2008 Legend of the Motorcycle Concours D'Elegance
The Legend of the Motorcycle is becoming a legend in its own time. There's no other event in the U.S. devoted only to motorcycling that has such class, assembles so many vintage and contemporary bikes in stunning surroundings, and makes you proud to belong to the community of motorcycle riders.
The formula developed by founders Jared Zaugg and Brooke Roner remained unchanged for this third year – there's no point in arguing with success – and drew thousands of visitors and nearly 300 bikes for a celebration of the history and future of two-wheeled motion. Taken together, the motorcycles entered in the Concours d'Elegance competition, just on display, or to be auctioned that evening by Bonhams and Butterfields, provided an eye-popping buffet on golf-green grass and in the elegant rooms of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
It's not only the artful melding of steel, leather and rubber into a motorcycle that builds legends, it is the motorcyclist as well. The legendary Grand Prix racer and motorcycling icon, Giacomo Agostini, was chosen this year to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. "Ago" was everywhere - smiling, joking, posing for photos, signing autographs, reminiscing and reciprocating the adoration of those enthusiasts old enough to have witnessed some of his remarkable career. The years have been kind to this gentleman, now 65, who looks like a movie star and still moves with the grace he exhibited on the Grand Prix circuits in the '60s and '70s. Speaking of Grands Prix, he won 122 races before retiring in 1977.
'The blue-blazer-clad judges had their work cut out for them.'
Agostini captured the 350cc title for seven consecutive years, and the 500cc title seven years in a row, too. And ten TT titles. In total, he amassed 12 world championships riding for Moto Morini, MV Agusta and finally Yamaha. In 1974 he crossed the pond and, riding for Yamaha, conquered the Daytona 200. Agostini was not the only legend that visitors could see up close - Phil Read, winner of seven world championships and Agostini's close competitor in many GP races - presented the Lifetime Achievement Award. Eminences Malcolm Smith, Mert Lawwill and Roosevelt 'Rosey' Lackey were also there as part of the collection of Legendary Motorcyclists.
The blue-blazer-clad judges had their work cut out for them. Clipboards in hand, they poked around, looking over this and under that and asking penetrating questions to the anxious entrants standing by their prides and joy. The most welcome question for any entrant was "does it run?" because that meant the bike was in contention for an award. (If it doesn't run it doesn't win.) Proof came only in the form of sound and smoke. The sound issuing from these machines can be ear-splittingly awesome and there were more than a few heavy smokers. But Ed Gilbertson, now in his third year as the Legend's chief judge, and his platoon of well-known experts were up to the task and delivered their results to Master of Ceremonies Alain de Cadenet in time for the 2 pm start of the parade to the podium.
One couldn't help noticing the preponderance of gorgeous Nortons (46) and MV Agustas (37) lined up on the grass. As featured marques this year, these brands brought big-time collectors out of the woodwork to show their stuff as well as the owners of just one or two bikes. One of the former, Paul Adams, would make four trips to the podium later in the afternoon, each time on a different one of the four Nortons he exhibited. These bikes alone (from 1923, 1929, 1937 and 1952) spanned three decades. Collector Gary Kohs came from Michigan with 22 (!) MV Agustas, including one that would receive the Founders Award. That motorcycle, a 1956 MV Agusta Squalo Racer, boasts a simple provenance: Kohs is only the second owner.
"The only reason this bike was entered in competition this year - the only one I've ever done - is because the bike comes from its original owner Antonio Foresti in Rimini, Italy,” said Kohs from the podium. “He raced it, he's owned it all his life and he's passed it on to me to be the next caretaker. This award and this trophy will go to Foresti in Rimini, and I'll have one hell of an evening with him again." Which raises the question, what was the last evening in Rimini like? Later, Kohs recounted, "This bike was in its own room, downstairs. He was passing his bikes on and I went there to buy a 125cc MV. We went out to dinner and talked about the passion of motorcycling, drank way too much vino, came back to his house, went downstairs again. Sitting in the center of the room was this bike with a cover over it. He pulled the cover off and I and the other guy I was with just sat on the floor. We couldn't believe what we were looking at. Then he showed us the original photographs of him racing it in Rimini and said, 'You have the passion - you're the next caretaker.' God, I got goosebumps." So did founders Roner and Zaugg.
