BUD EKINS' GREAT ESCAPE
Nov. 01, 2005
STUNT MAN, RACER, BIKE COLLECTOR, LEGEND
If you know your way around the streets of North Hollywood, chances are you can find 11027 Weddington. There's no real sign on the front of the white one-story building, but there is a an old burned-out neon logo hanging in a window that says "Bud." For all I know, it might have been part of a Budweiser sign at one time.
This is your only clue that you've found Bud Ekins' shop.
For those who don't know, sit down and learn something. Bud Ekins was a great movie stunt man for over three decades, a fantastic racer who dominated in the desert when people rode real bikes, and a collector/restorer of old bikes.
Bud's claim to fame is that he's the man who performed the stunt that many credit to Steve McQueen in the movie, The Great Escape. Yep, the Triumph that sailed over the fence of the German prisoner-of-war camp, was piloted by Bud, not Steve McQueen. We talked with Bud about that incredible jump:
Bud: It was the first thousand dollar stunt ever in the movie industry. It was done in 1962, and that was considered huge money back in those days.
Rick: Who's idea was it to have you do the stunt?
Bud: McQueen. We were friends and he wanted me to do it.
Rick : How long was the actual jump and how high was it?
Bud: It was about 12 feet from the bottom of the wheels to the ground, and about 65 feet long.
Rick: Tell us about the bike.
Bud: It was a '62 Triumph; nothing special. Nothing was done to the suspension.
Rick: You jumped a stocker?
Bud: Yes. Girlings in the back, no sidecars springs in the forks, nothing. It was completely stock other than a lighter earlier model front wheel.
Rick: You jumped over 65 feet on a 400 pound motorcycle! What was the landing like?
Bud: Hard! It just went bang and then it bounced.
Rick: Did you land on a down-hill grade to ease the landing, like a ski jumper?
Bud: Nope. I landed on an uphill. You gotta think about it a bit. I launch off the ground and my bike is 12 feet in the air. By landing on an upgrade, my bike didn't have to fall 12 feet; the actual drop was about six feet, and that's quite a difference. I made the jump on the first pass. I jumped. They filmed it. That was that.
Rick: Actually, you have two of the most famous bike stunts ever done in the movies. You laid that bike down in Bullit, right in front of the sliding truck.
Bud: That was easy. But most people don't know that I did the driving in that Mustang, too.
Rick: How and when did you start stunt work?
Bud: McQueen wanted me to double for him. For that Great Escape jump, they just bleached my hair and cut it like his. I was a good five inches taller than Steve, but when you're wearing the same clothes and you have the same kind of build and hair style, it works.
Rick: You had a background in racing, obviously, having won most of the great desert races, but did you ever have any serious injuries doing stunt work?
Bud: Nah. Twisted my wrist or ankle a few times. That was it.
Rick: Were there any stunts that really scared you before you had to do them?
Bud: Most of them. Davey Sharp once said to me: "Any S.O.B. who gets hurt doing stunts is stupid!" I don't think he ever got hurt.
Rick: Have you ever turned a stunt down?
Bud: Yeah. Some of 'em were even too stupid to consider. One of them I passed, and the guy who tried it got killed and the other guy who tried it after him got maimed bad.
Rick: Why does this shop exist? It doesn't look like you're exactly scrambling for business.
Bud: I sold my motorcycle business in 1972 and worked in movie stunt stuff up until about two years ago. I get a pension from that movie work now. I opened up this place to help me fiddle around with my hobby, messing around with old motorcycles. I've been into old bikes since 1950. I don't even try to make any money here at all.
Rick: How did you get into racing?
Bud: By cow trailing up in the hills. That's what people did in those days. Then one day the people I rode with said: "Let's go ride a Hare and Hound." I asked what that was and they said it was a desert race, so I started riding desert races.
Rick: You have this shop here now, and pretty much do what you want to do ...
Bud: It's usually nothing.
Rick: If a customer walks in and ask you to restore a bike for him, will you do it?
Rick: Do you do any business at all out of here?
Bud: Yes, but only as favors to people. For example, if they need something I've got, and I've got enough of the thing, I'll help 'em out.
Rick: So, effectively, this huge shop is nothing more than a hobby?
Bud: It's just a place to hang around.
Rick: Nothing wrong with that.
Bud: I'm here every day, seven days a week, but only about five or six hours a day.
(Editor's note: during the day I spent at Bud's shop, a number of his friends stopped by, to swap stories, exchange details on bikes of the past, and in general, to have a good time.)
Rick: As I look around this shop loaded with bikes, which ones - street and dirt - would be your favorites of all time?
Bud: The old Cyclone would be my street choice, and for the dirt, maybe a twin-piper CZ, or an early 250 Husky.
Rick: What if you had to ride a vintage bike from here to Florida, what would you pick?
