My route to Lake Como for the annual Concorso di Eleganza Villa d’Este last month was circuitous, including side trips to Vintage Revival Montlhéry and Oxford.  A museum crawl in that ancient university town netted a hot tip: if you want to miss the crowds, and spend personal time with artworks, the Western Art Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum is the ticket.  With an appointment, we were able to hold original Da Vinci drawings, Turner watercolors, and Dürer drawings, examining them at our leisure, alone in a room, barring the curators.  Mere days later in Amsterdam, we swam up-throng in the Rijksmuseum to see ‘All the Rembrandts’, or attempt to see them, which we did, briefly, before being jostled aside.  Two museum experiences defined the sublime versus the ridiculous, and having once held precious artwork in your hands, the allure of battling crowds to see a painting is lost.  Luxury today could be defined as privacy, and quiet.

Best of Show! Thomas Buisson shows off the family jewel: his father Dominique’s 1929 Koehler-Escoffier ‘Quattre Tubes’ racer. Dreamy! [Paul d’Orleans]
And how, you may ask, does that relate to the Concorso?  Only this: you (yes you) are not invited to attend this event, and thus there are no throngs to battle on Friday and Saturday at Villa d’Este and Villa Erba, the two nexii of the Concorso weekend. True, one may attend Sunday’s public day and see all the vehicles, and it’s nowhere near the ‘overcrowded clusterfuck’ of Pebble Beach (as noted in my 2013 review for The Automobile), but Erba’s 19th C. portico and lawns are no match for the grand old lady downshore for strolling between priceless vehicles. Elegance isn’t an expression of wealth or the presence of money per se: it’s a difficult vibe to capture, and Villa d’Este has it in spades, so adding amazing cars to the mix is a big win for event owner BMW, whose purchase 20 years ago looks more prescient annually.  Good gamble on the long game, team BeeM.

Journalist and author Mick Duckworth ‘splains the ’68 Triumph Trident in original paint, that Giacomo Agostini received new with factory mods (rearsets, special gear ratios, tuned engine, ‘Ace’ bars, etc.). Now that’s provenence! [Paul d’Orleans]
That said, for the first year the BMW presence at the Concorso felt a bit intrusive.  They’ve always strategically planted lineups of new or historic Rolls, Mini, and BMW models around both venues, and emceed every reveal and party with corporate execs making speeches, and taken the invaluable PR opportunity of dramatically rolling out their latest moto or auto project on Friday’s cocktail reception.  Their presence is unavoidable, and hey, they own the event, but we’ve reached a saturation point: for instance, in the moto judge’s sacrosanct chamber, there were five people receiving paychecks in the room, with seven other judges.  Not all were voting or sharing opinions, but if the Concorso results are to be factory-neutral, the judges need breathing room.

A 1952 Ferrari 342 America, simply stunning in blue, on the grounds of Villa Erba, with Lake Como in the background, and a willing impromptu model – BMW thankfully didn’t hire any ‘girls’ this year… [Paul d’Orleans]
So what was good this year?  Dig the photos – it’s always an exceptional car show, and the motorcycle exhibit this year continued an upward quality trend, after a few less than perfect seasons.  Cutting to the chase, if BMW is shooting to host the finest Concorso di Moto in the world, we need to see a lot more one-off GP bikes, record-breakers, and prototypes, and a lot less production roadsters. It’s a difficult ask for motorcycle collectors, who rarely seek the ego boost craved by car collectors in being included in such an event, and it might require throwing down cash to get bikes from around the world.

The essence of cool: Gordon De La Mare with his 1938 Moto Guzzi GTCL cafe racer, a factory original with magnesium racing engine and lights. [Paul d’Orleans]
More importantly, Pebble Beach failed at their moto project by expecting motorcyclists to be cut from the same cloth as car guys: we’re not.   The flattery of being asked to participate in a Concours will get you nowhere with most motorcyclists. Whether our bullshit detector is in-born, or acquired on the saddle of a potentially lethal pleasure object invisible to 90% of road users, is immaterial.  Very few old-school collectors care about shows, because their experience has proven them populated by ignorant fools who know jack about their life-long passion.  Prove you know what you’re talking about and why you need their machine, and you have a chance.  Just sayin’.

