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19th August 2016


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Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy

Richard Jones' head is easily turned by an attractive Italian. So he was thoroughly entertained to spend time with a classic motorcycle dealer who specialises in bikes built in Italy...

I'm sure that, like me, you would be astonished to discover that heaven on earth is located in Stowmarket; even more surprising is the fact that it’s located on a small industrial estate just outside the Suffolk market town. It is, of course, Made In Italy Motorcycles where, for more than twenty years, John Fallon and his partner Linda have been buying, selling and restoring some of the most gorgeous Italian exotica you are likely to see.

John and Linda kindly made me welcome on a sunny July day – something of a miracle in its own right given the weather so far this ‘summer’ – and I was privileged to be able to take photos of the stock, both available and sold, as well as having a long chat. I have to say that it was a most enjoyable morning and the coffee was rather good too.

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles

There are two floors of motorcycles upon which the overawed visitor may cast their gaze with names on tanks with lots of vowels – Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Laverda and Benelli being amongst them. I forgot to ask how they got the bikes up to the first floor but I suspect it involves removing metal floor plates, a winch and a great deal of care. The thought of damaging or even dropping one of these machines is just too awful to contemplate.

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles This is where the hard work gets done by craftsmen who know Italian motorcycles inside and out, but largely inside. Captured in black and white as garages should be

Adjoining the sales area is an immaculate and spacious garage area where three technicians, steeped in the lore of Italian motorcycles, work tirelessly preparing bikes for sale, restoring them and, less than used to be the case, building specials. Restoring customers’ machines is not MIIM’s preferred route as restrictions imposed by budgets can mean all is not as it should be at the end of the project.

‘What we do in the workshop is our own restorations. So we take a bike, we’ll restore it from the ground up and then we’ll offer it to the market. What I’ve discovered over the years is that actually it is better to buy the bike, restore it no expense spared, everything that needs doing is done – 100% re-build. So basically you’re getting a bike better than it was in 1973. Then offer it to the market at a price and what we’ve found is that they actually sell instantly,’ says John.

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles One of John’s ground-up restorations – a 1972 Ducati 750 Sport Z Stripe. Very rare and restoration is not cheap when Ducati twins are Involved. Asking price £50,000

The restoration process is not cheap – hundreds of hours of labour and spares parts that are expensive when quality is needed. For example consider the cost of a rebuilt crank at £2000 or even a kickstart lever for a Ducati 900SS coming in at around £350. John showed me a couple of roundcase Ducatis being re-sold on behalf of customers who had originally bought them as ground-up MIIM restorations. One had originally been sold for around £30,000 – given the way the market has been moving for this type of machine the price now is going to be at least £10,000 more, so strong is the demand for these models.

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles Here’s one we did earlier: not a restoration this time but a special known as Project Hump. Based on a 900SS and all yours for £27,500.

However it’s not the restorations that make the profits at the end of the day – the cost of doing it really thoroughly and to a concours standard, when added to the price of the donor motorcycle, can mean that cost and value become two different things. Specials are also, for some reason, not selling as well as they used to so MIIM’s main business comes down to sales with John buying in and then selling well over 100 machines a year.

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles It’s not all about street bikes – this 350cc Ducati race bike with a twin spark head, race cam and high compression piston has just been built. Be the one to run it in for £8000

John is an unashamed Ducatisti, or Ducatiani if you are a fan of the marque’s older bikes from the 1930s to the 1950s, and owns two of their most sought-after machines. The 1980 black and gold 900SS takes first claim on his affections but a close second is the 1975 900SS and these are bikes that get used. The weekend before I met him, John had been out riding up in Yorkshire – he has my admiration because I’m not sure I could get that far with the riding stance that the 900SS would appear to require.

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles CND on the tank does not stand for what you may think but Cloud Nine Developments who were going to produce bikes in the 1990s and this was the prototype

That being said he is perhaps not a fan of the marque’s somewhat disastrous foray into parallel twin engines from which they were saved by Fabio Taglioni’s iconic L-shaped twin in the 1970s. ‘Which was (the parallel twin) in the 1990s already a 20 year old, old-fashioned design.’

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles Not all the bikes are big capacity V-twins, as witnessed by this Aermacchi Harley Davidson sprint from around 1966

Even the most entranced visitor will notice that most – but not all – of the machinery on sale is large capacity and multi-cylinder. ‘I must admit, historically, as a business we’ve often struggled on lightweights so if you look around here you won’t see many bikes, the Morini excepted. Our knowledge tends to be in the bigger stuff.’

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles This Benelli Sei 750cc looked to be in immaculate condition and those six pipes did gleam splendidly. Sadly now sold if you wanted it

As is so often the case these days, much of MIIM’s business comes via the internet which allows John to reach out to a very large and international market. But what about people wanting to come and have a look at the bike they are lavishing their savings on or even take it for a test ride? The simple answer is that about 50% of them don’t and buy sight unseen. This fact alone demonstrates how much trust and respect MIIM has built up in the market over the years, particularly when you consider the value of the bikes they are selling.

John is adamant that preparation is everything and his three technicians spend much of their time getting the bikes ready for sale. This not inconsiderable investment, though, is more than cost effective when you consider the costs to MIIM of paying to have having the bike returned, the repair and then paying to send the machine back to the customer. Perhaps the even greater cost is the intangible one – potentially the loss of trust with a valued customer and the reputational impact. Right first time is by far the better option so far as John is concerned.

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles A very handsome and, to me, very desirable Moto Guzzi Falcone. Fortunately it had been sold so I didn’t have to break my promise to Mrs Jones and come home with another motorcycle

I asked John what he thought the greatest threat and the greatest opportunity were to his business, ignoring the impact of the vote to leave the EU which makes it more expensive to import from Europe with the fall in the value of the £. ‘The biggest threat? The population enjoying them dying off because there aren’t the new people coming through. Most off my customers are my age and my age plus – I am not selling bikes to 25 year olds or 30 year olds, not even any trendy ones. So that’s the biggest threat – we don’t see any young people coming through and buying them.’

Buyer's Eye: Made In Italy Motorcycles An arty shot to finish, highlighting the glorious metal flake paintwork of this Ducati 860 Sport special just waiting to be ridden

And the greatest opportunity?

‘The market’s very good; I think what helps sell them is the fact that people can justify buying them because they don’t devalue. I think that’s the biggest opportunity. It’s easy to justify to yourself, your wife, your bank manager or whoever it is that you’re actually buying something and it’s not just sales talk. Even if some of them haven’t rocketed in value… if you’ve bought something for four grand or five grand and had a few years use and you’re still getting your four or five grand back that’s a good selling point.’

With the Bank of England apparently muttering about a further drop in interest rates this may be something to consider when you look at what your savings account is giving you.

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A huge thanks to Linda and John for letting me wander around and chat to them and, as usual, there are a few more photos at www.flickr.com /photos/cerrig_photography/

You’ll find a full stock list at www.madeinitalymotor cycles.com

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