T H E B I R T H O F T H E F A C T O R Y M U S C L E B I K E : 1 9 6 3
~ P A R T O N E ~
America's first commercially-
produced Muscle Bike
In the spring of 1962 a growing number of California teens started to get involved with bicycle kustomizing; and the hottest trend going was to modify old 20-inch bikes with "butterfly" handlebars and "Solo Polo" banana seats. This developing bike style started to be noticed by a few insiders
Sales of the Huffy Penguin went better than expected for the John T. Bill Company, and in a short time they sold all the stock they had on hand. Pete planned on having Huffy produce even more of the bikes; and Penguins that were bought by bike shops for the summer buying season sold out fairly quickly. Sales were boosted even further after the Schwinn Sting-Ray was introduced a few months later in June of 1963. This was the summer of the high-rise bike, both home-made and commercial. The Penguin bikes first appeared in California bike shops in late February 1963 and were quickly sold out by mid-summer - when the massive landslide of interest hit for commercial high-rise bikes.
An unexpected turn of events
Pete wanted new shipments of Penguins right away, but, there was a problem. Huffy balked at negotiating a new deal. The summer of 1963 saw the high-rise style become a hot seller all across the nation, and it soon became apparent to Pete that John T. Bill was not going to be getting any new shipments of Penguin bikes from Huffy.
It wasn't a good situation. It seemed that Huffman Manufacturing was impressed at the sales figures of the Penguin bike and Schwinn's new "Sting Ray". Discount stores that sold the Huffy line demanded inexpensive copies from Huffy as soon as possible. So, Huffy chose sides and released their own high-rise bikes to sell to the discount stores. Just in time for the hot Christmas season of 1963; essentially shutting Pete (and John T. Bill Co) out of getting any more Huffy Penguins.
The Huffman Corporation brought out two high-rise-style bikes during the last quarter of the 1963 model year, one bike - dubbed the "Avanti" - was produced through its Monark division, and (here's the rub) was essentially an exact copy of the "Penguin" model. Huffman also produced another Penguin copy called the Huffy "Brodie" bike. The only difference between these bikes and the original Penguin model was that the new bikes were also available in red. Those two bikes: the Monark "Avanti" and the Huffy "Brodie" were sold almost exclusively in Southern California.
Made in Azusa
The "Penguin" bikes were made at Huffy's assembly plant in Azusa California, sometime during the first two months of 1963, and all the bikes would be a sold exclusively through the John T. Bill company. John T. Bill introduced the Penguin to their many So-Cal dealers on March 3rd 1963, at the open house of their new corporate facilities in Glendale CA. Owner Philip Mole Sr. was quite enthusiastic about the new bike, and was confident that its introduction onto the bike market would start a new fad. There was real interest in the Penguin sport bikes during their first appearance. Minor concerns over handlebar safety were smoothed out, and orders for the new Penguin bikes went quite well following their initial introduction.
Classic high-rise style
The Huffy Penguin was available only in black, with the frame being a standard Huffy 20-inch cantilever design (with no fenders installed). The rear wheel was a heavy-duty single- speed with a coaster brake and chrome rim. The rear tire was a knobby-tread 20x2.125 black-wall. The front wheel was a 28- spoke middleweight with a chrome rim, and a black-wall 20x 1.75 tire. The seat was a white "Solo Polo" model with a chromed square-topped support bar in the rear. Handlebars were standard "Wald" high-riser type with white handgrips. Huffy Penguins also sported front caliper hand brakes, and a chain-guard with the bike's name on it.
The original Huffy Penguins assembled in Azusa California were the first commercially-made bikes in North America to sport high-rise handlebars and banana seats as standard equipment. Only an estimated 350 to 400 of them were produced for the John T. Bill company during their first run in early 1963, and their survival rate is considered to be the lowest of all the important early muscle bikes.
Rarest of the rare
The Huffy "Penguin" could be regarded as the ultimate collectable American-made "muscle bike". Nothing can touch it for rarity or its unique historical significance. It was the very first in a long line of similarly-styled bikes, and estimates are that probably no more that 5 of them still exist in any condition. The chances of finding a complete original Huffy "Penguin" are remote; and estimates of value for one of the first-run Azusa-built Penguins (in excellent condition) cannot be made - due to their extreme scarcity; but its relevance as the first-ever factory-produced muscle bike make it the ultimate collector prize. It is hoped that one could eventually be found and preserved in a national collection like the Smithsonian or the Henry Ford Museum.
why, and asked what was going on. He was told that kids in the San Diego area were using the parts to put together funny- looking bikes, and that demand for the components had increased beyond what local suppliers could provide. Pete wasn't sure what to make of the news, so he decided to take a trip down to San Diego with his sales rep- to see for himself what was going on. The kids in San Diego were out of school on summer vacation, and everywhere Pete looked were youngsters riding around on modified little 20-inch bicycles- all featuring butterfly handlebars and Persons Polo seats. Pete couldn't believe what he was seeing; the numbers were incredible.
