Monday, 31 October 2011

Guy Webster's museum

I knew snapper-to-the-stars Guy Webster was an Italian bike nut and collector, but hadn't realised how deeply the disease had afflicted him. He's got a bloody museum: the obsession started with MV Agusta when he was living in Florence and he bought the first bike (the 750S above) to kick-start the collection in 1974. Check out the film below, and spot the deliberate mistakes? Like why it's called a Laverda Jota)in amongst the obvious love for the subject.

And thanks to Rob Emery for sharing this

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Radical Ducati new for old

Spanish customisers Radical Ducati are offering this Dragon TT Vendetta body kit for the Ducati 848/1198 and mighty fine it looks too. What's impressive is that Radical Ducati can trick up Dukes of all ages as proved by the single below. While most specialist have a favoured era it's refreshing to see someone who's talent apparently know no boundaries. Got to love that

Friday, 28 October 2011

Lovely latinos, some going cheap(er)

Bonham's latest online catalogue's now up and running: this Wards Riverside Benelli's on offer with a more sensible estimate, and there's a Ducati 750GT in there too. Best of all is the orange Vincent Rapide with matching dustbin fairing: the future's bright...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

When ads went good

Love this 70s ad: for me the SFC was the best looking Laverda ever: couldn't believe the early one made below just £29k including premiums at Bonham's Stafford auction - they've been catching-up with 750SS roundcase values over the last year. Still, I wouldn't be sad to see a collapse in classic values so that riders (rather than just collectors) can enjoy them once more

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Willie's workshop

Willie Bullion's ice-cool workshop courtesy John Fallon


A US subscriber asked for more on Ward's Riverside Benellis, so here you go (and note 916 seat on the Yamaha behind!). What's interesting about these Benellis (though they weren't badged as such originally) is they tell how long it took the Italians to realise the value of building a brand: if someone wanted to buy you're bike but with a different sticker on the tank, you took the money and ran. So when American store Montgomery Wards Riverside wanted a range of bikes they just rebranded stuff from Lambretta and even Bianchi. R&D? Just say no...

This wasn't the only example: Laverdas were sold as American Eagle and Italjet built various "Indians" using Brit-bike engines. You can't help but wonder if the US would have a more varied motorcycle industry if someone had tried to develop and manufacture a new bike in the US rather than just outsourcing. Or if Ducati would be as strong a company today if they'd just been branded Berliner in the US

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Another one for Guzzi fans

Almost 200cc of Italian stallion ready to take your girl up into the mountains. Take your time, tiger...

Monday, 24 October 2011

One for the Guzzi fans

Inspired by the pic of Sante Gemiani racing his Moto Guzzi Condor in the 1950 Milano Taranto (details in issue #001 of Benzina)our new tee is perfect for every Guzzi fan. Just remember to look where you're going...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

RIP Marco Simoncelli

Writing the earlier post I decided not to mention that Omobono Tenni died in practice for the Swiss GP: too morbid, and too commonplace back in the era he raced in. Then as I went to link the post to Facebook I saw the terrible news about one of the most charismatic racers of modern times: all those San Carlo snacks and delivery vans across Italy that have Marco's happy face splashed across them will be a sad reminder of a lost talent. I'm not a man of great faith, but friend Pat Slinn is, and has forgotten more about racing that I'll ever know. This was Pat's post:

"After praying and trying to come to terms with Marco's death, we should not forget his team San Carlo, his mechanics and race engineer's, Honda and all of his, and MotoGP's sponsors and officials, the doctors and medical staff at Sepang. And not forgetting of course Colin Edwards and all the other MotoGP competitors. Motor cycle racing is a wonderful sport, full of personality, colour, noise and laughter."

RIP Marco, and thanks for one of the greatest shows on earth

Omophobic nicknames

This is the brilliant Omobono Tenni, Guzzi works rider and much admired rider, including by Motosimpatico Restorations from whom the pic was shamelessly pinched: as they put it; "surely our patron saint...but‘Omobono’ as a blog title? A bit obscure; postings by confused and angry U2 fans would surely flood in."

