Craig Vetter founded the Vetter Corporation, a company that became famous for its touring and sport fairings for motorcycles from the late 1960s into the 1980s. Vetter’s designs were so innovative and influential that they inspired directions in motorcycle design. In addition to designing and selling motorcycle fairings, Vetter was also a racer and a sponsor of racing teams and fuel-economy runs during the early 1980s.
Vetter was born on July 28, 1942 in Selma, Alabama. His father retired from the Air Force to Rantoul, Illinois, and opened a bicycle shop.
Vetter’s first motorcycle was a World War II-era Cushman scooter. As a teenager, Vetter began showing signs of his future when he tried to improve his Cushman by building bodywork for the scooter out of papier-mâché. While his crude modifications did not hold up to the elements (rain didn’t mix very well with papier-mâché), his fertile imagination was already forming ideas that would change the face of motorcycling.
Vetter enrolled at the University of Illinois in the early 1960s to study product design. It was at Illinois that Vetter saw a fellow student riding a Honda 50 Cub. Vetter was attracted to the quiet and efficient Japanese motorcycles that came into the United States in the early 1960s and he became an avid motorcyclist. A friend of Vetter’s named Duane Anderson rode his Honda 250 from Illinois to Colorado the summer after graduation to attend the Aspen Design Conference. Anderson’s trip inspired Vetter to make the same trip the next year on his Yamaha 305. Vetter found riding on the open road a tiring experience. He was forced to ride hunched forward with eyes squinted against the wind blast. At one point on a lonely stretch of highway in Kansas, a truck passed Vetter and he settled in close behind the truck in its wake.
"Suddenly I could enjoy the ride," Vetter recalls. "I was able to sit up and open my eyes and enjoy my surroundings. It was then I realized I wanted some sort of wind protection."
Vetter began work on making his own fairing in the fall of 1966 by wheeling his Yamaha into his living room where he had drilled eyebolts into the floor so he could strap the bike down. Vetter fashioned his first fairing pattern from home insulation foam. He used a carpenter’s square to keep the fairing even on both sides. Only later did he find that the floor in his living room had sagged and his first fairing was slightly crooked. Boat shop owner Ray Diskin gave Vetter a 15-minute crash course on resin mixing and laminating. Vetter quickly found that he did not like working with fiberglass and arranged for Diskin to make the fairing from the original mold. On November 2, 1967, Vetter mounted his new fairing on his Yamaha (he was so excited he couldn’t wait for a windshield) and took a test ride.
A friend bought that first fairing, and Vetter knew there was a potential market for his creation. With youthful enthusiasm, he moved ahead and created the trademark symbol for Vetter Corporation, placed an ad in Cycle World Magazine and in March took his fairing to Daytona to show off his new product (above). Early on, sales were far from brisk. In fact, the Daytona trip netted just two sales. The new company nearly failed to get off the ground, but Vetter got encouragement from Cycle World publisher Joe Parkhurst to keep the business going. Gradually, sales began to pick up and Vetter and his small company produced new designs.
The fairing side of the business grew dramatically in the early 1970s when Vetter began producing high-quality touring fairings for the larger motorcycles that were hitting the market, such as Honda’s CB750. Vetter added features such as storage, electrical connections and headlight adjustment. The Windjammer Series fairings were the most popular in the Vetter line and they sold in the tens of thousands.
The U.S. distributor of Triumph and BSA asked Vetter to give a fresh look to the new BSA 750 Rocket III. Vetter gave the machine a dramatically different look by redesigning the gas tank, seat, side panels and even the exhaust system and engine-cooling fins. The Vetter-designed BSA prototype (above) had an American hot rod look to it. Unfortunately, BSA was in its final days and the bike never made it to production. Triumph revived Vetter’s concept a few years later with the release of the limited-edition Triumph X75 Hurricane.
Vetter was a highly visible leader in his company. He often appeared in the company’s ads and his good looks and flowing, long blond hair gave Vetter an image of a youthful and energetic company. The company branched out to produce a variety of accessories from hard luggage to sidecars and helmets. Vetter even made fairings for several manufacturers and Vetter fairings became factory options and even standard equipment on several motorcycles in the late 1970s.
Vetter was also a racer and won amateur road racing championships. He sponsored Reg Pridmore and the Vetter Kawasaki team during the late 1970s in the burgeoning sport of Superbike racing. He also sponsored his famous fuel economy contests. Using streamlined fairings, some of the motorcycles were able to squeeze more than 400 miles out of a gallon of gas.
Racing inspired perhaps Vetter’s most famous creation — the 1980 Mystery Ship. The futuristic sport bike was an expensive and exclusive Superbike. Only 10 Mystery Ships were made, but its influence would be seen in fully faired motorcycles of the sportbike boom of the 1990s.
By the late 1970s, manufacturers began to sell motorcycles with factory fairings and Vetter realized that the demand for aftermarket fairings would soon dwindle. He sold Vetter in 1978 to concentrate on designing new products. He moved his family to a large ranch near Carmel, California, to dedicate himself to raising his two sons, Zak and Morgan, with his wife Carol.
When inducted in to the Hall of Fame in 1999, Vetter remained active in developing personal transportation for the new millennium by serving as consultant to major corporations.