By Olly Downie
Yesterday, 30 April 2020, marked the end of the iconic and architecturally beautiful Victory/Indian store at 544 Elizabeth Street Melbourne.
I was there in September 2008 as the store was launching a “soft opening”. The fit-out was complete, the shop had been stocked with brand new Victory motorcycles and staff were cleaning, polishing and adding the final touches and the doors where “open”. I had not long returned from the 105th Harley-Davidson birthday celebrations in Milwaukee in 2008.
Victory was launched in America on the 4th of July 1998 but 2008 was my first up close and personal look at any of the new Victory machines.
I was offered the ride of a Hammer at a bar in San Francisco but declined due the fact I had been in that bar for several hours. I was amongst traffic in Sacramento later that week when I saw a Victory Vision for the first time.
These were ground breaking bikes. Like them or not they had a presence like no other machine. The rider of this bike lazily offered his opinion that he “wished they had these years ago”.
I was certainly intrigued by its size, its presence in amongst the Harleys and total lack of concern on that riders’ face as he disappeared off down the highway. A few weeks later and I’m back in Melbourne standing outside the fabulous new Victory store.
I was gawking at the Visions on display, one moving around on the podium when Peter Harvey sauntered up, introduced himself and promptly offered me a coffee. Peter was the head of Motorcycle Division Polaris Australia and this was already a wildly different experience than wandering into a Harley dealership, greetings and a hot coffee!
I told Peter about my recent trip to the States and my impression of the new bikes. He offered me a test ride, just call up the shop, or drop in, bring my licence and away you go.
That next weekend, I called and asked, that as the weather was forecasting a warm Saturday, could I take the bike for a couple of hours? Peter replied, “mate, it’s going to be a great weekend, why don’t you bring it back Tuesday, because we’re shut Mondays”.
To put this offer in context, to book a test ride on a new Harley in those days, you had to put your name on a waiting list and wait until the once yearly test ride days where you went around a 10-kilometre circuit with the dealer.
This was next level. I’ve been handed the keys to a brand new $32,000 machine and told to bring it back in four days!
Even in telling this story as I often do, people don’t believe me.
I put 500 kilometres on that machine, mainly over a weekend of riding flat out on the country roads around the North East of Melbourne, up the freeways and to and from work. My mates rode it and the kids pillioned on it. I demonstrated the electric windscreen, the 100-watt stereo/radio, the heated grips and heated seats, marvelled at the capacity of the panniers and then shocked people by letting it fall over on its side. (Visions could be leaned over to the ground where they rested on their footboards and a bar below the panniers with no damage).
Next Tuesday afternoon, I owned one. From that day on, myself and all of the new Victory owners became ambassadors for the brand.
We loved the bikes with a passion. The sales went from strength to strength and the shop treated us early adopters like royalty. The first shop ride was to Bright in Victoria. They paid for our accommodation, our dinner and our drinks on the night. The group photo taken the next morning showed a gaggle of heavily hungover riders about to head home to recover.
There were several runs in the early days that the shop paid for.
I remember the Bright run, Phillip Island ride, the Apollo Bay ride, the Yarra Glen extravaganza at a winery but nothing beat the ride up to Sydney to celebrate the opening of the new Sydney shop. From memory there were more than a hundred bikes on that near 1000 kilometre ride. The shop paid for our fuel, group luncheons and threw the best party at the new dealership.
They bussed us to and from the store after the launch and then put serious cash on the bar at the after party in Homebush. When that money ran out, Alan Nichols and myself topped it up for another hour or two. Such was the passion and the drunkardness…
When we called in to the shop this week, nearly every reference to Victory was gone. There was a wallpapered section at the rear doors but that was it. Since the end of the Victory brand in 2017, the shop, which was owned by Polaris, was converted to showcase the Indians, with an increasingly smaller floor plan for used Victory machines. Now it’s all gone.
Indians are going to be sold across a new dealer network in Australia unrepresentative of the previous brand owned stores. They will now be retailed from multi-franchise stores, often linked to that large retail motorcycle chains.
I made a lot of friends in the early days. Many of them are still great mates. Along with the help of Big Ray Noble, we helped arrange the first monthly rides. These were also hosted by the shop with a hot breakfast and a coffee truck. Many of these rides were led by Tony Scerri. There isn’t a country road in the state and probably the East Coast of Australia that Tony hasn’t been down several times and his riding skills are inspirational. Victorys first salesman, Ant Clark, went off to represent Australia as one of the worlds top Victory salesman at a Polaris junket in Hawaii in 2011.
Many of the old crew still have Victory bikes. I’ve had several over the years and still have one of the few 2013 Hardballs. Last month I picked up a used 2009 Vision. It’s in mint condition, it has upgraded Lloyds cams, pipes and air filter, it even has reverse gear fitted. I got it for far less that the $32000 new bike price but this bike will last forever, as the Vics were designed to do.
Ant and I both called in to the shop this week to see the last of the crew left to clean up and fill the skips with rubbish and prepare it for handover. The last dealer principal Roman Peldys was there, as was John Cook, Frank Bianco, and Jules Woodmansey, the magic mechanic.
It’s a pity the virus is with us. It was a moment that should have been shared with handshakes, man hugs and cold beers. For me and many others, Victory was a great few years in our lives. Without the inspiration and enthusiasm of Peter Alexander, the Australian boss of Polaris, Daryl Storrie the shops first Dealer principal and Mike Hennessy the supremely talented shop mechanic, it wouldn’t have been the awesome ride it was.
Thanks for the great rides, the fabulous bikes and the lifelong memories.