story and photography by Clement Salvadori
Ever eat too many desserts? The waiter keeps rolling the dessert trolley by, and you can’t resist? Chocolate truffles. Créme Brule. Strawberry shortcake. Tiramisu. Peach cobbler. Key lime pie? That is rather the way it is at any good concours d’elegance—there is just too much in the way of gorgeous machinery to look at. This year’s Legend of the Motorcycle concours had more than 300 motorcycles on display, set out on the green of a meticulously maintained golf course, under sunny skies, back-dropped by the Pacific Ocean. It was almost too much for mere motorcycle-loving mortals.
About 250 of the bikes were in competition, dating from 1898 to 1976 and divided into 16 classes, the last nooks and crannies cleaned with toothbrushes and baby diapers. These are not mantlepiece examples, expensive restorations whose innards have never felt the flow of gas and oil; they have to run as well in order to mollify the judges. That adds the human side to all this paint and polish. A few of the later models were blessed with the 30-pound button—a reference to the rough weight of a starter motor and big-enough battery—but most relied on a kickstarter, along with tickling carburetors, compression releases, spark retards, etc.
The rest were invited because they were downright great to look at, and generally unseen. Nothing like a $120,000 MV Agusta F4 to set the old heart aflutter. Or the sound of a pair of turbine-powered machines starting up, sounding like a couple of helicopters coming in for a low-level strafing run. Or like contemplating the outrageous designs of the Confederate motorcycles, and their equally outrageous prices.
A concours d’elegance is all about beauty, and the Legend served that up with excellent style and panache. I should add here that the Legend is the brainchild and effort of a youngish couple, Brooke Roner and Jared Zaugg, who undoubtedly put in 100-hour weeks doing the daunting prep work.
A concours requires the successful integration of a number of essential factors. First, a venue, and the seaside Ritz-Carlton hotel in California’s Half Moon Bay was superb. Second, sponsors, since this was an expensive proposition, and with companies like Triumph motorcycles, Hennessy brandy, Aston Martin automobiles and Smith & Hawken gardening supplies, just to name a few, the major costs were underwritten.
Then there is the gathering together of the motorcycles, of convincing several hundred people to bring their old bikes for display. Last year’s Legends motorcycles were not allowed; this was a new batch, and not just from the United States but 20 other countries as well. Of course, the bikes had to be up to concours snuff and, when accepted, the owners had to cheerfully(?!) arrive at 5:30 a.m. in order to roll their bikes out on the grass. In return for this he or she received a couple of free passes to give to friends, and the chance to win a trophy. But if one had a stunning Velocette Venom, one was willing to go through this grief.
The organizers have to line up the judges, experts whose opinions matter. People like Pierre Terblanche of Ducati design fame, Craig Vetter of fairing renown, Eric Buell of his eponymous motorcycle, and a dozen others were invited. The advantage of being a judge was that one was put up at the Ritz.
Finally, you need a decent crowd to come and admire these machines. This is not to be confused with a Love Ride sort of affair, tens of thousands of people cramming in, but a more refined setting with five or six thousand in attendance. At $60 a pop ($45 prepaid) the cost of attending keeps those not very interested in old motorcycles away. They can go to Disneyland for about the same price.
Last year was the Legend’s first effort, and Roner/Zaugg did a commendable job. This year was even better. Activities began with a reception held at the hotel on Friday evening, with sponsors and judges and many entrants all in attendance. This was where one rubbed elbows (it was crowded) with the likes of Willie G. Davidson and actors Charley Boorman and Peter Fonda, discussed market foibles with industry CEOs and listened to Vincent legend Marty Dickerson talk about his old Bonneville days with Indian-riding Burt Munro. A great deal of free brandy was flowing, courtesy of Hennessy.
Most people slept late the next morning, except for the entrants, who had to have their machines in place and fluffed by 9 a.m. And a gorgeous sight it was, the long rows of motorcycles looking like the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. They all had grass cuttings on their tires, a tribute to the neatly manicured fairway. Each machine needed a human starter in attendance, for when the judges came by.
