Dustin Banwart and Dylan Reinhart are sort of like the Hardy boys. They have discovered a two-wheeled mystery that goes by the name of the Iron Arrow and they are doing their best to track down its hidden history.
They have the best piece of evidence, the radical, low-slung chopper, in hand and are now trying to fill in the blanks. In the process of buying the Honda-powered bike, they apparently bested the “American Pickers” with their find.
“Both of our families are from El Dorado,” said Banwart, owner of Banter Automotive Group on South Washington.
“I saw the bike years ago, but I didn’t pay any attention to it then,” said Reinhart, the sales manager at Banter Automotive. Both men are in their mid-20s and were familiar with the extensive automotive/motorcycle collection of the late Mike Nail, a well-known El Dorado bail bondsman.
About three weeks ago, Nail’s widow, Donna, invited them to look through the collections housed in an old auto dealership and a movie theater to see if there was something they would be interested in buying. They were intrigued by the Iron Arrow.
“I couldn’t decide if we needed it or not, so I took a couple or three days to think about it,” said Banwart. In the meantime, Reinhart jumped on the internet and began researching the chopper.
He learned it had been built in 1976 by famed bike builder/painter Tony Carlini in his Dearborn, Mich., shop. The bike was named one of the six Super Bikes of the 1970s on a poster printed by the Lucky Strike Co. It was the subject of a cover story in Choppers magazine.
“This bike sold for $8,500 and that was a lot of money back then, equal to about $30,000 now,” said Reinhart.
“And that’s when it fell off the map,” added Banwart. The first owner was the owner of the Comet Corporation in Detroit, which did all of the chrome work.
Somehow the custom cycle made its way into the Nail collection, where it was almost discovered by motorcycle aficionados Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz of “American Pickers” TV fame. The two filmed an episode of their television show at Nail’s twin locations in El Dorado.
A video clip of that episode shows Wolfe moving the Super Bikes poster to get a better look at a vintage Harley-Davidson knucklehead bike that he eventually bought. The Iron Arrow is displayed just above that motorcycle, but is overlooked by the pickers. Fritz bought another Japanese-based chopper from Nail that day.
“He buys an ’80 Kawasaki chopper and he misses the one-of-one Carlini,” observed Reinhart.
Banwart decided the Iron Arrow was a find they couldn’t pass up and said Donna Nail was more than fair in pricing it to them.
Carlini had built the Iron Arrow to be a fast, stable straight-line chopper, with low-slung, swept-back handlebars. Most of the mechanical construction was handled by Ron Ferrell, Carlini’s right-hand man.
The bike is powered by a 4-cylinder Honda CB750 engine that apparently is pretty much stock internally, but produces about 100 horsepower, thanks to a Rajay turbocharger bolted to a single carburetor, according to Reinhart. The bike employs a Honda 5-speed transmission transmitting power to the rear wheel via chain drive.
The unique trapezoidal-shaped tank on the bike was mocked up in wood by Carlini and then sent to metal-shaper Gary Littlejohn, who built the 2 1/2-gallon tank, which was then fitted to a custom-built chopper frame featuring a 41-degree rake to the front forks. A set of three disc brakes from a Yamaha road racing bike provides stopping power, with the brake lines routed out of sight through the forks and frame tubes.
Other custom touches include brass accents such as the headlight, front spring and exhaust guards. Carlini applied one of his mile-deep custom paint jobs to the bike,fading from cherry red on the tank to deep maroon-red at the rear, all accented by gold-leaf striping. An arrow logo splits the center of the tank and if you look closely, you can make out Carlini’s signature in tiny white letters between the feathers of the arrow.
Tony Carlini died in 2002, according to Reinhart’s research.
“I had to join a bunch of (online) forums to even talk about this bike,” he said. “We’ve probably had 20 people who have contacted us, wanting to know if we’re willing to sell it and what we want for it, but they’re not spilling the beans … everything about this bike is a secret.” A note attached to the Iron Arrow indicates at some point it was displayed in an Ohio museum.
“It’s definitely a wild, one-of-a-kind motorcycle,” Reinhart said.
The Iron Arrow has never been ridden.
“It’s a show bike and they didn’t want them dripping gas or oil, so they didn’t put any in them,” Reinhart said.
Banwart and Reinhart plan to continue their search for answers to the Iron Arrow mystery and aren’t sure what they will do with their find.
“I would really like to see it go into a museum,” Banwart said, noting that way, more people would be able to appreciate this one-of-a-kind chopper.
Mike Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org