Three motorcycle auctions (London, Paris and Gainesville, Florida) in the next few weeks offer unprecedented opportunities to obtain some rare European motorcycles.
Bonhams' Retromobile (Paris) sale later this week (4 February) will be followed by Coys' first annual London sale to be held at the Carole Nash MCN London Motorcycle Show on 13 February, and the lots include a fabled Moto-Guzzi V8 (Estimate: US$270,000 to $315,000) plus more many very important Italian racing motorcycles including a 1951 Moto Guzzi 500 Bicilindrica Grand Prix racer (estimate: $170,000 to $185,000), a 1956 Mondial 250 GP Bicilindrica ($170,000 to $200,000) and a 1961 Ducati 250 Trialbero prototype ($130,000 to $145,000).
One of the stars of the show will be the first motorcycle from a new French custom manufacturer, Praëm, which is based on Honda's VTR1000 RC51 SP2 v-twin and is expected to sell for between $100,000 and $160,000. It's the first time that a company has launched a motorcycle at a major motorcycle auction, though it is far from unprecedented in the automotive world where savvy elite car marketers have long since worked out that auctions are where the most monied enthusiasts come out to play.
To date, only CGI images of the new Praëm SP3 SP3 have been seen, but it looks to be quite exquisite with 4,000 hours of craftsmanship invested in it's creation, a dry weight of 180 kg (408 lb) and 165 hp (123 kW) on tap, it's likely to be very quick as well very sought after.
Unused since completion, this outstanding piece of motorcycle art would be equally at home in a motor museum or an art gallery.
One of the more interesting aspects of the bike is that it uses a $6,000 limited edition TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 11 chronograph atop the fuel tank. The watch retains its wristband, so it can be worn by the rider when the bike is parked – a nice concept but we don't really expect this to go mainstream any time soon, at least not for bikes that will ever be parked in the street. This is the only actual photograph of the bike to date.
For those seeking less exotic but more traditional high-value steeds, there's also (clockwise from top left in above image) a 1927 Brough Superior 680 ($170,000 to $200,000), a 1950 Vincent Rapide Series C ($85,000 to $105,000), a 1931 Indian 402 ($70,000 to $85,000), and a 1954 Vincent Rapide Series C ($55,000 to $70,000).
In its announcement regarding the new London auction, Coys committed to holding the auction annually in conjunction with the enormous MCN-backed event, continuing a period of significant growth. Following the company's long-standing success as the official auction of the Techno-Classica event and it's association with the Monaco Grand Prix Historique and it's associated "Legende et Passion" auction, Coys secured a long-term deal to become the exclusive auction partner of both the Frankfurt International Motor Show and the Porsche Classics at the Castle events last year. Major car and motorcycle shows appear to be a logical venue for classic auctions as the collectible marketplace grows, and Coys is establishing new and highly relevant venues to continue its long car and motorcycle auction heritage. Bravo Coys!
J. Wood & Company sells the estate of Bob Barker
Jerry Wood's Florida auction on March 8 doesn't contain motorcycles of the same exalted status, but there are many bargains to be had and quite an opportunity to pick up the bike, engine or part you've been looking for.
The J.Wood & Company auction takes place in Gainesville (Florida), just 100 miles from Daytona Beach, four days before the 75th running of the famous Daytona 200 road race, so there's an opportunity to take in both events in a single trip and, as with the London auction, there are quite a few Italian bikes, with plenty of other deletable classics too.
The sale is of the estate of Bob Barker, one of the engineers behind the first coming of the Can Am motorcycle. Bob helped develop the company's very fast Rotax rotary valve two-stroke dirt bikes in the early seventies. After an initial spell at Bombadier's home base in Canada, Bob moved the race team to Florida so it could develop the motocross bikes all year round. When the Can Am program was finally closed, all of the fabrication machinery was sold to Bob, and is also for sale in this auction. During this period, Bob developed and rode a Can-Am 125 cm3 machine to a world speed record of 136.5 mph (220 km/h), a record which still stands. He broke numerous other speed records but we're having trouble tracking down the extent of his two-wheeled exploits, which appear to have been numerous given the contents of his garage.
Bob was also a road and dirt racer of many years standing prior to his involvement with Can Am and many of the motorcycles in this auction belonged to Bob since they were new or near new, being in original or "as raced" condition. Included in the sale are a 1928 Indian 101 Scout in original condition, a 1960 Norton Manx, an AJS 7R, a Gilera Saturno Corsa, a Gilera Saturno Sport, a Parilla Grand Sport, several Ducati 250GPs, an NSU Super Max, an NSU Super Fox, a Velocette KSS, Zundapp Twingle, and some bikes in as-new condition, such as a Royal Enfield Bullet with 161 miles (259 km) on the clock and a Ducati 250 MKIII with 1,825 miles (2,937 km) on the odometer.
