Two hipster skateboarders interrupt their “kick turns” with a “tail stop” as they sight something they’ve never seen before.
The setting is the crowded, semi-industrial neighborhood South of Market in San Francisco, California, a city that has had a reputation of “anything goes” since the end of World War II. In this area street-skaters are as welcome as collectors of vintage motorcycles, so it’s not unusual to see both on the street at the same time.
However, today is different. The sight is a genuine Grand Prix winner being pushed across a pedestrian crossing. The skaters reverently place their boards under their arms and a meeting of two subcultures takes place.
Later, the man with the Grand Prix 250cc machine that won last year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering explains: “Of course they had never heard of the Mondial marque, but they were enthralled by its beauty and fascinated by its design. Skateboarders are typically interested in speed as well as industrial design as it applies to their boards. They tend to be non-conformist and enjoy taking risks, pretty much the same as motorcyclists! So, those guys ‘got it’ and it was a special meeting of two related subcultures who have an innate understanding of each other’s motivations.”
Man of Mondial
An architect specializing in designing award-winning houses of worship, John Goldman is the unlikely guardian angel of Mondial. Goldman is neither a typical motorcycle collector nor a typical architect. He probably knows more about Mondials than any other non-Italian person, and certainly has the most significant, if not the largest collection of this Italian marque anywhere in the world.
Goldman’s designs for houses of worship have won awards as well as quadrupling church membership, clearly a case of “build it and they will come.” His mission is to make religious buildings more relevant to today’s busy and preoccupied society using the power of architecture.
From simple places of worship, all the way up to synagogues, temples and cathedrals, Goldman’s work embraces most faiths, but he has one unwavering belief when it comes to motorcycles: the beauty of Mondial.
“I remember the first time I saw a photo of a Mondial Grand Prix race bike, in one of my books on Italian racing motorcycles,” he says. “I was simply stunned, thinking it was one of the most beautiful motorcycles I had ever seen. At that time, I had never seen a Mondial motorcycle in the U.S., but I was determined to learn what I could about them and then buy one in Italy, if possible.”
He certainly began at the top, starting his collection in 2001 with racing Mondials. Only later did his interest extend to road models as he learned more about the company’s long history.
It’s well known that current Italian motorcycle manufacturers, such as Ducati and MV Agusta, are driven by racing success. What often isn’t acknowledged is that F.B. Mondial pioneered the postwar Italian passion for 125cc Grand Prix racing.
This little company dominated the early years of the 125cc world championship with a sophisticated double overhead cam 4-stroke racer in a period when most of its Italian rivals campaigned simple 2-stroke engines. When other companies changed to 4-stroke engines, several adopting aspects of the Mondial design, Mondial still led the way and filled the grids.
On the track
The company was founded soon after World War II by the Boselli family, which had manufactured 3-wheeled FB (Fratelli Boselli) delivery vans in the 1930s. The Mondial logo first appeared on a motorcycle in 1948.
Mondial won the inaugural 125cc Grand Prix world championship and constructors’ title in 1949 with five machines in the points table’s top 10. Works rider Bruno Ruffo repeated Nello Pagani’s effort in 1950, with Mondials filling the top three places and winning the constructors’ title with three times the points of their nearest rival. Carlo Ubbiali led another points podium sweep in 1951 along with another constructors’ title.
Mondial was finally eclipsed by MV Agusta in 1952, but made a brilliant comeback in 1957 when Tarquinio Provini won the 125cc championship (and Mondial the constructors’ title) and Cecil Sandford led a points podium sweep in the 250cc championship (and the constructors’ title). The company then joined Moto Guzzi and Gilera in withdrawing from GP racing, returning in the 1960s with 2-strokes.
But such was the strength of its original design that Mondials were raced for several more years by privateers. The most famous was a young Mike Hailwood, who won the British 250cc championship in 1959 and finished fifth in the world.
