Tuesday, August 23, 2011


The decision three years ago to include motorcycles at the world's finest concours d'elegance at Pebble Beach was initially awkward, secondarily a bit cheeky, and this year, finally, a natural fit.  Two-wheelers were moved off the 'rough' and onto the proper grass, and though it was a hell of a walk to the end of the fairway, the placement of the bikes wasn't an afterthought or a sidebar.  They weren't even the furthest vehicles out, that honor going to a row of fantastic Edwardian Rolls Royces.  Psychologically, being able to walk from on end of the fairway to another, and find motorcycles displayed actually amongst the cars, and not off to the side and up a slight grade, fully integrated the show.

The moto-flavor for 2011 was 'Italian', with two categories, road and track...sometimes a difficult distinction for such a competition-mad country.  As befits Pebble, the racers included several 'can I touch it' ultra-historic machines, spine-tingling presences with ghosts in the machinery.  I'd never seen the Mike Hailwood 'comeback' '78 Ducati Isle of Man Production TT winner, I'd only seen a thousand photographs, and read the inspiring accounts of Mike's amazing return to road racing after a period of retirement.  Hailwood is no longer with us, but the man who fettled the bike for him - Steve Wynn - was minding the machine, just as 33 years ago.

A champion who's still with us, John Surtees, was on hand with two of his World Championship winning racers; the 1956 MV Agusta 500cc on which he won the title that year, and the 1964 Ferrari 158 Formula 1 on which he won the World Driver's Championship, and Ferrari their Constructor's Championship.  The little Ferrari still bears a few distinctive modifications in the tiny cockpit to accomodate the driver; finding the seat area tight for even his diminutive body, Surtees took a hammer to the aluminum chassis bulwarks on either side of the seat, for a bit more room while shifting and accelerating.

Both the MV and Ferrari live in the Barber Museum in Alabama, and Mr. Barber and staff were very low-key with the throngs of admirers crowding both vehicles.  A testament to Barber's actual use of the MV Agusta; no rollers were used to start the bike, only a pull on the rear wheel was required to fire it up.  For a highly-tuned racing motorcycle, this speaks volumes about the care taken in its preparation.

The two fire-engine red racers sat as kin by the shore, a nod to the great racing driver, the only man to win a World Championship on both two and four wheels. It was also, we must note, an excuse for a breakout; the MV was not in the motorcycle ghetto at all, but mingled comfortably in all its prestige among the cars.  Nice.

After seeing so many Concours around the world, so many megabuck cars, I'd grown a sense of ennui about seeing yet more rows of cosseted and coveted metal.  The estimated aggregate value of the cars on Pebble's grass was nearly $4BILLION dollars this year (certainly bolstered by a long row of Ferrari GTOs)...and walking onto the golf course at 8am after several short nights and early mornings, parking hassles, and heavy traffic even at 6:30am, I could be forgiven a touch of grouchy indifference.

