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21st September 2015

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Classic Italian Motorcycles

Richard Jones, long fascinated by classy Italians, discovers heaven on earth. In North Leicester, it appears..

Stuart Mayhew set up North Leicester Motorcycles more than 40 years ago in sleepy Ellistown. The company has become one of the UK’s leading suppliers and authorities, perhaps the premier specialist in classic Italian motorcycles and associated spares.

Classic Italian Motorcycles

Although probably best known for its devotion to Moto Morini, the company makes no distinction as to the machinery it deals with. On the day I was there you could see Laverda, Benelli, Ducati and some of the less well-known marques such as Itom, Motom, Isomotor and Parilla (of which more later).

It has not always been like this – Stuart has acted as a main dealer for some of the larger brands but his adherence to a principle of excellent customer service saw him leaving this market and devoting NLM to a more personal, customer-focused way of business.

Classic Italian Motorcycles

I will take the opportunity of this photograph of the showroom to explain that some of the photographs may not be quite as revealing as they could be – as you can see NLM really pack those bikes in but you do get an idea of the stock that’s available.

Classic Italian Motorcycles

On the opposite side of Whitehill Road from the showroom is the workshop where NLM not only prepare motorcycles for sale but also provide full workshop and engineering facilities as well as carrying out MOTs. Part of the package with a large number of NLM machines sold is a three month warranty. Stuart wants his customers to be happy with what they’ve bought and, in the event something does go wrong, he’d like people to be confident they can bring the bike back. Here you can see Stuart’s son, Chris, on the right together with Ollie hard at work.

Classic Italian Motorcycles

So what about the bikes? Well don’t get too excited about this one as it was sold but I couldn’t resist a photo. Moto Guzzi stopped building the Falcone (Hawk) in 1968 and it was the last of their horizontal singles with the external flywheel. However there was still demand from the police and military so the Nuevo Falcone was released the following year and proved so popular that, at one point, more were being built than the marque’s more well-known V7.

Although the machine maintained the same bore and stroke as its predecessor, the external flywheel was now concealed behind a cover; 12V electrics and coil ignition were provided as was an optional electric start. The chassis, too, was also updated with a tubular steel cradle frame, telescopic forks and twin rear shock absorbers. However all this came at a cost; the Nuevo now weighed in at 472lb and with only 26hp being available it struggled to get close to a top speed of 80mph and then only slowly. Although the police and military were happy, the civilian market was less than impressed with this mixture of old and new and production ended in 1976.

That being said, 40 years later there is still a strong market for a machine that is happy to dawdle along country lanes, allowing the rider to enjoy the experience without wondering whether their license is in danger.

Moto Morini on Now...

Classic Italian Motorcycles

I had to include a V-twin Moto Morini but rather than the very popular 350cc or the 500cc models I thought I’d go for the far less well known – and seen – 250 model. From what I can find out these quarter-litre machines were manufactured between c1978 and 1980, and came in two models, the first being the 250T Mono and then the 250 2C Twin. I think this is example is one of the latter as it has a black exhaust system but please don’t quote me.

The engineer who designed the 3½ V-twin did it in such a way that it was a modular design which could be adapted to a range of capacities, and in the case of the 2C Twin the bore and stroke of 59mm x 43.8mm gave a capacity of 239.6cc. This was sufficient to churn out 24bhp with twin Dell’Orto carburettors providing the fuelling and a six-speed gearbox and chain final drive taking the power to the back wheel. Starting is electric, rear shocks are adjustable and the 260mm disc is joined by a 160mm drum brake at the back. Top speed may get to north of 80mph and reports say that there was plenty of torque with good fuel consumption; over and above this you have exclusivity – this was not a cheap motorcycle when new and there are not too many about.

Classic Italian Motorcycles

Now something without ‘Moto’ in the name – a 1956 160cc Mondial which is probably the 2T, here seen in what the Italians call  ‘conserved’ condition and which Stuart helpfully translates as ‘oily rag’ condition (although I could see no oil). Buying a Mondial is like buying into the aristocracy as the full name is FB Mondial, FB standing for Fratelli (translation: Brothers) Boselli, the Boselli in question being Count Giuseppe Boselli who founded the marque in 1948 at Acore. Designers Alfonso Drusiani and Lino Tonti (later designer of Moto Guzzi’s signature V7 with the Tonti frame) produced the first machines which were lightweight models with both two-stroke, and four-stroke overhead-cam engines.

However it is racing success that characterises Mondial with 125cc class world championship wins in 1949 (Nello Pagani), 1950 (Bruno Ruffo), 1951 (Carlo Ubbiali) and 1957 (Tarquinio Provini) and the 250cc class in this last year too (Cecil Sandford). Provini and Sandford also won the 1957 Ultra Lightweight and Lightweight TT’s respectively whilst Cromie McCandless took the Ultra Lightweight TT in 1951. So not only titled aristocracy but also racing aristocracy – what more could you want than a small motorcycle with a huge history?

Classic Italian Motorcycles

This is a 1963 Parilla Olimpia which has had only one Italian owner since new and Stuart says that the 125cc engine ‘runs very sweetly’. The Olimpia, in 98cc and 125cc forms, was produced between 1960 and 1965 by Moto Parilla, a company that produced two- and four-stroke lightweights and mopeds between its inception by Giovanni Parrilla (he removed one ‘r’ for the marque name) in 1946 and when production ceased in 1962.

Stuart tells of a visitor to NLM from Australia who wanted to have a look at a rare Parilla NLM were selling when he was visiting the UK. Although there was no intention to acquire the bike, Gary spent several hours looking over the machine and Stuart even encouraged him to take a ride. It turned out that Gary was possibly the world’s leading authority on Moto Parilla and thanked Stuart for his kindness. Three weeks later Stuart received a call from a Norfolk farmer asking if the Parilla was still for sale – as it was the farmer said he was putting a cheque in the post. ‘Don’t you want to see it first?’ asked Stuart – the farmer replied that he had already asked Gary about it via the internet and had been assured it was a good ’un. The power of the internet and good customer service should never be undervalued!

Classic Italian Motorcycles

I thought I’d finish with this 1979 Laverda 1200 Triple, 30th Anniversary model; although it’s only got less than 18,000 miles under its belt it’s retailing at just under £11,000 – a lot, you may think, but consider this. This model commemorated 30 years of motorcycle production at Laverda and although estimates for the number built vary between 100 and 300, the lower figure ‘seems most likely’ (says Ian Falloon in The Laverda Twins & Triples Bible). It is rare.

Should you instead invest your £11,000 in a fixed term savings account for five years at current rates, your gross return will be about £1500. Take off tax and you’ll be lucky to clear £1250. Which would you rather look at and play with for five years – a screen on your PC showing your account or a Laverda 1200 triple?

Although Stuart and the team at NLM are passionate about supporting people who ride their machines they also recognise that classic motorcycles are an investment class in their own right, particularly rare Italian machinery. As Stuart says ‘You get a smarter investor at North Leicester.’

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There are a few more photos at www.flickr.com/photos/cerrig_photography/; as I said before photography is rather difficult. Your best bet is to get up to Ellistown and have a look for yourself although beware - your savings may take a bit of a knock (as may you when you come home and have to explain the purchase of yet another new classic motorcycle).

Thanks to Stuart and the team at NLM for being so helpful to our correspondent on a busy day. You can browse all their available stock at: www.northleicestermotor cycles.com


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