Thursday, 29 November 2012

Paris in the Spring

Oh to be in Paris in the Spring; well, 6th and 7th of February - that's when these Garellis are on show, ready for some Bonham's hammer action. Unsurprisingly they take the chance to namecheck Nuvolari. Tazio Nuvolari is one of my candidates for GOAT; greatest of all time. Unbeatable at Bianchi and Alfa Romeo,the story's in issue 4 of  Benzina. But before then he raced the most dominant motorcycle of its era - the split single Garelli 350 two-stroke. When Carlo Guzzi sat down to design his first motorcycle, he knew the Garelli was the bike he had to beat. More in Issue 3.  Estimates on the oldest bikes (excluding premiums) is €7,000-12,000 for the c.1925 split twin and €6,000-8,000 for the c.1935 twin piston single. Anyway - to the blurb. Quite fancy the De Havilland

The entire Garelli Grand Prix Collection is offered at No Reserve at the Bonhams sale at the Grand Palais in Paris

A second collection for the 6th to 7th February sale features some 55 machines from the early Vintage era to the modern day

Two single-owner collections will headline the motorcycle section of the Bonhams sale at the Grand Palais in Paris, France, in early February 2013.
The Garelli Grand Prix Collection comprises some two-dozen historic racing motorcycles from the celebrated Italian manufacturer, many from the factory's 1980s heyday, and a selection from its pre-war days. All the machines, which were housed by their current owner in a private chapel, will be sold at no reserve.

Highlights include the 1963 Garelli 50cc Monza world-record-breaker (estimate €50,000 - €70,000); the ex-Eugenio Lazzarini 1983 50cc racer that helped Garelli to the manufacturers' World Championship that year (estimate €12,000 - €17,000); and a 1987 example of the 125cc twin that won six riders' World Championships and four manufacturers' titles during the 1980s (estimate €7,000 - €12,000).

Also forming part of the collection are two important non-Garelli racing motorcycles: the ex-Fred Merkel Honda RC30 ridden by the American World Superbike champion during the 1989/90 season (estimate €20,000 - €30,000), and the 1989 Yamaha TZ250W used by French star Jean-François Baldé during his final season of Grand Prix racing (estimate €3,500 - €5,500).

Garelli Motorcycles was founded in 1919. Many famous Italian racers – including Ernesto Gnesa, Tazio Nuvolari and Achille Varzi – began their racing careers on Garelli bikes, and in the early 1980s the factory dominated the 125 class in Grand Prix motorcycle racing, winning six consecutive world championships between 1982 and 1987.

Lining up alongside the Garellis is an important French private collection assembled by garage-owning enthusiast owner, the late Claude Lesellier. The eclectic mix of some 55 machines includes French, British, German and American motorcycles dating from the early Vintage era to the modern day.

Highlights include:

1935 Magnat Debon 750cc VMA v-twin (estimate €8,000 - €12,000)

1950 Terrot 500cc RGST (estimate €4,500 - €6,500)

1945 Terrot 350cc JSS (estimate €3,000 - €4,000)

1929 Rhonyx 500cc GX (estimate €6,000 - €10,000)

1930 Dollar 500cc S3 (estimate €5,000 - €6,000)

1927 Automoto 500cc AL11 Supersport (estimate €10,000 - €15,000)

c.1921 Magnat Debon 250cc (estimate €6,500 - €8,500)

1918 Harley-Davidson Model 18F Combination (estimate €16,000 - €20,000)

1916 Indian 1,000cc Powerplus (estimate €20,000 - €25,000)

1930 Stylson 350cc RH (estimate €4,000 - €5,000)

1931 Arbinet 350cc BSSC (estimate €5,000 - €7,000)

Following the spectacular success of its 2011 sale at the historic automotive venue, Bonhams is delighted to be returning to the Grand Palais in Paris in 2013, where the Motor Car, Motorcycle and Automobilia departments will combine with the 20th Century Decorative Arts department to conduct a series of sales.

