Somewhere around Louisiana, hiding in the shadows of old barns, garages and deer camp sheds, are dozens of vintage Honda 90 or Big Red three-wheelers and Suzuki Quadrunner, Yamaha Timberwolf and Honda TRX200 four-wheelers.
Most of those early All Terrain Cycles (ATCs) and All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) lived rough lives, taking hunters through rugged swamps and terrain that they had only been able to walk to before. They either got worn out or replaced by newer, tougher, faster models.
But regardless of their earlier fate, West Monroe’s Tyler Breed says they still have a place in the outdoor society. It’s time to bring them back, especially as the cost of newer models skyrockets. He’s a rare breed, indeed, and that’s the name he chose for his business: Rare Breed Customs. He brings the old back to life.
“I grew up riding with my dad (former LDWF Education Specialist Bill Breed) on our hunting lease on an old three wheeler and as I got older, I got into older vehicles and customizing them,” Breed said. “Then I started fixing up old three wheelers and four wheelers and for some reason, I just fell in love with the older stuff. I like older cars and even live in a 120-year-old house in Choudrant. Even my appliances are from the 60’s and 70’s.”
Combine that passion with his degree in Wildlife Management and Forestry and you understand why he is driven.
Breed actually got into the business during Covid, when he found himself without work and he joined with a family member to work on ATVs. That grew into him trying it on a bigger scale, and focusing on older models, and he opened Rare Breed Customs in West Monroe.
Believe it or not, the growth of the old school ATV restoration business actually expanded because of new school technology — Facebook.
“We built a following on vintage ATVs through Facebook,” Breed said. “My interest was peaked and a friendship formed with D and A Restorations owned and operated by Travis Gisclair in Cutoff, on Facebook as well. He does an amazing job. I focus mainly on working class restoration, but he even does museum quality jobs for people that are more interested in collector’s items. One day I would like to do more of that and even have some sort of museum right here to show off what we’ve done and preserve the past.”
Many people that have old, unusable ATVs are donating them to Breed and if they aren’t in too bad a shape, he is even buying some to restore. Others are bringing them in to make new just so they can have them operational again. He has several “graveyards” of old original parts and tries to rebuild them as often as he can.
While many of the old pre 2000 models have been junked, many are just sitting. Breed thinks outdoorsmen who have room to keep them hang on to them because of sentimental value. Many don’t know they can be brought back to life for a reasonable cost, but he is hoping to change that.
“My customer base is fixing them up because they want to ride them, hunt with them and use them for work around their property,” Breed said. “We have done a few high-end restorations, but the dedication of money it takes for that is substantial.”
Current market conditions are also playing a part in the development of this business. While a new medium level four-wheeler might sell for $6-7,000, Breed said he can repair seats, fenders, gas tanks and do basic carburetor, fuel line and engine mechanic work (as long as it isn’t major damage) and get an outdoorsman back on their unit fixed up right with quality OEM parts for less than $2,000 in most cases.
The most rare units he’s seen are the old Honcho four-wheelers and the original US90, which became the Honda 90 ATC. The most popular model that he sees are Honda Big Red four-wheelers.
So, what’s in it for him? Obviously, he is striving to make a living, but it’s more than that, he said.
“I know it sounds cliche, but it’s not about the money,” he said. “As long as I can make enough to pay my bills and my employees, I just enjoy the hunt for older ATVs and parts. I enjoy reviving the old three- and four-wheelers because that is important to me. Every time something new comes in the shop, my mechanic, Casey, and I are like kids at Christmas. We just say, ‘Oh, what do we get to play with today’ and we can’t wait to get working on it.
“All most people want is something dependable to get them out in the woods and back home safely. That’s what we are giving them, plus a little history to go along with it. We love bringing memories back. We love bringing Dad’s or Pawpaw’s four-wheeler back to life to make more memories. That’s what it’s all about.”
And that’s a rare breed, for sure.
You can learn more about Rare Breed and D and A Restorations on Facebook.
The unhappy fate of the three-wheeler
Are three wheelers dangerous? Of course. So are matches, guns, tree stands, etc. But the thing that makes them dangerous is operator error.
In 1970, Honda brought the world it’s first three-wheeled ATC. The first ones cost $595. They were a big hit with people who loved the outdoors and the Honda marketers made it well known by even having it featured in scenes of a James Bond movie (Diamonds are Forever) and TV shows like Magnum PI. But the main market was hunters. Honda became the most popular ATV brand.
Unfortunately, the three-wheeler wasn’t stable enough to handle much misuse. With its widespread growth, there also came accidents and injuries. Even though stats showed most accidents were caused by rider behavior, the newly social conscious Consumer Product Safety Commission put an end to three-wheeler sales in 1988.
But while it became illegal to manufacture and sell the units commercially, owners can still ride them off road.
Considering that these products are made in America, it makes sense when you consider the fact that the North American market sells more four-wheelers and side-by-sides than anywhere else on earth. It’s no surprise that Polaris is the most popular ATV and UTV brand in the world.
The first ATV came about in 1985 when the Trail Boss hit the market.
A matter of facts about “Wheelers”
Hunters and outdoorsmen have one main concern about ATVs, from four-wheelers to side-by-sides. That is it can get them into the woods, through the mud and back home again. But there is history behind these valuable assets that is quite interesting.
It’s a good bet that most folks don’t even know where the first ATV came from. There is some debate, but most say It was actually developed in Canada back in 1961. It was called the Jiger and the Toronto-based business only made Jigers built to order. The machines were powered by 5.5 horsepower motors and were six-wheel amphibious vehicles.
And while Honda became the leader in ATV products early in the game with the three-wheeler, it was Suzuki’s QuadRunner LT125 that was the first four-wheeler on the market in 1982. The machine not only added an extra wheel that made it more stable, it had amazing technological advances like an odometer and forward and reverse gears. Two years later, Yamaha became a big player in the market with their first quad unit. Honda is still near the top in sales today.
There were even small manufacturers like Adventure Vehicles in Monroe that made Avenger ATVs in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Their shop in Monroe burned down sometime in the mid 80’s and they relocated but never caught up in the fast-growing ATV market race.
Today, there are more than a dozen manufacturers of ATVs besides those previously mentioned. Polaris is the most popular on the market, largely due to side-by-side options that have grown in demand. These units have also become work and play vehicles with hundreds of available options, which have added a new UTV (Utility Vehicle) category to the mix. Can-Am, Kawasaki and Arctic Cat, John Deere, Kubota and KTM also compete in the UTV category. So today’s outdoorsmen have plenty of makes and models to choose from.
And the idea behind that original Jiger? It is still here today with a large six-wheeler market. Argo ATVs are the most popular for outdoor enthusiasts who like to take on land, mud and water all at the same time.
North America dealers (U.S., Canada and Mexico) sell more units than anywhere else in the world. Sales peaked in 2020 at nearly a million units before pandemic and supply chain issues hit.