Obscure motorcycle fact worth Knowing: 'A View to a Kill'

Even Grace Jones couldn’t help this Bond franchise nadir.

Even Grace Jones couldn’t help this Bond franchise nadir.

‘A View to a Kill’ may be one of the worst James Bond films. But while the film was set in the 1980s, with a plot involving horse racing, it was inspired by a short story about motorcycle riding.

Ian Fleming created the James Bond character in a series of novels and short stories. From a View to a Kill was one short story in an anthology titled ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

Spy novelist Ian Fleming worked in the British Naval Intelligence Division during WWII. He was involved in the creation and oversight of 30 Assault Unit – an elite commando group. The plot of  A View to a Kill  is fairly similar to some of the things that the commandos of 30 Assault Unit actually did.

Spy novelist Ian Fleming worked in the British Naval Intelligence Division during WWII. He was involved in the creation and oversight of 30 Assault Unit – an elite commando group. The plot of A View to a Kill is fairly similar to some of the things that the commandos of 30 Assault Unit actually did.

In the story, Bond investigates the murder of a motorcycle dispatch rider, who was killed while delivering secret documents in France. To catch the killer, Bond impersonates a courier on similar mission. The assassin tries to kill Bond but (of course) the spy is ready for him. Bond kills the killer, and then uncovers his hidden base of operations.  

Pilgrimage: Museo Agusta

The museum doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside...

The museum doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside...

Getting from Kansas City to Varese, Italy, basically involves traveling for about 24 solid hours. So one Sunday morning in March, I arrived at my hotel exhausted but determined to stay awake until evening. I figured that way, I’d avoid the worst of the jet lag, and take best advantage of a free day – a rare thing, for a motorcycle journalist on a ‘launch’ junket. (I was scheduled to tour the factory and interview Giovanni Castiglioni on Monday, ride a new MV Agusta motorbike on Tuesday, and fly home on Wednesday.)

I had heard there was an MV Agusta museum about 20 kilometers away, near the helicopter works in Cascina Costa. Judging from the museum’s web site, it was primarily devoted to the aviation business, but there seemed to be quite a few motorcycles on display, too. Like a lot of small European museums, the opening hours were intermittent, but it was supposed to be open from 2-5 pm. All in all, a perfect way to kill a few hours and keep myself awake.

...there are dozens of great motorcycles, including many race bikes and unique prototypes.

...there are dozens of great motorcycles, including many race bikes and unique prototypes.

As usual on such trips, MV Agusta had provided a ride from the airport in Milan to the hotel, and they were scheduled to pick me up on Monday and drive me to the factory. But I was on my own when it came to getting around on this day off.

I set off on foot from the hotel, jumping puddles in pelting rain. I counted on finding the train station by dead reckoning. That was more difficult than it should’ve been. Two or three desperate immigrants were sleeping in there, under piles of blankets needed both for an illusion of privacy and warmth.

Italians kill time waiting for the train by making out. I accidentally made eye contact with a guy whose expression in the U.S. would almost certainly have conveyed, What are you looking at? But here it was more like, Yeah, she’s cute, isn’t she? They too deserved an illusion of privacy, so I looked off into the grey distance, where a helicopter buzzed. The whole region’s still a hub of helicopter- and aviation-related industry.

In Galarate, I grabbed a cab; a BMW that the guy drove as though he’d never heard of aquaplaning. But when we got to the museum, the gates were all locked—even though according to the ‘museum hours’ sign on the gate it should’ve been open.

My guide was the museum's motorcycle restorer, Cesare Tobaldo.

My guide was the museum's motorcycle restorer, Cesare Tobaldo.

I guessed that it was possible that if I’d waited, someone would have come to open it but my cheap-o phone plan doesn’t offer European service at all, so I had no way to get a cab to come back. I told the cabbie to take me straight back to the train station. He spoke no English at all, but my Italian’s good enough to understand his suggestion, which was that there was a bigger and better aviation museum nearby that would be open. I told him, No.

