Scattered around these United States are probably upwards of a dozen official motorcycle museums – official in that they have regular hours, tax status, et cetera – from the elaborate Barber in Alabama to the AMA’s in Ohio, the National in Anamosa, Iowa, to the Sturgis in South Dakota, to name a few. Of equal importance, and sometimes more entertaining, are the scores of unofficial collections, where individuals have acquired ten, twenty, a hundred machines, and occasionally let some of the world in to see them.
One is Guy Webster’s beautiful array of small-bore Italian racing, and riding, bikes from the Fifties and Sixties, and this past February 13th he let it be known he was having an open house. Webster, a photographer by trade, has long had a passion for Italian machines, which has varied in focus, from the famed street machines of the Seventies, like the Laverda 750 SFC or the Ducati 900SS, to this current collection of mainly small-cylinder motorcycles, those which could run in the Motogiro world, where anything over 175cc is not allowed. There was no great announcement of the open house, just word of mouth, and some 500 of the faithful, or the curious, presented themselves in an industrial compound in the small Southern California town of Ojai.
In truth the motorcycles ridden by the visitors were of equal interest as the machines in the warehouse. Many modern machines were in evidence, but also beautiful little Ducatis and Benellis, big Guzzis and Laverdas, and a lot of British iron from the Sixties and Seventies.
A very well-used Vincent Black Shadow was in the parking area, and several purists were aghast that this poor brute was being ridden, and ridden hard, rather than polished and put on a mantle. Motorcycles are made to be ridden, not merely gawped at, the Buddha might say, and most of Webster’s collection is ready to be fired up.
Inside the warehouse the forty or so motorcycles were lovingly polished and on display, everything from Aermacchis to Rumis. Along with a long list of other Italian marques, from the relatively well-known MV Agustas and Gileras to the lesser-known Mondials and Morinis. Much oohing and aahing going on, as the spectators bent over to inspect the shift linkage on a Ceccato, the brakes on Motobi or the carburetion on a Rumi.
And in the spirit of ecumenism, Webster has also included a couple of Honda CB160s, which are very much in the spirit of the Motogiro.
As an aside, Webster’s motorcycles share the building with some sports cars owned by Mike Taggart, a fellow who made his money in the bakery business. But no matter how beautiful were the four-wheeled Jaguars, Chaparrels and Shelby Mustangs, the focus was on the two-wheelers.