Friday, June 08, 2012


To the victor go the laurels...
As we stood under an awning avoiding the rain, a rainbow emerged over Lago di Como late Sunday afternoon, while author and Concorso curator Stefan Knittel philosophized, "If you can't be happy on the shores of Lake Como, where will you be happy?" Could there be a more spectacular and genteel spot for a motorcycle show?  The business ran smoothly, spectators strolled between gorgeous vehicles, and the predicted rain waited until the crowds were gone, and washed away the oil drips.  By then, the motorcycles were safely tucked away in vans, or in one case, had already blasted over the Alps, en route home to Vienna, via whatever fantastic mountain roads a man with a prize-winning BSA Rocket 3 could hope to find.
Pushing the lovely 1921 Motosacoche 403 Supersport
While Knittel hand-picked the Moto Concorso lineup, the full weight of BMW supported the complicated interweaving of motorcycle and automobile events over 3 days; the ride- and drive-thrus on the roads skirting Lago di Como, over the gravel forecourt of the Villa d'Este, and across the genteel paths of verdant Villa Erba.  Of course, when playing with old vehicles, 'the unexpected' has the role of jester, such as the stalled Porsche 917 which, when push-started, blasted gravel from its fat racing slicks, or a rare speechless moment from emcee Simon Kidston, as the ex-Georg Meier supercharged BMW Rennsport roared across the Este Concorso podium, mid-stream a parade of burbling luxomobiles.  Unscripted?  And possibly the first time a motorcycle has ridden across that particular patch of real estate.  The man with the second-best job in the world, Sebastian, regularly bump-started '#47' for a tour of the grounds, awakening the assembled in their finery that, hallo, Here be Motorcycles!
Best in Show, the 1939 Gilera 'Rondine' supercharged 4-cylinder water-cooled racer
After the quiet success of the last year's inaugural Concorso di Motocicletti, BMW made a few changes for the second edition.  While the number of bikes (36) and the location (Villa Erba, a public park, next door to the swank Villa d'Este), were unchanged, and Saturday was still a day for the moto-Jury and the public to study the two-wheelers in relative quiet, the moto-prize-giving ceremony was moved to Sunday, when the entire cast of the Concorso di Eleganza sat parked on the lakefront lawns, while the public strolled amongst these Olympian marvels of four-wheeled financial and sculptural extravagance.  The change meant hugely increased numbers watching the Moto prize-giving, and gave the feeling of rousing success.
Hugo Wilson goofs aboard the 1960 Maserati 50/T2/SS moped with Allesandro Altinier...
Lakeside strollers witnessed a Saturday morning roar from twelve Concorso bikes, ridden a half-hour from Tremezzo to Cernobbio with police escort, at a healthy clip.  The origins of the Concours d'Elegance were as much about fashion as vehicles, and they combined nice cars - new cars - and outfits which complemented the lines and colors of the automobile.   Postwar, the cars got older, and the fashion aspect dimmed...still, several riders bowed to spirit of Elegance, and wrapped up in period gear, sweeping down the road as a complete picture of past glory.  More than one participant mentioned this short ride as the most fun aspect of the weekend, which says a lot about motorcyclists... even with fantastic surroundings, good friends, amazing bikes, and crowds of curious people, the fundamentally erotic experience of Riding is still the true appeal.
Lovely in blue; the 1957 Zundapp Citation, with Horex engine
This year my status was upgraded to a member of the Jury, assigned to parse 36 fantastic machines, potential show-winners all: I was happy assistant to three esteemed colleagues; Jury President Carlo Peretti, a man connected with century-old magazine MotoCiclismo since the age of 8, when his father printed the thing, and young Carlo organized the photographs, thus literally handling over 60 years of motorcycling history; Raffaele Zaccagnini is design director at Husqvarna (a BMW subgroup), and gave contemporary insight into historic design trends; Hugo Wilson is well known as the long-time editor of Classic Bike, the only magazine of which I own every single issue.
An array of BMW racers inside the display hall at Erba; this is the Butler and Smith R90S superbike
 The judging philosophy for our Concorso di Moto was simple; as each machine was either a prototype, in original paint, or a perfect restoration, the motorcycles would be assessed on their merits as designed objects, and how they best suited their category: Roaring 20s, Stylish 30s, Swinging 50s, Launch into the Future, and Racing through the Decades.  Finding common ground in most categories was simple, although in each case a jury member felt compelled to defend an otherwise discarded candidate (mine was the 'Buck Rogers' styling of the Mercury), and as the jurists approach these machines from different perspectives and backgrounds, there was something to learn as Raffaele discussed the proportion of masses on the Zundapp 4, or Carlo addressed the unacceptability to the Italian psyche of a moped vanquishing a big Ducati twin!
