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Two Rules of Motorcycle Barn-Finding


There are two basic rules to discovering long hidden bikes. Rule Number One: Talk about old motorcycles to everyone you meet.

Just ask Chris Slawski of Medford Lakes, New Jersey. He has the enviable job of being a service trainer for Subaru of America, which is based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. “I talk to service managers and mechanics all day,” Slawski said. “These guys have been around the block and usually have cars or bikes as hobbies.” Slawski’s territory is the entire United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.

“You never really know the person on the other end of the phone line, but little by little, you find out about their lives.” In addition to his telephone work, Slawski spends about eight weeks a year traveling around the country giving seminars on warrantee claims. That’s when he can finally meet some of the folks he has been talking with on the phone. During the seminars, he’s all business, but during lunch breaks, he meets with his students one-on-one. “When you meet them in person, their stories start coming out,” he said. “You find out what they do on their off-time.”

During those lunch breaks, Slawski is quick to bring up his love for old motorcycles, particularly Triumphs. Even though he has been a trainer for Subaru for six years, prior to that he worked as a service writer and mechanic in a Harley-Davidson dealership in Burlington, New Jersey, about 20 miles east of Philadelphia near Atlantic City.

“I had owned several Harleys, but I was looking to pick up a project bike,” he said. “One of the guys at the dealership said that a friend of his was selling a ’79 Triumph Bonneville, so I picked that up and did a frame-up restoration.” Thus began his passion for Triumph brand motorcycles.

He sold the ’79 Bonneville and picked up a ’70 T 100 C from a man in Massachusetts. He brought the bike home, but it sat and sat in his garage. “It sat for a few years, and I really hadn’t made much progress on it, so I sold it to one of my co-workers at the Harley dealership. I made a couple of hundred dollars on it and sold it for $1,400.”

He immediately regretted his decision.

Meanwhile, the new owner, Tim, invested a little bit of work in restoring the cylinder head and tuning the carbs. “He got it running smoother, and I had the itch to buy it back,” Slawski said. “He said he would sell it to me for $5,000. I thought about it and thought about it. I really wanted it back, but he didn’t own it that long, and hadn’t done that much work to it to justify $5,000.”

1970-T100-CThat’s where Rule Number One of barn-finding comes in: talk about old motorcycles to everyone you meet. “So I was giving a training class, and during lunch I tell all my students that I’m into old Triumph motorcycles,” Slawski said. “So this one guy, who works in a Michigan Subaru dealership but lives near Akron, Ohio, he tells me he has a couple of old Triumphs in his garage. He had no idea what they were, however.”

Slawski asked the man for the VINs: one was a 1970 Triumph T 100 C, which was basically the same bike that Slawski had recently sold, and the other was a 1968 T 100 R, a spiced-up version of the T 100 C, with dual carburetors.

1968-T100-R-gaugesHe had stored them in his garage for about 20 years and really knew nothing about them. The man also owned, but was not selling, a Triumph 5T Enduro. Slawski’s best guess is that the man bought all three bikes in a package deal 20 years earlier and planned to use the other two bikes’ parts as scrap for his Enduro.

“I asked how much he wanted for the bikes, and he said $500 each,” Slawski said. “So the good news was that I was able to replace the T 100 C that I sold for the same amount of money as Tim wanted to sell it to me for, minus one zero,” he added with a smile.

1968-T100-RSlawski plans to sell the ’68 T 100 R and restore the T 100 C. “I’ll do all the restoration on it myself except for paint,” he said. He still hasn’t made the trip from New Jersey to Akron, Ohio, to pick up his two barn-find Triumphs. He said he’ll probably make the 20-hour round trip in the spring.

“From the photos, the bikes look to be 90 percent complete,” he said. “The 1970 has low exhaust pipes, which are not correct, and the ’68 is missing a side cover. But these are not hard items to get; I’ll get most of them from a couple of guys who work at the old Harley dealership where I used to work. They used to be Triumph mechanics and still have boatloads of parts.”

When he’s done with the restoration, what will he do with the bike?

“I won a 2007 Harley Superglide Custom that I ride a lot,” he said. “Besides, I’m six feet three inches tall and weigh 300 pounds. If I rode that Triumph 500, I’d look like a bear on a tricycle.

“The restoration will keep me out of trouble. When it’s done, I’ll just keep it as artwork. Besides, it seems that when I sell something, I just start looking to replace the same bike I just sold. So as long as I have garage space, I won’t sell it.”

Just to make it clear, Rule Number One doesn’t just work with motorcycles. Slawski also owns a ’69 Camaro and a ’64 Pontiac GTO, both barn-finds and both discovered by talking to everyone he meets.

Oh, and you’re probably wondering about Rule Number Two?

Just repeat Rule Number One.

Harley in Barn CoverThis story originally appeared in Tom Cotter’s The Harley in the Barn book. Subscribe to our email list for a chance to win a free copy and submit your own find stories because one is going to get published in Tom’s next In the Barn book!


  1. jim

    another great story and good advice. thanks

    Like 0
  2. Tim

    That is the exact way I got s code 67 mustang fastback it was what I always wanted big block car 4 speed ,,but sad thing is that was 15 years ago and was hearting for money had to sell.. mind you this was a rusty shell but it was fixable ,I had to sell ,still hearts til this day ,I miss the chance to build a awesome car ,if given the chance again ,
    I would build that car !!! Thank You for the story ,I will keep trying

    Like 0
  3. geomechs geomechs Member

    I talk about old cars and bikes to everyone I know. I’ve gotten mostly stuff people think are old (like an ’83 Honda 750) but I get the odd feed about an Indian or a Royal Enfield, or even a ’29 Henderson (which I pulled off a guy’s rock pile). It was only a frame, bars and wheels but still restorable. It seems that when you make your interests known, people will come out of the woodwork.

    Like 0
  4. Steve

    Good story. His co-worker Tim sounds like a dick. If a friend gives you a bro-deal, you should reciprocate.

    Like 0
  5. Roger C.

    Great story! Applying these two rules, I finally found (after 3 years) a 68 Mustang, code J. Would like to post a picture of it if someone tells me how…

    Like 0

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