Raising the Iron Curtain at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Highlights from the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California’s Monterey Peninsula.

1952 IFA/MZ BK350

Jim Dillard's 1952 IFA/MZ BK350, a horizontally-opposed 2-stroke twin, took top honors at this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Photo by Corey Levenson

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Every August, California’s Monterey Peninsula turns into Mecca for gear heads, or “Holy Week,” as some call it. With thousands of cars and motorcycles, plus vendors and auctions, the draw is as irresistible as a barker’s cry outside the midway tent.

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance has long been considered a haven for millionaires and their super show cars, but a surprising number of these enthusiasts started out on two wheels. Shows like “The Art of the Motorcycle” boosted the credibility of vintage motorcycles, and soon no concours show was complete without motorcycles on the field.

Often called the concours of concours, Pebble attracts contestants and viewers from all over the world. It is often said that to just get accepted is an honor. The motorcycle theme changes every year, with this year’s focus on Eastern Bloc motorcycles. Most people think crusty Ural when they hear Eastern Bloc, but a lot of innovation came out of the region and their advances in 2-stroke technology were greatly noted by the Japanese. Indeed, Suzuki’s race program was jump-started when they got MZ’s designer/racer Ernst Degner to defect to Japan in 1961.

This year’s field had its share of exotic racers, mostly from Czechoslovakia. Jawa and East German MZ once built exotic dual overhead cam racers, and several were present on the field. Entrants varied from a 50cc Zweirad Union Kavalier to a giant Bohmerland with its 600cc single-cylinder engine. One of the first spectators on the field was Jay Leno, who test rode a couple of the bikes (all bikes have to run). Leno rode the Bohmerland and the Kavalier — and bought the Kavalier on the spot!

First place went to Jim Dillard’s 1952 IFA/MZ twin, with second going to John Landstrom’s 1964 50cc Kavalier, and third to Virgil Ewing’s spectacular 1960 Jawa Z15 500cc double overhead cam racer. Winning machines must cross the awards platform under their own power, and it was amazing the roar of the Jawa didn’t shatter some of the crystal! Next year’s Pebble Beach will feature a bold move; the motorcycles of Japan. Will the shriek of multi-cylinder racers shatter the quiet on Carmel Bay? MC