The list of custom shops and builders out there is getting longer and longer every day. If you, the customer, were looking to set them apart, what would you look for? Our advice is to first off, find out if the shop builds its customs from the ground up and then find out how much of the build is actually done in-house. Often when looking for inspired ideas and that certain "style" in bikes that really catch the eye, it's best to look to the past. After all, it's the parts from the past that give us those really sweet-looking long front ends, custom shaped gas tanks and oil bags, homemade handlebars, and crazy exhausts.
More importantly, it is rare that anyone can claim a design as truly brand-new these days. The styling of the past is still very much around today-just built with all of today's technology. And we certainly don't fault the guy who uses it either. Think about it; for the most part, the new stuff rocks. Fast big inch motors and six-speed transmissions, air ride suspension to smooth out a bumpy road, all the good things to make a long ride comfortable or improve the handling of a tricked out ride. We like it.
Phil Bustamante, owner of Black Label Choppers (BLC) agrees that technology's advances have been for the industry. However, he feels that the old school way is still the best and manages to keep it that way in his shop. In fact, Phil's shop is one of the few that still looks for old treasure at swap meets and in the Cycle Trader. He knows the old bikes so well that when he gets his hands on a Panhead or Shovelhead, he knows just what to do; strip it and re-build it, but with the Black Label Choppers style. BLC has been in business for over four years, but under its roof is a lifetime of experience. The shop philosophy is you truly build bikes for the customers, and not just bolt them together. The staff specializes mostly in one-off bikes like this orange Panhead.
For the design of the chopper, Phil didn't have an exact plan in mind as to how it was going to end up looking. What he did know was he needed to get it done in less than 30 days for a big show in Pomona, California. Phil prefers not to have a plan when designing any of BLC's bikes, but rather just allow the design to emerge naturally as the bike comes together during the build. Basically, whatever happens, happens. This may explain why his, and even his customer's bikes, seem to be out there in appearance-but they're definitely cool. Most of the components on the orange chopper, like most of BLC bikes, are handbuilt and Phil always uses a hand shift/foot clutch on his shop bikes.
For this build, Phil started with a custom-made frame, the where and who built it is Phil's secret. He had a 45-degree raked Gooseneck-style rigid with 7 inches added to the downtubes and to hold a 180mm rear tire. Very happy with the look of all the welds on the frame, Phil sent it to get treated to some chrome at A&B; Chrome. To complete this roller, a set of spoke wheels from DNA and a springer from Sam Springer would flow the lines from end-to-end.
Phil started this build knowing the motor needed to be a Panhead, but wasn't sure where it was going to come from. He got a lucky phone call about a Panhead motor that needed to get refreshed. Obviously, he said, "I'll take it". Phil wasted no time. As soon as the motor was in his hands, he was stripping it down to the cases. Once he checked that everything was good with the cases, Phil pressed new bearings and installed new flywheels, rods, and pistons from S&S; and reworked the heads with new valves and rockers.
Having a box full of OEM H-D parts like a Linkert carburetor, the motor was the easy part. Phil knew up front the bike was going to be missing a battery so a Magneto was installed just before the motor was bolted in the frame. Now as Phil would tell you, there is no way a set of bolt-on exhaust pipes would ever make their way onto one of his bikes, so of course he made a custom set that made it safe and sound onto the left side.
Just about the time the motor was done, the H-D four-speed transmission case came back from A&B; Chrome. Phil filled the case with all new Andrews' gears and sealed it up with chrome top and side covers from Poncho. A belt drive system was made of BDL pulleys and clutches to couple the motor and trans together. It was then that Phil started to work on the sheetmetal.
By the time Phil started shaping the top piece of metal, he figured out how the gas tank would fit the frame. It was also then that Phil cut the sides and tunnel that he knew it was the feature that would get the bike noticed. The paint needed to do the sheetmetal justice. Phil had everything covered in orange metalflake with cream graphics. A few of the accessories like the headlight, handlebars, motor mount, and the axle covers got covered in the same metalflake orange.
Just in time for the show, the bike was done. Talk about last minute, the last bolt was tightened the morning of the show as the bike was getting loaded into the trailer. At the show, it won 3rd place in the Best of Show category. Unfortunately, in August of that year, somebody broke into the shop and stole nine bikes, including this orange Panhead. Business was going well for BLC, until these bikes were stolen. Phil said the robbery took quite a toll on the business, and due to the financial loss the shop suffered, BLC has been barely surviving since then. He just wishes the bike was still around as well as the others, because each build is very personal to him and the BLC staff who all worked very hard to build them.