Folk often refer to his "Black Devil" nickname, but it turns out Omobono was his real nickname - it means "Good man" and he was christened Tommaso. This sort of thing's common in Italy - Palladio (as in the father of Palladian architecture) was a nickname too.

There's a football stadium in Treviso named after Omobono, he was that loved in his native Italy: the video below showing him racing at the TT tells why, as does a past blog

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Tartarini turn-ups

This is the official Ducati photo of the 1970s revamped parallel twin - Taglioni hated the original, and probably only deigned to update the engine so he could add his beloved desmo valve gear in place of the original's springers. The new styling job came courtesy of Leo Tartarini, and would find its way onto Darmah. Originally the plan was to paint the exhausts white, an allusion to the asbestos tape often seen on race bikes and highly fashionable on custom bikes today: unsurprisingly they never made it into production.

But as revealed in Benzina #006, Tartarini was originally charged with styling a new 350 single that never made it to the showrooms: when the single got the axe, the styling lived on for the 500 and Darmah. And despite what the naysayer's reckon the 500 Desmo Sport was a great bike - it just cost 860GTS money, and no 500's that good. Today the cognoscenti love them, including Benzina friend and custom car builder Gunter Oxler of Oxygen Customs - the bottom pic is a teaser from his website. So if you can, try a 500 Desmo Sport - you might like it, and at a third of Darmah money, who could blame you?

Friday, 21 October 2011

Selling up or selling out

Time to get honest - the garage has become a home for waifs and strays, and a snotty upstarts thumbing their noses at my lack of spannering talent. There's also no room to work on anything once the cars are squeezed in, so a cull is coming


I've never been a horder, or (believe it or not) one for looking back (as opposed to plucking the truth from history's murky clutches). The bikes I want are a trailie for teaching the kids to ride, a middleweight for the Giro (if I can shake the ennui for the Terni Club's rather diluted version) a summer cruiser and a winter ride.

That means either the Darmah or the Sei goes because they effectively do the same job, and the little Gilera 175 Sferica. I've kidded myself that the Gilera will be made road legal and Giro'd: but it's one of maybe 4 or 5 ever made and even if I could face a 1,000 ride on a 175, do I really want to do it on a racebike thrown into a mix of tiddlers, big singles and modern sportsbikes? No. So it goes.

Darmah or Sei? Well, it's not my only bevel and the Sei's just so wonderfully ridiculous that I'd like to have it sorted and get to know it better. That means the Darmah joins the Gilera in the van to John Fallon of Made in Italy motorcycles; £8k for the Gilera, £6.5 for the Darmah. Goodbye and goodnight, and yes I do seem to have something in my eye...

As well as using the proceeds to get the rest of the garage's contents in tip-top condition I also want to fund a publishing project: fun as Benzina is, I'd like to help get a couple of books into print. I'm lucky enough to have the time and (a little) liquidity, and encouraged by Julian Barnes saying that making his (Booker winning) book a thing of beauty was the only way to compete with Kindle and blogs, next year will see some new ideas. And hopefully more riding and less tinkering with truculent old Italians

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

New tees and a tribute to Cook and Phil

Our new tee shirts are here, including a tribute to Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling, inspired by the greatest bike writers of them all. As ever, Cook puts it best: "When my dear friend and Old Blue co-conspirator Phil Schilling designed tee shirts for our 1976 racing season, the diesel engine was prominently featured. First time I saw one in the cotton, I asked Phil why. His response: "That's the only part of Ducati that's making any money." "Unfortunately, the originals are in vanishingly short supply. My personal one was sold in a charity auction a couple of years ago for $1100." Naturally we've shipped a bunch to Cook and hopefully he can make good use of them. You can get your's here: we've even got a few XXL too - if you want one order any size but add "XXL please!" in the Paypal message box

Monday, 17 October 2011

Recession? What recession?

