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May Cover Page Interview with Eric McNutt

May 1, 2004
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I met Eric at the All American Bike Show at World of Wheels and told him I thought his chopper would look great on one of our upcoming cover pages. Now, that time has come.

CC: How did you get started building motorcycles?

Eric: My interest in motorcycles started when I was a kid. My parents got my brother and I into racing. I grew up in South Dakota and went to my first Sturgis Rally in 1980. As a kid, I was overwhelmed by the world of bikers. I started road racing professionally on the Pro AMA 600 Super Sport circuit and in the Championship Cup Series, expert class, during high school and did that for about six years I got hurt in a couple of really bad crashes and had to give up racing, but I wanted to figure out a way to stay involved in motorcycling. During some difficult financial times, I joined the army and was assigned to work on airframes. I did a lot of sheet metal work on helicopters for four years. When I left the military, I decided to combine my sheet metal experience with my interest in motorcycles. I bought a frame, sat around the garage for a bit, and started building on it. The bike I have now has low budget metal fabrication, since I don’t have any of the high tech tools to do the elaborate stuff yet. I put my show bike together over about ten months, buying parts whenever the money was available. I had no idea it was going to turn out like it did. I decided to make my own pipes and a lot of the brackets and such. I did the sheet metal work myself. The bike turned out to be pretty impressive, and it got me hooked.

CC: When did you finish the bike?

Eric: It was done last September and got it registered by the first of the year. I’m an outdoorsman and do a lot of hunting and fishing. I did a lot of traveling in the fall with my brother, so I didn’t do much with the bike at first. The first show I took it to was the Rat’s Hole Bike Show. I finished in the top twelve in the radical class, which I thought was pretty good for my first show. During the winter I entered several local shows here. I was amazed at how people reacted to the bike.

CC: Where else have you taken this scoot?

Eric: We took it to Milwaukee to the 100th Anniversary. At that time it was about 95% complete. My dad and I parked in front of Hal’s Harley near where Orange County Choppers had their bikes. An amazing number of people came over and asked about the bike. There was a lot of interest in the pipes I built, and several people wanted me to build pipes for them.

CC: What awards has your bike won?

Eric: It took two first place awards here in the Kansas City area. I got the best paint award at the Easyriders show. As a result, Easyriders paid my expenses for a trip the Heritage Rally in Charleston, South Carolina, to show the bike there. I finished third in the radical class. The rally was great, and I’d recommend it to everybody. We didn’t take extra bikes along to ride, since we planned to do some ocean fishing. Rough seas cancelled the fishing trip, so that was kind of a bummer. The scenery around there is really beautiful, and riding would have been great.

CC: Is the bike for sale?

Eric: I built it with the intent of selling it to provide some of the money to get my shop set up. I’m hoping to get that started this summer. But with the response I’ve gotten, I don’t think I’m going to sell it. It will be my own personal ride and will help me promote my business. I shouldn’t say I won’t sell it. Anything is for sale if the price is right.

CC: Have you started another project yet?

Eric: Yes, I’ve got another bike going, and it’s going to be pretty wild. Everything is going to be on the opposite side from normal. I’m working with some guys out of Des Moines, Iowa, to design the engine for it. It will have evo cases with round iron cylinders and a pan top. They want me to go with 130 inches or bigger, but it’s going to be a jockey shifted bike so I’d like to stay below 100 so I don’t get too far out of control with it . I have new shop equipment on its way, and I hope to get that bike done some time this summer.

CC: What’s your plan for your shop?

Eric: It will have about 3,500 square feet of space. The equipment will include a CNC vertical mill and lathe. I’ll have all the latest sheet metal forming tools, everything needed for any kind of custom fabrication. I have a nice welding station that will allow me to weld anything as long as it’s not under water.

CC: Will you have employees?

Eric: At first I’m going to pretty much do it on my own. My brother owns his own company, and he’s a good welder. He’ll do a lot of the welding for me, and I’ll be learning from him.

CC: You apparently have access to a great paint man.

Eric: Bill Duncan out of Louisburg, Kansas, does a super job. Kansas City has several really good painters. Some of the best paint work I’ve seen at all the bike shows I’ve attended was done here in K.C. I’ve had really good luck with Bill and plan to stick with him unless I come up with some wild and crazy idea that he doesn’t want to tackle.

CC: Where will you shop be located?

Eric: It will be on acreage the family owns on 157th Street in Belton, Missouri.

CC: How many bikes to you plan to build each year?

Eric: I hope to do at least two full-blown custom bikes per year at first. In addition, I’m looking at six to eight milder customs.

CC: How are bikes titled when they are built from scratch?

Eric: In Missouri, they are titled as special construction. As I understand it, if you have the frame modified on a regular motorcycle and it’s noticed during inspection, a special construction title is required. Unfortunately, that makes insurance pretty expensive. There are several groups working to increase the insurance companies’ awareness of what makes a bike safe or unsafe, so hopefully that situation will get better.

CC: How did you come up with the name Celtic Customs?

Eric: It’s from my family’s Scottish heritage. I have a strong interest in the history of the family. The symbol I use in my logo has been associated with my family as far back as I can trace.

CC: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Eric: I’d like to recognize some of the people I have looked up to over the years in the custom industry. Arlen Ness’ shop does amazing sheet metal work. Mike Pugliese out of Staten Island, New York, is building bikes in his garage. I competed with him at the show in South Carolina, and he’s just an amazing builder. There are many others including Donnie Smith, Dave Perewitz, Jessie James, Billy Lane, and others who are getting on television and drawing attention to the custom bike industry. These guys are raising the bar and challenging others to come up with neater and crazier things.

CC: Thanks, Eric. We’ll be keeping in touch and looking forward to seeing your future creations.

Interview by Stripe

Photo by Mike Schweder

Published in Cover Bike Owners