'Since the sparkplug was still awaiting its invention, the gasoline engine used hot platinum tubes in the cylinder to ignite the fuel-air mixture.'
Mark Kron, hailing from a small village, Krautheim, in Germany acquired his exhibit A, an 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmueller, in a totally different way - he built it. Billed as the first production motorcycle, Kron says that about 400 of these were built and perhaps 40 survive today. Since the sparkplug was still awaiting its invention, the gasoline engine used hot platinum tubes in the cylinder to ignite the fuel-air mixture. Like a steam engine, the piston was connected directly to the rear wheel via long connecting rods. There was a problem, however. According to Kron, "when the tubes were heated red hot by the fire box, you were able to push-start the bike. But sometimes the fire went back into the fuel tank and you got a big explosion." This danger was one reason Kron's replica was not running and, hence, not entered in the judging. But it was entered at Bonhams & Butterfield's where it - one of 15 he has built since 2001 - was hammered down at $50,000. The replica comes with a set of the 1894 technical drawings, just in case.
Another unusual German production unit, this one from 1942, was John Menefee's BMW R75 sidecar rig. The sidecar was equipped with a machine gun (would he have to fire that too, to please the judges?) and the whole outfit looked very threatening. Menefee reinforced this effect for the camera by donning period attire - a grey greatcoat and Wehrmacht steel helmet. This R75 was not a replica, however, but was acquired at the auction in Daytona last year. When asked how much it cost, Menefee replied, "I absolutely stole it. It was great." Pressed again, the answer came back, "Not nearly what it was worth." Finally, the truth, "seventeen thousand." Menefee was hoping for a separate class for military motorcycles. If so, he would have taken first place for sure, but unfortunately that particular classification has yet to appear in the Legend's roster.
Dan Waitz of San Francisco had the incredible luck six months ago to find an original-owner 1974 Honda CB750 for sale by an elderly gentleman who'd equipped it for touring but never toured. "It had a lot of original bolt-on Honda-line accessories on it, which I think protected it. Sissy bar and saddle bags, windshield and floorboards. Hideously ugly. It was like a cocoon, and when I took all that stuff off, this was what was underneath," said Waitz. That-which-was-underneath landed Waitz first place in the category of Japanese production 1970-1977, and with no additional work beyond unbolting the accessories. The conclusion from this and a number of other prominent examples is that "original" in combination with "unrestored" are the words that work magic with the judges.
Away from the grassy plain of vintage beauty, up the hill and out on the Ritz-Carlton terrace were the custom motorcycles, the expression in steel of flights of fancy by their creators. The pilots on these flights are the famous custom builders, the Jesse James's and Roger Goldammers, the Shinya Kimuras and the Ian Barrys, and so on. Any suggestion (by using the plural) that there are others just like these particular individuals is incorrect. Not the case. No way. They and all the other top custom builders are unique and their designs prove it. Here, on the terrace, you saw the art of the motorcycle in living form, not the art of the past but of the present.
Though style drives the design, there are also technical innovations (or at least major novelties) to find on these unusual two-wheelers. At first glance, the motor in Roger Goldammer's bike seemed to be the canonical V-Twin from Milwaukee. But then he pointed out that it's actually a one-cylinder Harley: the rear cylinder has been moved up front and replaced by a supercharger of about the same size! Massive drum brakes, or so they appear, are really disc brakes with the rotors and calipers concealed inside the drums. In this case, he's bringing back the look of the '50s and '60s when the dual-shoe drums on racers had become so large they practically filled the wheel.
There's tremendous freedom and flexibility - provided, of course, that you've got a machine shop to match. "We can come up with our own mixes of styles and eras," explained Goldammer. "On this particular bike, to me, the rear section is late '50s early '60s cafe racer while the front is more like a modern, custom sportbike, but in the middle it's old retro-Harley. I raced this bike in stripped down form at Bonneville and set a record. Now, with turn signals and lights it's seeing a second incarnation as a street-legal custom road bike. There are modern technical features like a progressive fuel system integrating nitrous, and electric shifting - there's a lot integrated into this machine to make it work."
Another relatively new element in custom design is the board-track racer look: the simple, swept-down wide handlebars, the large diameter, narrow-width tires.
Shinya Kimura, a quiet, shy artist who is sometimes called a minimalist, fabricates his creations by picking from the scrap heaps of time past - junk yards and swap meets - and sculpts motorcycles that fascinate. You can stare at one of his motorcycles for hours and keep turning up clever uses of old parts in new ways that delight the eye and stimulate the imagination. Kevin Bradburn, proud owner of one of Kimura's most recent creations, described how it all came about. "I'd admired his work coming out of Japan for a number of years. I got to know him at the show here last year and then his shop in Southern California gave us the opportunity to work together. We had a number of sit-down conversations there.
We knew we wanted to use a Knucklehead engine - I think it's one of the most beautiful engines ever made. From there, his artistic mind gets working. We found an engine in July, and that's when things really got started. I just love that he finds these pieces, whether it's an exhaust manifold off an old Cadillac or an old axe handle or an old hair dryer. But it takes a lot of time and I rode the bike for the first time only a month ago." While the cost of commissioning this work of art is known only to Bradburn and Kimura, Bradburn says with no hesitation, "It was well worth every penny." As to what Bradburn plans to do with his new motorcycle, he says he's going to ride it. "I believe in the art of the motorcycle but I believe they're made to be ridden." We hope he'll continue to exhibit it, too.
Back down on the green, precisely at 2 pm, Alain de Cadenet was summoning all visitors for the start of the awards ceremony. First up was Ago, who happily accepted his God-of-Speed trophy from Phil Read and (which seemed to interest him even more) a big fancy wristwatch from a Legend sponsor, JeanRichard. The special awards - Elvis, Steve McQueen, Industry, Founders, Preservation, Custom, and Sculptor's - were decided by particular VIPs or select judges. (See the complete results listed below.)
This was the opportunity for notables to express their tastes, vision, and motorcycling philosophies, and out of this came some rather interesting results. Jeff Decker, who crafted the God of Speed statuette, had this to say about his criteria for the Sculptor's Award. "Patina means a lot to me, especially in art and motorcycles. I'm not a super fan of over-restored motorcycles and I love racers, which is why I chose the Rollie Free bike last year. I want a bike that represents provenance and a little bit of soul." Decker's choice: a 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank racer, fully original and unrestored, owned by Vince Martinico. On the podium, Martinico hopped on the Indian, pedaled like hell and the racer roared to life. When the smoke cleared, the applause was just as loud. This was not the last time we would see this live ghost from the past roll onto the podium.
The one custom motorcycle to receive an award was Ian Barry and Jason Lee's Bullet Falcon, a "custom vintage" build in which a 1950 Triumph was given a retro board-tracker makeover. The lines are simple and elegant. Barry was nearly emotional in describing what this design meant to him, and actor Jason Lee was as proud as a kid with a new pony. Perhaps the most significant compliment went unheard by most. It was from competitor Jesse James who, sitting on the grass in front of the podium, shouted up to Barry, "Nice bike, man."
The next time we saw the 1908 Indian was for the Preservation Award. It turns out that Vince Martinico has a life-long dedication to preservation. "I just like old things. I started collecting things in kindergarten," Martinico said. "Stamps, pennies, car emblems; later, in elementary school, kites and cigar labels. Then bicycles, minibikes, dirt bikes, street bikes. Old cars and trucks, carousel horses and slot machines." Asked if he restored any of these, he answered, "I like to keep 'em old, old and original - just as found." In this case, the 1908 Indian had been in storage since 1910. Talk about a time capsule!
