Made to Order

Buckner, Ky., motorcycle builder
survives tough economic times

Winn has a large following among
riders of custom-made bikes

By Janell Oliver
Contributing Writer

BUCKNER, Ky. (July 2012) – When motorcycle manufacturers Big Dog, America Iron Horse and Indian Motorcycle Co. closed their doors, they left several sad customers in their wake.
Owners of motorcycles made by these companies saw a decrease in value by at least 50 percent, say industry experts.

Jim Winn

Photo by Janell OIiver

Jim Winn poses with one of
his custom-made motorcycles.

Wild West Motor Co. in San Diego could have easily been one more name added to the list if Buckner, Ky.-based Jim Winn hadn’t purchased it in 2008. He hauled the inventory of nuts and bolts and parts, one container load at a time, 2,000 miles away to Oldham County, Ky. There, it was downsized and restructured as a family run business.
“What people don’t understand is that when a company closes, the value of the product – whatever it may be – instantly devalues,” Winn said.
For someone who dropped $55,000 on a motorcycle barely taken out of the garage, this is not what you want to hear.
By keeping Wild West Motor Co. alive, Winn has been able to maintain the value of existing Wild West motorcycles already on the road. In this case, that’s 4,500+ people across the globe – anyone who had purchased a motorcycle from 1987-2008.
For Winn, the bailout of Wild West Motor Co. held great appeal. An MIT graduate with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Winn also has more than 40 years experience as an engineer in the food and beverage industry. But his real passion has always been building motorcycles from scratch. For a man groomed in design and mechanics, his interest begins with the supplies.
“It all started in 1963 when I built my first chopper for fun.”
As Winn’s skills developed over the decades, his hobby grew into a business. A resident of Buckner for several years, Winn founded Apollo Choppers in 2004. It was his very first manufacturing company of custom motorcycles. He built the motorcycles on his property in Buckner it start with and later moved it to Eminence. as with any new business, it has posed its challenges, which included the lengthy process of getting the company registered with the Department of Transportation (DOT) so that it could begin issuing Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) numbers.
Also essential to the success of the company was registering with the National Automobile Dealer Association (NADA), so that insurance companies and banks could look up the value of the motorcycle and insure it to the degree deemed appropriate. According to Winn, insurance companies won’t even bother with a motorcycle not listed with NADA., “NADA registry makes you legitimate,” said Winn.
The knowledge Winn gleaned from starting Apollo Choppers proved beneficial when Wild West Motor Co (www.wildwestmc.com). was offered for sale. Because Wild West Motor Co. had been registered with NADA since 1995, the value of the bikes still on the road was easy to determine. “Wild West Motor Co. has always had an international reputation for using the best materials. A 2002 model will still sell for $28,000,” said Winn. “I’ve seen a 1987 model sell for $20,000.”
At the Buckner location, with a staff of six family members, the manufacturing process takes between six to eight weeks.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do than help my dad put a chopper together,” said Jim Winn III, who works full-time as shop supervisor for his father. Responsible for maintenance, Winn III has worked in the bike industry for 15 years, the company also employees Chad and Sterling Winn.
Beginning at $38,000, two Wild West Motorcycle models are available for 2012: The Gunfighter and the Dragoon. A new model, the Vigilante, is scheduled for release in 2013, along with and new Bagger and Trike call the Warrior series.
Last year, Winn and his staff built 40 motorcycles. “I think the economy is finally on the upturn,” said Winn. “I’ve already had more inquiries this year than in the past five years.” In addition to manufacturing custom motorcycles at the Buckner location, Winn also provides parts and services to former Wild West Motor Co. clients and local customers. They contact him from around the world: Jamaica, Germany, England. “If Wild West Motor Co. had closed in 2008, these people would have a hard time finding parts,” said Winn. “I’m happy that I was able to step in and keep it going.”
While some may consider Winn’s purchase a risky move in an unstable economy, Winn had faith in the motorcycle community.
“There will always be people who want to be part of the motorcycle culture, from all walks of life. And when money comes their way, they’ll spend it on motorcycles,” Winn said, smiling.

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