Like Jerry Wood's last big "barn find" auction, the cache of bikes, motors and parts is so large that it is still being catalogued. "We have only begun to dig out what is there", said Wood.
"We did find a great engine collection that starts with some very early examples and goes through to the 1970s. There's a large amount of parts and they will be placed with the motorcycles that they belong with or sold by the box lot.
"For example, we did find a Yamaha TD1 engine, brakes and a fuel tank that looked new. We found many toys, some in boxes and some rusty. There is a lot of treasure here and it will all sell to the highest bidder."
The fabled Moto Guzzi V8 Grand Prix Racer
The star lot of the auctions is unquestionably a replica of one of the fabled Moto Guzzi factory 499cc racers that was used during the 1955-1957 World Championship Grand Prix seasons.
Moto Guzzi is best known these days for it's transverse V-twins, but the engineering audacity of producing a DOHC V8 racer sixty years ago made world headlines and it ensured that the brand would be known globally, despite many previous technological triumphs. It also set the scene for Honda to perform equally remarkable technological wizardy a decade later when the Japanese company created the six cylinder 250cc RC166, and the most outrageous of them all, the five-cylinder 125cc RC149. Honda race engineer Nobby Clarke recalls assembling the Honda 125's valve gear with tweezers.
Moto Guzzi's 90 degree V8 had water cooling, double overhead camshafts on each cylinder bank, eight 20mm Dell'Orto carburettors, sixteen valves, eight glorious cacophonous megaphone exhausts (when I visited the Guzzi factory back in the early eighties, they started the V8 for me and it makes a truly glorious sound) and produced 78 hp (58 kW) at 12,000 rpm, giving it a top speed of 172 mph (277 km/h).
As powerful as it was, it was apparently diabolical to ride and unreliable into the bargain, and works rider Ken Kavanagh, renowned for his bravery, refused to ride the motorcycle following the 1956 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. That's quite a statement given he was one of the originators of the entire project. Horsepower alone does not make a racing motorcycle and the frames, suspension and tires of the day were simply incapable of dealing with that much horsepower.
The Guzzi V8 offered for sale is not one of the originals (of which just two remain), and was constructed in Italy during the early 2000s by a small team of expert ex Moto Guzzi technicians. They meticulously adhered to the machine's original specifications, with those parts that were needed created from original factory drawings. Like the originals of the 1950s, this replica also has crankcases and brake drums cast in magnesium, with the steels, alloys and other materials, including the suede leather seat upholstery, being precisely to 1956 factory specification.
This bike has an estimated price of £190,000 to £220,000 (US$270,000 to $315,000) but may fetch more than that if the right people want it. It will be worth watching to see what happens with this bike – if it were a real one, it would most likely sell for a lot more and would potentially threaten the world motorcycle auction record.
1951 Moto Guzzi 500 Bicilindrica Grand Prix Racer
It may look like a Ducati at first glance, but with it's cylinders angled at 120° (with a 180° crank pin offset), the Moto Guzzi 500 V-twin predates Taglioni's 90° Ducati L-twin design by nearly four decades. Conceived (like Vincent and Ducati) to take advantage of morphing two of their strong single cylinder engines together, the bike won major premier class Grands Prix both before and after WW2.
The lightweight and sweet-handling bike was in its heyday in the mid–thirties, winning the Italian Grand Prix three times and taking a win at the IOM in 1935 Senior TT with Stanley Woods in the saddle. The Senior TT was the world's most important motorcycle race at the time.
The Moto Guzzi 500 Bicilindrica's competitiveness was waning by the time the World Championships were inaugurated in 1949, but it still hung on to take its last win in the 1951 Swiss GP. Only around a dozen Bicilindricas were built during the two decades it was used by the Moto Guzzi factory team, with this bike being from the final year. Strangely, the bike somehow found it's way to South America where it fell into disrepair, only to be discovered and returned to Europe where it was restored to it's former glory. A significant motorcycle that just might exceed it's estimate of £120,000 to £130,000 (US$170,000 to $185,000).
1956 Mondial 250 GP Bicilindrica
FB-Mondial and it's Drusiani-designed engines were dominant in the 125 class at the advent of the World Motorcycle Championships in 1949, winning all three championship events held in 1949, 1950 and 1951 to take the first three world titles in the 125 class with its Bialbero (Italian for DOHC) single cylinder engine. It continued to prove competitive right up to 1957 and, buoyed by this success, the firm set about fusing two 125s together for the 250cc class.
Between September 1956 and March 1957, Mondial's engineer Nerio Biavati built one prototype twin-cylinder DOHC 250 based on a pair of 125 Bialberos. This bike was the first prototype built for its entry into the 250 class and although it made a very competitive 35 hp (26 kW) at 10,000 rpm, it was deemed too heavy to be competitive and was shelved in favour of a single cylinder design (which took first, second and third place in the 1957 world title).
