Published on HamptonRoads.com | PilotOnline.com (http://hamptonroads.com)
Beach man plans to donate rare bike, not peddle it to collectors
By Greg Gaudio
Tom Mault stopped in the shop on a whim Tuesday. The little gem in the corner was never part of the plan.
Chrome butterfly handlebars, Flamboyant Red paint, classic banana seat. And barely a scratch on her.
He knew the '63 Schwinn Sting-Ray was a find. He had no idea it was one of the first ever assembled, a "Holy Grail" item for vintage bicycle collectors.
The asking price at Seashore Bike & Fitness in Virginia Beach was $350. Mault paid cash, hauled it home to Hampton, and turned to a classifieds forum on Schwinn's Web site for more information.
Within hours of posting photos and the serial number, offers for the bike poured in. First $2,000, then $5,000. By Wednesday night, a man in Japan was offering $100,000, Mault said.
Mault, 43, who owns Tidewater Exteriors, a roofing company in Hampton, said he plans to donate the bike to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
"It really should be shared and enjoyed by everyone," he said.
According to enthusiasts on the Schwinn forum, the serial number indicates the Sting-Ray was manufactured May 17, 1963 - during the first month the model was in production, making it the earliest known factory-assembled Sting-Ray.
Retailing for $49.95, Schwinn sold more than 40,000 Sting-Rays in 1963, according to Liz Fried's 1997 book "Schwinn Sting-Ray."
The Sting-Ray, whose design reflected the muscle cars of the period, remained a hot seller until it was discontinued in 1979.
Mault said his grandmother gave him a yellow Sting-Ray for his 10th birthday, but it was stolen the same night, and the family couldn't afford to replace it. He started collecting them about two years ago and has 15 today.
Seashore Bike & Fitness owner Matt Spinelli said he sold the bike on consignment for a Hampton Roads man who got it as a teenager and asked not to be identified. The bike sat in the store for about a year because no one was willing to meet the man's $350 asking price.
Spinelli said he didn't know the bike was rare because the store's mechanic was only familiar with serial numbers from 1965 and later.
"You can't predict these things," he said. "I was just trying to help a customer out."
Roger White, associate curator of road transportation for the National Museum of American History, said it's too early to say if the Smithsonian will accept Mault's bike.
"Many times, we have to go and look at the object first," he said. "There's a fairly extensive review process that goes through on our end."
The museum already has a 1965 Schwinn Sting-Ray in its collection, White said.
If the Smithsonian turns him down, Mault said, he'll offer the bike to Schwinn.
"I just don't want some greedy collector to get the bike and hoard it away in some private collection or use it for monetary gain," he said.
Schwinn officials did not return telephone calls.
Greg Gaudio, (757) 222-5125, firstname.lastname@example.org