Finally back to normal after Stafford - a sincere thank-you to everyone who came and said hello, especially if they spent money. Generally traders seemed to be accepting they'd take less money than usual, what with all the doom and gloom. So when I saw the Bonham's catalogue was rammed with some of the highest quality entries I've seen in years, my instinct was that this was people liquidating in tough times. After all, there's been talk of 20,000 kids being pulled out of fee-paying schools, and those sort of sacrifices usually come long after the bevel-twins gone to a new home.

And then I saw Bonham's auction results - clearly there's still life in the market, and dealers watched pale-faced as private buyers bid prices no sane trader dare pay. Over £10k looked toppy for a tatty early Hailwood Rep, ditto over £4k for a similarly unloved Darmah. The Italian lightweights looked good value, perhaps reflecting the partial demise and tribulations of the Motogiro. But £12,000 for a Kawasaki Mach1/MarkIII? £24,000 for a Triumph Hurricane? Ber-limey. The headline grabber was (of course) a Brough SS100 at over £200,000 - and in case you haven't seen them there are some fab period pix of an SS100 on holiday in 1954 here

Friday, 14 October 2011

TT2s and Stafford

Loading up for the Stafford classic bike show - I'll be in the main hall, towards the exit for the Sandylands hall - but am getting the most fantastic feedback on this year's vintage festival at Barber's motorsport museum this year featuring the TT2: 30 years old, can you believe? This (with the 750F1 roadbike) was the starting point of every modern Ducati (see Benzina issue #2)and well worth celebrating - more soon and thanks to Jack Silverman for these photos

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Dark Side

Back in the days when all full time students had to do something extra-curricular (easy tiger), I was at college in Cardiff and the default option was rugby. Being a shandy-dinking southern Englander I could see this would end badly, so opted instead for philosophy with statistics: yes, really.

In essence this was the macro vs. micro, society vs. individuality, and actually came in damn handy when studying economics. You can understand it in the simply analogy that if you crash your bike you won't get to be a bit dead: you either go to meet your maker, or you don't. You might think it's your life, and I've got to go sometime, but it isn't necessarily that simple.
Years ago a buddy joined the police force, and on discovering he had a big, fast, late-model motorcycle, he got sent to break the bad news to widows, orphans and ex-parents. He quickly realised that if you hit a combine harvester at 120 per, you might just suffer a second of panic before the lights go out, but for a helluva lot of other people, from the paramedics through to the loved ones, and yes, to the copper watching hearts break, the suffering's just begun.
So my uniformed friend now has a Harley, and I (by-and-large) get by on classics. Bad stuff still happens, life's rarely fair, and one day the ferryman will get paid. But if it happens on a bike there is someone out there trying to help those left behind make sense of it.

Teresa Mills Davenport was widowed when hubby Rob died on his motorcycle, but is brave enough to want to turn her grief into something positive, by campaigning and offering support to others who find themselves in the same shoes. Naturally there's a website for the organisation she's set up to do this work, dying to ride and you might even come across it at a car show or school. Even if you or yours never need their help, if just one driver takes notice it might be you he doesn't hit.

And to finish on a brighter note, Pink Floyd have not only re-released all their stuff, they've hinted at a reunion gig. Every dark side has a bright side...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Something for the weekend

Will be at the Stafford classic bike show this weekend, with every issue of Benzina, some new tee shirts (hopefully) - and these: A3 (about 42cmx30cm) canvas prints with gallery wrap (the pic goes round the edge of the frame). Perfect for the garage, sitting room or outside loo; £20 to you sir. Just had ten made (one of each Morini by Vespamore Photography the Benelli Sei, the Guzzis and the Jota, plus a brace of each Ducati) so when they're gone...sorry, wouldn't risk handing them over to the postie but if you want to reserve to collect at the show just email

Giro fever vs. Cammy Mondial

This lovely and rare overhead cam Mondial has just appeared on eBay with an unusually detailed listing. Probably the fastest bike eligible for the Motogiro, and Soichiro Honda's inspiration as detailed in Benzina #001. Not sure about the Laverda speedo (below) but no doubt someone will put me right

With the sad demise of the Dream Engine event, it looks like the only Italian motogiro next year will be the Club Terni event and I know a heap of Brits have already signed up. If you're lucky enough to be going, enjoy. If you're dithering then don't: slap a bid on a bike like this and go: people say those who've been on a Giro go on about it too much. Here's your chance to find out why...

