I’m not much of a motorcycle aficionado myself, but I have been married to one for enough years to recognize the distinctive sound of a Ducati from a distance. On our recent trip to California’s Monterey Peninsula, we drove up to Carmel Valley to indulge in some wine tasting and discovered the Moto Talbott Collection www.mototalbott.com. My husband’s delight quickly faded when he saw the motorcycle museum was closed, but fate smiled once again when founder Robb Talbott appeared in the courtyard.
We had a nice chat, but Mr. Talbott was off to an appointment so no chance for a sneak peek behind the gates that day. We left with the promise to return later that week; my husband clutching the newly printed brochure Robb had kindly given him.
Bright and early that Friday morning, we returned to Moto Talbott. In the courtyard were the museum’s newest acquisitions—two BMW Isetta 300s. Originally produced in Italy in the 1950s, Issetas are known as micro cars or “cabin scooters.” These two had been languishing in a hayloft in a Northern California barn for more than 40 years. Robb had picked them up just the night before.
The Moto Talbott Collection has only been open since November 2016 but is already attracting motorcycle fans from all over. The collection is mostly motorcycles (more than 160 of them) but also features scooters, vintage transportation- themed toys, motorcycle memorabilia and more. The bikes are artfully displayed in a 6,000 square foot building with walls of snow barrier board trucked in from Wyoming and constructed by hand. Every detail has been carefully thought through.
There are some real gems in the collection, including the Ducati Marianna that won the very last Motogira D’Italia in 1956 and is credited with saving the Ducati Company from possible closure. There’s a terrific photo of the wining rider, Guiliano Maoggi, with a cigarette clenched in his teeth on the wall above the bike, along with the fascinating story of his victory.
Steve McQueen’s 1931 VL Harley is there, as is a demonstration bike from WWII with the gas tank and engine covering cut away so soldiers training on it could learn what went where. This particular bike, which is quite a rare find, came to the collection complete with troop movement maps, gloves and a fully- functioning Thompson sub-machine gun, which has since been rendered inoperable.
There’s a Vespa specially designed to promote Coach’s leather goods, a motorcycle that was buried in the backyard to protect it from certain destruction in a fire, race and award winners, beautiful restorations, trial bikes, rare and vintage motorcycles—they’re all here.
What really makes a trip to Moto Talbott special is the opportunity to learn the history and stories behind these bikes from the engaging and knowledgeable docents. We were fortunate to spend the morning with Rich Watson, former Economics professor at UC Santa Barbara and a lifelong lover of motorcycles. Rich could not have been more informative and entertaining. We were captivated by the intriguing tales he told, from his description of riders being impaled by enormous splinters during the American board racing days of the early 1900s to stories of unbeatable BSAs.
The impressive collection currently features road bikes and dirt bikes from 16 countries, from the Czech Republic to Mexico. MV Agusta, BSA, Bultaco, BMW, Indian, Harley Davidson, Kawaski, Maico, Gilera, Triumph, Honda—nearly every notable motorcycle company is represented here.
The former proprietor of the highly regarded Talbott Vineyards and chairman of the board of the eponymous clothing company his family founded, Robb Talbott’s commitment to excellence and quality is as apparent in the Moto Talbott Collection as it was in his previous endeavors. The museum was at least three years in the making and was created so that he could “…share his passion for bikes and beauty… And mostly to share the stories of these bikes and their history.” The museum’s mission statement rings especially true after talking with Robb—”preservation, restoration and education…all driven by passion.”
We also had the chance to meet Bobby Weindorf, the museum’s curator and chief restorer. Motorcycles have been part of Bobby’s life since he was 12 years old. His career was built on his passion: five years with American Honda’s factory road race and Supercross/Motocross teams; a dealership in Santa Barbara for 10 years, and several years in Italy working with motorcycle race teams. When asked about his three favorite bikes in the collection, he chose the 1977 MV Agusta 850SS because, “It’s big, powerful and makes a bold Italian statement,” a 1977 Hodaka Super Combat Wombat, “…cute dirt bike with an awesome name,” and a 1965 BMW R 69S in Granada Red, for it’s “pure elegance in a rare color…”
Bobby noted that Moto Talbott will continue to evolve: expanding and changing the collection, offering events, and continuing to educate visitors, preserving the “survivors,” and restoring the classic motorcycles that he and the others involved in this marvelous museum have worked so tirelessly to make accessible to motorcycle lovers from around the world.
Please visit www.mototalbott.com for the most current information on opening hours, events, and ticket prices.