Due to financial woes, Mondial closed down at the end of 1957 and this prototype 250 twin is the only one in existence. Estimated at £120,000 to £140,000 (US$170,000 to $200,000), the figures suggest that small engine capacities and bikes that are not V-twins are not much sought after by collectors, but this bike is nonetheless VERY special.
1961 Ducati 250 Trialbero prototype
Just three prototype Ducati 250 single-cylinder Trialbero (triple overhead camshaft) GP racers were built, having the distinct misfortune to come up against Honda's new four-cylinder 250, the all-conquering RC162. Estimated at £90,000 to £100,000 (US$130,000 to $145,000), this Trialbero prototype was one of the last of the single cylinder 250 GP bikes.
A groundbreaking motorcycle in it's day, the 350 Bialbero was the work of Moto Guzzi's famous designer, Giulio Cesare Carcano. Carcano is best known for designing the V8 racer and the distinctive transverse V-twin engine that is now synonymous with the marque, but in an interview in 2002, he proclaimed that it was the 350 Bialbero that he he loved the most. "We were able to make the 350 world champion in 1957 weighing 98-100 kg (220 lb), more or less. That was the motorbike I loved the most, because it was complete."
Carcano's design philosophy (despite the V8) was, like so many of the most accomplished motorsport designers in history, focused on low weight, good aerodynamics and good handling. So fastidious was Carcano that one day he ordered that all the paint be scraped off a race bike's frame, tank and fairing. When he found the paint weighed 3 kg (6.6 lb), he ordered that from that point onwards, the race bikes would be unpainted, hence the drab undercoat colour of Moto Guzzi's race machinery of his era.
The 350 Bialbero employed a Carcano-designed trellis frame to save weight and increase chassis rigidity, and in 1954 the 350 Bialbero was the first motorcycle to race using the fully-enclosed "dustbin fairing," which had been developed in Moto Guzzi's wind tunnel. Moto Guzzi was the first motorcycle company in the world to have a wind tunnel and was pushing the state-of-the-art just two thirds of a century ago. Nowadays, this bike would qualify as a learner bike given it's modest power, but in it's day, it was as good as it got.
Initially developed from the successful 250 that had won the inaugural World 250cc Championship in 1949, with further titles in 1951 and 1952, the 350 Bialbero had one of the most successful resumes of any racing motorcycle in history.
Introduced in 1953 and retired at the end of the 1957 season when all the Italian factories (except for MV Agusta) pulled out of international competition, the bike won five consecutive world titles, winning 24 of the 35 races it contested during the period. Manx Nortons and the four-cylinder Gileras each won four of the other 11 events, with AJS winning two and MV Agusta one.
We're not sure how many 350 Bialberos were built, but it's an extremely limited number, and given the bike's astonishing win-loss record, it is one of the jewels of this auction. Estimated at £120,000 to £125,000 (US$170,000 to $178,000), it may well exceed the estimates.
1968 Linto 500 Grand Prix
This was one of the last purpose-built four-stroke Grand Prix race machines in the period before the howl of expansion chambers heralded the end of the first four-stroke era and dominated the 500 class as they had already done with the smaller capacity Grand Prix bikes.
The Linto is named after its designer Lino Tonti. Tonti has an illustrious resume, having begun work in the pre-WW2 racing department of Benelli when it was a major racing force, and working on the four-cylinder supercharged 250cc racing bike which was finished just prior to WW2, never to see international competition. Post WW2, Tonti worked at Aermacchi, before moving to F.B. Mondial where he worked under engineering prodigy Alfredo Drusiani on the 250 machines that went on to win the world championships in 1957.
Mondial was one of the group of Italian manufacturers that pulled out of Grand Prix racing at the end of 1957, so Tonti moved on to Bianchi where he designed 250 cc four-stroke twins.
In the mid-sixties, Tonti hit upon the idea of building a DOHC 500cc twin racer with four-valve, radial valve heads. With limited finances, he eventually used the cylinders and heads of two Aermacchi Ala d'Oro pushrod 250cc single-cylinder racers on a common 360 degree crank and engine of his own design driving through a six-speed gearbox.
The trellis frame of the Linto was built by the specialist Milanese frame builder Stelio Belletti, with Ceriani suspension and Fontana drum brakes, resulting in a sweet-handling lightweight 142 kg (313 lb) bike with enough power (65 hp at 12,000 rpm) to blow away the big singles it was competing against in a straight line. Reports suggest the Linto's near 260 km/h (160 mph) top speed had a 35 km/h (56 mph) advantage over its Norton and Matchless competitors.
Though the company only managed to produce 16 Lintos (Coys says 24), they became quite sought-after as privateer machines, as they were probably the second-fastest 500 class machines in the world in the late sixties, behind the lone MV Agusta four-cylinder ridden by Giacomo Agostini.
