Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Lessons from history

Sitting for three days on the Benzina stand at Race Retro gave plenty of time to reflect on the bikes around me, including "our" Mondial Piega and NCR rep as featured in Benzina #004 courtesy of Made in Italy Motorcycles. When Ducati/NCR beat Honda's RCBs at Montjuic Park's 24 hour race in 1980 even the biggest Duke fan must have accepted the mighty Big H would go on to rule the two wheeled world. Laid out in front of our stand was a Hailwood 350/4, a replica 500/6 and Ron Haslam's mighty 1100cc superbike. These were the racebikes fantasies of my embryonic love of motorcycles, and while I was one of the few people I knew who thought Mrs T could wrestle control of the UK from the big unions, I accepted Honda would probably kill Ducati the way they'd already killed Triumph. How wrong can you be?

I've blogged before on the heroic rebirth of Triumph under John Bloor, but who'd have thought back in 1980 that in 2012 a new Ducati would be hailed as the world's finest sportsbike? Or that a biking superstar like Rossi would be riding for Ducati in MotoGP? Or that 2012 might be the year when the Chinese sell more bikes in the UK than the Japanese? How did the Japanese get caught napping in exactly the same way as the British bike industry did way-back-when?

Sorry to any of my old economics and business studies tutors for being so succinct (for once), but the parallels are spooky. The Japanese rose to dominance, but fail to establish a premium brand. Just like the Brits even Honda have been (mainly) happy to let the Italians build the low-volume high-end motorcycles. And just like the Brits, they let another country pinch the low-value commuter and newcomer bikes, laughing at the poor quality of their early efforts. Did these people not learn this stuff while studying for MBAs? Worse, they built bikes in China just to benefit from artificially low wage and currency exchange rates, the later also a device used by Japan to protect her nascent motorcycle industry. Apparently no-one thought that the Chinese might copy not just the bikes, but also the production lines.

But there is another lesson here, especially for those who think our current woes can be brushed aside with some good old fashioned Keynesian tax-and-spend. When the world economy last crashed in the late 1980s the west chewed slowly, let over-borrowed households and businesses go bust, and moved on. It was horrid - and as the guy often collecting keys from bailiffs, believe me I know the heartbreak of watching a kid pulled out his home by a weeping mum on his fifth birthday. Japan did what people want now, but reflect on this; Japanese asset values are largely still below (often well below) 1988 values, and Japanese bikes have barely moved on from the early 1990s models that would have come from the R&D momentum of Japan's 1980s boom.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Shows and sales

Great fun catching up with people at last weekend's Bristol classic bike show and to think of the year ahead rather than the gloom of winter. Best stand for me was the Morini riders' club: they had three Tresettes, a cut away 250 single (I think...) and Hugo Wilson's Camel that should have been covered in mud from the Exeter Trial but instead looked very shiny and not quite complete. Glad I'm not the only one missing deadlines

The results of Bonham's auction were about right; most stuff selling at or above estimate; the tidlers were making strong money especially and only one lot went unsold.
But my biggest smile was reserved for the club stand pictured; it was called "she's gone away for the weekend." Me too - will be at the Race Retro show this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Hall 3 by the interview stage. On display will be a Mondial Piega and NCR900 Replica courtesy of Made in Italy Motorcycles and Neil of MiIMC (who built the NCR) will be around Sunday to answer any questions or bamboozle you into buying one of them

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Nuova Guzzi California

So this is the new Guzzi California 1400. Is this a watercooled motor I see before me, its radiator nice and low? Or an indication of an early GSX-R style oil cooling system? Whatever, this motor will be the basis of all future Guzzis so hope it's a beauty

Friday, 17 February 2012

Buy! Buy! Buy!

This interesting Laverda Monjuic is one of the lots at tomorrow's Bonham's auction as part of the Bristol Classic Bike show (which is 25 miles from Bristol!); there's enough being sold too make getting in worthwhile -a sweet Bultaco Metralla 250, a Steib sidecar, a bonkers-leaning 3-wheel Honda Stream and a Vincent moped! Prices will be a good litmus - the car world in running away, with people talking about £20m Ferrari 250s, and I fear the (better) bikes will follow; a standard Ducati 750F1 (which I commended here when they were about £7k) has just sold for £15,000. Compare that to your cash ISA..

Bonham's say this lovely little Monty "was acquired in September 2007 by the vendor, who advises that the modifications were made over a period commencing in the late 1980s. The rear suspension has been converted to mono-shock configuration, the engine bored out to 544cc capacity, and many other upgrades incorporated into this unique machine. Described by the private vendor as in generally excellent condition, this iconic Italian sports roadster is offered with current MoT, Swansea V5C document and many expired MoT certificates and bills detailing the work carried out."