The big reveal: BMW’s concept version of the soon-to-be-produced R18 model, with 1800cc pushrod motor in an R5 ‘softail’ chassis. “Most of this bike is on the production model, plus an airbox and mufflers, but you get a clear idea of what we’ll build” said designer Edgar Heinrichs. It’s already a big hit on social media. [Paul d’Orleans]
No less than 9 category winners in the car Concorso were from American collectors this year, which must be a record.  I explore that theme in my annual report for The Automobile this year: expect more from me in that mag soon – I’ve been writing for them since 2013, and more collaboration is afoot.  I was happy to see three unrestored cars at Villa d’Este, all in immaculate condition, especially the Maserati Merak Spyder in metallic teal – simply gorgeous.  The motorcycle exhibit had many more original machines, from a 1969 Honda CB750KO to a 1905 FN four, which were all in fine condition, if not as sparkling as the cars.  Are motorcycle finishes inherently less durable?

The ‘Promenade Percy’ class of cafe racers, with Alessandro Altinier herding a 1957 BSA DB34 Gold Star and ’58 featherbed Norton International. [Paul d’Orleans]
The ‘restoration question’ loomed large in our jury room, and for the first time it seemed the tide had turned against restored machines, in favor of motorcycles having the good(?) fortune of being ignored for decades.  This was new for me: I’ve sung the praises of original paint for many years, mostly in an effort to halt the tide of unnecessary and over-restorations filling the grids at motorcycle shows.

Vintagent contributor Adil Jal Drukhanawa was also present, and shows the diminute size of a 1953 Siata 300BC at Villa Erba.
[Paul d’Orleans]
Yes, too many perfectly good machines in their maker’s original paint have had their history stripped away in favor of acrylic paint jobs and reproduction parts…but the value of a restorer’s work cannot be underestimated.  The best of them are the real keepers of historical accuracy, and detailed knowledge of how old machines are assembled and made to work, and a good restoration as a joy to behold.  The flood of reproducers has made the work of a historian much harder, and de-valued a poorly documented restoration.  Who can trust a shiny old bike these day?  Lord knows what’s underneath the paint, unless you’ve got a file of ‘before’ photos and a solid paper trail.

Bests of Show! Two judges of the Concorso di Moto – Spanish motojournalist Beatriz Gonzalez Eguiraun, and Italian Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Sara Fiandri. Oh, and the Koehler-Escoffier. [Paul d’Orleans]
Still, we awarded a restored machine Best of Show – a 1929 Koehler-Escoffier ‘Quattre Tubes’, owned by Thomas and Dominique Buisson.  It’s a racer, and has been timed at 107mph on various tracks, regardless its priceless 1-of-7 provenance, and rarity as one of the very few OHC V-twin roadsters built before 1930. It’s elegant, mechanically bold, and very fast, and not well known aside by real connoisseurs of two wheels, and was a natural choice.

Cops! Regardless the excellent turnout for costume and 1968 Moto Guzzi V7 Police of Stefano Bartolotta, the jurors had little love for the ‘Two Wheeled Guards’ category…I mean, how many bikers like to see cops? [Paul d’Orleans]
Since our esteemed Chief Judge (Francois-Marie Dumas) happens to be French, and a bit of a jingoist, he made sure the best machine on display was, in fact, a French bike!  Can’t fault him for his choice, though. There were many other exceptional machines, and my personal favorite was the 1904 Achilles, as complicated as a fancy watch, and a double handful to ride, which owner Horst Klett did on Saturday on the showbike street run, and across the gravel terrace at Villa d’Este, sans clutch or gears or brakes.  Well done!

Complication! Riding the 1904 Achilles requires the skills of a clarinettist, which owner Horst Klett demonstrated admirably on the street run and flyover at Villa d’Este on Saturday. [Paul d’Orleans]
The fun factor came in a batch of nine 50cc motorcycles from the 1960s and ’70s, all from the Zappieri collection, many of them ridden in a noisy, smoky pack at Villa d’Este, in periodish gear, and a middle-aged hooligan vibe.  Thanks for lightening up the proceedings, lads.

Hooligans! Senor Zaparelli with his collection of nine 50cc bikes livened up the proceedings Saturday at Villa d’Este. Bring the noise! [Paul d’Orleans]
Amongst the dramatic prototypes, racers, and luxury expresses stood on the gravel at Villa d’Este, a solitary motorcycle lurked, and was un-remarked on, for it was clad in bodywork. The 1967 Gyro-X was a car cut in half and healed up, and is claimed to be the sole gyroscopically-balanced auto still functioning.  It’s more a convertible missile than a traditional motorcycle, but the fact remains, its got two wheels, mostly: why on earth it needs a complicated gyro system to stay upright begs more questions than I care to delve into, but speaks volumes about a fear of motorcycles.