Among other lots already consigned for the auctions is the 1929 American Moth Corporation De Havilland 60GMW Gipsy Moth biplane that featured in the 1985 Oscar-winning film 'Out of Africa' (starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford), and the ex-works Bugatti Type 54 that raced at Monza on 6th September 1931 in the hands of Achille Varzi (estimate €2.5 million - €3.5 million).

Highlights among the objets d'art on offer include:

- Raoul Larche, a Gilt-Bronze Figural Lamp modelled as the actress Loie Fuller, c.1920 (estimate €50,000 - €75,000)

- Jean Dunand, a Dinanderie vase from the first year of production, 1913 (estimate €12,000 - €17,000)

- Demetre Chiparus 'Dourga'. A large size chryselephantine model, c.1925 (estimate €15,000 - €22,000)

Final entries for the auction are being accepted. For further information call +33 1 42 61 10 11 or .

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Lost and found - the original Gilera factory

In Arcore I dropped in at a motorcycle shop, enjoying the fact that in Italy they're still that - a shop with a mix of motorcycles, from classic to nearly new: little of the corporate nonsense I grumbled of in issue 10 of  Benzina. Having not been organised enough to have a note of the old Gilera factory's address I asked the staff if anything remained of their hometown's famous motorcycle factory. They had no idea, and nor did anyone else I asked. Oh well, guess it's been knocked down.

So I asked Jan Leek, who seems to know everything about the Italian motorcycle industry and quite a bit more besides: no wonder his articles were required reading in Motorcycle International in the 1980s: Frankly should be working for Google. Not only was Jan more organised than me, when he turned up at the old factory a decade ago he had all his questions ready, and old photos to prompt memories and make comparisons valid.

Guess what? It's still a factory of sorts, and the old Gilera family villa's next door. But nobody he asked realised the fabulous history they were part of; Remember, this wasn't just any old motorcycle factory, this was one of the biggest in the world and built bikes like the 500/4 that Geoff Duke wrested with (above) on his way to world championships. How quickly we forget...

And here's the current Google streetview of the factory - the old family villa is off to the right, behind the trees

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Sunday, 25 November 2012

New (nuovo) Guzzi California

This from Kev Ash;and to think I was invited, but family obligations made it a no-no...

The new California 1400 really needs to work for Moto Guzzi. The company's grown by more than 50 per cent in the last two years, but that's from such a low base it wasn't going to be sustainable for much longer, and with the Piaggio Group feeding a £34 million investment into Guzzi, a major turnaround is demanded: the California 1400 is intended to be a key element of that.

There's no lack of effort in the latest bike to wear the California name, 42 years after the first. Aside from the bottom half of the engine it's an all new machine. The unmistakable air-cooled V-twin has grown in capacity thanks to larger pistons, saving the need for any significant changes to and within the crankcases, which are from the existing 1200 'big block' engine. The crank is almost the same too, aside from having its balance changed to suit, but this is where the new Cali has broken with a Guzzi tradition as its engine is rubber mounted.

Although the motor can move on its mountings, three ball-jointed rods at different angles connecting the engine to the frame control exactly how it does this so there are no issues with the output shaft misaligning with the final drive. It's a similar system to Buell's Uniplanar mounting. What this also means is a break with the Guzzi method of using the engine as a stressed chassis component, something the Mandello factory has done for very many years, which in turn means there's added weight, as the frame now needs to deal with all of the forces which previously were handled in part by the engine.

The alternatives would have been either putting up with the inevitable increased vibration from the bigger pistons, or adding a balance shaft, which would have meant an expensive redesign of the crankcase and internals. As it is, the California 1400 still compares reasonably well with other cruisers at 322kg (710lb) wet, being more than 23kg (50lb) lighter than a Harley Road King.