Again, as we got close to the train station, he pointed out Galarate’s modern art museum. My Italian’s not quite good enough, any more, to communicate that for me, it’s motorcycles or nothing.

40 Euros lighter, I got back on a train to Varese. At that point I opened by backpack for the first time, and realized that while my umbrella had been keeping the rain off me, the backpack and its contents were soaked. Luckily I’d pulled almost everything—especially my passport—out of it. Damage report: a half-filled Moleskine and the Italian-English dictionary I bought way back when I was writing ‘Searching for Spadino’.

I had another long walk from the train station back up to the hotel, at which point I was happy to take a long hot shower and install myself in the hotel bar.

The next day while I waited for my interview appointment with Castiglioni, I told MV Agusta’s PR director, Alessia Riboni, my ‘museum was closed’ story. After my talk with the boss, Alessia came back to show me out and said, "Our driver will take you to Gallarate, drop you at a roundabout where Giovanni Magni will pick you up and take you to the museum"

Me: "It's closed Monday."

Alessia: "They're opening it for you."

Giovanni parked, and called someone on his mobile. An old gentleman, Cesare Tobaldo, appeared at the door, recognizing Giovanni, he unlocked it and let us in, then locked it again behind us. Perhaps I’m too Canadian, because that kind of special treatment is a little embarrassing to me.

Tobaldo apologized; the museum should have been open when I’d arrived on the previous Sunday afternoon. But that morning, the museum had a big group come through, and the staff were not able to shoo them out in time to close for lunch at noon. Since no Italian can properly eat a Sunday lunch in less than two hours, they decided to reopen the museum at 2:30. I had arrived in the interim.

I got over my embarrassment when I realized that the museum has a much bigger collection of bikes than I expected, and I was getting the ultimate private tour, accompanied by Giovanni Magni (whose dad Arturo had been Giacomo Agostini’s lead mechanic, and who is himself a leading restorer of MV Agustas) and guided by Cesare, who it turns out is the museum’s own restorer. He came in just for me, on his day off.

Cesare worked as a fabricator in the helicopter factory for decades. The motorcycle race shop was also located there in Cascina Costa, not at the nearby motorcycle factory in Verghera, for several reasons: the Count’s office was at the helicopter plant, and he liked to keep an eye on the race bikes in development; Arturo Magni, the race team manager could take advantage of the plant’s advanced fabrication capabilities; and the layout of the plant made it possible to move race bikes on and off the property even if the factory was being picketed by strikers, which was a common problem in Italy in the 1960s!

'51 500 triple.

'51 500 triple.

I asked him whether the employees at the helicopter factory had been big supporters of the motorcycle race team. “Oh yes,” he replied. “There used to be a big private road along one side of the factory, and Sig. Magni used to run motorcycles up and down that road frequently. There were always a few people who’d stop work and watch. But every now and then Agostini himself would come to run a bike up and down the road, to get a feel for a new motor. When word got out that Ago was riding, 500 people put down their tools and went to watch him, even though he was just riding up and down the straight road.”

’47 Duecentocinquanta – This 250cc pushrod single had an unimpressive production run of about 100 units in the late ’40s.

’47 Duecentocinquanta – This 250cc pushrod single had an unimpressive production run of about 100 units in the late ’40s.

The museum has a lot of race bikes from the 1950s through the ’70s and scores of production models that I was unaware of, including scooters and trail bikes. Many of the displays are prototypes, so the information placards carry two dates; the year the one on display was made, and the date – a year or two later – when this model was raced or produced. There are also several wild and wonderful prototypes that were never raced or that never made it into production, including a stylish microcar and a working hovercraft!