After the motorcycles, the rain. The deluge began with the first car, a BMW Mille Miglia special, and continued for the rest of the automobile parade across the Villa d’Este terrace. The awnings were out, but the convertibles became water buckets anyway. “Cars aren’t made of sugar,” said one wag. [Paul d’Orleans]
Got a fantastic motorcycle or two you’d like to present at Villa d’Este next year?  Give me a shout: they’re looking for top-tier machines, especially from American collectors who can foot their own bills.

Ducking out of the rain in an inappropriate hat is Bloomberg auto journalist Hannah Elliott. [Paul d’Orleans]
Champion of the Villa Erba, whether his bikes win or not, is perennial supporter Benito Battilani, here with his unique second-built 1914 Bianchi C75A two-speeder. [Paul d’Orleans]
Seeing double-ish: the NMoto update of the 1934 BMW R7, which sits beside it for scale. [Paul d’Orleans]
When it’s not raining, the view is sculpted from heaven. Lake Como with a Riva water taxi, used between Villa Erba and Villa d’Este on Saturday. [Paul d’Orleans]
Got spare? Love this plexi vented sidescreen on a ’54 Ferrari 340 America. [Paul d’Orleans]
Sebastian messes around with a 1953 BMW R68 cafe racer, with great period accessories. Get under the paint! [Paul d’Orleans]
My party suit: when asked by a Norwegian journalist what the guns were about, I replied, “A celebration of 100 years of the temporary cessation of armaments production by BMW.” The suit was a fortuitous find on London’s Brick Lane, and hand-painted by a local artist. [Susan McLaughlin]
Ladies who Rolls. Ducking out of the rain in the most elegant of cubbys. [Paul d’Orleans]
Sets hearts racing! Sofie Verheyden enjoys her moment of glory, as her 1969 Kawasaki H1 wins Class D: Trendsetters. [Paul d’Orleans]
The interior of the car that should have won Best of Show: the simply amazing 1967 Lamborghini Marzal. Silver inside and out, and absolutely shouting with 1960s optimism and exuberance. [Paul d’Orleans]
Dr Giordano Diena with his 1954 Taurus BB Super Sport. [Paul d’Orleans]
La ‘cremeuse’ – the first-generation egg tank of the 1929 MGC, with all-aluminum chassis and integral tanks, in original paint. [Paul d’Orleans]
As one does. a 1936 Mercedes roadster in the mix at Villa Erba. [Paul d’Orleans]
Got fins? The 1964 CD Panhard LM64 has the lowest drag coefficient of any race car in history, and with its 850cc flat-twin pushrod motor could reach 135mph! [Paul d’Orleans]
New York Six shooter. A 1937 Bugatti 57S originally sold in the Big Apple. [Paul d’Orleans]
Wolfgang Staab’s lovely 1905 FN four waiting for its moment to shine at Villa Erba. [Paul d’Orleans]
Let’s take a drive by the lake! A wonderful 1938 Delahaye 135M, which is in fact a regular driver for its owner Emma Beanland.[Paul d’Orleans]
Got brakes? This 1906 Rene Gillet has two – both on the rear hub, and both contracting-band type. [Paul d’Orleans]
The details marking this 1914 Bianchi C75A as special: unlike the production models that followed, this has an integral 2-speed gearbox, among other details. [Paul d’Orleans]
Peter Ehinger with his fantastic proto-AJS, the 1901 Holcroft, from Stevens family. [Paul d’Orleans]
Racers on the road! The 1953 Gilera Saturno Corse of Marc Mezey, and the R68 of Hans Keckeisen, as Moto emcee Roberto Rasia dal Polo approaches to discuss. [Paul d’Orleans]
Four wheels good: the 1955 OSCA MT4 1500, and ’53 1450 behind at Villa d’Este. [Paul d’Orleans]
Take a bow, Carlo! The incomparable Carlo Perelli, former Chief Judge at the Concorso di Moto, is now Emeritus, but still a presence. He began working as a teenager, delivering Motoclismo magazine in 1949, before working his way up to Editor, and soon celebrates his 70th year with the magazine. An irreplaceable storehouse of anecdotes, delivered quietly as required. At the Concorso di Moto, it was the true origin of the Moto Guzzi V7: the Italian Prime Minister was on the verge of ordering a fleet of Harley-Davidsons for his escort! Moto Guzzi stepped up with a wholly new design, and the modern Moto Guzzi lineage was born. [Paul d’Orleans]
Related Posts

The Vintagent Trailers: Motorcycle Man

Racing legend Dave Roper is hardly an…

2018 Concorso Eleganza Villa d’Este

The Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este is…

2006 Legend of the Motorcycle

At a reception for the inaugural Legend…

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter