Bikes at Monterey Car Week

Despite the fact that it’s called Car Week, there are some spectacular motorcycles to be seen, too.

Monterey Car Week

Judge Somer Hooker inspects a BMW R32.

Photo by Corey Levenson

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Classic motorcycle enthusiasts are typically interested in noteworthy classic cars, so chances are good you’re familiar with what many simply refer to as Car Week, the classic car event held every August in and around Monterey, California.

It’s been taking place in one form or another for 66 years and currently includes vintage racing, car shows, auctions and special events. Here’s something you may not know: There were also some spectacular motorcycles at the 2016 Monterey Car Week.

Sprinkled amongst the many ongoing events were rare and fascinating old motorcycles, especially at the famed Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which now has a motorcycle class every other year. For 2016, BMW bikes were featured on the lawn in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the marque. Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke, the predecessor of BMW, was founded in 1916, and BMW celebrates this as its official beginning.

Some events were free, such as the Thursday evening shindig at the Baja Cantina on Carmel Valley Road. There are usually a few bikes there — nothing terribly exotic, but still fun to see. At the other end of the spectrum was Sunday’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, admission to which cost $325 in advance. As Jay Leno noted, Car Week is where mere millionaires get a chance to rub shoulders with billionaires.

Lovely Italians and more

The Concorso Italiano took place on Saturday and boasted 1,000 Italian cars (I don’t doubt it) and perhaps 15-20 motorcycles. Admission was $170 unless you had a bike or car to display, in which case it was significantly less. It was probably the highest concentration of exotic Italian rolling hardware you’ll ever see in one place without flying to Italy.

Gordon McCall, organizer of the Quail Motorcycle Event held in Carmel in May, also hosted a Car Week event on Friday, the Quail Motorsports Gathering. A pretty exclusive event — tickets were expensive and sold out quickly — it featured notable sports and racing motorcycles alongside the cars. I swerved on this one, choosing instead to conserve my cash and spend the day watching the vintage race cars at Laguna Seca raceway, where, by the way, I spotted a lovely 1950 Ariel Square Four in the paddock.

There were also some half dozen auctions going on during the weekend, some more highbrow than others. The Russo and Steele event focused on American muscle cars, whereas Gooding & Company, Bonhams and RM Sotheby’s focused on investment-grade cars. The only auction that featured motorcycles was Mecum (Gooding & Company sold one bike, hammering a 1974 Ducati 750SS for $176,000), which had a reasonable entry fee and took place during the day. Most of the other auctions were evening events. Mecum offered 51 motorcycles amongst the almost 700 lots that crossed the block during its three-day auction. The top 10 highest-priced bikes sold for a total of $1.2 million, led by a 1938 Small Tank Crocker that sold for $338,000. This auction offers an excellent opportunity to see some fine machinery up close (and maybe take something home, if you’re feeling flush).

I attended the Concorso Italiano and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this year (and no, I didn’t have media credentials — I paid through the nose like the rest of the rubes). The venues for these two events are beautiful golf courses with spectacular views of Monterey Bay, and although rain is a rarity in Northern California in August, the marine layer (aka fog) was usually hanging around, especially early in the day. Accommodations in and around Monterey become obscenely expensive during Car Week, so consider Salinas or even Half Moon Bay if you need a place to spend the night.

The bikes

The two-wheeled selection at the Concorso included a 1971 Benelli 500-4 Pasolini replica from the Talbott Collection (it won Best in Class at the Concorso) as well as a nice selection of smaller displacement bikes (Itom, Malaguti, Vittoria), a nice Moto Morini, a 1954 MV Agusta 175 CSS, and a few newer machines (a Ducati ST3 and two Bimotas: an SB8R and a KB1). There were also a handful of nicely presented scooters, all in a row.

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance “officially” opened at 10:30 a.m., and by the end of the day there were tens of thousands of spectators packed on the lawn. Insider tip: The shuttle buses for spectators start running at 5:30 a.m., and if you’re willing to get up early you can be on the lawn at first light when the cars and bikes are arriving — a perfect time to grab some photos.

The blue ribbon event for moto-enthusiasts this year was the X-Class at Pebble Beach. There were 11 very special BMW motorcycles presented, with two of the three judges for the class contributors to this magazine: Somer Hooker and Ian Falloon. Virgil Elings brought two machines from his museum in Solvang, California. The first was a replica of the 1939 supercharged BMW RS255 factory race bike, an overhead cam model that Georg Meier rode to victory in the 1939 Isle of Man Senior TT. Virgil’s machine was built by Walter Zeller, a former factory BMW racer who wanted a machine to use for demonstration rides as none of the original race bikes had survived the war. Also from the Solvang museum was a 1954 RS54 Rennsport factory Grand Prix racer, one of only 25 made. The RS54 also featured overhead cams and was more successful as a sidecar racer than a solo machine due to lean angles being limited by the horizontal cylinders. This particular machine was formerly owned by World Champion John Surtees and won Third in Class at the Concours this year.

BMW collector Peter Nettesheim brought two lovely machines from his museum in Huntington, New York. The first was a green 1969 R69/2 police model featuring Earles forks, a large aftermarket Hoske fuel tank and the original police siren. He also brought a 1931 R16 Sport model featuring a 750cc engine, a pressed steel frame, a 3-speed gearbox and a brake acting on the drive shaft.