If you love motorcycles, Museo Agusta is ‘worth the detour’, as they say in the Michelin Guide. Admission’s a bargain at €2.50. And of course, if you’re a particular fan of MV Agusta and its storied Grand Prix history, this collection’s your Mecca. There are, of course, also many exhibits devoted to the Agusta helicopter business, including a helicopter simulator which established, if nothing else, that I’m a better rider than pilot.

Getting there: Museo Agusta is located immediately east of Milan’s Malpensa airport

Via Giovanni Agusta, 506 – 21017 Cascina Costa di Samarate (VA)

For more information visit: www.museoagusta.it

Hours

Tuesday & Wednesday: 2-6 pm

Saturday 9:30 am-12:30, 2-5 pm

Sunday 9:00 am-noon, 2-6 pm

’54 175 CSS – 175cc, SOHC, four speeds. About 500 were made like this, with the characteristic ‘flying saucer’ fuel tank and Earles fork.

’54 175 CSS – 175cc, SOHC, four speeds. About 500 were made like this, with the characteristic ‘flying saucer’ fuel tank and Earles fork.

’54 175 CST – 175cc, SOHC, four speeds. This commercially successful machine was produced in several different versions (some with 17” wheels and some with 19”).

’54 175 CST – 175cc, SOHC, four speeds. This commercially successful machine was produced in several different versions (some with 17” wheels and some with 19”).

’55 Bicilindrico Corsa Prototype – Fascinating space frame and front suspension. This was a project by an MV engineer named Giannini. The 350cc twin was tested but never raced.

’55 Bicilindrico Corsa Prototype – Fascinating space frame and front suspension. This was a project by an MV engineer named Giannini. The 350cc twin was tested but never raced.

1955 prototype 125cc ‘Pullman’. 125cc, 2-stroke, 3 speed. This was a commercially successful road bike. MV Agusta sold 9,000 units with a twistgrip gear shift in 1953, then 27,000 units with foot shift over the next two years.

1955 prototype 125cc ‘Pullman’. 125cc, 2-stroke, 3 speed. This was a commercially successful road bike. MV Agusta sold 9,000 units with a twistgrip gear shift in 1953, then 27,000 units with foot shift over the next two years.

’56 250 Monocilindrico Corsa – 250cc single, DOHC, five speeds. Bill Lomas delivered the first GP win for this elegant machine at the 1955 TT.

’56 250 Monocilindrico Corsa – 250cc single, DOHC, five speeds. Bill Lomas delivered the first GP win for this elegant machine at the 1955 TT.

’56 350-4 – This 350cc four-cylinder is of the type raced from 1953-’63. DOHC, five speeds, 51.5 hp @ 11,000 rpm. Mike Hailwood delivered the last victory for this model at the scary old Imatra circuit in Finland, in 1963.

’56 350-4 – This 350cc four-cylinder is of the type raced from 1953-’63. DOHC, five speeds, 51.5 hp @ 11,000 rpm. Mike Hailwood delivered the last victory for this model at the scary old Imatra circuit in Finland, in 1963.

'56 Superpullman.

'56 Superpullman.

’62 Chicco scooter – This is a 1962 developmental prototype for a model that was fairly successful, selling 3,000 units from 1960-’63. It has a fan-cooled 155cc 2-stroke motor with 4 speed ’box.

’62 Chicco scooter – This is a 1962 developmental prototype for a model that was fairly successful, selling 3,000 units from 1960-’63. It has a fan-cooled 155cc 2-stroke motor with 4 speed ’box.

1964 ‘Arno’ prototype. 166cc pushrod twin. Five of these prototypes were made, leading to a 250cc production model in 1966.

1964 ‘Arno’ prototype. 166cc pushrod twin. Five of these prototypes were made, leading to a 250cc production model in 1966.

’64 Germano – 48cc, 2-stroke, three speeds. MV Agusta sold a total of more than 1,700 of these mopeds. The ‘Germano’ was made in two versions, one seen here with a pressed-steel frame and another with a tube frame. MV brought the motors in from DKW.

