Image and information provided by Bonhams Auctions

At Bonhams Auctions Summer Sale in the UK back in August, the 204 motorcycles from the Museo Morbidelli in Italy were offered for sale in the wake of the sad death of Giancarlo Morbidelli on February 10th this year at the age of 85. The rarest motorcycle in the collection was the solitary example ever made of the four-cylinder 125cc prototype GP racer built in the Ducati factory in the early 1960s. The suggested sale price in the catalogue was between 400,000 and 600,000 British pounds sterling but the bike failed to meet its reserve and remained unsold.

The four-cylinder Ducati 125cc Quattro was never raced

One of motorcycle racing's many 'might-have-beens', the unique machine offered was Ducati's fabled 125cc four-cylinder Grand Prix racer, which took so long to develop that it had been rendered obsolete by the time the project was completed.

Its senior management having decided that racing success was the best way to promote the fledgling manufacturer, Ducati recruited engineer Fabio Taglioni, formerly with Ceccato and Mondial, to oversee its racing and development programmes. Commencing work in May 1954, Taglioni designed the first of Ducati's now legendary sporting singles: the 100 Gran Sport, nicknamed 'Marianna', which made its racetrack debut in 1955. The Gran Sport's overhead cam was driven by a vertical shaft and bevel gears, and this method was carried over to Ducati's 125cc twin-cam (bialbero) and triple-cam (trialbero) racers, the latter featuring Taglioni's famous 'desmodromic' method of valve actuation that dispensed with springs.

The Ducati Gran Sport 100cc ‘Marianna’

The Ducati 125cc Bialbero (twin-cam)

Having relied hitherto on single-cylinder designs for the 125 class, Ducati introduced a 125 twin at Monza in 1958, the final round of that year's World Championship. Although the Ducati 125s proved capable of winning Grands Prix, they lacked the consistency to challenge the dominant MVs for World Championship honours. And when the Japanese manufacturers arrived en masse in the early 1960s, bringing multi-cylinder technology to the lightweight classes, the writing seemed well and truly on the wall for the European opposition. Hence Taglioni's decision to build a 125 four.

Faced with mounting financial difficulties, Ducati withdrew its works team from Grand Prix racing at the end of 1959, which may explain the project's apparent lack of urgency. It would not be resurrected until 1964, and only then at the behest of Ducati's Spanish subsidiary, Moto Trans. In its 16th June 1965 edition, Motor Cycle News reported that, following extensive bench tests, the machine had been tried recently by Ducati's test rider, former racer Franco Farne.

However, by this time Honda had been running a similar machine for almost two years and in '66 debuted a five-cylinder 125, moving the game out of Ducati's reach. Although the tests were deemed successful, the 125 four was never raced; instead it was reduced to touring motorcycle shows around Europe, including London's Earls Court in 1966 and '67. Nevertheless, this machine is notable in several ways, being Ducati's first four-cylinder motorcycle and its first to use four valves per cylinder, albeit closed by springs rather than desmodromically. Like the two Honda 125s, the Ducati was equipped with an eight-speed gearbox.

How Ducati's 125 four ended up behind the Iron Curtain remains a mystery, for that is where it would be rediscovered decades later. The engine turned up in the Technical Museum in Riga, Latvia while the frame was found in former Yugoslavia. When Giancarlo Morbidelli was managing his factory, he travelled widely throughout Europe, which is how he found the engine. The frame, though, had been purchased towards the end of the 1960 by Gilberto Parlotti, who fitted a different Ducati engine. Among other places, Parlotti raced the machine in Yugoslavia, which is how the frame ended up there. It was discovered by one of Mr Morbidelli's friends, who did not recognise it; Franco Farne confirmed its identity.

Its major components reunited, the Ducati 125 four was rebuilt by Giancarlo Morbidelli and his team. The fuel tank was made by Mr Morbidelli himself, as were other parts (the Museum curator remembers finding Mr Morbidelli in the factory on Christmas Day, working on the tank!) while the brakes, forks, hubs, etc used in the rebuild are of correct type. A wonderful monument to the engineering genius of Fabio Taglioni, the machine has been run since the restoration's completion but most of the time has been kept on display in the Morbidelli Museum..

Images and information courtesy of Salon Prive

This year’s Salon Privé Concours d’Elégance presented by AXA attracted a record 93 entries, encompassing more than a century of automotive history via some of the most beautiful and coveted cars from around the world. Everything from a 1904 Napier to a 2020 McLaren Senna GTR LM was represented in the magnificent grounds of Blenheim Palace on Wednesday 23 September, with the 17 classes comprising a total of 77 cars and 16 motorbikes.

Recognised as the most prestigious such event in the UK, Salon Privé is a partner concours of The Peninsula Classic Best of the Best Award. The jury was led by Ed Gilbertson and Italian historian Adolfo Orsi, made up of some of the world’s most experienced and knowledgeable ICJAG judges. Among those who painstakingly scrutinised the cars were Raoul San Giorgi – technical curator of the respected Louwman Museum and Tony Willis – Ferrari expert and owner of the Maranello Concessionaires archive. They were joined by Marcus Willis of Girardo & Co and Audi stalwart David Ingram among others.

A sensational Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza Zagato that was raced by Scuderia Ferrari during the 1930s has won the coveted Best of Show award at this year’s event. The Italian beauty boasts an enviable competition history, having won the Coppa Principe di Piemonte in July 1932 in the hands of none other than Tazio Nuvolari. The ‘Flying Mantuan’ also drove it in the prestigious Klausenrennen hillclimb that year.

Andrew Bagley, Salon Privé Concours Chairman, said: “I am absolutely thrilled to have awarded this year’s Best of Show to Ian Livingstone’s 1931 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza Spider by Zagato. It acted as one of the Alfa Romeo works racing team cars, and at that time none other than Enzo Ferrari was responsible for the factory race team and development of the cars. The team was known as Scuderia Ferrari and that explains the familiar Cavallino Rampante (Prancing Horse) insignia on the bonnet.

“The very characteristic roar comes from a supercharged 2.3-litre engine with almost 180bhp that combines two four-cylinder blocks into an inline eight-cylinder engine. The Alfa Romeo had received the Zagato Spider body in 1932, but when Tazio Nuvolari took it out for the first race he didn’t like the shape of the driver’s door and had it cut out.

“The car, which is still in full Monza configuration, scored several race wins with Nuvolari at the wheel and is one of the most important racing Alfa Romeos. It is a true supercar of its era and we were thrilled the ICJAG judges bestowed this hugely important racing car with the overall Best of Show.”

The grounds of Blenheim Palace were graced by some of the most elegant and significant cars from across automotive history as the Concours d’Elégance attracted a record entry. The panel of specialist ICJAG judges presented Best of Show Runner-up to the famous Ferrari 166MM Touring Barchetta that won the Mille Miglia and Le Mans 24 Hours in 1949. This car also topped the Post-War Sports Racers class, In 1949 won the Mille Miglia in the hands of Clemente Biondetti and Ettore Salani, and the Le Mans 24 Hours courtesy of Luigi Chinetti and Lord Selsdon. Chassis 0008M remains the only car to have won both of those famous events in the same year.

New for this year was an award for Most Exceptional Design. Named in honour of Sir Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim Palace, the Churchill Cup was judged by some of the most respected automotive designers in the world, including Marek Reichman of Aston Martin, Stefan Sielaff of Bentley, Russell Carr of Lotus, Louis de Fabribeckers of Touring Superleggera and Julian Thompson of Jaguar to name just a few.

They selected a 1933 Lancia Astura Pinin Farina Cabriolet ‘Bocca’ – one of only a handful of cars that were styled by Mario Revelli di Beaumont for Lancia dealer Ernesto Bocca. With its sweeping wings and sculpted tail section, it’s little wonder this highly original example captured the imagination of the judges. It was also presented with the Most Elegant award.

Given the spectacular venue, it was only fitting that His Grace the 12th Duke of Marlborough selected his favourite car. His award went to a 1960 Aston Martin DB4 GT that had been raced in historics events before being restored to original specification picked up the Duke of Marlborough car award.

Salon Privé Chairman Andrew Bagley, meanwhile, chose to present the Chairman’s Award to a Ford GT40. Chassis number 1034 is the fourth of only 31 MkI road cars built, and the first to be delivered to a private owner – the three previous examples having been retained by Ford. It has recently been carefully and sympathetically restored to its unique period-correct specification.

Twenty-five years since the McLaren F1 (seen here in Harrods livery) won the Le Mans 24 Hours on its debut at La Sarthe, a Class was dedicated to the Gordon Murray-designed hypercar and there was more McLaren success when a 1997 F1 GTR long-tail picked up the People’s Choice award. Chassis 28R was raced in the FIA GT Championship by GTC Gulf Team Davidoff and was the last of the F1 GTRs to be built.