The motor is also distinctive for its single throttle body, sited centrally and feeding both cylinders through long intake tracts which help to move the torque peak down to very low revs. The maximum is 88lb.ft (12.1kgm, 114Nm) at just 2,750rpm, and this decreases only gently towards the 95bhp (96PS, 71kW) power peak at 6,500rpm. In theory at least this also increases legroom by moving the throttle body away from the back of each cylinder, but we'll come to that.

There's something almost Bauhaus about the California's styling, which combines abrupt edges and steady curves with clean, uncluttered detailing, those fuel tank cutouts to emphasise the size of the engine and a long, low attitude that has huge street presence and great visual appeal. It's a looker, no question, backed up by the kind of neat detailing that Guzzi is so good at. The clocks are very Fiat 500 with a central LCD circular info panel sitting within the analogue rev counter, but the rear LED lights which slash down the mudguard have a slightly different radius to the mudguard itself, so they don't fit flush, which is irritating.

The ride is still very much Guzzi California. BMW might have switched to a wet multiplate, counter-rotating clutch for its new GS but Guzzi has stayed faithful to the big, single plate dry version, which means a heavy flywheel and that characteristic kick to the right when you blip the throttle. I wouldn't want it any other way. Release the span-adjustable lever and the bike leaps forward, then once you're rolling responds to the throttle with a big kick, even at sub 2,000rpm rev levels. It keeps pulling hard up to the power peak, after which it starts to feel flat, but there's an additional trait now which is the smoothness. The rubber mounting has isolated the vibration with almost uncanny efficiency, so only the smallest trace of buzzing comes through to the rider, and you only notice that if you're looking for it. But still at idle the bike shudders and the bars shake side to side, so there's no loss of character for this.

As a touring bike, which the California is at its heart, the power characteristics are ideal, with big thrust at impossibly low revs then plenty to really get it going when you want to get a move on. It's smooth and thanks to the overdrive top gear, very relaxed too at cruising speeds.

There's a question mark still over the fuel economy. Guzzi claims the best specific fuel consumption of any of its models, but the onboard computer reading told me around town that I was achieving just 30mpg (13.5km/l, 7.4l/100km, 25.0mpg US), and at higher speeds on more open roads only 38mpg (10.6km/l, 9.4l/100km, 31.6mpg US), which results in a range to empty of just 170 miles, not good enough for this kind of bike. On the French Riviera presentation it wasn't possible to gauge this accurately so it could have been that conditions were conspiring against the California in this respect - this will have to wait until further testing in the UK. I'm a bit concerned though.

No concerns about the handling, which lives up to the California's reputation as one of the finest cornering cruisers. With the 1400 the key trait is the lightness and response, as this big bike flicks and turns and changes direction like something 45kg (100lb) lighter. I was reminded of the Triumph Trophy, another bike which handles like something well below its weight, as the California 1400 doesn't just deal with a twisty road, it makes it a real pleasure. The steering is completely neutral too, aside from a small hint of drop-in at very low speeds, so even with steep uphill hairpin bends you can just heel the bike over and let it go around on your behalf.

There's even traction control if things get slippery, which you notice if you set out to find it, but most typical riders will rarely remember it's there. The three engine maps are used more, in particular it's worth making the small effort to switch to Pioggia (wet) for town riding generally as the throttle response can be too sudden, especially for a passenger, in the other two modes, Turismo and Veloce. And how refreshing for a manufacturer not to default to English for this kind of thing - this is an Italian bike after all, it doesn't take much to learn the different names for the engine maps, and its much more in keeping with the bike's heritage.

If the range question is still waiting to be answered, there are no concerns over the comfort, which is exceptionally good, the seat is a good place to be all day and the riding position generally is spacious, with plenty of room for the passenger too. A shame though that the screen is not adjustable, that's quite an oversight when so many other bikes' are. For me at 6'3" (1.92m) the height was about right most of the time, so shorter riders might find they're looking through the top when they'd rather be peering over it, in which case they'll need to specify a shorter version from the accessory catalogue, a rather slow and costly alternative to the on-board adjustability the bike ought to have.