'The list of class judges (not to mention the honorary judges) reads like a who's who of motorcycling.'
There were 16 classes ranging from the early (American Production 1901-1929) to the late (Off-Road 1970-1977). That's 49 motorcycles still needing to cross the podium after the conclusion of the special awards and before the 4 pm close. (The 49th would be the Best of Show.) This was achieved through the simple expedient of talking only about the first place bike in each class. The moment in the sun for the second and third place winners, while sweet, was therefore short. Quick – up on podium, put medal on neck, roll off the podium. Slam bam, thank 'ya ma'am. Alain de Cadenet, to his great credit, was a master at keeping the pace moving and yet saying something interesting, nice, or funny about every bike that came his way. But the crowd watching the awards was on the thin side. Perhaps it was because there were seats only for the judges and notables. Perhaps it was more fun to keep looking at all the bikes in the Concours or maybe it was just time for a beer.
The next time we saw the 1908 Indian was for its first place in Class 3, Competition 1908-1949.
The list of class judges (not to mention the honorary judges) reads like a who's who of motorcycling. It is a no-brainer to realize they represent the absolute best there is when it comes to judging, and to believe that they look only at the bike and not at who owns it. Another fact of life is that there are collectors of vintage motorcycles who are very good at what they do. The result of these two givens is that some people end up on the podium more than once. Paul Adams (Norton, four awards) was already mentioned. Vince Martinico at this point has made three trips to the podium. Otto Hoffman (1971 H-D Leggero and 1974 H-D SS-350) took a second and a third place in American Production 1930-1977. Virgil Elings (who owns the Solvang Motorcycle Museum) saw his 1967 Mike Hailwood Honda 500 capture a first place and a 1923 H-D board-track racer take a second. Alan Kunovsky pushed up a 1902 Indian and a 1908 Merkel.
The first-place winners in each class were collected in one area. At the conclusion of the class awards all judges were summoned to review these bikes and select (by vote) the Best of Show. The process was taking a long time and even Alain de Cadenet appeared to be nearing his ad-lib limit when, finally, Ed Gulbertson appeared and told the crowd (larger now) that the result was a three-way tie and they'd need a little more time to resolve it.
The Master of Ceremonies had the inspiration to ask the audience who they thought would be the winner. This gave us something to do and helped kill a little more time. Finally, there was a puff of white smoke from the chimney and de Cadenet informed us we had got it right on our second guess. It should be no surprise that Best of Show went to the 1908 Indian Board Track Racer. This is quite a 100th-anniversary achievement - four awards, including Best of Show, under four different panels of judges. As de Cadenet observed, "Sometimes something super-rare, super-special turns up and gets the justice it deserves."
The bike on the block attracting the most interest, and certainly the most publicized, was lot 120, a 1940 Indian 45ci Sport Scout once owned by Steve McQueen. (The bike was on the cover of Bonhams and Butterfields' auction book.) It was the last of the 20 motorcycles in the Michael Corbin collection to be auctioned that evening. Offered without reserve and with an estimated price the same as the Ducati above, it went down for only $45,000. The winning bidder, John Worthington of Tucson, was extremely pleased with his purchase. "I hit the jackpot," Worthington exclaimed.
Anybody who came to the 2008 Legend of the Motorcycle might feel the same way about their own experience that day. To see legendary racers, touch these legendary motorcycles, and talk with their owners or builders is to win, big-time.
When will we have this experience again? Which will be the featured marques? We haven't been told yet, as we were at this time last year. Three outstanding successes in row makes a tough act to follow year after year. But this is one show that must go on.
Thanks to contributor Bob Stokstad for a great story and great photography. Please make sure to visit the photo gallery for additional photos and captions that enhance the story with more delicious tidbits not detailed in the story.
