Carlton Williamson: Audacity Personified!

By Bev Bowen


Many motorcycling greats share the characteristics of risk-taking, skill, innovativeness, inventiveness, and goal fixation. A very few - like Philip Conrad Vincent - showed the added behavior of audacity. Texan Carlton Williamson is also one of those rare individuals who has both stepped outside the box and challenged the usual constraints.


PCV (as he is referred to by Vincent aficionados) audaciously set out from his college days with financial help from his father to acquire the HRD firm and then make it more famous under his own name, with a great vision of producing the world's finest motorcycle. As a teenager, Carlton Williamson became one of, if not THE youngest motorcycle dealers in the USA, if not the world, back in 1954. More on that, but first a bit of background.




Carlton Williamson, c. 1954


Growing up as a keen motorcyclist in Corsicana, Texas, Carlton enjoyed street racing, both drag racing and top speed hauls, competing against like-minded novice racers. He had an AJS single, a '50 model, and consistently beat his friend on a more powerful AJS twin ('51), the latter falling short as Carlton knew better how to make the most of the gearbox and clutch. Frustrated, his vanquished pal went to Ft. Worth to George Fasig's Indian dealership and traded for a '52 Vincent Rapide. But even this machine was not enough with its rider, as the unfortunate fellow struggled with starting the beast. Enough was enough, so they traded - Carlton took ownership of the Rapide by swapping his 1930 stock Chevy coupe.


Handy with tools, Carlton quickly fettled the Vincent and set about trouncing all challengers. The bike eventually developed a clutch slip, due to failure of the little seal in the clutch drum. Taking the bike to the mentioned dealer in Ft. Worth for the part, he learned that Fasig had no mechanic. Carlton asked to borrow tools and quickly demonstrated his ability to skillfully cure the slip. Seeing opportunity, he begged the owner for a job as mechanic and was hired on. So, on March 8th, 1954 he hauled his AJS and Rapide and his clothing to his new home. And, Carlton enrolled in Birdville High School in order to complete the 11th grade.





Soon thereafter, Indian's failure and perhaps other issues encouraged Fasig to sell. Carlton got in touch with his mother and asked how much money she had on hand. Her life's savings amounted to just over $2,000.00, and she agreed to hand over the sum which was almost enough for Carlton's down payment of $2,500.00. He produced the extra $500.00 with the sale of his Rapide. At his age, Carlton was under-age for such a venture so the contract was signed on June 2, 1954 by his father, H.B. Williamson. Six months later, his dad developed seriously poor health and then signed the business over to his wife, Pauline, on December 7th. Of course, Carlton was the real owner/operator, and in due time his name was on the books. Thus, for all intents and purposes, Carlton Williamson at age 17 was the owner of a motorcycle shop, now named Carlton's Motorcycle Sales, on 4223 East Belknap Street, Ft. Worth, Texas. PCV would likely have identified with that.




Carlton Williamson (left) and Jack Wilson, 1958


Carlton maintains the word was on the street that Fasig fully expected to reclaim the business, seeing Carlton's sure failure, boasting that he would have the business back plus a down payment bonus! Williamson defied the odds, though, and in just five months he was 4 payments ahead and quickly owned the shop! While both the Indian line and Vincent were essentially non-viable due to the collapse at both factories, he was nominally a dealer for both in terms of service and parts and used machines. He also had the brands of AJS/Matchless, Norton, Royal Enfield, NSU/BMW around 1955 and even BSA by 1957.


Racing was still a big deal with Carlton and he came to the right place. Pete Dalio was in competition at his shop with Triumph there in Ft. Worth and there were clubs in place, the main one being the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. Carlton founded the Cowtown Cycle Club, later renamed the Cycle Club of Ft. Worth, still in existence all these years later and meeting on designated Thursday nights. Street racing was very popular in those days, and riders would get up early in the morning to test their machines and themselves, rattling doors and windows with blasting exhaust to raise the populace from their beds! Yes, there were organized events, too. Most of the street racing was on the Old Denton Highway, but there were other locales. Also, for several years, Carlton was a regular at the races in Dodge City, Kansas. One year there, he claims he won on a 125cc NSU Super Fox that had been boosted to 175cc but disguised to avoid detection. With a smile, he admits it was cheating but said, "In those days it was who could out-cheat who and was 10 times the amount of fun!" While he did not race a Vincent at Dodge City he does recall seeing Tony Blackstock's Black Lightning in action, ridden by Larry Beall.


While Carlton readily gave up his Rapide in order to buy the shop, it was not so difficult a sacrifice as along with the deal he got a '51 Black Shadow on the floor which he claimed as his own. At first he raced it stock, but then heated it up with MKII cams, 9:1 Specialloid pistons, and home-made 1.3/4" straight pipes. He said he never did source the GP or TT carburetors, though. But, by 1958 he was too busy with business to race anymore. Besides, there were many young, smaller and lighter racers around to race his machines. Audacity abounding, Carlton moved his shop to 1509 East Lancaster Street - NEXT DOOR to Dalio's Triumph Shop!


An interesting fact that Williamson likes to mention is that not once, but twice, the famed master tuner Jack Wilson of Bonneville and Daytona Triumph racing renown and more widely known as a Dalio employee came to work for him, before finally going on to what eventually came to be Wilson's own shop, Big D Cycles in Dallas. Performance and competition was a big deal, and in Dallas-Ft. Worth the bar was raised very high, with Williamson, Dalio, and Wilson all big names, not to ignore other key players back then, such as Marvin Bell of BSA.


Carlton went on to broaden the scope of his involvement, founding the North Texas Motorcycle Dealers Association, serving as its President for many years. This organization helped prevent the agonies of pricing problems in competition, and it became so big it expanded across the border into Monterrey, Mexico.


But, those times were coming to an end, and the Japanese motorcycles were coming on strong. Carlton took on the Yamaha line around 1961, with exclusive dealership for Tarrant County. Dalio took on Honda. Carlton's shop became a well-known Yamaha dealership and boasted very high volume and was an active hub of motorcycling activity right up until around 1970, when he moved on to other enterprises.


Along the way, Carlton collected about 80 motorcycles and maintained acquaintances and friendships that endure. His audacity got him on the way toward success in motorcycling, and the Vincent motorcycle was the catalyst in much of what made him successful. Again, it's probably fair to say Philip Conrad Vincent would have understood the related characteristic. Carlton Williamson's appreciation of the Vincent is still there as is his love for the world of motorcycling. He's never let it go! And, the audacity is still there!




Carlton Williamson, 2009






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Copyright 2009 by Bev Bowen