
Cardone also owned his own shop, East End Custom Cycles in Queens Village, N.Y., for about 2-years before coming to Gasoline Alley, NYC.

"A friend brought him by," said Indian Larry, co-owner of Gasoline Alley, NYC. "We have a small crew here and I was impressed and surprised with what the guy had done. He is a good mechanic, fabricator and on the road he doubles as my bodyguard."

The shop is not what one would expect. Throw away the stereotypes and fill it with artistic minds that are open and question everything. Cardone credits people in the shop as "at the top of their game."
"To work here, you have to be a hard working and conscientious guy," said Gerard Mortillaro, co-owner of Gasoline Alley, NYC. "Generally, anybody with a military background has those qualities."

Cardone is not the only military tie in the shop either. Gerard Mortillaro also had a major influence from his father, Sgt. Maj. Louis F. Mortillaro, USA. Mortillaro, who obviously is a proud son, went on about a lifetime career that spanned the Army Air Corps, North Africa and Europe with civilian governmental service to follow.

Discovery Channel, which in this case is accurately named, brought this already famous shop that is tucked into a side street warehouse area, into the limelight. Hits on the website (gasolinealleynyc) reached a record high. "The show has brought people by and the phone has not stopped ringing," said Cardone.

And when asked about his future, he said, "I'm happy right here."

Originally published by Don V of