Monday, 10 October 2011


Shamelessly lifted from the Bevelheaven site - love to see the guy on a Desmosedici. It's "Ecca" Erik Andersson practicing at Alasaro July 1997

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Ottonero Cafe Racer: Harris-Ducati....traliccio VS aluminio

Ottonero Cafe Racer: Harris-Ducati....traliccio VS aluminio

Dirty Italian

Veteran of various long-distance trails as reported in issue #5 of Benzina this Mondial's gearbox got stuck in first (though first is all I can mange off-road...) on the recent Edinburgh Trail, robbing it of a 100% reliability record in competition. Owner Matt works at the engineering firm who built the prototype Ducati triple, and his Dad is a Classic bike dealer, so the little Mondi has been well looked after. But sadly this time it won't get fixed because (happily) within a month Matt'll be a dad and so the toys have to go. This means the bike' s for sale on eBay right now; buy it and you could be having the sort of fun seen below - note the red benzina sticker on the (alternative steel) petrol tank

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Another Ducati Panigale 1199 spy shot

What it means to be English

Went to see Sir Roy Strong talk about what it means to be English last night - our kids' school organises these so-called Mercers' Lectures free of charge (with free glass of vino) and partly because Sir Roy inspired Monty Don's garden, Dr Girlie Nice-Smile wanted to go.

As a past curator of the National Gallery and V&A, the old boy (76 and as fit as a whippet) is used to politicians and the media so stuck robustly to the facts: you're English if you live in England. His opinion is who-we-are started with Elizabeth I, so say 1558. This was our renaissance, gave us the Church of England (with common book of prayer and the King James bible), the first detailed maps of England and perhaps the finest literature there has ever been, including (of course) old Bill Shakespeare. Armed with this stuff (plus a few pirate-lords) we created the largest empire the world has ever seen, while obsessing in art and literature over the rural idyll of our green and pleasant land, although even back then more people lived in towns and cities.

Sparing the history (bar his despair at the James I of England/James VI of Scotland thing that united the kingdom but has grated with the Scots ever since) an hour later we got to the here-and-now: to be English means loving the countryside (even if only via glossy magazines, and I guess that includes open roads), being part of the CofE (even if just for weddings, Christenings and funerals - ah, and Jerusalem on the last night of the Proms) and appreciating the world's most widely spoken language. The two downsides are (i) we need to understand we aren't a global military superpower anymore and (ii) accept the Scottish and Welsh preserved their own identity and were only part of the union while England was rich and a world superpower: like the dolphins in Hitch Hikers' Guide to the galaxy they're now off, without so much as a "thank you for all the fish".

His suggestions as to how we appreciate what it is the be English came down to the predictable "Learn your history and read your literature" (well, he's a historian), to rethinking the double-speak in the word "British," usually used interchangeably with "English" and he thinks we shouldn't. So we need to accept our near neighbours want to tread their own path and do likewise. Bit Little Britain for me in places (especially his point that the EU still basically uses Roman law, were ours is largely common) but it got me thinking (as I do) how this might applies to motorcycle. Firstly I remembered Foggarty getting the George Cross (ie the English flag) on his bike rather than the Union flag, which captured the mood of the era (think England's football fans' facepaint). But most of all I thought about British bikes...well, there was never such a thing, was there? They were English through and through. So from now on Nortons, BSAs, Triumphs et al are English bikes: Sir Roy Strong says so...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs RIP