’64 Germano – 48cc, 2-stroke, three speeds. MV Agusta sold a total of more than 1,700 of these mopeds. The ‘Germano’ was made in two versions, one seen here with a pressed-steel frame and another with a tube frame. MV brought the motors in from DKW.

’68 600 4C6 – This 600cc road bike was made with a shaft drive in order to ensure that it would not be raced by customers! It was not particularly successful, with only 127 machines known to have been made between 1968-’71.

’68 600 4C6 – This 600cc road bike was made with a shaft drive in order to ensure that it would not be raced by customers! It was not particularly successful, with only 127 machines known to have been made between 1968-’71.

’69 Prototype Hovercraft – This 1969 full working prototype was powered by a 300cc two-stroke boxer motor.

’69 Prototype Hovercraft – This 1969 full working prototype was powered by a 300cc two-stroke boxer motor.

’73 350-4 ST76-35 – This 350cc four-cylinder machine is of the type raced by Giacomo Agostini from 1972-’76. DOHC, six-speeds, 74.2 hp @ 16,500 rpm. (Yes, over 200 hp/liter specific output; nearly the equal of a modern MotoGP bike!)

’73 350-4 ST76-35 – This 350cc four-cylinder machine is of the type raced by Giacomo Agostini from 1972-’76. DOHC, six-speeds, 74.2 hp @ 16,500 rpm. (Yes, over 200 hp/liter specific output; nearly the equal of a modern MotoGP bike!)

'73 500 triple

'73 500 triple

’75 750 America – 750cc, DOHC, five speeds. The shaft drive and electric start were attempts to position this as a viable choice for a gentleman’s road motorcycle. About 500 were sold.

’75 750 America – 750cc, DOHC, five speeds. The shaft drive and electric start were attempts to position this as a viable choice for a gentleman’s road motorcycle. About 500 were sold.

Sorry, I can’t find my notes on this very stylish disc-valve two-stroke twin. IIRC, Cesare told me that the machine never had any internals; MV showed it at EICMA but didn’t get enough orders to justify continued development.

Sorry, I can’t find my notes on this very stylish disc-valve two-stroke twin. IIRC, Cesare told me that the machine never had any internals; MV showed it at EICMA but didn’t get enough orders to justify continued development.

Undated microcar prototype!

Undated microcar prototype!

The museum includes several elegant little scooters – an aspect of MV Agusta’s production I knew nothing about.

The museum includes several elegant little scooters – an aspect of MV Agusta’s production I knew nothing about.

If you dug this deep dive into moto-history, you'll probably also like my book, 'On Motorcycles: The best of Backmarker' available here on Amazon.

 
If you love the history of our sport, you'll find a lot to enjoy in this book, and by buying a copy right now, you'll help me to continue creating new content. Click the cover image to go straight to my Amazon sales page,  or read it for less than $10 right now, by downloading it on Kindle here.

If you love the history of our sport, you'll find a lot to enjoy in this book, and by buying a copy right now, you'll help me to continue creating new content. Click the cover image to go straight to my Amazon sales page, or read it for less than $10 right now, by downloading it on Kindle here.

W.W.V.B. do?

HARLEY-DAVIDSON BARELY REMARKED ON THE DEATH OF ITS SAVIOR. BUT LEVATICH & CO. SHOULD TAKE INSPIRATION FROM VAUGHN BEALS.

The Harvard Business School lists Vaughn Beals as one of its "Great American Business Leaders of the 20th Century". Harley-Davidson's ex-CEO and Chairman died April 19, at the age of 90.

The Harvard Business School lists Vaughn Beals as one of its "Great American Business Leaders of the 20th Century". Harley-Davidson's ex-CEO and Chairman died April 19, at the age of 90.

Vaughn L. Beals, Jr.'s passing went unremarked, as far as I can tell, on web sites from Cycle World, Motorcyclist, and Asphalt & Rubber, to HarleyDavidson.com. That’s in spite of the fact that Beals had an enormous impact on the company; he is nearly as important a figure in Harley's pantheon as any of The Motor Company's founders.