Special Category Awards
Lifetime Achievement Award: Giacomo Agostini
Founders Award: 1956 MV Agusta Squalo Racer, Gary Kohs
Steve McQueen Award: 1966 Triumph T120R, Tim Gilligan
Elvis Award sponsored by Lucky Brand Jeans: 1923 Norton 16H, Paul Adams
Custom Award sponsored by Garage Magazine: Bullet Falcon, Falcon Motorcycles, Ian Barry & Jason Lee
Industry Award sponsored by S&S Cycles: Giacomo Agostini’s MV Agusta 500 Triple, Jeff Elghanayan
Sculptor’s Award by Hippodrome Studio: 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Racer, Vince Martinico
Preservation Award sponsored by Meguiars: 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Racer, Vince Martinico
Best of Show Award sponsored by Dainese: 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Racer, Vince Martinico
Class 1 American Production 1901-1929
1913 Flying Merkel Twin, Mike & Karen Madden
1902 Indian IOE Single, Allan Kunovsky
1911 Marvel Single, Wes Allen
Class 2 American Production 1930-1977
1959 Harley-Davidson FLH Panhead, Kevin Goe
971 Harley-Davidson Leggero, Otto Hofmann
1974 Harley-Davidson SS-350, Otto Hofmann
Class 3 Competition 1908-1949
1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Racer, Vince Martinico
1923 Harley-Davidson Board Track Racer, Virgil Elings
1908 Merkel U Shortcouple Frame Racer, Allan, Kunovsky
Class 4 Competition 1950-1977
Mike Hailwood’s 1967 Honda RC181-500, Virgil Elings
1970 BSA, Rocket 3 Roadracer, Dave Russell / Fred Mork
1970 Honda, CR750, Yoshi Kosaka
Class 5 European Production 1904-1952
1949 Vincent Series B Black Shadow, Bryan Bossier
1938 BMW R66, Evan Bell
1948 Sunbeam S7, Fred Meyer
Class 6 European Production 1953-1964
1956 BMW R60, James Moore
1957 Ariel MK 2 Square 4, Bill Treffert
1962 Ducati 125 Sport, John Goldman
Class 7 European Production 1965-1977
1968 BMW R69S, Scott Williams
1968 BSA Shooting Star, Mike Crick
1970 Triumph Trident T150T, Richard Varner
Class 8 Japanese Production 1957-1969
969 Honda, CB450 Police Special, Toastacia Boyd
1967 Honda, CB77 Super Hawk, Randy Riggs
1969 Honda, CB750, Sean McKenna
Class 9 Japanese Production 1970-1977
1974 Honda, CB750 K, Dan Waitz
1970 Yamaha RT1 360, Ken Boyko
1974 Honda CB360 KO, Robert Lee
Class 10 Modified Custom 1928-1954
1928 Harley-Davidson JD Bobber, Ricky Bunch
1941 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead Chopper, Denny Berg
1947 Harley-Davidson WL Special, Wes White
Class 11 Modified Custom 1955-1977
1972 Triumph Rickman Café Racer, Ron Peck
1976 Honda CB550 F Super Sport, Larry Pearson
1972 Norton Commando Special, Dan Bockmier
Class 12 MV Agusta
1956 MV Agusta Turismo Lusso, Robert Arhontes
1959 MV Agusta 125 TRL, Jim Bush
1960 MV Agusta Trel 125, David Edwards
Class 13 Norton Competition
1972 Norton Ron Wood Flat Track Racer, Jamie Waters
1952 Norton Manx Daytona, Paul Adams
1937 Norton International Racer, Paul Adams
Class 14 Norton Production
1969 Norton Mercury, Gus Varetakis
1950 Norton Model 7 Dominator, Brian Doan
1929 Norton CS1, Paul Adams
Class 15 Off-Road 1956-1969
1967 Suzuki TM250, Chris Carter
1967 Bultaco 27 Sherpa T, Jaclyn Lucas
1967 Triumph TT Special, Don Triolo
Class 16 Off-Road 1970 -1977
1972 Rickman Enduro, Blair Beck
1957 Honda CR125 MK1, Ray Abrams
1971 Bultaco MK4 Pursang, John Fosmire
More by Bob Stokstad