The screen is very similar to the old California's, which means you still get a helmet-vibrating turbulence from around 75mph (120kph) upwards, which seems to be typical of these kinds of screens. The solution seems to be chill, go slower... Another potential annoyance is the heated grips switch, which will still be there on the left switch pod even if you didn't order the grips themselves, as a reminder of your tightfistedness.

It might just be that in the summer months there's too much heat coming back onto your legs from those big cylinders. It was cool when I was riding, only 13°C (55°F) or so for much of the time, so the warmth I was getting was welcome, but even then in traffic it started to hint at becoming too warm. In a hot summer I think this might become an issue.]

For all the bike's quirks, and generally they are small or trivial, this is a convincing bearer of the California name. It's a delight to ride, with a fabulous sound to support its laid back, muscular motor, it's comfortable and it handles beautifully. The panniers are a good size, the equipment levels are high, it looks good and at 6,000 miles (10,000km) the service intervals are reasonable too. The fuel range might spoil things, but the jury's still out on that, otherwise it's a thoroughly seductive motorcycle.

Model tested: Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring
UK price: £15,770
Available: December 2012
Engine: 90 degree V-twin, air cooled, ohc 4v, 1380cc
Power: 95bhp (96PS, 71kW) @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 88lb.ft (12.1kgm, 114Nm) @ 2,750rpm

Economy: 38mpg (10.6km/l, 9.4l/100km, 31.6mpg US (on test)

Tank/Range: 4.5 gallon (20.5 litres, 5.4 gallons US) / 170 miles (270km)

Transmission: Six gears, dry single-plate clutch, shaft final drive

Frame: steel tube

Seat height: 29.1in (740mm)

Wheelbase: 66.3in (1685mm)

Rake/trail: 32° / 6.1in (155mm)

Weight: 710lb (322kg) wet, full tank

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Bernhard Gobmeier new General Manager of Ducati Corse

Borgo Panigale (Bologna), 20 November 2012 – Ducati announces the appointment of Bernhard Gobmeier as the new General Manager of Ducati Corse. Utilising his significant experience in the world of motorsport, including more recently his role as Superbike Director with BMW, the position will draw upon the 53-year-old German’s extensive managerial experience ready to enter the new phase of development for Ducati’s racing activities and to achieve the targets set during the recent acquisition by the Audi Group.

Mr. Gobmeier will report directly to the CEO of Ducati Motor Holding, Gabriele Del Torchio, and count upon the experience and professional support of Filippo Preziosi.
ngineer Filippo Preziosi, the current General Manager of Ducati Corse, will now assume the position of Director of Research & Development for Ducati Motor Holding and report directly to Claudio Domenicali, General Manager of Ducati Motor Holding. The prestigious and strategic company role will enable 44-year-old Preziosi to apply the valuable experience of his 18 years in Ducati, 12 of which in Ducati Corse, to the development of new product.

Paolo Ciabatti (55) has been appointed the new Ducati MotoGP Project Director. The Italian now returns to the Borgo Panigale headquarters in Bologna to take advantage of his extensive experience in the world of motorcycle competition, which has included coordinating the World Superbike Championship as General Director.

After two seasons in the position, Engineer Ernesto Marinelli (39), is confirmed to continue as Ducati Superbike Project Director, with the activities of both Marinelli and Ciabatti coordinated by Mr. Gobmeier.

All appointments will commence from January 2013.

“With these new appointments and the 2013 riders announced in MotoGP and World Superbike, we are well prepared to move forward into the new racing season,” said the CEO of Ducati Motor Holding, Gabriele Del Torchio. “We are confident that with this new organisation and focused strategy, we will achieve our targets and continue with the fundamentally important transfer of ‘know-how’ from racing into production, an element that characterises every Ducati motorcycle.”