Hendrik von Kuenheim discusses the prototype BMW sports 6-cylinder...
All the bikes were familiar to me, although I'd never seen one machine in the metal before; the supercharged Gilera 'Rondine' (Swallow) dohc four-cylinder water-cooled racer, an object of personal fascination for decades. I've studied the blueprints and period photos, I've even written about its pioneering use of aluminum Borrani wheel rims; I know this bike as inside-out as possible, from a distance, and was deeply excited to see it wheeled onto the cruciform wooden show platform.  The Gilera didn't disappoint; it's a monumental expression of Italian genius, the motorcycle which set the sportbike pattern for the next 75 years.  That it was eventually judged 'Best in Show' was not guaranteed...but who could argue with the choice? And interestingly, the Gilera Rondine is owned by BMW rival Piaggio, who had entered it with their original 1946 Vespa prototype, plus a new 'concept' scooter design.  Thus, BMW awarded their highest show honour to a competitor, after displaying gems from the Piaggio museum.  The other amazing machines are photographed here for your enjoyment, each a strong contender for 'Best', and their lucky owners are to be applauded for carting them long distances for the benefit of us mere mortals.
Wonderful lineup of sports racers at Villa Erba on Sunday
The complicated organization of this large show of two- and four-wheelers, their support teams and handlers, the BMW staff, the entrants and guests, meant that, barring Sunday, the motorcyclists were segregated from the 'car people' this year, which begged the question; is there a cultural disconnect between Auto and Moto enthusiasts?  When questioned about dis-inclusion of the movie-star and prototype-unveiling cocktail party Friday evening, several moto-collectors mentioned feeling more comfortable amongst themselves, and had little investment in the sparkle and pageantry over at Villa d'Este.  As one who likes a little flash (plus champagne, hot actresses, and cool prototypes) I was surprised, and chewed these thoughts with my excellent multi-course Italian cuisine....what I would have loved is a compromise; invite the bikers to the cocktail party, then herd us off to our own dinner. Acknowledge that we're 'at the party', so to speak, even if we prefer to dine with fellow-sufferers of the moto-disease. As an inveterate optimist, I had hoped all the party guests would acknowledge our mutual gearheadedness, and sing Kumbayah while holding hands around a double-overhead camshaft supercharged racing engine.  The motorcyclists certainly did. 
Man and machine; the mechanic for this Porsche 917 gets down inside...
Prize-winning 1934 Zundapp K800 four cylinder (see my road test of a similar machine here)
Dapper gents from Top Gear Poland...
The Koehler-Escoffier 'Mandoline' Tourisme
Dapper young gent from a family of watchmakers in Milano...
Heinkel in the microcar display
Sebastian Gutsch of BMW Klassik, doing as he was wont to do, blasting #49 through the crowds at strategic times...
Concorso babes adding glamour to the little Vespa
No hassle, no hustle. 
The immaculate BSA Rocket 3 ridden from Vienna, and back
The Nembo 32, with inverted 3-cylinder engine; half a Porsche, kind of.
Outrageous custom-bodied Deco extravaganza Rolls...
Sneaking into the Concorso by Amphicar...
The second Ducati 750 GT off the production line...
The clay-model MV Agusta F3
A spectator's flathead HD outside Villa d'Este...
1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, one of which just sold for $35M...
The Swiss Condor Super Sport TT of 1927, with Opel Motoclub behind, and further on, #32, the Nembo with inverted three-cylinder engine
Gentlemen of the jury; Hugo Wilson , Carlo Peretti, our moderator, Raffaele Zaccagnini, and Paul d'O
Hugo Wilson inspects the Mercury; a short rear link swingarm is hidden beneath all that aluminum...
It never got better than this for HD...a powerful and impressive machine at the cutting edge of technology in 1922
From whence Moto Guzzi took the name, 'Gamba Lungha'...
The owner of this Maico Taifun compared the aluminum fork casting to 'an elegant lady's neck'...
The beautiful 1935 Bianchi Frecchia Azzurra
Benito Battilani and his fantastic HD 8-valve racer, with a gearbox...they didn't come that way from the factory!
Henne's 'Egg', the supercharged BMW streamliner record-breaker
Stefan Friedl with his super-rare Zenith with flat-twin oil-cooled Bradshaw engine, which I had a chance to ride on the grounds Saturday; smooth.
The remarkable Mercury with disc-valve Scott engine
Class of 1954; Porsche 550 Spyder and Moretti 750 Grand Sport
The 1946 Vespa prototype
Mussolini's 1935 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300
Happily ever after?  Well, pretty close.


thomas said...