“During some of the most challenging times in the long legacy of Harley-Davidson, Vaughn Beals brought vision and powerful leadership to this great company. We’ve carried his leadership lift under our wings ever since and we always will.” – Matt Levatich

“During some of the most challenging times in the long legacy of Harley-Davidson, Vaughn Beals brought vision and powerful leadership to this great company. We’ve carried his leadership lift under our wings ever since and we always will.” – Matt Levatich

I’d argue that as the leader of the employee group that bought Harley-Davidson from AMF in 1981, that he was the most important American 'motorcycle guy' of the post-WWII era. He steered the brand from losses to profitability, took the company public, and dramatically increased its value.

For most of its history, Harley-Davidson was closely held, and controlled by the founders (and later, their heirs). It was acquired by AMF in 1969. While I think it’s an oversimplification to portray the AMF period a wholly unmitigated disaster, by 1981 the motorcycle business was losing money – and market share to Japanese companies that were still going from strength to strength. When AMF decided to sell Harley-Davidson in 1981, Vaughn Beals organized a group of senior managers; they borrowed $85 million from Citi and took the company private again.

The purchase price, about $250 million in today’s money, was relatively paltry. It’s interesting to imagine what another buyer might’ve done with the brand. I can easily picture an American car company picking it up; there would have been some economies of scale and advantages to a broader dealer network. A company like Kawasaki Heavy Industries probably could have adopted Harley and done well with it.

One way or another, there would’ve always been a Harley-Davidson company. But I think the most likely scenario was that Harley-Davidson would continue to be gradually run down – as it had been by AMF – and that it would have become a zombie brand like Indian. An editorial in British Dealer News called Vaughn Beals Jr. Harley’s “savior” and I don’t think that was an exaggeration.

Beals was not a motorcyclist. He’d been trained as an aerospace engineer and rose through the management ranks at Cummins before being hired to run Harley-Davidson. He immediately cut the workforce, and took steps to improve product quality. (Immediately before the buyout, more than half the Harleys that came off the assembly line needed remedial work before they could be shipped!) The revived Harley-Davidson company quickly set about making a new and much-improved ‘Evo’ motor.

For an MIT trained engineer, he either had natural marketing savvy or knew who to listen to; he green-lit the creation of Harley Owner’s Group clubs and Carmichael-Lynch’s dramatic repositioning of the brand. And he was savvy about finance, leading the company through its IPO and getting the stock onto the ‘big board’ at the New York Stock Exchange in 1987.

The company that Vaughn Beals bought from AMF for $85 million has a market cap of over $7 billion today – even at the currently depressed share price. That's some ROI, and should inspire the current management.

The company that Vaughn Beals bought from AMF for $85 million has a market cap of over $7 billion today – even at the currently depressed share price. That's some ROI, and should inspire the current management.

I guess I don’t blame Levatich and Harley’s PR department for soft-pedaling Beals’ death. Making a bigger announcement would have distracted from the 115th Anniversary celebration and the company’s recent and spectacular new product announcements. Since one of the things Beals is best remembered for was pressing the Reagan administration for trade tariff protection, it might’ve opened the company up for more criticism from Donald Trump, too.

Still, Levatich would not be remiss in pointing out that Harley-Davidson was on much weaker footing in 1980 than it is today. I've had people tell me that Harley’s recent announcements, of a Livewire, electric bicycles, an adventure-tourer, etc, are too little too late. But maybe they should ask, “What would Vaughn Beals do?”

Beals’ leadership was not faultless; he killed an expensive R&D project that would have yielded a much more modern four-cylinder bike; one that might’ve positioned H-D better against high-performance Japanese and European rivals.  But during his tenure, early investors of Harley-Davidson shares saw about a 2500% ROI.

