Although Sunday’s Greystone Mansion Concours D’Elegance in Beverly Hills, California was primarily a platform for rare cars, tucked away in a corner of the sprawling grounds lay a treasure trove of truly unique motorcycles.
Just beyond the stunning Bentleys, Rolls Royces, and Ferraris, guests at the Greystone Mansion had the opportunity to walk amongst some of the most beautiful and important bikes in all of motorcycle history. Having spent hours weaving my way through this remarkable assortment of machinery, I can assure you that any more bikes would have been overwhelming.
The 2012 Greystone Mansion Concours D’Elegance
My day at Greystone Mansion began with a shuttle ride from downtown Beverly Hills during which I witnessed the houses increase in size and extravagance until we reached the 18.3 acre estate perched above Los Angeles. The Tudor-style mansion that looms large on the hill once belonged to the son of oil tycoon, Edward L. Doheny, and has been featured in countless films: "Batman & Robin," "The Big Lebowski," and "There Will Be Blood" are just a few films in which you can see both the mansion's ornate interior and lush exterior.
Just moments after I stepped off the shuttle and oriented myself amongst the sea of glimmering cars, Jay Leno rumbles past in his 1917 Fiat Botafago Special: the car was almost as impressive as his chin. Even though all I could see was cars, I could feel the presence of motorcycles off in the distant and began to work my way over to a shaded corner of the expansive lot. I did, however, make a quick stop at one of the many Stella Artois stands handing out complimentary chalices of the golden lager.
The sun was beating down on the swarms of car and motorcycle aficionados, and nothing was more welcome than a refreshing brew (except for possibly the complimentary margaritas, but I'd already had my fair share during the previous day's Cinco de Mayo celebration).
Steve McQueen's Husqvarna
At first the excitement of being in front of so many rare bikes made it hard to focus; but once I settled down I began to systematically investigate each offering, beginning with the featured bike of the event: Steve McQueen’s 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross. As the story goes, Husky enthusiast Rob Phillips picked up the 400 Cross in 2008 with plans to restore it just as he had so many others before. But as he began to investigate the bike’s paper trail, he soon discovered that this was no ordinary Husky.
With the help of friend Don Ince – who owns the accounting books of Edison Dye, the man responsible for importing almost every Husqvarna into the United States- he tracked down the original invoice for the bike made out to Solar Productions (McQueen’s production company) on February 7, 1970.
When Philips made the discovery that he was now the owner of a Steve McQueen Husky, he decided to perform only a light restoration and leave the bike otherwise untouched.
As if one McQueen Husky wasn’t enough, a second stood right next to Phillip’s. This particular beauty, a 1971 400 Cross, is owned by Del Pinho of Santa Barbara and has been restored to near mint condition. For anyone that’s seen “On Any Sunday” as many times as I have, these bikes are sure to evoke that nostalgic haze through which the film portrays the heyday of motorcycle racing.
Fortunately I could remain in that haze a little longer as I headed over to a collection of 1970s Harley-Davidson motocross bikes exquisitely restored by Brad Boyle Motorsports of Yorba Linda, California. Having collected vintage cars for nearly 20 years, Brad only recently turned his attention to motorcycles.
By the looks of things, he has done quite well for himself. Among his Harley contributions to the Concours d’Elegance were a 1974 SX 125, a 1972 Baja 100, and a 1978 MX 250, all looking as if they’ve never even been in the presence of dirt. All of these bikes were manufactured during Harley’s AMF years, when quality among the larger bikes suffered. The smaller enduros, however, benefitted from their Italian-made two-stroke engines manufactured by Aermacchi.
Boyle also contributed one of the most conspicuously displayed bikes at the event, a 1958 MV Augusta Grand Sport 250 Prototype, set front and center in the motorcycle section. It was this particular bike with which Meccanica Verghera made the transition from cafe racer styled street bikes to serious racers that would go on to win many top European GPs.
Rare & Classic Motorcycles
As an RD rider, I had hoped to come across a classic Yamaha factory racer, such as the TZ, but it was not to be. I did, however, have the opportunity to admire a pristine 1973 Kawasaki 750 Triple from Ashley-Meyer of Beverly Hills, which momentarily satisfied my appetite for the Japanese two-smokers of the 1970s.
After stepping away momentarily to pick up a plate full of beef sliders, I perused the bikes of another significant exhibitor at Sunday’s event, Shelby Myers of RM Auctions. His entries included a 1939 BMW R51 RS, a 1936 Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead, and a 1964 Ducati 250 F3 Corsa.
Myer’s RM Auction teammate, Vinnie Mandzak, also had a presence at the Greystone with a 1984 Honda GP Factory Racer, 1972 Maico MX-250, and a spectacular 1920 Triumph Model 550H.The Triumph sat in the center of the motorcycle section, and, despite its slender figure, seemed to reign over the other bikes. As the oldest bike in the show – with its antiquated hand shifter and skeletal appearance - it commanded respect from the viewers as a surviving historical document of the earliest days of motorsports.
Ferrari and Maserati Motorcycles
Serving up a healthy dose of Italian rarities was Michael Harper-Smith, a Los Angeles-based collector who works as a foreign vehicle consultant to the entertainment industry. Every entry of his was certainly a knockout, but the one bike that never failed to have a crowd hovering around it was his 1952 Ferrari 150 Sport.
Of course, most people were drawn to it because they’d never seen a Ferrari motorcycle before. Although most assume this motorcycle was manufactured by Enzo Ferrari, it was actually designed and built by his brother, Fratelli Ferrari. This lesser-known Ferrari only produced bikes from 1951 to 1954, which made coming across this gem a real treat. Among Harper-Smith’s other stellar contributions were a 1955 Maserati 160, a 1961 Aermacchi Ala Verde 250, 1960 Ducati 125 Sport, and a 1960 Ducati Elite 200.
"Daytona" Dave Oakleaf
My final stop before retiring from the Concours d’Elegance was bittersweet. Tucked up against a grassy hillside stood a beat-up 1972 DKW 125 cc covered in mud and with the air filter duct taped to the carb. If this bike looked sad, the story behind it was sadder yet. This humble old scrambler belonged to life-long motorcycle racing enthusiast “Daytona” Dave Oakleaf who was beaten to death last year in his hometown of Long Beach.
The 74-year-old was randomly attacked by a baseball bat-wielding transient while shopping in Walmart in one of the most baffling and shocking crimes the community has ever witnessed. Oakleaf’s beloved bike was displayed at the Concours as a solemn tribute to a man who could truly call motorcycles his passion.
The touching memorial cast a somber spell over the glitz and glamour of the Concours d’Elegance as I made my way back toward the shuttle queue. After spending hours under the spell of spotless chrome and unscathed paintjobs, it was Oakleaf’s ratty old DKW that left the deepest impression on me. It served as a reminder that all the bikes on display were built to be out on the road or in the dirt, and that we only have so much time with which to enjoy them.