They visited a number of bike shops in San Diego, and were repeatedly told about the bike fad's growing popularity. The shop owners then asked for more of the special parts to feed the demand. Pete was especially surprised at the popularity of the Polo seats, as they had never sold very well up to that point.
Pete liked what he saw; he thought the kids had come up with a fun and creative new style of bike, and felt that it was something he could support by making the needed parts more readily available.
Interest in the bike style grew steadily, to the point that Polo seats became hard to come by. Pete had sourced all the available stocks of Polo seats from his various contacts, but supplies were drying up. Persons Majestic had scaled back on the production of Polo seats after a long period of poor sales, and they were reluctant to start up an increased line again.
Pete contacted Bob Persons directly to see if more Polo seats could be made available, but Persons was reluctant- as he was doubtful the sudden demand for Polo seats would last. He was not convinced that this new bike style had much of a future; however, Pete did get assurances from Persons that he would increase production - if orders continued at elevated and sustained levels. Persons made good on his promise - slowly at first, but enough so that shortages of the Polo seats lessened with time.
One thing was clear, Pete and the John T. Bill Company were able to sell every Polo seat they could get their hands on during this period, and in doing so helped foster the continued growth of the high-rise bike movement.
One of the few
Pete was one of the few parts distributors who actively supported the kustom bike craze in '62; in contrast, many others in the bike industry did not want the unusual bike style promoted. In California there was ongoing controversy over the use of high handlebars, and for some, tall handlebars of any kind were a bad idea.
Pete used his position at the John T Bill. Company to promote the sale of high-rise parts to the dealers he supplied, and he also helped to bring a more rational viewpoint to the tall handlebar issue. Despite all the debate, Pete continued on with the promotion of the new style, believing it to be a healthy and creative activity for young people to be involved in.
The big decision
The summer of 1962 had come to an end, but the growing interest in making hi-rise bikes continued. Demand for parts steadily increased with time, and Pete became so enthusiastic about the marketing possibilities of the new style that he initiated talks with Huffman Manufacturing (Huffy) - in order to have a run of 20-inch bicycles made for the John T. Bill Company- all sporting tall "butterfly" handlebars and "Solo Polo" seats.
Pete was convinced that a factory-made bike done in the new style had commercial possibilities. These talks with Huffy initiated a chain of events that would culminate in the production of the world's first commercially-produced "high-rise" bike, or, in modern terms the first ever "muscle bike".
Disappointment and roadblocks
Huffy seemed interested (initially) but soon put up roadblocks to finalizing a deal for the bike's production. Huffy was not convinced that this new bike style had a future. They were concerned they might be saddled with a supply of unused parts if the deal fell through. In response to this, Pete, on behalf of the John T. Bill Co., guaranteed to take financial responsibility for all the special parts needed for the bike's production - parts like the tall handlebars, Polo seats and knobby rear tires; even so, negotiations with Huffy bogged down, and Pete was beginning to get frustrated.
It was only a few months before the Christmas buying season of '62, and still there was no firm deal on getting the bikes made. Then, another major problem surfaced. Huffy's legal department said the bike's design might be a liability issue, and voices within the company continued to bring up "concerns".
Pete was getting very disappointed with all the delays, but nevertheless continued negotiations as the months passed. Pete signed agreements to accept responsibility for any legal issues that might arise from the bike's design. Finally, around mid- December 1962, Pete signed a deal that would see Huffy make John T. Bill & Co. a run of high-rise bikes
Whats black and white and cool?
The bike would be called the Huffy "Penguin"; derived from the fact that all the bikes would be painted black, and would come with white Solo Polo seats. Everyone at John T. Bill agreed that the name "Penguin" was the title that most suited the bike.
The '62 Christmas buying season had come and gone and 1963 had arrived. 5 months had passed since negotiations for the bike's production had begun. The home grown hi-rise style had spread beyond San Diego by that point, and there was no end in sight. Sales of the related parts had increased every month since the summer of 1962.
Pete was getting anxious for delivery of the bikes; there was no time to waste. The hi-rise bike craze was getting big and Pete needed delivery of the bikes while the wave was peaking. There was also another concern; Pete received information that the Schwinn bike company was making inquiries about the high-rise bike phenomenon in California. Pete realized that word had finally gotten out about what was happening; Schwinn was a big company that could make things happen fast if need be. Pete wanted to be well-poised if Schwinn jumped into the hi-rise bike market, and that meant getting the Penguin to market as quickly as possible. Timing was everything, and Pete wanted the "Penguin" name to be strongly associated with the hi-rise bike movement in California. As it happened Pete wouldn't have long to wait.