Two legendary sports racing cars from the 1950s were honoured via two of the judges’ special prizes. An ex-Equipe Nationale Belge Ferrari 500 TRC that won its class at Le Mans in 1957, and which has long been campaigned in historic events courtesy of David Cottingham, won the Passione Corsa Award, while the Preservation Award was presented to a delightfully patinated and the most original Jaguar D-type in existence today. Chassis number XKD509 was raced in America when it was new, and is now a remarkably original ‘time warp’ survivor.

A sublime selection of machinery made up the pre-war classes, and the Veterans At The Palace group was topped by a 1919 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Built in the marque’s Springfield, Massachusetts factory, the car played a starring role in the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

#SalonPrivé Chairman Andrew Bagley said: “Every year, we welcome the world’s greatest cars to #BlenheimPalace, and 2020 was no exception. The finest marques in automotive history were represented in the Concours d’Elégance – our chosen specialists and marque experts really had their work cut out with the judging process, and the winners represent the very best of the international classic-car scene.”

After the Bonhams Auctions Bonmont sale in Switzerland, the company’s senior automotive specialist, Paul Darvill, tells us about his favourite cars that came under the hammer back in September. Images provided by Bonhams Auctions

Paul Darvill, Senior European Motor Car Specialist

Paul writes:

Located in the heart of Europe, Switzerland can look in every direction and take the best of its neighbours’ motoring culture. Indeed the country has a very active collectors’ car market and is home to many enthusiasts, no doubt thanks to the twisting, challenging yet picturesque Alpine roads which provide some of the world’s greatest drives. The country is a car lover’s dream.

As the only international auction house to currently host a sale in Switzerland we were pleased to offer a tempting array of the fine collectors’ motor cars from all eras and produced by some of the most glamorous automotive names, from Aston Martin and Bugatti to Ferrari and Rolls Royce.

The following are my personal favourites from the sale.

2012 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport Coupé

2012 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport Coupé

The Super Sport is a beautiful example of a car which genuinely moved the supercar race forward at the time of its launch. Unlike cars before and since the Veyron was truly ground-breaking. Named after Pierre Veyron, the 1939 Le Mans 24-hour winner for Bugatti, it offered 1000bhp and a top speed of over 400kph, with a price tag of more than €1 million.

In the intervening years these cars are still incredibly impressive as much for the quality of their craftsmanship as their performance. Relatively low production numbers and epoque-marking performance, in my view, give the Veyron significance and enduring appeal. This example is the jewel of a prestigious supercar collection featured in the sale and is offered as new, having covered fewer than 700 kms.

It was one of a trio of Veyrons being offered at Bonmont, along with its close sibling, a 2013 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse Targa Coupé.

2013 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse Targa coupé

The 2013 Bugatti Grand Sport VitesseTarga Coupe

To say that the Bugatti Veyron caused a sensation when it arrived in 2005 would be a gross understatement; for here was a car that didn't just rewrite the supercar rule book so much as tear it up and start afresh. All the more remarkable was the fact that the Veyron was the dream of one man: Ferdinand Piech, CEO of the Volkswagen Group, which had acquired the Bugatti brand in 1998. Piech's ambition was to create a car that had 1,000 horsepower at its disposal, could exceed 400km/h (250mph), and cost €1 million. Turning Piech's dream into a reality would prove to be an immensely difficult undertaking, even for a company with Volkswagen's technological resources, and the result would not see the light of day for another seven years.

Designed by ItalDesign boss Giorgetto Giugiaro, the first concept car – the EB118 – was displayed at the Paris Auto Show in 1998, featuring permanent four-wheel drive and a Volkswagen-designed W18 engine. A handful of variations on the theme were displayed at international motor shows over the course of the next few years before the concept finally crystallised in 2000 in the form of the Veyron EB 16.4. The latter was styled in house at VW by Hartmut Warkuss and featured an engine with 16 cylinders and four turbochargers – hence the '16.4' designation.

It was named after Bugatti development engineer and racing driver, Pierre Veyron, who together with co-driver Jean-Pierre Wimille, had won the 1939 Le Mans 24-Hour race for the French manufacturer. But this was far from the end of the development process, and it would take another five years and an extensive shake-up of the project's management and engineering teams before production could begin, by which time an incredible 95% of components had been either changed or redesigned.

