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27th October 2014

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Buying Classic Bikes - Part Three

Stu Thomson has located a treasure trove of old Italian motorcycles, ready for restoration. Now he has to decides which one(s) to choose as his next project...

Click here for Part One and Part Two

We’d admired the many, many shiny bikes in the Italian collection we saw at the end of part two. The owner was selling up; he needed the space, and he had one last building to show us which housed the motorcycles that needed restoration.

Buying classic Italian Bikes Some of the bikes that needed work, plus some farm implements

Buying classic Italian Bikes A good project?

Buying classic Italian Bikes I like the look of that MI-Val and Bianchi. I wonder if they are for sale?

Buying classic Italian Bikes A closer look at the Bianchi, a 125 Bernina. It seems to be all there, a good basis for a project. The tank has even been lined inside, but the engine did not turn over

So was there anything in my price range?

Surprisingly YES!

So I bought two.

When the guy told us what he wanted for the two machines I was interested in, the look on my face gave the game away. My brother said my expression made any negotiation impossible, even though we tried. So I bought two small Italian motorcycles for less than the price of one from the other collector we’d previously visited. The prices I paid are a better reflection of the bikes’ present value in the market as I have seen similar prices on Italian eBay.

So my two projects are a nice little 125 GS MI-VAL two-stroke from 1954, and a Bianchi Bernina 125 of indeterminate age, maybe 1959 or 1960. I need to get it dated by the VMCC or the owners’ club (if I can find one!). The bikes don’t look much at the moment but they are nearly all complete. There’s just a chain guard missing from the MI-VAL and a headlight switch from the Bianchi.

Buying classic Italian Bikes The Bianchi Bernina 125, in need of TLC. Last on the road in 1972 with a Sienna registration

The previous owner seemed to be very keen on the welding torch as several bolts were sheared and brackets tacked in place instead of bolted. That will make it ‘interesting’ to get some bits apart, so it could be a long term project which will help to pass those cold winter days and nights back home. The engine appears not to be butchered anywhere but it has difficulty turning over so something might be amiss inside.

The wiring in the headlamp also seems to be rather ad hoc, so I will have to search for a wiring diagram or revise my Gilera diagram as it has a dynamo and voltage regulator and is very similar.

Maybe the religious token clamped to the handlebars was to help the bike in its time of trouble?

The Bianchi is mostly intact with all its components, including the difficult-to-get bits. Exhausts are available from My initial estimate of the rebuild cost is around £1600. I keep a detailed spreadsheet so I know almost to the penny how much I spend on each project – sad I know, but it helps me to estimate the overall cost of the next project so I can work out whether it is worth it or not. I do almost all of the work myself; preparation, painting, wiring, wheel rebuilding, and the making of special parts and repairing damaged parts

The Morini Corsaro I rebuilt cost £1650, excluding the initial purchase. I had a lot of the paintwork powder coated which bumps up the cost. For the Lodola I spent £1950 excluding the purchase cost. There were quite a few important bits missing which I had to source from other countries (Germany. Spain, USA). The Gilera cost £1640 as I completed all the paintwork myself but installed new rims and spokes, re-chromed and re-ground forks (£180!) and some other items. The full story of the Corsaro rebuild can be found in the magazine from issues RC101 to 106, while the Lodola appeared in RC115 to 123. And the story of the Gilera will be told in early 2015!

Buying classic Italian Bikes Maybe my project will look like this when it is finished?

Buying classic Italian Bikes The 1954 MI-Val 125 GS (Metal Mechannica Italia Val Trompia) two-stroke

MI-Val made bikes from 1950 through to 1967, initially two-strokes up to 1955 then four-strokes. Their final machines were four-stroke 250cc motocrossers. Many Italian manufacturers either closed their doors in the mid-60s, changed direction in manufacturing or had some crisis with the labour unions. Maybe the Fiat Cinquecento did not help motorcycle sales, a bit like the Mini effect in the early 60s in the UK.

My 125 seems complete, including the seat and speedometer (the seat fell off on the way back due to the bumpy roads so I put it in a box). It last on the road in 1968 judging from the attached tax disc. There was a 10 lire piece in the toolbox dated 1955: maybe it was worth something then or maybe it was there for luck. The MI-Val had a Sienna registration like the Bianchi.

The MI-Val has good compression, everything moves easily and all the gears are there. This model has a high spec for the mid 1950s with 19 inch wheels and flanged alloy rims, steering damper, and the ignition coil is actually in a recess in the petrol tank underneath held in place by a big wavy circlip: all very neat. If the speedo is to be believed it has completed 24,000 km.

This model has some nice design touches and my example suffers not much worse than superficial rust which must be the warm weather and lack of salt on the Italian roads. Inside the headlamp the wiring looks like the day it was made – only older. The 125 has a mag dyno similar to the Morini with a heady output of 28 watts.

With a bore and stroke of 52mm by 58mm, it seems quite similar to other 125 two-strokes of the period, developing a whopping 5.5bhp and with a top speed potential of 95kph (probably with chin on the tank, downhill). The MI-Val has quite a long stroke; by comparison the Morini Corsaro 125 revs to 9000rpm and has a 56mm diameter piston and a 50mm stroke.

All in all, it’s not in bad condition for a 60 year old bike and much better than the starting point for my last rebuild (the Gilera) which was more expensive to buy in the UK and was in a bit of a state. Apparently the MI-Val company made kitchen utensils and machine tools before making motorcycles; quite a detour in the type of product so maybe they were jumping on the post-war transport bandwagon…

Buying classic Italian Bikes Amazing what you can get in the back of a small camper van. Maybe there’s room for three? Classic Italians on Now...

Buying classic Italian Bikes This is what the MI-Val should look like…

In its original livery the Mi-Val even has black spokes which look quite cool. And it comes with the tankpad to lean against in a racing crouch. The tank logo appears to be paint not transfers; maybe sprayed through a template, but at least it’s a simpler design than some other Italian machines. On initial investigation I’ve found that the pistons and rings are available with silencers and exhausts from other Italian suppliers.

Maybe mine will look like this someday. My initial estimate is that it will cost around £1300 excluding labour for the required parts and raw materials, stainless steel and paint, voltage reg, bearings, piston rings, spokes, tyres, tubes, etc. Watch this space or the smoke trail behind me as I race (crawl!) off into the distance with the smell of Castrol R in the air…

But before that happens, I have to get both bikes dated and fill in the pesky Nova paperwork to make them legal in the UK.

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