Collecting and restoring vintage Italian bikes; a hobby that becomes a lifestyle. Les Hampton reveals his garage.
A proper collection takes time to acquire. It takes patience, consideration and a few decisions lead by heart, not head. Les’ affiliation with Italian bikes began in 1973. He’d spent time with the British makes, ravaging around back lanes with lights so poor “you’d be paddling around on your feet to see where you were going”. He tried BMWs. He restored one only to find he hadn’t managed to make much of an improvement - that had to go. So now we land at Les walking into Mr Barrett’s showroom in '73 with the knowledge that the next bike had to be shaft driven. Back then it was only Moto Guzzi or MV Augusta.
Did Les have a real calling for Italian bikes, or did he just end up with them by virtue of circumstance? Probably both, but when you find something so in tune with how you ride, it's worth deviating. If you’re like Les and you clock up a lot of miles it counts to have makes you know well. Les’ collection wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Pietro’s garage being only a few miles down the road. A haven for Italian bikes with a wealth of traditional class and exceptional custom build quality.* “We go back a long way me and Pietro.”
*read our interview with Pietro himself here.
The relationship between Les and the motorcycle goes back years. It would be hard to imagine him without one. His purposely built garage says more about his obsession than anything else: an impressive workshop with collected parts from bikes of all types, some previously owned, some new. The first thing you notice is the condition of them all. There’s a Benelli, a couple of 125s, a 50cc Moto Guzzi, a 50s MV, but our personal favourite was the military spec Moto Guzzi built from 1945-1956. “Any British soldier coming across one in the Libyan desert would probably ditch his Norton and ride this because it had suspension."
There’s also a police bike with working blues and twos, but the workhorse, the jewel in the fleet has to be the California. A big comfortable cruiser, which adopted its name due to initially being commissioned by the Californian police. This one has done many miles including trips through Poland traveling at a constant 80/90 mph on motorways “it could do it, but you had to spend a bit of time checking the oil every night”. A few parts have been upgraded - mainly the brakes, a modification which happened after trying to stop for tea and sailing straight on past whilst the rest of the group looked on in mild disgruntlement. It's been re-chromed, there are stainless silencers, new main bearings, pistons, barrels and a repaint of the black body. This bike has been in Les’ care for about 16 years but it’s got so much more to give.
So yes, when you own this many bikes it does rather consume you, there's no point denying that its more of a life choice than a past-time. It's about taking the love for the two-wheeled automotive world to another level. And for that, Les - we salute you.