But that wasn't my experience at all; I was shocked to feel excitement for so many spectacular vehicles assembled in one place.  Regardless of issues of class and exclusivity, 'don't you know who I am'ers demanding entry, over-restored ladies (and a few gents) - the whole mess of Filthy Richness hovering over the party like heady perfume - Pebble Beach attracts a cars (and maybe bikes) you'll see nowhere else.  Or at least, not in one place, on one day.
Mercedes-Benz was a featured marque; this 300SL kept a pair of prewar grand tourers company
Duck-egg green '74 Ducati Desmo 750 SS; those must be original decals...this machine was described at the time as a 'masterpiece clothed in rags' for its shoddy paint and fiberglass, contrasted wtih exquisite engineering and performance.
Alain deCadanet discusses the Surtees Ferrari
Mr.Barber finds the only available seat on his Ferrari, just before the racer takes its podium pass
Bella!  The ex-Works Ducati 'Imola', the #3 machine used on the Paul Smart team in '72 to win that famous race, and many others.  This was Smart's practice machine and backup bike.
1893 Benz Victoria, 1700cc, 3hp, 12mph top speed, the original Carl Benz demonstration model, completely original condition.
Replica of the first petrol-engine  'automobile', the Benz Patent Motor Wagen of 1886. Carl Benz patented his design on Jan. 29, 1886...
...and a new electric Mercedes-Benz prototype, clearly inspired by the first Benz.
Cloche hat, fringe dress, big smile, 1937 Mercedes 290 Cabriolet 'A'
The chain-drive 1911 'Blitzen Benz' racer, with 200hp (enormous for the day), 21.5 liter engine.  Six were made, one of which took the World Speed Record at Daytona beach in 1911 at 141.7mph.
Matchy-match: 1957 Aermacchi Chimera and Ferrari GTO, on the Pebble Tour; yes, they do get driven/ridden!  Mark Mederski, a curator at the National Motorcycle Museum in Ohio, rode the Aermacchi on the Tour (70 miles), and described it as "One of the most thrilling rides of my life, riding between GTOs at 70mph, full throttle and down over the tank - the bike is only a 175cc!"
Original paint 1963 Jaguar Lightweight E-Type competition roadster...
The first of 12 Lightweight E-Type racers, raced by Kjell Qvale at the '63 Sebring 12-hours, winning its class.  The car has 3400 miles, almost all racing
Best in Show!! 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne, Art Deco down to the nuts.  Voisin was an aircraft maker originally (the first to cross the English channel), and used their airframe experience to build light and rigid cars.  The Aerodyne has a 3liter sleeve-valve engine (also very airplane) with 100hp.  The roof is hydraulic, and slides back on curved runners at the push of a button to three positions, each of which has a porthole rear window for rear vision.  Clever stuff, and a more compelling car in person than in photos.
Shapely bodywork on a 1953 Bosley Mk1 GT coupe.  This is a unique car, Bosley's prototype, fitted with a 55-gal fuel tank and Chrysler hemi engine with 160mph potential. 
1965 Ford Shelby Cobra Daytona coupe peekaboo. This car won the Reims 12hr race in '65, Bob Bondurant driving
Moto-judges scrutinize a 1948 Cucciolo (puppy), the proto-Ducati, who licensed the 50cc pullrod engine from carmaker Siata
The original hotrod roadster in the Prewar Custom-Bodied Ford class; 1934 Ford Model 40 Special Speedster, built for Edsel Ford by Robert Gregorie.  The chassis is a modified Ford Model 40, with stock 75hp flathead motor.  Sleek and minimal.
Detail of the futuristic Aermacchi Chimera; bike makers have since the very early 'teens made 'ideal' and enclosed two-wheelers, which have never sold well (until the Ducati Paso came along).
1956 MV Agusta 'Squalo' (shark) Formula Sport, 175cc model CSS-SV.  A popular racer with 90 built, Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini both started their careers racing Squalos.
Period gear for an Edwardian motor carriage.
Another view, needing no excuse, of the gorgeous '74 Ducati 750SS
Not 12, but 8.  Ferrari 158 F1 with 1.8 liter dohc v8, with which John Surtees won the World Championship in 1964.
1938 Moto Guzzi GTV 500cc
Not a 1937 BMW 328, but sold in England as a Frazer-Nash. Original paint...
Fantastic 1955 Ducati 125cc GP, with double overhead camshafts.  16hp at 10,500rpm, a huge figure for the day, with full 'dustbin' streamlining front and rear.  This machine was raced by Willy Scheidhauer, who won at Zandvoort and Tubbergen.
For the 50th anniversary of the Ferrari 250 GTO, no less than 22 were lined up at Pebble. This '62 example was ordered by Stirling Moss in green (although he never raced it), and won the '62 TT driven by Innes Ireland
A tour of the fabulous GTO engine bay...
...and a period race shot of Innes Ireland making a 'LeMans' start (left), now impossible with Nomex driving suits!
Gordon Murray, designer of the McLaren F1 chassis, shares a laugh with Ben Walker of Bonhams
The Art Deco camouflage of the '34 Voisin Aerodyne...seats, doors, headliner were all thus; dazzling
The experimental cam gear of the 125 GP Ducati; not your average Duc single, although the crankcases look very much as per the roadsters
Artist Anna-Louise Felstead makes an in situ watercolor sketch of the 1937 Talbot-Lago T150SS, known as the 'goutte d'eau' (teardrop) for its aerodynamic curves
The judges discuss a 1956 Maserati 160 T4 Lusso.  Yes, the same Maserati, who purchased bike builder Italmoto in '53 and made two-wheelers until 1960.
Not much more iconic than a Mercedes 300SL 'Gullwing'
The car judges at work; with 28 classes, lots of 'blue jackets' walked the field early on Sunday morning...
Oozing history and charisma, the very bike, in the very condition, on which Mike Hailwood won the 1978 Production TT
The 1957 Mondial dohc GP 125cc, as featured in this earlier post.
The Surtees MV Agusta, 4 cylinder, dohc racer; built in 1956, when it won the World Championship, and updated in 1957 with revised bodywork and an uprated engine producing 70hp at 11,000rpm.  They still lost to Gilera that year...and clearly, the design of the engine was 'inspired' by Gilera, whose own 4-cylinder racer had roots back to 1928!
Whether borrowed or original, that double-camshaft 'four' is a fantastic lump of engine. Note Marelli magneto and four Dell'Orto carbs controlled on a shared shaft.
The MV Agusta 175cc 'Squalo' engine, which humbly hides its overhead camshaft under a lot of finning
Ladies who Roll(s); one of 8 Edwardian Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts, driven around the grounds
Pebble definitely needs more benches...and hammocks!  Arriving with a show car; 5am - arriving to view, 7am.  A long day...
Ducati's Vicki Smith and a 1958 175 'F3' racer; note single camshaft operation (as per Ducati production bikes), and serious magnesium front brakes.  This was a production racer intended to mimic their roadsters, but with very special internals...
Fantastic Stutz bootlegger; 1930 M-8 supercharged Derham convertible coupe, 155hp from 322 cubic inches
The Barber museum 'fire engines', lined up for their podium moment
A true Concours d'Elegance means dressing to complement the automobile, as this fine lady demonstrates
Freshly restored '56 Maserati A6G Allemano coupe, one of 21 built by Allemano on the Maser 2-liter chassis.  The car was finished in the wee morning hours before Pebble...and took first place in the Postwar Touring class.
John Stein discusses what makes the Ducati '72 Imola racer unique, with footrests tailored to Paul Smart's riding position, and other details.  Original paint.
The 2 liter dohc Maserati engine the A6G, derived from the A6GCS racer. 
1950 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupé, with body by coachbuilder Saoutchik, with 4.5 liter engine, and a body copied later by Jaguar on their Mark 1 and 2 models...
John Pera and his boss, Jay Leno, making a noise complaint about the 1955 Moto Rumi Junior racer, a 125cc two-stroke with laid-down parallel twin engine, which did well in endurance events.  One Pebble marshall commented; "the motorcycles are the loudest machines here.  They sound great."
Mercedes 300SL Roadster with original fitted and exterior rack luggage, badged 'Mercedes' even, plus wooden skis.  No points added for period correct accessories, but they add to spectator appeal...
The '55 Rumi overlooking Monterey Bay, after winning 2nd place in the Competition class
Sailor Andy and the Rumi, who made miniature submarines in WW2, hence the anchor in their logo...
The lineup before the podium: three machines are 'tapped', but they don't know who's won what yet...
...until only one is left, in this case, owner John Parham with his '57 Aermacchi Chimera, the winner of the Touring Motorcycle class...
....and the same applies to the Competition class. The racers were deafening, revving their engines in a line, unable to hear the emcee: Hailwood Ducati, Surtees MV, and Moto Rumi lined up and wondering...
...but with only the Surtees MV remaining, its all smiles as the winner is clear.  Congratulations! 