Sunday, 18 November 2012


Well the reaction to me saying "No more" has been remarkable; problem seems to be I was undercharging, especially given more copies go to the US and Down Under than the UK - postage overseas is five-fold what it is inland, so pro-rata a rise in the cover price wouldn't make copies much more expensive than they currently are outside the UK. Biggest mistake was listening to the people who said "drop the price and you'll sell four times as many copies". Guess what? The same people came back for more, but those who didn't share our passion for Latin motorcycles still weren't interested...

So I might (next year, when the book is finished) do three issues a year at 120 pages (currently 88) in the issue 9 and 10 format but at double the cover price; dramatically reduces the work in mailing/stock-keeping/publishing but keeps the same volume of stories. Still very much an idea in progress...

Thursday, 8 November 2012

better to have loved and lost

After much heart-searching, I have decided that benzina #10 will be the final issue, for now at least.

The reasons for the decision are many: subscription numbers don't really add up, and huge increases in postal costs haven't helped with attempts at making even a modest profit. But mainly it's the time it steals from family, book writing (which does pay) and actually riding. I spent most of a week in Italy chasing stories by racking up miles in a rental car on the Autostrada, when I'd rather have been riding along the coast roads. That was when I started wondering about the future, because producing the magazine feels less and less about riding and getting scoops, and more about chasing (admittedly unpaid!) contributors, checking grammar and dealing with the logistics of production and distribution. In essence I wasn't looking forward to sitting down at the computer to get issue 11 rolling. Without enthusiasm there cannot be the sort of magazine people would want to buy or contribute to, so I'd rather go out on a high - which I hope issue 10 was.

So thank you for your support and hopefully you've enjoyed the ride. Highlights for me have been talking to heroes like Cook Neilson, Pat Slinn, Keith Martin and Giancarlo Morbidelli, and access to places like the Guzzi factory. And the very kind support from subscribers especially; very much appreciated.

And please tell people that back issues are still available - who knows, if they sell out perhaps benzina will return

best wishes


Subscriptions will be refunded pro-rata over the next 7-10 days; sorry, it takes forever in Paypal if the payment's made over 60 days ago. And there doesn't seem to be a way with Paypal to refund payments made by credit cards, so it will have to be by cheque, as with those who have paid by cheque or cash. Any concerns, please get in touch

Thursday, 1 November 2012

A genuine TT2; whatever next?

Here's one to stir things up at the local Ducati owners' club: what constitutes a genuine TT2? One of the 40-odd built at the factory? But what about the bikes Tony Brancato was licensed to build and sell as TT2s with the factory's blessing? Or a Pantah 600 in a genuine Verlicchi TT2 frame (meaning the monoshock frame - Verlicchi made the standard Pantah frames as well.) The waters run deep, and there's more in issues 2 and 5 of Benzina

The problem is that even the factory's own works TT2s were built in a corner of the Borgo Panigale premises, starting with a 600 Pantah engine taken from the production line. Did anyone write down the engine numbers? Have a wild guess. Frame numbers? The people who know keep that to themselves to foil the fakers. The truth is that it is very, very easy to fake a TT2 which might be why Cagiva Alazzurras (which shared the later 650 Pantah engine) have all but disappeared.

The one in the pics is genuine however, and probably the best documented and most traceable TT2 in existence. It was used by Massimo Broccoli for a debut win at Misano on 29 March 1981 and went on to scoop the 1981 Junior Italian TT F2 Championship. It is therefore the one and only TT2 with fully documented racing history. As a 1981 bike it might be only one of half a dozen built that year. Featured in the Ducati Official Racing History book, and having spent much of its life in the factory museum you are looking at The Real Thing. Price is 60,000 Euros (c£50k) which is a lot for a TT2 given what they have been making, but then you know you've got one of the most important Ducatis ever built. The bike is hidden away in Italy, but is for sale via Made in Italy Motorcycles. Go on...