Bud: A Harley, a '36. Because it was the best one they ever built. A '36 VL had 80 cubic inches, a four-speed gearbox, and it would cruise at 80 miles an hour easy. I got one right over there (points to the corner) that I took to the Great American Race with a sidecar. They had a choice of a three-speed or a four-speed, so I put a four-speed in it, so places like that big climb going to Vegas from Baker, I could pop that thing back into third to make that ten mile grade.
Well, I got to the top of that grade before I realized that it was there. I stayed in fourth the whole climb. Those old antique cars with us, they were down in second gear, boiling and steaming and chugging.
Rick: So other than being a great place to hang around, and maybe a project or two gets worked on when you feel like it, very little business gets done here?
Bud: Actually, Mark Anderson here specializes in restoring early Japanese bikes. He's really into the late '60s and early '70s Kawasakis.
Mark: We do work on Kawasakis from '59 up to '72 or so, and some Honda stuff, in addition to the Kawasakis. Most of the Honda stuff I do is from '59 through '63 or '64. We've even found parts for CBXs and do a lot on Z1 and Z1-R models. Most of the work is on the two-stroke triples. It's getting real hard to find parts for them now.
Rick: It's been said that the Japanese manufacturers copied most of the ideas of the British bike builders from the '50s and '60s. Any comments on that?
Bud: In the beginning they did, then they got smart real quick and changed all that about the second year they were building them. The Japanese built a bike called a Cabdon. It was a dead copy of an Ariel Red Hunter. Nothing would inter-change, but it was a ringer of a Red Hunter. If they tried as hard as they could, they couldn't have picked a worse bike to copy. Because that Ariel Red Hunter was not a good motorcycle. That bike, in the late '50s, the parts were interchangeable with what they built in the '30s! The design was that ancient. It was an early '30s design.
The cams would wear out in about 300 or 400 miles; they'd get big flat spots in them. They couldn't have copied anything worse! Then the next bike they copied was that BSA twin. With a plain main bearing in it! A 650 cc machine with a plain main bearing in it! They even had the low pressure oil pump failures the BSA had.
So they wised up after copying the two worst motorcycles possible. If they'd copied a Triumph, they'd have been OK. They got smart quick and started designing their own stuff.
Rick: Your shop is loaded with bikes. Are there any you'd like to sell?
Bud: No, I don't want to sell any more. I had 135 bikes and I'm down to about 20 keepers, and that's it.
Rick: Hmmm. I see what looks like 75 or 80 bikes in here.
Bud: All that Jap junk doesn't belong to me. That's Mark's stuff.
Rick: What's in your current collection?
Bud: I have two G-50 CSRs, and they were garaged for 25 years. They only made 25 of them. They're sitting right over there. I've got number 10 and number 25. I paid $15,000 apiece for them from some guy who just walked into my place. They're worth about $25,000 to $30,000 right now.
I've got a 1937 Excelsior Manxman, which doesn't sound too unusual, except that this one is a 500 cc, which they only made about three or four a year for about four years. There's only about 12 that exist.
Over there's a 1915 Indian. That belongs to a friend of mine who's working on it.
There's a Monark made in New York. It's about a 1912. It's a twin-cylinder, about a 1200 cc. As far as I know, it's the only one in the world.
And then there's the '13 Flying Merkel, and a '12 Emblem Twin and a 1913 Polk and a '12 Emblem Single. Then there's a 1912 Schickle, and I think there are only two of those in existence. It's a two-stroke single.
Rick: Did you actively hunt for these bikes? How did you find them?
Bud: Once I started collecting, they came to me. People started bringing them in. And then I bought a lot of them from other collectors.
Rick: Right now, I'm staring at a virtually priceless collection.
Bud: Well, it was, when I had a 135 of 'em. Once, I had 54 different American-made makes. And they were all pre-1916.
Rick: Do you ever get a wild hair and want to put some gas in one of these old classics and take it out for a ride?
Bud: Oh sure. I used to do it all the time until a few years ago. They have these old bike tours, where you get about 75 pre-1916 motorcycles out, but I haven't ridden 'em lately.
Rick: Most of these bikes here look startable and capable of being ridden.
Bud: Oh, they'll all run! Every one of them.
Late in the afternoon, I reluctantly left Bud's shop. Two or three more of his friends showed up and were looking forward to a game of pool. You see, there's a pool table right in the middle of the shop.
So, the Cheney Matchless that someone had been working on got covered up.
At Bud's shop, there are no schedules, no pressures and no real deadlines to meet. Projects are started when it seems like the right thing to do, and finished when ... well, when you get around to it.
In many respects, Bud Ekins has escaped from the normal day-to-day things that drive so many of us nuts. He spends his time with his beloved vintage bikes and treasured friends.
In 1962, he was part of The Great Escape.
In 1998, he has accomplished the Great Escape.