On the road
Mondial road bikes were closely based on its racers, not a surprise as the company competed in both the Giro d’Italia and Milano-Taranto, Italy’s popular endurance road races of the 1950s. Two events that took place in the 1950s underline Mondial’s place in world motorcycle history.
Legendary Ducati designer Fabio Taglioni honed his craft working for Mondial in the early 1950s and the company developed an experimental desmodromic engine before Ducati did. After Mondial’s 1957 GP double win, Soichiro Honda acquired a Mondial 125cc racer. This machine is still in the Honda museum, and decades later as a kind of thank-you Honda supplied RC51 engines for a new incarnation of Mondial, the Piega 1000. For such a small company F.B. Mondial punched far above its weight.
Goldman’s mission is to preserve Mondial’s history and safeguard its heritage. Sadly, the knowledge he has acquired has convinced him that many Mondial Grand Prix bikes in collections are probably replicas and/or fakes.
“There are far more 1957 Mondial 250 Grand Prix Bialbero [twin cam] bikes in the world now than were ever produced by Mondial,” he says. Mondial kept almost all its ex-Grand Prix bikes at the factory until 1977 before three Italians pooled resources to buy them. Around 2001 one of this trio put most of them up for sale and two businessmen-collectors, one in the U.K. and one in Italy, bought them. “I know them well and have done a lot of business with both of them,” Goldman says. “Mondial Grand Prix bikes which did not come from the original collection may or may not be real Mondial Grand Prix bikes. I currently own 25 Mondials [race bikes and road bikes] and have owned and sold another 13 Mondials over the years.”
The significance of Goldman’s work was proven when his completely unrestored ex-Ubbiali 1951 125cc Grand Prix Bialbero won Best of Show at the 2015 Quail Motorcycle Gathering. At last, the world was prepared to recognize how important originality is in preserving the history of motorcycling. Goldman followed this up in 2017 with his ex-Provini 1957 250cc Grand Prix Bialbero (the Italian word for “twin cam”) winning Best of Show at the 2017 Quail.
This was Provini’s bike since it has a bevel-gear-type head, an engine version that Provini preferred and only he raced. He finished second to teammate Cecil Sandford, with Sammy Miller third. They used a newer version of this engine, but Provini preferred the 1956-spec with bevel drive rather than a vertical stack of gears. He believed it was more reliable. Gearbox options were 5, 6 or 7 speeds, but Provini raced it most frequently with a 6-speed box. The bike has frame and engine number 250-1. This means it is probably the first 250cc single cylinder Mondial Grand Prix bike constructed for the company’s return to racing.
It is considered the most correct Mondial 250 Bialbero in the world, and its restoration took 10 years in Italy. Final work, including revisions to the hand-beaten aluminum dustbin and seat fairing, new paint on the fairings and mechanical sorting, was completed in Northern California.
“My 1951 Mondial 125 Bialbero Grand Prix bike, 1951 Mondial 125 Monoalbero factory team bike, 1957 Mondial 125 Bialbero Grand Prix and 1957 250 Grand Prix Bialbero bikes come from the original factory collection,” Goldman says. The 2017 Quail winner was painstakingly restored in Italy, with Goldman coordinating the work more than 10 years after he had bought it. This involved frequents visits to Italy, often coinciding with his visits to historic churches for research and inspiration for architectural projects. Giancarlo Morbidelli did the mechanical restoration and Roberto Totti, near Bologna, undertook the cosmetic restoration and assembly.
“After the bike arrived here in the U.S. I did additional work to it, including making revisions to the front dustbin and rear seat fairings to make them 100 percent correct,” Goldman says. “When it comes to restoration, I am a fanatic about ‘correctness’ and originality. I restore the bikes to the state they were in when they left the factory.”