Though I'm not a Mac-man (where's the bloody right-click?) and more of a vinyl fan than an ipodder, I've still always really admired Steve Jobs - his interest in calligraphy led to all the fonts computer users (and so magazine readers) take for granted, so his influences go way beyond Apple products. Most of all though I admired his creativity and determination to make the world a better place. This came from true flashes of genius - for instance, when he took over Pixar the plans to have three buildings (one for creatives, one for boffins and one for..oh, I forget: say admin) were scrapped at great expense to have a single building with all the toilets in the centre. Jobs figured this was where people would bump into each other, get chatting and come up with new ideas.

More importantly he believed you should believe in what you do: that's why Benzina exists. So of course, Jobs was one of us; too cool to go mainstream, I love the pic of him on his old Beemer. Steve Jobs, RIP: the world needs more like you.

Imola revival

Photos of the Imola 200 revival are now online - another must do event? Although it's worth (like their Spa Classic)waiting for a year when the featured bikes suit your tastes; in the past that's meant sidecars or F750 racers, but this year's Imola Miglia 200 featured some Yamaha racing motorbikes....apparently they've been at it 50 years now, but it must still seem like a big change from building pianos

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Le Container

Spotted on the Le container blog taken (I think) at the Imola Classic

Getting hot with El Paso

Made the most of the last of the sunshine by running down to the south coast (dropping by a friendly-dealer to admire a Jota, Guzzi S3, Morini 350 and Eldorado: what's not to like?) and was reminded what a fabulous bike the 906 Paso is. It's been ignored all summer in favour of the bevels and Italian hire bikes, but the comfy riding position and liquid-gold power-delivery are perfect for ripping along or getting stuck in traffic. Best of all you can buy one for next to nothing: £600 is the (admittedly risky) starting point, but £2k will score a beauty. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

Laverda Love

On eBay right now this Laverda Alpino/Alpina (more info in Benzina #2) - a non-runner but folk like Bob Dixon or Keith Nairn(and of course Slaters) can soon sort that. These are cruelly under-rated bikes, as is the Guzzi V50 below: they feel much more modern than their bigger cousins and were only sales flops when new because of price and, it seems odd to say all these years later, the Honda CX500: maybe that's what's troubling the girl on the Guzzi...

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Safe or sorry? Guzzi factory update

Updating the story of the Guzzi factory in issue six of Benzina, following on from a chat with John at Ducati Restorations who was at Mandello for the 90th birthday-bash, and the inevitable PR guff that accompanies theses events - like Guzzi announcing a brand new engine by 2013 from an all-new factory to be built alongside the original (which will become a tourist and heritage site, as reported in Benzina #6).

John saw round the new facilities and was impressed at production levels; he (unlike me) even got into the old wind-tunnel, though the museum was so rammed he gave up trying to visit. "They shut off the town centre so that there were just bikes - you couldn't move for Guzzis."
So maybe all will be well, with Guzzi boasting sales are up by 31%, and if the new Norge (pronounced Norrgay - don't snigger, it means Norway to celebrate a past Guzzi trek oop north) can pinch BMW sales maybe all will be well. Problem is that if you did deeper that jump in sales is to just 6000 units a year, where last year they were talking of 10,000 with ambitions to double that.

More encouraging is that Piaggio are targeting the emerging Asian markets that already accounts for half of the groups sales, although back here in the UK one dealer grumbled to me that plans to double UK sales revolved around doubling the dealer network. Hmm... Our local biking Superstore George White's (which I remember being a corner shop on Swindon's notorious Manchester Road when it was really just George and his daughter) are now Guzzi dealers. I'm told GW's can sell you a GSXR for less than small Suzuki dealers pay the importers, and that might be the way to shift units, but it's not the way the build a brand or attract new faces into motorcycling. And I've just seen that the number of people getting a bike licence in the UK is the lowest since records began...