Outstanding, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful bikes and cars, set off by the elegant ladies. You are a lucky man.

Anonymous said...

Bellissimo articolo.

Aldo Carrer

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
Just finished reading the Vd'E piece. Love this line!
'sing Kumbayah while holding hands around a double-overhead camshaft supercharged racing engine.'

I know the feeling of moto segregation from auto: I've felt it at a few events, and love champagne, beautiful women and concepts nearly as much as you do: how to break down the barrier?

see you soon,

Charlie101 said...

WOW!Really Stunning pictures as always.And great writeup.

William said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks for this simply sumptuous article.. I usually see it in UK Classic Car mags and would just LOVE to go. Lucky you, Kidson does have the second best job in the world.
As to Auto vs Moto, well, there are very wealthy bike collectors/ restorers etc.. BUT.. not in the same league as the Car mob. Even tho' some of the car guys often have Bikes/classics etc.. it's still small beer compared to their investment in Auto's.
It's a different world.. see them at Goodwood, both events,the Bikes are largely 'fenced off'. Sadly,it begins and ends with MONEY, being an Enthusiast/Petrolhead isn't enough, we're all that surely.
Best Regards

Anonymous said...

Ciao Paul,

I would like to thank you for the photos of my '32' you’ve published on your fine blog.
I was very pleased to meet you at the Concorso. It was a really fine and enjoyable event and I’ll not forget the lovely ride from Tremezzo to Cernobbio in such good company. At the half of the way, suddenly I heard some alarming and irregular “clak, clak”, so I began to get worried fearing some problem in the engine (broken piston rings or something), I really did not know what I had to do, if stopping the bike or reaching Villa Erba at all costs (so precious engine costs…). This went on for an interminable while, till finally I realized those “clak” was just the Mars A 20 blissfully shifting behind me… Damn, how scaring!

BMW people were very kind about the 32, many unexpected compliments. They already told me to come back to the Concorso on next year. That’s fine, because I love it.

I’d also like to introduce and sell my bikes in the U.S.A. even if few, because I don’t think I’ll sell more than ten bikes per year worldwide.
Maybe you could be interested in the “history” records, for it’s the first bike to be powered by an inverted engine where the crankcase works as chassis without involving heads and cylinders. About that, the concerning U.S. patent has just been published. The first prototype, the 001 is the one you saw at Villa Erba and I’ll keep it for me. The second prototype, the 002, as well as the first one, has the 1814cc engine. It’s just accomplishing the final tests and it will be sold just after completed its duty.
The 32s, from the 003 onwards, will be all powered by the 2000 cc engines and will basically look like the prototypes, with some minor technical improvements. They will be made basically at a racing prototypes level, in Italy, handcrafted in Italy by an Italian team with the best of materials and technology.
Most probably all of them will be red.

Un saluto da Roma and thank you again,

Daniele Sabatini
Nembo Motociclette

Anonymous said...

Neat bikes. BMW mit Kompressor my favorite!

You don't have enough judges for motorcycles. Tell them they need one more next year . I know just the guy!

- Somer

Anonymous said...

Neat bikes. BMW mit Kompressor my favorite!

You don't have enough judges for motorcycles. Tell them they need one more next year . I know just the guy!

- Somer

OcchioLungo said...

Great photos, as usual. The first one made me chuckle a bit. I'm used to guys wearing gloves to keep their hands clean on dirty bikes. That fella wore white gloves to keep the bike clean from his dirty hands... ;)


Red Fred said...

Great Stuff Paul!
Thanks for sharing it all. No worries for Sr. Benito Battilani though, as he has another 8 valve HD.
Thanks again, RF.

Motorcycle Riding Schools said...

These vintage motorcycle are so cool. I wish all vintage motorcycle from other countries are well-taken cared of.