In the Linto's first Grand Prix season, the bike proved fast but fragile due to the engine's extreme vibration cracking frames, and the fragility of the six-speed gearbox. From five starts in the hands of Alberto Pagani, the bike failed to finish three times, but scored a fourth place at the Nations Grand Prix in Italy and a second place at the East German Grand Prix behind Agostini, giving it equal fourth place in the title amongst a bevy of single-cylinder Manx Nortons and Matchless G50s.
The following year proved to be Linto's most successful, with a number of fast privateers scoring podiums (two third places to Steve Ellis, and one third place each to Australians Jack Findlay and John Dodds), one win in the hands of Pagani, and Gyula Marsovszky took second place in the title behind Ago. Pagani's win came at the Nations Grand Prix in Imola, after MV Agusta boycotted the event.
Several Lintos appeared in 1970, and when they finished they usually finished well. Pagani started eight races for three third places and five DNFs, while John Dodds started the same number of races for seven DNFs and one second place. Even technical writer Kevin Cameron was intrigued enough by the Linto to pen a few paragraphs while the Italian Wikipedia has the most complete information on the bike on the Internet. Former Linto campaigner Steve Ellis' 2002 book The History of Linto is worth chasing if the bike intrigues you.
The biggest problem for the Linto was that Lino Tonti left the project in 1967, so the reliability that might be expected to be developed over time, did not occur.
Another Linto went to auction last year at H&H Classic auctions, estimated to fetch £90,000 to £110,000 (US$128,000 to $156,000), but failed to meet reserve. Given that this bike has an estimate of £50,000 to £60,000 (US$70,000 to $85,000), there's every chance it will sell, perhaps for a surprising amount.
1987 Cagiva GP500 Tipo C587
Here's a rare opportunity to purchase a fire-breathing factory 500 two-stroke Grand Prix bike. It's the bike that Raymond Roche rode to 13th place in the 1987 500 championship. Its best finish was fifth (twice) and the identical bike of Roche's teammate Didier de Radigues scored a fourth.
The C587 was powered by a 56° V4 in place of the previous bike's 90° layout, while physically smaller Mikuni carbs were now mounted in-line and replaced the bulkier, previously staggered Dell'Ortos for better power. The C587 made 148 bhp while weighing just 124 kg (273 lb) with all fluids other than fuel.
This bike is presented "as raced" at the end of the 1987 season, and carries an estimate of £75,000 to £85,000 (US$107,000 to $120,000).
Modern Italian collector bikes
There are many more motorcycles of interest across the three auctions, including an array of modern Italian motorcycles from the seventies and eighties. The Benelli Sei is an obvious candidate for one of the most collectible bikes of the seventies and the bike at top left has an estimate of $15,000 to $21,000. At that price, it's a sweet, smooth and great riders' bike that should retain its value from this point forth. The 1971 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport (top right) is in similar you'll-always-get-your-money-back territory with an estimate of $15,000 to $21,000. Two smaller capacity Italian bikes of the period that offer sweet handling and excellent value are the 1982 four-cylinder Benelli 254 and a 1983 Moto Morini '3½' Sport, one of the most balanced and sure-footed motorcycles I have ever tested.
1997 Ducati 916 Senna II
One bike that is sure to capture the attention of at least 900 people around the world is the 1997 Ducati 916 Senna II. From the second of three series (each of approximately 300 units) of Ayrton Senna tribute machines based on the 916, this bike is a natural collector machine as it has never been started. The 916 won four world superbike titles (1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998) and the model was endorsed by the Formula One champion two months prior to his death in May 1994. Senna owned a Ducati 851 and was a friend of Ducati's then owners, the Castiglioni brothers. This bike has an estimate of €35,000 to €45,000 (US$50,000 to $64,000), meaning it has already well exceeded it's new price, and should continue to reliably appreciate in value.
1898-99 De Dion-Bouton Tricycle
There's also a De Dion-Bouton tricycle that dates from late 1898 or early 1899 and although some parts are missing, most can still be obtained – and as a project, it's relatively straightforward to get this forefather of motorcycling back in running condition.
The names of De Dion and Bouton are inextricably linked with the motor car's pioneering years. Bouton's engines significantly improved on those of Daimler and Benz, yet matched them for reliability. Small wonder then that they were adopted by many other manufacturers, influenced no doubt by the success of the De Dion-Bouton-powered tricycles in such events as the Paris-Bordeaux and other pioneering races. Little is known of this tricycle, which is offered for restoration.
Two of the three auctions (Coys and Bonhams) will be streamed live on the Internet and if you haven't watched a live auction, you may be surprised at just how compelling they are, particularly if a marque or model you have a vested interest in is involved.