Eye Candy: The Motorcycles of the Concorso d’Eleganza

The best of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
Every year since 1929, rare and classic vehicles have lined the lawns of Villa d’Este and Villa Erba on the banks of Lake Como in Italy. The Concorso d’Eleganza is a magnificent opportunity to indulge in fine machinery while dressed in your Sunday best.

The weekend is dominated by automobiles, but there’s a strong motorcycling component too—and the bikes are no less desirable. The jury is pretty illustrious too, and this year included the fashion editor of Cosmopolitan, the editor-in-chief of the Italian magazine Motociclismo d’Epoca, Mick Duckworth of Classic Bike and The Vintagent himself, the charming Mr Paul d’Orléans.

The best of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
We had the honor of attending the 90th edition of the Concorso d’Eleganza in person, as guests of event sponsors BMW Motorrad. Here are our favorite ten motorcycles from the show, starting with the oldest first.

1905 FN Four at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1905 FN Four
4 cylinders, 362 cc
Entrant: Wolfgang Straub (Germany)
Honorable mention, Class A

Seeing this rare classic roll by in the Concorso’s motorcycle street parade, pedals turning, was a genuine treat. The FN (‘Fabrique Nationale’) Four was the world’s first production inline-four, with a shaft drive sending power from the 362 cc motor to the back wheel. This particular one is a first-gen model; single speed, with a rear drum brake. It’s not often you see a 114-year-old motorcycle in the flesh—much less one that’s still running.

1929 DKW Super Sport at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1929 DKW Super Sport 500
2 cylinders, 494 cc
Entrant: Zündmagnet Wurzen (Germany)
Honorable mention, Class B

DKW was once the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer—and the Super Sport 500 was its flagship. The 1929 model featured a two-stroke, water-cooled 494 cc twin, with an output of 18 hp and a top speed of 120 kph. It didn’t come with a sidecar though; this particular Super Sport 500 had one added somewhere in its past. And whoever built it did an outstanding job, because it looks like it belongs there.

1929 Koehler Escoffier at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1929 Koehler-Escoffier 1000
2 cylinders, 980 cc
Entrant: Dominique Buisson (France)
Participant, Class B | Best of Show, selected by jury

The Concorso d’Eleganza is the place to go if you’re looking for truly obscure motorcycles. Koehler-Escoffier was founded in 1912 by former Magnat-Debon mechanic, Jules Escoffier, and funded by Marcel Koehler. The company was bought by Monet-Goyon in 1929, then faded from view in 1957. Known as the ‘Four Pipes,’ this model featured a 980 cc twin with a shaft-and-bevel-driven overhead camshaft. And we suspect this might be one of the few—if not the only—remaining examples.

1938 Moto Guzzi GTCL at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1938 Moto Guzzi GTCL
1 cylinder, 498 cc
Entrant: Gordon de la Mare (UK)
Winner, Class C

Ever heard of the Moto Guzzi GTCL? The ‘Gran Turismo Corsa Leggera’ came out in 1938 as an upgrade to the ‘Gran Turismo Corsa,’ with alloy components to make it lighter (more leggera). It won its debut outing in the production class at the Circuito del Lario, and in 1939 underwent further changes to become the Moto Guzzi Condor. Like most bikes at the Concorso, this GTCL still runs—and still looks incredible.

1942 Gnome et Rhone X40 at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1942 Gnome et Rhône X40
2 cylinders, 734 cc
Entrant: Pierre Battaile (France)
Participant, Class E

Gnome et Rhône was a French aircraft manufacturer. But from 1920 into the early 50s, they also built motorcycles, using designs they licensed from British firm ABC Motorcycles. The boxer-powered X40 was built in 1939 with one purpose: escorting the president, which this particular example actually did. It’d probably have trouble keeping up with today’s blue light brigades…but it sure is good looking.

1953 BMW R68 at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1953 BMW R68
2 cylinders, 594 cc
Entrant: Hans Keckeisen (Germany)
Participant, Class C | Best of Show, public vote

As the Concoso d’Eleganza’s primary sponsor, BMW had a number of vehicles on display—including an R7, an R5 and the new Concept R18. But this classic R68 was too good to pass by. Back in 1953, the BMW R68 was considered downright sporty, with a top speed just north of a ton earning it the nickname ‘100 Mile Racer.’ The passenger seat was reportedly set at the same level as the rider’s seat, so that you could slide back if you needed to.

1968 Moto Guzzi V7 at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1968 Moto Guzzi V7
2 cylinders, 703 cc
Entrant: Collezione Stefano Bartolotta (Italy)
Honorable mention, Class E

Moto Guzzi’s transverse, air-cooled V-twin motor would become a hallmark of the brand—but it all started with the first V7, which was actually first designed for police use. The Italian government put out a tender for a new cop bike, and Moto Guzzi won it with the design of the V7, delivering the first units in 1966. It was only a year later that they started shipping the V7 ‘Ambassador’ to customers.

1969 Kawasaki Mach III at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1969 Kawasaki Mach III
3 cylinders, 499 cc
Entrant: Sofie Verheyden (Belgium)
Winner, Class D

Unless you know what you’re looking at, a classically restored Kawasaki Mach III looks pretty unassuming next to today’s sport bikes. But back in the day, the Mach III was known both as the ‘Blue Streak’ and the ‘Widowmaker,’ depending on your perspective. The two-stroke triple made 60 hp and topped out at 120-something mph, but also had dodgy handling and brakes. Still, it sold well in the US, and went down in history as a game-changer for the Japanese company.

1969 MV Agusta 750 at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1969 MV Agusta 750 Sport
4 cylinders, 743 cc
Entrant: Marco Saltini (Italy)
Participant, Class D

Despite being wedged between equally desirable machines at the event, this immaculate 750 Sport was immediately captivating. Even though it was pricey and reportedly a handful to ride, the 750S remains one of the Italian marque’s most iconic road bikes. This particular specimen looks like it rolled out of the factory just last week.

1972 Gilera 50 at the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza
1972 Gilera 50 Trial
1 cylinder, 49.8 cc
Entrant: Collezione Zappieri (Italy)
Participant, Class S

This year’s Concorso d’Eleganza motorcycle Special Exhibition showcased 50 cc bikes of the 60s and 70s. Killer scoots from Moto Guzzi, Ducati, Fantic and Morini lined the ranks—but it was this tiny red rocket from Gilera that stole my heart. Since Gilera is most famed for its motorcycle Grand Prix victories, information on its off-roaders is scarce. All we know about this petite scrambler is that it was built after Piaggio bought the company, and it’s cute as a button.

Motorcycle images: BMW Group Classic | Header and footer shots by Wes Reyneke

The best of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza