|Quas Gandolfo, with a 1949 Schwinn that he restored. Most days, he rides his bike to work, a 20-mile roundtrip. “With gas being what it is, the answer is to put on your helmet, get on your bike and ride, ” he says.
Nothing could be finer than to ride a balloon-tire Schwinn on the Ocean City, N.J., boardwalk on a breezy early May day. Especially if your cruising companion is Quas Gandolfo ’81, he of the swoopy hair, black-frame glasses, tight long-sleeved T-shirt, rolled-cuff jeans and studded black leather belt.
The day is tingly-perfect, brisk salt air spritzing the deserted boardwalk. Good thing it isn’t beach season, when clattering bikes crowd the slatted surface. As Quas says, “From 6 to 11 a.m. the Ocean City boardwalk becomes the Schuylkill Expressway.”
Now it’s just Quas and his fellow rider on a couple of vintage Schwinns, his black, hers dazzle lime green. Quas compliments his companion’s riding style, then watches her wobble after he adds, “You don’t seem nervous riding a $4,000 bike.”
The bikes are two of 90 pre-World War II Schwinns that Quas keeps stashed in the back of Village Schwinn, the store his family has owned in Somers Point on the Jersey shore for 27 years.
While the usual summer visitor to the store finds Quas hunkered down doing bike repairs (“It’s a MASH situation—bandaging and getting them going”) or selling colorful cruisers (“Pink was the new black; this year, the new pink is blue,” he says emphatically), Quas has a cool-weather hobby that allows him to break stride. “I’m a bike geek on the outside, but underneath I’m a collector.”
Of the 90 precious pre-war Schwinns he’s restored during the last 25 years, 12 are of one vintage.
“I’ve chosen to hone in on the 1938-39 version of the bike,” he explains. “I take a bike a year and restore it. I like this model because of the gadgetry, and it represents the high end of art deco. I’ve fallen in love with deco. It has an austere style; they didn’t tart it up.”
In the United States there is one other collector who focuses on that version, Quas says, “a guy on the West Coast. We own 50 percent [of the bikes known to exist]. We have a friendly competition.”
Considering how many Schwinn bikes were produced in the pre-war era—451,000 in 1941 alone, according to Quas—it may be surprising that there are so few today. Most were crushed into scrap metal, which makes authentically restored survivors worth five figures, he says.
Gesturing toward the balloon-tired beauties hanging vertically in rows, Quas notes, “Every bike has a story.” Most came into his hands as bare chassis that he resurrected with authentic parts he located around the country, through Internet sleuthing.
Besides building his own collection, Quas helps customers fulfill their collecting dreams. He recounts how a man from Phoenixville, Pa., called about his boyhood bike, a 1952 Schwinn. “He wants to fully restore it and give it to his daughter. I say, ‘Describe it to me. Chrome fender, rims and spinner? One bar or two?’ Turns out it’s a Schwinn Panther.
“Now, the Cadillac back then was the Phantom [the bike showcased in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure], and this was the Buick. The Phantom went for $100 and the Panther for $88.
“I get to tell him it’s very rare,” Quas says with a big grin. “I’ve restored four or five of them, and when I’m done, it will be worth four to five times what he’s paying me [$2,000-$3,000] to restore it. This crappy-looking thing ...” he trails off, gesturing toward the dull black shell of a bike with a nod of wonder.
Perhaps even more cause for wonder is the fact that his major in Spanish and minor in fine art have proved a perfect fit for an ocean-side bike merchant.
Quas made his career path very clear back in ’81, says Enrique Martinez-Vidal, a professor emeritus of romance languages who recently related a what-will-you-do-with-your-Spanish-degree conversation they had back then. Quas shocked his prof by responding that he “loved bikes” and was heading home to work in the family business.
While his art background has been helpful in his restorations, the Spanish-language training has worked well with a clientele that has become increasingly international.
“I use my Spanish every day,” Quas remarks. “Customers, whether Cuban, Mexican, Guatemalan, Argentine, Chilean or Castillian Spaniard, are amazed to hear me speak big-city Spanish. They say ‘Where did you learn it?’ I always say, ‘College.’ ”