jduss said...

Paul, I love the Voisin interior; glad you included it. It's really great. J.Duss

Hodge said...

Thanks! Almost as if I was there....


Anonymous said...

Nice shots and writes, Paul. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
Great seeing you at Pebble. Loved your article and photography on the Concours. It is a very thoughtful and intelligent treatise on the event.
- JS

Anonymous said...

I don't think the MV is from 1956 more 1959 or later

The Vintagent said...

The MV is indeed his '56 Championship machine; it was updated in '57 cosmetically and mechanically, but Gilera took the title that year anyway. When Gilera withdrew in '57 (with most of the Italian and German factories), MV was left free to win, until the Japanese arrived...

Don O'Reilly said...

Great essay Mr. d'O.
Someday I'm gonna buy myself a suit and tie, and crash one these upper 5% soirees! I hope they serve Pacifico.... see you there!

Anonymous said...

I'm no MV expert but this type of fairing and configuration was used not before 1958



Pipérade said...

Minor correction to a "keeper" of a post - Louis Blériot crossed the English Channel first in an aircraft in 1909 - it was one of his own design, a Blériot XI.

Anonymous said...

It is said that a man requires three things for happiness:

1. Something to do
2. Someone to love
3. Something to dream for

Thank you for taking care of #3.

seema said...


Diego said...

thanks a lot, paul.

I don't know anything about judging at a concours, but I can't help but wonder how judges go about with oddballs like the Ducati Cucciolo... have they ever seen one before? which criteria can they use to judge something like that?