Opulence Epitomized

Story by Marcus Martellacci// Photos by Marcus Martellacci
February 17 2016

With motorcycles crashing the party for the first time, it was bound to be the best event yet

Its very name conjures opulent images of gentlemen in plaid tweed and ladies sipping champagne beneath their wide-brimmed sun hats, all set to the backdrop of classical music and lakeside views. It’s a pretty picture to paint in one’s mind and even more impressive to have seen in person upon my arrival at the third annual Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Strolling onto the property at Cobble Beach Golf Resort brought back many memories of my previous life as a golf professional, where I’d spent nearly a decade strolling perfectly manicured fairways, gazing at intentionally exploited vistas and rubbing elbows with people well above my pay grade. However, I hadn’t been invited for the purposes of nostalgia or – regrettably – to enjoy the fabulous Doug Carrick-designed links-style layout, for, on this day, the property had been transformed into a showcase of automotive wonders, with a special invitation extended to one, particularly important marque of the two-wheeled variety.

An Eye for a View

Cobble Beach vintage bike showPerched along Georgian Bay’s southwestern shores, Cobble Beach Golf Resort in Kemble, Ontario (near Owen Sound), was the brainchild of Willis McLeese and his son, and current CEO, Rob McLeese. The golf course at the heart of this 574-acre resort community has received several honours for its design since opening, and marrying the property to an equally elegant event began in earnest in 2011.
All the hard work has resulted in an incredibly impressive event, as was made obvious as I stood on the course’s 18th tee, its fairway lined with automobiles of every era, from steam-powered to the finest Italian V12 – all meticulously
maintained and displayed by class.
After touring the grounds and having snapped far too many pictures of beautiful automobiles, it was time to get to work and begin acquainting myself with the two-wheeled featured marque.

The Guests of Honour

Cobble Beach Concours d’EleganceFrom 1928 to 1955, Vincent motorcycles produced some of the most desirable and highest-performance machines the world had yet seen. Perhaps the best evidence of their remarkable lineage and value, both intrinsically and monetarily, could be found at the 2015 Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where for the first time in the event’s short history, a motorcycle class was included. And it was truly a single class, as the organizers had chosen to honour only the Vincent marque.
On hand were several pristine examples, restored to the highest standards. One such bike, a 1955 Black Prince Series D from the collection of Bar Hodgson, showcased the styling of early-faired bikes with its elegant fibreglass bodywork (a first for motorcycles) and faultless presentation. The efforts did not go unnoticed by the judges: the Black Prince took home a second in class.

A personal favourite was a 1949 Vincent Rapide Series B belonging to Philip Mahood of Orleans, Ontario. It wore a natural patina, looking as though a caring owner had taken great joy in riding the bike regularly, but ensured it was maintained and ready to ride off down a country lane at the drop of a hat. Incidentally, Mr. Mahood is responsible for the restoration of Bar’s 1955 Black Prince.
Garnering top honours on the day was a 1952 Vincent Rapide belonging to Gene Brown of Denver, Colorado. The sight of the winning ribbon adorning the handlebar of his prized Vincent must have made his trip across the continent well worth the effort. His smile and jubilation served to illustrate just how prestigious an award it was, especially in such company.

Master Class

awards on tableOn a day with many highlights, I was treated to one I could never have expected. During the busiest point in the day and with judging in full swing, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Bar and his wife, Hedy. Despite having three of his Vincents on display, Bar took the time to introduce me to each of the motorcycles, and not just his, all of them! As though each were an old friend, he explained their history and pedigree, even pointing out individual components and idiosyncrasies of the model, often adding in a note about the current and former owners. His knowledge of not just this one brand but of all things motorcycling is unimaginable, and I was getting a master class – unimaginable indeed!

As mentioned earlier, the Hodgsons had three bikes on the 18th fairway that day: the 1955 Black Prince Series D, a 1952 Vincent Black Lightning Series C and a 1947 Vincent HRD Rapide known as “Gunga Din.” Though the last bike was not entered for judging, it is perhaps the single-most important Vincent ever created. Gunga Din was a test mule for the factory and somehow survived the ravages of competition and time.

The bike earned its name from journalist Charlie Markham, who had tested it in 1948, after which he quoted a famous line from the Rudyard Kipling poem Gunga Din: “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!” referring to his inability to extract the bike’s full potential. The name stuck.

And even though Gunga Din was not officially competing, the organizers and judges had in mind an even greater honour for this classic.

Near the end of the day’s events, after most every award had been handed out, Bar fired up Gunga Din and rode across the awards podium to receive the prestigious Margaret Dunning Spirit of Driving Award.

For those unaware, myself included until I began research for this story, Ms. Margaret Dunning passed away on May 17, 2015, at the age of 104. Her contributions to the automotive industry in her home state of Michigan and elsewhere deserve many more pages than we could hope to provide. She leaves behind a great legacy.

Philanthropic Endeavours

As with many events like the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance, there’s often a charitable cause for which all the hard work is undertaken, and in the case of this particular event, that would be the Sunnybrook Foundation. The goal of the event is to raise funds for the construction of a helipad directly above the trauma centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Nearly 600 people with life-threatening injuries arrive by helicopter at the hospital each year. Currently, they need to be transported half a kilometre by ambulance from the existing landing area.

I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with history and its mechanical innovations, and seeing so many significant examples in one place was enough to fill every gigabyte of storage I had on two cameras, as well as on my phone. I blame the accessibility of the event: there were very few ropes or lines that could not be crossed. Owners of the vehicles seemed happy to answer questions and interact with attendees, and more importantly, there was no air of aloofness or snobbery, just a genuine love of the hobby. I think the only way you would not enjoy yourself is if you owned an insurance company that held the policies on some of these vehicles.

Hope to see you there, and remember to bring an extra memory card for your camera – and perhaps mine, too.

For details on the 2016 Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance, visit cobblebeachconcours.com.


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