Effectively two narrow-angle 4.0-litre V8 engines sharing a common crankcase, the 8.0-litre W16 - just - met Piech's requirements, producing a maximum output of 1,001PS (987bhp) and 922ft/lb of torque, figures that would embarrass a current Formula 1 car. With a kerb weight of 1,888kg (4,162lb) the Veyron had a staggering power-to-eight ratio of 523bhp per ton. Tasked with transmitting this formidable force to the ground was a permanent four-wheel-drive, dual-clutch transmission system incorporating a seven-speed paddle-shift semi-automatic gearbox, the latter built by the British company, Ricardo, while to accommodate the Veyron's phenomenal top speed Michelin designed special run-flat PAX tyres. Piech had specified a maximum velocity of 250mph and the Veyron did not disappoint, with more than one tester – Top Gear's James May included - exceeding the target by a few miles per hour. At €1,225,000 (£1,065,000) the Veyron base price as also exceeded Piech's target comfortably.

To maintain stability at such high speeds, the Veyron has a few aerodynamic tricks up its sleeve, a hydraulic system lowering the car at around 140mph, at which speed the rear wing deploys, increasing downforce. But if the Veyron driver wishes to exceed 213mph (343km/h), he or she needs to select Top Speed Mode (from rest) before joining what is a very exclusive club indeed.

Jeremy Clarkson, reviewing the Veyron for The Times: "In a drag race you could let the McLaren (F1) get to 120mph before setting off in the Veyron. And you'd still get to 200mph first. The Bugatti is way, way faster than anything else the roads have seen." Yet despite its breathtaking performance, the Veyron contrived to be surprisingly docile at 'sensible' speeds. "Bugatti says the Veyron is as easy to drive as a Bentley, and they're not exaggerating," declared Autocar. "Immediately you notice how smoothly weighted the steering is, and how calm the ride is."

In a market sector many of whose protagonists can only be described a 'hard core', the Veyron contrived to be a remarkably civilised conveyance. "When you climb aboard the Bugatti Veyron there are no particular physical contortions required of you by the world's fastest car, as there are in so many so-called supercars," observed Autocar describing "the most exquisite car cabin on earth". The latter was found to be more than generously spacious for a two-seat mid-engined car, while in terms of interior equipment there was virtually no limit to what the, necessarily wealthy, Veyron customer could specify. Restricted rearward visibility is a frequent bugbear of mid-engined supercars, a problem the Veyron dealt with by means of a reversing camera.

The SSC Ultimate Aero had taken the Veyron's title of 'World's Fastest Car' in 2007, but the Super Sport would soon put the upstart American manufacturer in its place. Maximum power was increased to 1,200PS (1,184 hp) for the Super Sport, which also came with a revised aerodynamic package. On 4th July 2010 the redoubtable James May achieved a top speed of 259.49mph (417.61km/h) at the wheel of a Super Sport, and later that same day Bugatti test driver Pierre Henri Raphanel set a new mean best mark of 267.856mph (431.072km/h) at Volkswagen's test track near Wolfsburg in Germany. This had been achieved by deactivating the Super Sport's electronic limiter, which restricts top speed to 'only' 258mph (415km/h), leading some to question the figure's validity. Eventually, the Guinness Book of Records decided that the mark should stand.

Capitalising on the publicity surrounding the Super Sport's success, Bugatti introduced a Targa-top open version at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show: the Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse. Like the Super Sport coupé, the Grand Sport Vitesse came with the 1,200PS engine but was electronically limited to a top speed of 375km/h (233mph). Production was limited to 92 units. By the time Veyron production ceased in 2015, Bugatti had built only 450 of these quite extraordinary cars.

2016 Porsche 918 Spyder

2016 Porsche 918 Spyder

"The art of understatement is evidently not lost on the good people of Porsche. Quietly under-promising and then spectacularly over-delivering is a surefire way to produce very satisfied customers. Always has been; always will be. It has worked a charm for Stuttgart's sports car specialist for decades and continues to with the (whisper it) incredible 918 Spyder.

"Here is a car with hybrid-carbonfibre construction, a combustion engine and suspension set-up donated by a prototype racing car, and a petrol-electric 'plug-in' powertrain the likes of which the world has never seen." – thus said Autocar magazine after the car’s debut,.

First shown at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show as a prototype, the hybrid supercar caused such a stir that the production model was unveiled three years later - another significant step in the ‘automotive space race’. Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche each came up with their own answers, but to my mind, the 918 was the most impressive. Stylistically understated and yet imposing, evoking racing Porsches of the past, the 918 trumped its competitors with its preposterous performance - its race-derived V8 engine accelerating from 0-60 mph in 2.2 seconds and 0-100mph in 4.9 seconds – its build quality and technical execution.