But I'd find the extra and buy the 1977 (listed as a 75 - see blog passim) Ducati 900SS: Vincent money in the making, especially if Rossi takes the Bolognese firm to MotoGP glory

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Mondials at Race Retro

I'll be at Stoneleigh Park for the Race Retro show next weekend (25/26 February) with a couple of bikes courtesy of Made in Italy Motorcycles including this very special Mondial. The show's featured marque is Honda/HRC and they'll be firing up a replica 500/6 (it is LOUD)and interviewing Gerald Davison who's a bit of a legend if you're a Honda fan.

The Mondial Piega is the only bike Honda have ever officially sanctioned to have one of their engines fitted to (other than Hondas, obviously!) reflecting Soichiro Honda's gratitude to Mondial for providing him with a 125 racing engine in 1958 (that story was in Benzina #001) These 0 Kms Mondial Piegas are probably the final chance to buy a brand new Mondial with only just over 100 of these very special bikes ever being built. They were constructed to the highest standards using a Honda SP1 engine. The Piega incorporated the best components available including a handmade aluminium fuel tank, full carbon fibre bodywork, Brembo brakes, multi adjustable Paoli Kayaba 46mm TiN forks, Ohlin's rear shock and steering damper, Mondial's own light weight aluminium wheels and their own ECU control unit which not only smoothes out the standard Honda on/off fuelling issues but along with other modifications increases the power from 129BHP to almost 140. Each bike also comes with its own dust cover and presentation pack which includes not only the hand books and brochures but a full colour book on the Piega. £14950.00+VAT

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Peking Duck, anyone?

Following last year's posting on Ducati Spa's proposed floatation on the Hong Kong stock exchange, the Financial Times has reporting that move is likely to be sidestepped by an outright sale to an existing car manufacturer. Given the AMG connection Mercedes are the obvious first-guess, but it would be a brave (and naive) person who'd bet against an Indian or Chinese factory stepping in. Should we care?

If it's China, definitely. Their view on copyright and patent law is simple; it plain doesn't exist. Yet we let them manufacture pretty much anything designed in the west to save us money (and lose jobs that we then have to replace with welfare) in the name of a free market; that's fine in theory, until the resulting wealth gets passed to a few already wealthy individuals while handing over our supposed advantage of a better educated and more skilled workforce. This could be a once-and-for-all abandonment of the technological advantage the west has enjoyed since the industrial (maybe even agricultural) revolution.

The second problem is China isn't a free market - their currency is deliberately undervalued and human rights just don't exist over yonder great wall. You don't even need to visit Hong Kong anymore to see the Chinese making something for a western company, then flogging the "run ons" (stuff made cheaply at the end of a production run) via eBay or as illegal counterfeits (except they're not counterfeits) in markets across the world. What can we do? Same as we did during the Cold War - not build production lines in places where we might live to regret it. Problem is we already owe so much money to the Chinese we've probably let the chance pass.

And that's the other thing to fret about - listen to the news and just about every business that goes belly up (including football clubs!) does so because it can't service massive debts, even at the peppercorn interest rates they have to pay. Story's the same every time - sharp young suit persuades private equity backers there's a fast buck to be made, huge wall of cash looking for a return above 2% leaps at the chance, and then...oblivion. Normally I don't loose too much sleep over this sort of stuff, because economies can usually fix themselves given time. But if Ducati goes, or just becomes a brand that used to build and race motorcycles out of Borgo Panigale, the world will be a poorer place

Friday, 10 February 2012

Rumi at the Inn

This lovely little Rumi 125 Bol D'Or will be for sale at Bonham's Bristol auction next weekend; these mad half bike, half scooters have a huge following, not least because of their racing history which is unsurprising given their performance: 90mph from a 125? Oh, yes - thanks to twin cylinders fed plenty of petrol by twin Dell'Ortos. Hardly the most economical 125, but quite possibly the fastest.

Monday, 6 February 2012

We won!

The Parilla 175 we supported won the Classic Bike of the Year competition at the Excel bike show yesterday: this is CB editor Hugo Wilson presenting the cheque for a thousand guineas (£1,050 - a guinea was a pound and a shilling) to Parilla owner John Crookes. Even the runners up felt John deserved the prize (second was a bathtub Triumph, third a home made V3 stroker) and Hugo didn't disagree when I said the best bike won. Congratulations to John and the discerning readers of CB: plus all of those who voted by email - it's what wins these things. John's story is in issue 7 of Benzina which will be mailed out this week.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Strange Kind of Love

No, not the strange kind of love sung about by the excellent Love and Money, but the growing affection for the Ducati 500 Desmo Sport. It predecessor the 500GTL was an unloved old frump, with Giugiaro-alike styling copied from the 860GT and performance that left the 450 Desmo it was supposed to replace untroubled.

So Ducati's dynamic duo stepped in - Dr T added Desmo heads, and Tartarini's styling for the still-born Rollah single (see Benzina #006) was bolted on. Lovely. But despite being 20-odd mph faster than the GTL the 500SD was forgotten until bevel twins' prices spiralled out of reach and folk started realising there is Another Way.

So prepare to be turned by these websites - Parallel Twins is general interest, but Andre at Panigale Twins is prepping his 500SD for racing, starting with a dry-clutch conversion. As you do...