There were two beautiful bikes with sidecars: a 1936 R17 with a Zeppelin-esque Juwel sidecar and a 1967 R69S with a 1952 S500 Steib sidecar that was originally attached to the bike used by The New York Times as a press vehicle during a 1959 trip to Iowa by Nikita Khrushchev.

The BMW museum in Munich sent over their 1934 R7 Concept Motorcycle, which utilized a monocoque steel structure plus BMW’s first telescopic forks and a new engine design. It’s an Art Deco masterpiece and was presented for display only (it wasn’t judged). The R42 was produced by BMW between 1926 and 1928, and on display this year was a 1927 model that included all the factory options available at the time. The bike’s flat tank and straight frame tubes give it a very simple, but elegant appearance.

No display of significant BMWs would be complete without an R90S. Capable of 125mph and winner of the first AMA Superbike championship in 1976, it was the model that showed the world that BMW could build a sport bike in the modern era. The example at Pebble Beach was an unrestored, one-owner bike with less than 15,000 original miles.

The 1923 R32 was the first motorcycle built by BMW. Previously, the company made aircraft engines, but was forbidden to following Germany’s defeat in World War I. This model established BMW’s tradition of horizontally opposed 2-cylinder engines and shaft drive, design features that persist in some of today’s BMWs. The Series I model on the lawn at Pebble Beach this year is one of the very few still in existence and was judged Second in Class. Robb Talbott brought his 1925 R37 factory race bike, which has a 494cc engine with overhead valves and aluminum cylinder heads. The R37 was an extremely successful model, winning hundreds of races from 1925-1927, and this machine is believed to be the only R37 in original racing trim. Robb’s bike won Best in Class at the Pebble Beach Concours this year, and it also won Best of Show at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering in May 2016.

Car Week museums

In addition to the events that occur during Car Week, there are two motorcycle museums in the area. Jameson’s Classic Motorcycle Museum in Pacific Grove is a modest collection that is open sporadically. The newly opened Moto Talbott Collection in Carmel Valley Village is a world-class museum with regular hours and a wide-ranging collection (see next section).

So even if you’re a moto-purist and gleaming, fabled four-wheeled exotica doesn’t float your boat, Monterey Car Week still has much to offer. If you’re considering a visit for the motorcycle attractions, bear in mind that although the museums and events like the Concorso Italiano, Mecum auction and Quail Motorsports Gathering will be there next year, you’ll have to wait until 2018 to see motorcycles on the lawn at Pebble Beach again. It’s a bit early to say which bikes will be featured, but there’s no doubt they’ll be rare and special.

The Moto Talbott Collection: From wines to whines

There’s a new must-visit destination for vintage bike fans who happen to find themselves anywhere near Monterey, California. The Moto Talbott Motorcycle Collection, in Carmel Valley Village, purports to be the West Coast’s largest public exhibition of motorcycles. The museum’s pending opening had been rumored for some time before it finally opened to the public on Aug. 25, 2016.

Robb Talbott, a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, is the visionary founder behind the project. Robb started riding in 1964 and his first bike was a 1963 Honda Trail 55. He soon sold that “gateway” bike to buy another, faster machine (but found one just like it for his collection).

Robb’s parents founded the Robert Talbott Tie company, where Robb spent many hours working as a young man. In 1982, Robb and his father founded the Talbott Vineyards and Winery. The business grew, becoming quite successful, and was sold to E&J Gallo in 2015.

With the grape vines behind him, Robb was free to pursue his first love: motorcycles. After collecting bikes for about 15 years, he decided he needed his own museum, so Robb set up the museum as a tax-exempt, nonprofit 501(c) organization with the mission to educate, preserve and restore — with passion. Bobby Weindorf is the museum curator and chief restorer for the collection. Among other credentials, he was the mechanic for the Guy Webster collection, and about 20 of Guy’s bikes are now part of the Talbott Collection.

The collection consists of about 140 machines housed in a 6,000-square-foot, two-story building. The road machines are upstairs and dirt machines are arranged chronologically downstairs. Robb used to race scrambles and motocross and he competed in hill climbs and ice races. Several of the dirt bikes in the basement are replicas of Robb’s old racers.

There are bikes from 16 countries, with Italian machines strongly represented including more than 20 MV Agustas on display. Most of the bikes were made between 1950 and 1975, with the oldest in the collection a 1911 Indian board-track racer. The museum also houses some interesting bicycles, the oldest being a 1901 Clipper Light Roadster board-track racer. In addition to the motorcycles and bicycles, there’s a Wright Cyclone radial airplane engine on display in the back of a 1946 Diamond T truck. Robb has also set up a “Barn Find” room, a diorama recreating a small shed with as-yet-unrestored machines and parts. It’s a nice touch.

There are some truly rare and spectacular bikes in the collection including a fully faired 1957 Mondial GP race bike, a 1951 Ducati 125cc Gran Sport, a very low mileage Laverda 750SFC and some makes I’d never seen before, such as the Moto Devil. His 1956 Taurus 200SS is one-of-one in the world. Robb’s 1925 BMW R37 was named Best Motorcycle at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering in May 2016 and won Best in Class in the BMW motorcycle division at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this year, while the collection’s 4-cylinder 1971 Benelli 500-4 Pasolini replica race bike was named top bike at this year’s Concorso Italiano.

The Moto Talbott Collection is an eclectic one, mixing bikes small and large from around the globe. The single theme uniting all the bikes in Robb’s collection is that he thinks every one of them is cool. No argument here.

MC