Huffman Manufacturing's assembly plant in Azusa California; Where the Huffy Penguin bikes were produced.
The original Huffy Penguin with the staff from the John T. Bill Company. The Penguin was officially introduced to dealers on Mar.3.1963 at the new corporate headquarters of John T. Bill & Co, although a few had already made their way to bicycle shops.
Peter Mole worked for the bicycle supply firm of "John T. Bill & Company"- a major distributer of bicycles and parts to dealers in Southern California. Pete was the firm's "buyer" and travelled extensively throughout the early 1960's on company business he was also intuitive, and kept an eye out for developing trends on the street. It was all in the family, so to speak, as John T. Bill & Company was owned by Pete's father - Mr. Philip Mole Sr.
Above Left, Right: Advertisements for John T. Bill's Huffy Penguin- America's first muscle bike.
Above Left: The Monark Avanti, made by Huffy for sale at discount stores in late 1963. It was an exact copy of the Penguin bike. Above Right: The Huffy "Brodie" bike, a virtual clone of the Huffy Penguin bike. The introduction of the Avanti and Brodie bikes in late 1963 spelt an end to the relationship between Huffy and the John T. Bill company.
In 1964 Huffy introduced a line of high-rise style bikes collectively known as the "Dragster" series, and (not surprisingly) the single-speed version of their '64 "Dragster" was again almost identical to the original John T. Bill Penguin.
Pete Mole needed to find another bike manufacturer to make Penguin bikes for John T. Bill, and in late 1963 he signed a deal with the Dayton bike company to produce a model to be sold as the Dayton "Deluxe Penguin". This bike was sold exclusively through the John T. Bill Company for a couple of years, starting in 1964. This bike had similarities to the earlier Huffy Penguins, except for color and seat-covering changes.
Below, Left, Right: Advertisements for the 1964 Dayton Deluxe Penguin. The Dayton bike company was contracted to make new Penguin bikes by the John T. Bill Company, after Huffy shut John T. Bill out of their new plans for high-rise bike marketing.
Left: An Ad from Huffy in early 1964 stating that they produced the first commercial bike of this type (hi-riser). The bike they are referring to is the Huffy Penguin- which they were contracted to make for John T. Bill & Co. in Glendale California. There is no mention that the original idea for the bike's production came from Peter Mole.
Above: A curious advertisement for the Monark "Avanti" bike, which was made by Huffy on the tail of the Penguin. It is advertised as "Penquin" & "Sting Ray" styled, which sounds funny now because the Huffy Penguin bike predated the Sting-Ray. Notice the mis-spelling of the Penguin's name.
B I K E RO D &K U S T O M I N T E R V I E W :
Conducted by John Brain,
BR&K: Pete, what's the long and short of it? There has been a lot of debate over the years about who brought out and marketed the first factory hi-rise bike. You were right in the middle of the action in California during the early 1960's, is it true that your company was the first off the line?
Peter Mole: My company, John T. Bill, was the first company to market a factory-produced model of the hi-riser bike. Before that, they were hand-built by kids or bike shops.
BRK: Pete, how did your position in the John T. Bill Company connect you with the growth of the high-rise bike movement in Southern California?"
PM: As the buyer for John T. Bill, my salesman for the San Diego area hounded me to buy Polo seats, hi-hiser bars, and knobby tires, he said the kids were building up these funny bikes and it was gaining in popularity.
BRK: This must have had you wondering about what was going on down there with the kids and all those bike parts; how did you respond to your salesman's request?
PM: I took a trip with my salesman to the San Diego area to see what it was all about; and it was an eye-opener.
BRK: Did the demand for the hi-rise parts level off after a while, or did orders continue to increase?
PM: I bought as many polo seat and hi-riser bars as I could get, and the popularity was still growing.
BRK: Was your supply of the high-riser parts enough to meet the need during the summer of 1962?
PM: The high-riser craze caused a shortage of Polo seats, we could sell all we could get from Persons.
BRK: I would have thought that Bob Persons would have been glad to hear about the seats' renewed popularity; how did he feel about your sudden request for large numbers of his Solo Polo seats?
PM: I tried to convince Bob to increase production; but he was a little gun-shy about the popularity of this new bike style, as were many others.
BRK: Pete, How fast did the craze spread beyond San Diego after the initial breakout? I'm sure you recognized the incredible sales potential if the hi-rise style became widespread in California?
PM: The biggest job was convincing dealers outside of the San Diego area that it was a hot new trend; and that they should place an order for this new wave of bike components. However, it did not take long for the wave to move northward; and you know the rest.
BRK: I understand that the popularity of the new bike style become so great in mid-'62 that you decided to go one step further, and made the decision to have a run of hi-rise bikes manufactured. What was the first step you took?
