Born to a farming family in Pesaro in the mid-1930s, little is known of Morbidelli’s life before bike building. But his business is believed to have begun as a woodworking furniture and coachbuilding shop, growing to 300 employees and providing the vital funding for his true passion, motorcycles. Joined by designer and racer Franco Ringhini, Morbidelli built his first two-stroke, 50cc racers during the late ‘60s, before debuting a team in the Grand Prix Italian championships in 1969.
In 1971, Morbidelli introduced a Suzuki-inspired water-cooled, disc-valve, two-stroke 125cc machine, with which the team won two races early in the 1972 season. Sadly, team rider Gilberto Parlotti was killed during the Isle of Man TT race that year. However, Morbidelli persevered, and by the mid-‘70s, his motorcycles were dominating the 125cc GP world championship, claiming the championship from 1975 to 1977. In ’77, his 250 also claimed the 250cc class, before a collaboration with Benelli brought further success in 1978 and ’80.
In 1968, Morbidelli had a son, Gianni, who became a successful racing driver, with a Formula 1 podium finish to his name. And it was Gianni who put his father’s motorcycles up for sale at the Bonhams’ Spring Stafford Sale, with the auction announcement coming just two days after Morbidelli snr's death. While it initially appeared like a cruel move so soon after his death, it turned out to be entirely coincedental, with the extensive collection originally listed in Bonham’ Autumn Stafford sale last October, before being withdrawn due to export issues. At the time, a Bonhams’ spokesperson confirmed that the auction announcement was a coincidence, and that Bonhams' had been working with the Morbidelli family on the sale since last year.
The 200 motorcycles that will be sold on August 15th - 16th were previously part of a 350-strong collection housed in the Morbidelli Motorcycle Museum in Pesaro, Italy, which Giancarlo himself opened in 1999. Sadly, the museum was closed last summer, following a fruitless search for a new owner.
Of his father, Gianni said: “He spent day and night in the museum. He had no other life!
He was a genius with bikes. He did everything by himself, working in a very small room,” he added, referring to his father’s illustrious career.
The Morbidelli family will retain roughly half of the collection, including the world championship winning ‘giant killer’ 125cc and 250cc motorcycles, raced respectively by Paoli Pileri, Pierpaolo Bianchi and Lego Mario.
The remaining selection of 200 post-war road and racing motorcycles will make this the largest private collection of motorcycles to be offered by Bonhams’ to date. With offerings from Benelli and Ducati, as well as Morbidelli’s own machines, it represents the best of Italy, while also featuring fine foreign examples of the likes of Harley Davidson, Honda and Matchless. The majority of motorcycles will be offered for sale without a reserve.
Topping the lots is an elusive 1964 Ducati 125cc four-cylinder Grand Prix machine, created by Fabio Taglioni, the manufacturer’s chief designer and technical director (1954-1989). With an estimate of £400,000-£600,000, this incredibly rare machine famously disappeared for some years before its engine was found in Russia while its chassis reappeared in Yugoslavia, now Croatia. Giancarlo himself rebuilt the motorcycle, before it took pride of place in his collection.
Meanwhile, representing Benelli are a 1950 250cc Grand Prix racing motorcycle – the very world championship winning machine of Dario Ambrosini, estimated to sell for between £120,000 and £180,000, and a 1964 Benelli 250, ridden and signed by two-time world champion Tarquino Provini, with an estimate of £80,000-£120,000.
Another important Italian is the 1959 Benelli 250 Bialbero GP Mono (estimate £60,000-£100,000), which was reportedly raced by Silvio Grasseti, and later owned by seven-time world champ John Surtees, from whom Giancarlo purchased it to restore.
A duo of Mondials come in the form of the 1954 175 Bialbero GP (£40,000-£60,000), a factory machine used in 1955 and 1956 in the Italian Seniores Championship, and a 1959 Paton 250 Gran Premio, estimated to sell for between £30,000 and £40,000.
The machines range from barn finds to prototypes and immaculate restorations, as well as several of Morbidell’s unfinished projects, giving buyers the opportunity to pick up where the legend left off. Motorcycling memorabilia also features, including Giancarlo’s own reference library plus drawings and trophies.
Of the collection, Ben Walker, International Department Director for Bonhams Collectors’ Motorcycles, said: “We are very proud to have been entrusted with the sale of this stunning collection, carefully put together over 40 years by Giancarlo Morbidelli, which is a fitting tribute to this master of the motorcycling world.
“Giancarlo’s passion for machines is evident in his Grand Prix involvement. His restorations were exceptional, he was a stickler for detail, and a man of invention. This is very clear when looking at the collection.
“With the majority of this collection being offered without a reserve, this will be a unique opportunity for motorcycle collectors and enthusiasts from across the globe to bid for some truly special lots and indeed, a piece of history.
“We expect international interest from collectors and enthusiasts who will give the motorcycles a new lease of life in other collections and homes around the world.”