Nowadays, in these increasingly environmentally-conscious times, even supercar manufacturers are expected to make at least a cursory nod in the direction of better fuel economy and reduced emissions; hence the arrival of 'hybrid' technology in this previously exclusively fossil-fuels-only sector of the market. This has had the effect of endowing the modern supercar with some green credentials, while at the same time bringing with it a welcome performance boost in the shape of an additional (electric) motor or motors.

In the 918 Spyder's case, Porsche combined a normally aspirated 4.6-litre race-derived V8 engine producing 599bhp with two electric motors - one for each axle -delivering an additional 282 horsepower. The energy storage system is a 6.8kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery positioned behind the passenger compartment. In addition to charging from the mains electricity supply, the battery is also charged by a regenerative braking system while the car is on the move.

The 918 Spyder was first shown as a concept car at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2010, the resulting avalanche of enquiries convincing Porsche's management that it should be approved for production. The production version was duly unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2013, and despite a starting price tag of €611,000, all of the 918 units planned has been sold by December 2014. Production ceased in June 2015 as planned.

Anyone with the slightest familiarity with the marque cannot fail to have noticed that the 918 Spyder's styling references many of the famous racing Porsches of the past. Its competition connections don't stop there, for the 918's suspension and engine are derived from those developed for Porsche's RS Spyder sports prototype of 2005. Suspension all round is by aluminium wishbones and links, with adaptive dampers as standard and the same rear-steer system first seen in the Porsche 911 Type 997 GT3. The bodywork is made of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP), as are the two roof panels that easily unclip and are stowed in the under-bonnet cargo compartment to liberate the open-top driving experience; this is a Spyder, after all. Carbon fibre dominates the interior, with main controls grouped around the steering wheel and secondary systems accessed via two configurable colour touch-screens.

Although the 918 Spyder could manage impressive economy when in all-electric mode, for most customers the car's stupendous speed was of far greater importance. Somewhat surprisingly, Porsche's performance claims were regularly bettered by independent testers.

Reviewed by Car & Driver magazine, the 918 Spyder achieved a 0–60mph (0–97km/h) time of 2.2 seconds, a 0–100mph (0–161km/h) time of 4.9 seconds, a 0–180mph (0–290km/h) time of 17.5 seconds, and raced through the standing quarter-mile in 9.8 seconds.

"The 918's in-gear performance is unrivalled," declared Autocar. "What's so astonishing is not just the pace but also the flexibility afforded by its rampant electric motors' instant torque." Despite the weight penalty of its larger battery, the 918 Spyder matched the rival McLaren P1 through the gears. Reassuringly, it was found to ride, steer and - mostly - handle just like a 'normal' Porsche.

1964 Maserati Mistral Spyder

1964 Maserati Mistral Spyder

Arguably a slightly left-field choice, but all the more appealing for it! When you compare it to its Ferrari contemporaries from just down the road in Maranello, this Italian from Modena looks very good value indeed… consider that a British competitor of the same era from Aston Martin would cost more than double.

The Mistral is one of the marque’s most desirable models and a very exclusive car, even more so in this early 3.5 litre form – only 125 convertible Mistral Spyders were produced, and of those, only 27 with this engine.

1938 Bentley 4¼-Litre Cabriolet

This is a very interesting example of the 1930s ‘Derby’ Bentley - described as the marque’s finest ever motor car by W. O. Bentley himself and which was much favoured by motoring celebrities of the day such as Woolf Bernato and Sir Malcolm Campbell.

One of only three Derbys to feature bodywork by Swiss coachbuilder König, it successfully blends British, French and German designs – the rear is quite Germanic, resembling Mercedes-Benz of the era, whilst the wings and dashboard are more French in style.

1938 Bentley 4¼-Litre Cabriolet

1984 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16V

This is a great ‘cult’ car, associated with one of the great PR stunts of the era, being one of 20 identical race-prepared MB competing in the inaugural Race of Champions which opened the new Nurburgring on 12 May 1984.

The Number 6 car in the race was driven and later purchased by Manfred Schurti of Porsche Le Mans fame, competing against such legends as Niki Lauda, Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss who was on pole, and the youngest driver, Ayrton Senna, who won the race.

It’s wonderful that its original specification has been preserved, including the Sparco racing seats and roll cage, which is a physical link to the era. It was a great piece of history for relatively little money, and any other car owned or driven in the 1964 Nurburgring Race of Champions by one of the greats would be worth multiples of this car.

1984 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16V