PM: I was on friendly terms with Huffy at the time, and we arranged a meeting about building a production model of this type of bike. We had a difficult time convincing Huffy to make the bike for us; we had to guarantee that we would buy any unused parts not assembled on the bikes- parts like the seats, handlebars and tires.
BR&K: Did it take long to work out a deal with Huffy? It sounds like you wanted those bikes as soon as possible.
PM: it took many months of convincing. Huffy's legal department said it could be a liability issue; we finally accepted all the responsibility and got the go-ahead.
BRK: This must have been a very frustrating time for you, what with all the roadblocks being put in your way?
PM: Yes, we were very disappointed with the delays from Huffy. It wasn't fun to watch our efforts being put aside by short-sighted engineers.
BRK: Pete, you decided to call your bike the 'Penguin' I think everyone is curious about the name and how it came about.
PM: The Penguin name came about after choosing the color black for the frame, and using a white polo seat on it. It looked like a Penguin, and everyone agreed. We kicked around many other names, but this one stuck out above all the others.
BRK: I was under the impression that some of the Huffy Penguins were available in red, is there any truth to this?
PM: We never made a Huffy Penguin in a red color, we only offered it in the black and white combination, we used the K.I.S.S. method when planning the production model.
BRK: I understand that you didn't get delivery of the Huffy Penguin bikes 'til about a month into 1963; which meant that you missed out on the '62 Christmas shopping season. I can only imagine how you must have felt in that situation.
PM: We at John T. Bill were growing very angry at Huffy's procrastination on this project, as we had become aware that Al Fritz at Schwinn had been told about the growing popularity of the bike style. Schwinn, having their own factory, could move very rapidly. We, as a distributor with no factory capabilities had to rely on others; it was very frustrating.
BRK: Your hunch was right about Schwinn; you only had the Penguin on the market for about 4 months when they introduced their own version of the California hi-rise bike.
PM: Yes, after we introduced the Penguin to the bike industry it only took a few months for Schwinn to come out with their version, the "Sting-Ray"; and the rest is history.
BRK: Pete, In doing my research I came across advertisements from 1963 for two other hi-rise bikes, one called the Monark "Avanti" and the other called the Huffy "Brodie" . The photos used to illustrate these two bikes look exactly like your Huffy Penguin. Did your company, John T. Bill, sell these bikes as a variant of the Penguin, or, if not, do you know anything about them?
PM: I will try and clear up the Monark Avanti and Huffy Brodie bike situation. No, we did not sell these two models; they were sold directly by Huffy to their discount-store customers. The story goes like this- we approached Huffy to build this bike for us- and you know that story. When we started to deliver these bikes, the trend started to snowball. Our big mistake was that we did not have an exclusive contract on the design of this bike from Huffy; and when the discount stores became aware of this bike, they pushed Huffy to sell them this new model. This happened at the end of 1963.
BRK: Pete, you and your company "John T. Bill" were responsible for bringing the first commercially-made hi- rise bikes to the market place, by contracting with Huffman Manufacturing to make an exclusive run of these bikes. It seems like Huffy's introduction of the Avanti and Brodie bikes suddenly left you out of the loop, and you weren't included in their new plans?
PM: Huffy did not sell this type of bike before we convinced them to build the Penguin model for us. They cashed in on our promotional work. Again, our biggest mistake was not demanding an exclusive contract; we were just too trusting.
BRK: So, in the beginning, Huffy didn't want to make your bike and put up roadblocks to its production. When the Penguin and Sting Ray bikes became successful "Huffy" didn't include you in their new plans to market a bike of their own. So, you again had to look for a new company to produce your Penguin bikes?
PM: As a result of Huffy's selling to discount stores we changed our supplier; and our new bike became the Dayton "Deluxe Penguin". The discount stores began to grab most of the business, with the Huffy knockoffs; this did not affect Schwinn because they sold only to Schwinn retail stores, with heavy corporate advertising.
BRK: As a final thought, Pete, what do you think the bike industry people of 1963 would have thought about what kids are doing today with 20" bicycles?
PM: If some of those folks could see what the kids are doing with 20" bikes today, they would pop out of their graves!
BRK: Pete, on the behalf of BikeRod&Kustom and all its loyal readers we want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us about your incredibly important contribution to bicycle history.
PM: John, I am amazed that you found all this information about the Huffy Penguin. There are not many people around who still remember this period in bicycle history. Everything you mention in the story is correct. Good luck on the article and enjoy your trip to Amsterdam. Keep me posted on the timetable, and if you have any other questions, give me jingle.
V O L U M E O N E
V O L U M E T W O
The word from San Diego
The summer of 1962 began with Pete Mole getting large orders for parts from his San Diego sales rep. The salesman wanted increased shipments of butterfly handlebars, Polo seats, and 20 inch knobby balloon tires. Pete was curious