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Vesco Yamaha RD250


(from our Travels with Guido series #346, August 2020)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

It’s time to build your own cabinet of curiosities

Honda CB750-Four K1

In a perfect world, I’d have three different motorcycle collections…at least. The first would be more or less predictable – big fast and/or iconic stuff. Some of it I have already, such as Honda CB750-Four (above) and Ducati 916 (below).

Ducati 916

The second would be big sports tourers, which are my favourite kind of motorcycle and arguably the most deadly. Again, some are there already, such as Hannibal the Tainton-tuned Suzuki Hayabusa (below) and a first-model Kawasaki ZX-10. What I love about them is the combination of mailed fist in a silk glove.

Suzuki Hayabusa

On the outside, they’re all comfy suspension, well-padded seating, protective fairing and uber-smooth performance. Under the paint they have these screaming banshees of engines which the chassis, if I’m to be honest, usually isn’t up to the task of containing. They’re kind of latter-day hotrods, but wearing a suit.

Now my next collection would be the third millennium version of a cabinet of curiosities. This is a very old idea. Long (centuries) before photography existed, the well-travelled scholar might set aside a room in their house and fill it with mementoes of their journeys and studies. If you wanted to illustrate to your guests what a parrot looked like, you caught one, had it stuffed and placed it in your cabinet – effectively a private museum.

Sunbeam S7 1947

For me, the twist on the theme would be to pull together a collection of oddball bikes, each of which has to have a strong story behind it. Again, I probably have one or two starters, such as Winston the Sunbeam S7 (above) and the Ecco BMW R65 (below). But there’s so much scope for this, that I reckon you’d end up spending most of your time in the oddball building.


The toy you see at the top of the page and below is a great example of what you’d add, without hesitation. It popped up on the online auction site bringatrailer.com, which is based in the USA. My recommendation: do not under any circumstances subscribe to their daily email feed. Though mostly featuring cars, there are a few bikes and it’s enough to drive any self-respecting petrolhead round the twist as they dream of owning whatever.

The temptation is so strong that one friend has tried swearing off reading the newsletter, much like you’d swear off alcohol. Is there a need for an Auctions Anonymous? Probably.

Anyway, back to the bike. It’s a 1974 Yamaha RD250, bumped out to 350 specs with the bigger barrels and pistons. This was a popular mod back in the day – in fact Ms M senior and I once bought one by mistake. We slapped down the money for a 250 and then it took us a little while to work out why the damn thing was so fast.

Vesco Yamaha RD250

This example was slung together as a promotional vehicle for Don Vesco. Look him up – he set numerous motorcycle and car land speed records over the years, in the USA, and definitely qualified for living legend status up until his passing in 2002.

One of his business interests was producing race-style bodywork for road bikes under the Café Royale brand. This exercise has serial number 001 stamped on the bodywork and apparently was used for the brochures. Along the way it also picked up a nice set of expansion chambers, some magnesium wheels and a set of RD400 brakes, with drilled discs.

It would have been a hot item back in the seventies. With the recent revival of interest in classic two-strokes, you’d think it might have gone for a fortune. But no, the final hammer price was US$4200, or $5900 in local money at the time. I reckon that was a bargain.

For a while at least the not-so-humble RD would have pride of place at the entrance of my imaginary cabinet of curiosities, so I could tell visitors the story of Vesco and his Café Royale Yamaha. Right, what would be front and centre in your cabinet?

(Ed's note: Now here’s a bit of trivia: you can still get a replica of Vesco fairings, via Airtech Streamlining in the USA. Your next project bike, perhaps?)


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