An hour later the paying public appeared. The problem at the Ritz is parking, since the hotel is not set up to handle several thousand automobiles nor a thousand motorcycles, so the visitors had to park a mile or more away and either walk or take a shuttle bus. It was worth the inconvenience.
As the crowd grew, the judges were examining the concours machines with strict standards. Head judge was Ed Gilbertson, who oversees the Pebble Beach automobile concours, and brooked no nonsense. A few originals were on hand, but most were immaculate restorations. The featured marques were the English Vincent and the American Excelsior/Henderson brands. Phil Vincent produced motorcycles from 1928 to 1955, and many have survived. Ignatz Schwinn, of bicycle fame, began the Excelsior line in 1907, while the Henderson brothers built their first bikes in 1912, with Schwinn buying the Henderson company in 1917; production ended in 1931.
The Excelsiors and Hendersons were set up in an open patio close to the hotel, with shiny singles and twins and fours. The Vincents had their own long line out on the fairway, with more Black Lightnings in one place then perhaps ever before. Even the machine that Rollie Free—clad only in a bathing suit and sneakers—rode to a record 150 mph in 1948 was on hand.
About noon the Master of Ceremonies Alain De Cadenet, well-known for his many appearances on Speed TV, began the “charity” auction, with the proceeds going to support several good works, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. A stage had been built, back-dropped by the ocean, and bidding was spirited for such items as an AGV helmet signed by Valentino Rossi, a performance driving course offered by Aston Martin, a Triumph Thruxton featured in the movie Lucky You, and others.
Then came the results of the judging, with three machines from each of the 16 classes being ridden, or pushed, up on stage…depending on the abilities of the rider and the running qualities of the motorcycle. Second- and third-place winners got medallions, first place received a little sculpture. Bringing 48 motorcycles up on stage, with words for each, took a bit of time. Then De Cadenet announced the People’s Choice, voted on by spectators’ ballots, which lived up to the old line, “Vote early, and often,” as the winner was a very common Honda CR125 Elsinore, a dirt bike that every third kid in your neighborhood had back in the middle 1970s.
All the first-place bikes were corralled and the judges had to decide which was Best of Show. Nail-biting time! And who ran off with the honor? Californian Mike Madden with a 1915 Henderson Four, which he had cheerfully ridden up on stage; the man loves doing his restorations almost as much as he loves riding them. Which may be why he won Best of Show last year with a 1940 Crocker.
While the show was over at four o’clock, the Bonhams & Butterfield auction inside the Ritz was just getting under way. Tempting, very tempting, with a great array of machines, from a plebeian 1975 Honda CB550K to a very handsome 1928 BMW R57 to a rare 1908 Swiss Moto Reve V-twin. Also on the block were the rights to the “Brough Superior Engineering Limited” trademark, which supplanted the “George Brough Limited” name in 1974. Could be a legal squabble here, I imagine, if anybody decides to start up a new Brough marque.
That evening there was a formal dinner for 80, to which the press was, sensibly, not invited. This was the motorcycling equivalent of Queen Elizabeth II’s dinner at the White House.
Sunday morning shone bright and sunny, and three score or more pre-’77 bikes formed up for a 50-mile loop ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains, with a police escort…there to make sure that madmen like the fellow on the Moto Guzzi Stornello 125 did not triple the posted speed. There was a mandatory stop at the famed Alice’s Restaurant, where all the hot-shot road-rocketeers abandoned their Gixxers and R1s to come over and gawk at this collection of antiquity, gazing with awe and respect at machines like a 1913 Premier and a 1938 Velocette KTT. “Wonder if my 1098 will be around in 50 years,” mused one Ducati-riding spectator.
Then, with a heads-up bleep from the police siren the vintage folk fired up their machines with a clatter of valves, great puffs of smoke and general good camaraderie, and headed off back to the Ritz and a lavish brunch. With more desserts.
For next year The Legend of the Motorcycle International Concours d’Elegance will again be held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Half Moon Bay, California, on May 3, 2008. The featured marques will be MV Agusta and Norton. Visit www.legendofthemotorcycle.com.[From the August 2007 issue of Rider]