1957’s Gilera 500cc Grand Prix motorbike was the last version of a motorbike that was backed by a decade-old championship-winning development record. This made it one of the most sought after racing bikes ever.
The Gilera factory team was predominant during the first ten years of world championship motorcycle racing, conquering the premier class first in 1950 and then winning in succession from 1952 to 1955.The factory team would then finish racing in late 1957, but only after taking the championship one final time.
Just fifteen factory Gilera 500 racing motorbikes were ever assembled, and the existing factory Gilera fours from that era are now either in museums or held by private collections, which means they rarely come up for public sale.
That is until now. An authentic 1957 factory motorbike that was preserved as a result of being sold to the racing team of Geoff duke in the early '60s has surfaced. It is part of a single-owner collection that will be presented at RM-Sotheby's Villa Erba sale that will be held on the shores of Lake Como, Northern Italy, on May 27th.
The main attraction of the collection will be the legendary 1928 Brough Superior SS100 nicknamed Moby Dick’, and it spearheads a series of five motorbikes from the celebrated British bike maker.
Copying is the best compliment
The Gilera 500 racing bike was so rare and in such great demand that, just like in many instances where demand for a car far outstrips supply, it is now possible to buy a perfect replica.
For the Gilera, the exact replicas are built by MV Meccanica Vergerha, a company based in the United Kingdom. They are built according to the customer specifications, so you can still purchase a new one from the company for about £90,000 (USD $116,000).
The MV Meccanica Vergerha company was previously called Kay Engineering, and it is renowned for building replicas of vital racing machinery. Currently, it has built six replicas of 1957 Gilera four bikes, and a number of these replicas have been sold at auctions before.
The latest sale of a replica was seen in the Robert White Collection sale held in London on 19th, September 2016, where the motorbike went for £55,200 (US$71,600).
These are remarkable prices for motorbikes without any provenance and therefore the motorbike’s authenticity and the point that it was a bona fide factory racer can be expected to make a significant difference in an auction. The official price estimate by RM-Sotheby is from €380,000 to €450,000(approximately US$400,000 to $500,000).
The bikes provenance before the Scuderia Duke remains unknown and its role in the successes of Gilera during the 50’s is not clear. But it is an established fact that it was one of three motorbikes that Gilera presented for the ’63 Grand Prix season, and even if it had not undergone any development in the six years after the factory withdrew from racing, it still remained very competitive.
The bike could not rival the storming MV Agusta of Mike Hailwood, but it did pull off a series of notable placings- including 8 podium finishes in ’63.This included one win by John Hartle riding a Dutch 500 TT and runners-up positions in the first five races of that year. However, the year was later marred by a succession of mechanical breakdowns and crashes.
Therefore this motorbike has most likely been ridden by Derek Minter Hartle and Phil Read at Grand Prix podium level in the course of its second life.
This is the sole remaining winner of world titles before the MV era. Following Gilera’s withdrawal from the world championships, MV Agusta won 17 consecutive titles in the 500cc category.
And it may take decades before another one becomes available.