Saintly pursuit of perfection
Goldman is obsessive about avoiding over-restoration, and will not update anything in an attempt to make a motorcycle function better for modern day riding. “My philosophy in motorcycle restoration is the same as I employ in the restoration of historic buildings such as churches,” he says. “For my work on historic buildings, I research the original materials, study period photographs and historical literature, and peel back layers of paint to find the original colors, finishes and materials.
“The process is much the same as restoring a historic motorcycle, while the goal is identical: to put the building, or the motorcycle, back to the condition it was in when it was first constructed or when it first left the factory. History must be preserved for future generations; history must not be destroyed. Incorrect restorations, whether of buildings or motorcycles, create incorrect history.”
Even after more than 16 years of collecting Mondial motorcycles, Goldman is still fascinated by these tiny machines. “When I look at my ex-Ubbiali 1951 125cc or my ex-Provini 1957 250cc I am continually stunned by the beautiful details. One example is the fine knurling on the foot pegs. The knurling does not make the bike go any faster, but Italians feel that it is important to create beauty simply for the sake of creating that beauty. It is a sort of spiritual requirement.”
But Mondial also impresses Goldman with its engineering achievements. “Especially considering the small size of their factory, Mondial designed and made a large and fascinating range of engines that led technology in small-capacity racing,” he says. “Inspirational engineering appeals to my architectural thinking — I use engineer consultants in all my projects and great engineering is essential to make exceptional buildings.
“Mondial’s racing success appeals to my interest in history. I am involved in historic research for my building restorations and as part of my motorcycle collecting. Mondial won every single Grand Prix race they entered in 1949, 1950 and 1951. Then, after a period where they did not focus on Grand Prix racing, they came back in 1957 and won the World Championships in both the 125 and 250 classes. These were unprecedented and amazing achievements.”
As he prepares to wheel his 250cc GP winner back into his solar-powered, 1930s warehouse, Goldman sums up the driving force in his life: “I often joke that ‘I am a slave to beauty.’ I have no natural resistance to it. I must have it around me and I must create it.” MC
Jewels in John Goldman’s Mondial Collection
1951 125cc double overhead cam (Bialbero) Grand Prix Racer
This is the actual motorcycle raced by Carlo Ubbiali to win the 125cc Grand Prix World Championship in 1951. It is 100 percent original, unrestored and correct. It was also the Best of Show winner at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering in 2015. Ubbiali was the most successful Grand Prix racer of all time in the 125 and 250 classes. His 1951 World Championship was the first of his nine world titles and the only one he won on a Mondial. A radical machine for its time, this double overhead cam 125cc 4-stroke weighed less than 200 pounds and was more powerful than its 2-stroke rivals, eventually making them obsolete. The engine’s overhead cams were driven by a short vertical shaft and bevel gears and it had a “monobloc” crankcase cast as a single piece. It resembled a tube with open sides, rather than the more conventional arrangement of two halves split vertically or horizontally.
1957 175cc GS (Gran Sport)
This single overhead cam, street-legal racer was designed for the Formula III series of Italian road races. It is the rarest and fastest 175cc street-legal bike Mondial ever produced. In very good and unrestored condition, it is an authentic Mondial 175 Gran Sport. “All other Mondials I have seen described as 175 Gran Sports are not; they are 175 Sports,” Goldman says.
1958 250cc Sport
One of only 11 produced, it was bought from Gianni Perrone, former racer-turned-author of a Mondial racing history book. This bike was raced by him in the late 1950s and has since received a full concours restoration to its original street configuration.
1959 200cc Comfort
An extremely rare model designed for touring, this was Mondial’s idea of what the American market wanted. However, the Comfort never went into full production and this is likely one of only a few surviving prototypes.
1960 175cc Sprint
Fully restored and from the last year of Mondial’s 175cc production, the Sprint is not what it seems. Instead of the race-derived overhead cam design, it has a relatively simple overhead valve engine. Although strictly a street bike, it has more than a hint of the go-fast ethos of the time, including a deep crankcase sump with cooling fins, low handlebars and a race-style seat.
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