That alone should serve as an inspiration for Matt Levatich and the current management team.

From Gilroy to North Carolina

Stellican Indian.jpg
This text is excerpted from my  Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia . (The first  Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia was an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

This text is excerpted from my Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia. (The first Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Triviawas an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

Over the years, a few English motorcycles have been sold as Indians. And from 2006-’11, the Indian Motorcycle Company was owned by a London-based private equity firm called Stellican Limited.

Stellican bought the brand and assets from the Gilroy company and produced a small number of motorcycles out of a new home in Kings Mountain, NC.

Although some of the transactions were spurious (or do I mean ‘scurrilous’? Maybe both...) Stellican was approximately the 18th company to own the Indian trademark. The company had previously resurrected another iconic American brand, Chris-Craft.

Stellican relaunched Indian in 2009, but sold less than a thousand bikes.

Indian Motorcycle Company of America

That last gasp of the IMCOA period was this '03 Chief.

That last gasp of the IMCOA period was this '03 Chief.

Gilroy, California was the home of a small manufacturer, the California Motorcycle Company. CMC and several other small companies merged to revive the Indian trademark yet again.

Indian purists thought that selling an Indian with a Harley-clone S&S engine stunk. That was apropos, since Gilroy is the self-proclaimed Garlic Capital of the World.

IMCOA declared bankruptcy in 2003.

 

1998: Back on the reserve? Maybe not

One of the handful of display bikes built by Eller. The plan was to set up a factory on an Indian reserve.

One of the handful of display bikes built by Eller. The plan was to set up a factory on an Indian reserve.

The next year, Eller Industries announced that it would not only acquire the rights to the trademark from the receiver, but that it would open a factory on a genuine Indian reserve. The company hired famed motorcycle designer James Parker to sketch designs and claims that Roush Industries developed an engine design.

But it was another case of lots’a smoke, but very little fire. Eller Industries was soon served with a restraining order, when it failed to meet the terms of its contract with the receiver.

That paved the way for a federal bankruptcy judge to allow the sale of the trademark to...

1997: Indian hits rock bottom

Phil Zanghi never really tried to resurrect Indian. Instead, he used the money he raised from motorcycle-loving investors and licensing deals to fund a luxurious lifestyle including a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari.

In 1997, a U.S. District Court jury deliberated less than three hours before convicting Zanghi of securities fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. Although he was up for up to 221 years on all charges, he was sentenced to 7 1/2 years.

Zanghi acted as his own lawyer. "Maybe I'm a con man," he told the jury in his closing arguments. "Maybe I'm a promoter. But I brought the Indian trademark back."

Zanghi acted as his own lawyer. "Maybe I'm a con man," he told the jury in his closing arguments. "Maybe I'm a promoter. But I brought the Indian trademark back."

The trademark was disposed of by a bankruptcy receiver.

[Author’s note: I’m not a lawyer, but I have to think that using the phrase “Maybe I’m a con man” was a mistake.]

The 1970s and beyond: Wait, things get even worse for the Indian trademark

Clymer’s widow sold the Indian trademark to her husband’s ex-lawyer, who continued to import bikes from Italy and Taiwan. The lawyer’s company went bankrupt in 1977, and the trademark was claimed by a number of companies ― often at the same time ― for the next 20 years or so.

According to USPTO records, the trademark was sold at least eight times between 1970 and 1992. Some guy named Phil Zanghi seems to have sold it to himself a couple of times in that period. Derbi Motor Corp. of America owned it for one day: August 12, 1983.

In 1992, a new entity called American Indian Motorcycle Co. filed a cancellation petition with the USPTO, alleging that any previous trademarks were invalidated by lack of use and because previous claimants had submitted fraudulent information.

In the mid-‘90s an entrepreneur/promoter named Wayne Baughman also talked a good game, and even built a couple of prototype ‘Century Chiefs’ although he does not appear to have ever had a legitimate claim to the famous trademark.