Yesterday, I heard the 1970s song ‘The Streak’ by Ray Stevens being played from a music cartridge (this is pre-cassette tape thing…) and out of a 1970s car stereo-radio. This stereo-radio was mounted in a Golf GTI (Mk1 to be specific) dashboard, and was for sale on a vintage car stand, which was at the most amazing vintage show I’ve ever been to. If you haven’t heard ‘The Streak’ before, it’s because it has not gone down as a ‘best of all time’ tune, so be warned, because you can see it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtzoUu7w-YM
In relation to my visit to this great Swiss show, and as the chorus goes in The Streak, I’m going to be like the person that the action, on the spot reporter asks “did you see what happened?”, and I’m going to reply “yeaaaah I did”. So, here we go. The Swiss city of Fribourg, which also shares its name with the Canton (County) has a large indoor facility which houses everything from ice hockey to antiques fairs. In March every year, it hosts the most amazing vintage motorcycle and car show. The show is part auto jumble, part car and bike sales and part exhibition of sexy mechanical things. 2020 will be the next one and if you’re interested, here’s the link for some information http://www.oldtimer-teilemarkt.ch/fr/accueil.html
The show starts at 9am on Saturday and ends late Sunday afternoon. It costs CHF15 ($15, 12 Quid etc) entrance fee. I have an early breakfast at home, jump in the van and set off on the 40 minute drive to Fribourg. I take the van rather than ride there on my BMW GS, because the van will carry more Moto-sized things than the BMW will, and you never know what you’ll find. The late March weather is blue sky and about 12 degrees C when I arrive at 9.30am. There are queues at the entrance paying booths already. The paying queues are filled with people who I have christened the ‘Philip Morris All-stars’ (no offence if you are a smoker), but as a non-smoker living in a country where smoking is very common, it’s not the best way to start the morning for me. There’s also another man behind me that just cannot stop whistling some made up tune, annoyingly. Anyway, Swiss efficiency means that the queues move quickly. I walk to the site gate and a man takes my ticket off me, which is about 20 seconds after I’ve been given it by the man in the paying booth. I’m in, and all excited. There are two outdoor sections to the show which is mostly what I would call auto-jumble, but you can buy bikes and cars as well. The first stall I come to has an array of vintage mopeds and thousands of spares, and it’s busy. You could/can have a moped at 14 in Switzerland, so everyone has a story about them and restoring the little buzzing bikes is good, cheap fun.That is unless you tune the 50cc engine to do what is was never intended to do, which is to go fast. There is a great condition Honda CBX strapped to a trailer and waiting for someone to show a real interest in buying it before it is released from its tie down straps.
I do a quick circuit of the first outside area and then go inside the big building to the ‘indoor auto-jumble’ area. This is my favourite place. You can buy a gasket set for a 1911 Condor motorcycle or a complete racing MV Augusta, and everything in between. There are about 10 aisles, which are about 50 metres long and full of stalls. Switzerland is amazing for seeing stuff that either I’ve never seen before or only ever seen in a photo. Because it is geographically central and has big moto and car building countries around it, there is THE most amazing stuff here. In addition, fashions haven’t changed fast and the Swiss look after their stuff as well. Most motos have never seen a winter due to the snow either. I do like people watching, and this place is unusual in that it isn’t easy to spot people stereotypes, which makes it all the more interesting. Certainly there are the Harley guys and girls, but apart from that, it is hard to identify those that know the inside of every Vespa ever made, to those that have a collection of MV Augustas in their ‘shed’. The other big attraction is the specials that are built by the Swiss, and engineered to the level that you would expect of a premium watch. My eye was immediately caught by an amazing Ducati 900SS, which had a modern touch to an unmolested classic shape. I didn’t even ask about the price of that one.
There are bike brands I’ve never heard of before like Pannonia for example. An engine with its name, Moser, cast into the valve cover. There is an array of Italian bikes from makers like Motobi, Rex, Gilera, Benelli, Moto Guzzi and Laverda.
There are stalls just selling bikes and then there are the specialists that have things like a factory racing swinging arm for a Laverda Jota. It’s hard to focus with the excitement of the place. Going early, and the fact that it is hot outside means that the crowds aren’t too bad. I make my first two purchases from adjacent stalls, so I have a feeling of conquest which settles me down a bit. This first indoor space is actually high above where the ice rink is, which is now an area mostly devoted to cars, but not exclusively. I lean over the balcony and peer over at the growing throng of activity going on amongst all of the shiny things. I breathe, and crack on down some more aisles. I spot a beautiful Motobi and stand there looking at it for some time. I look it over very carefully and it is in amazing condition. The proprietor of the stall has about 10 bikes for sale and well as some carbon cycling frames and wheels. Without being rude, the proprietor certainly didn’t look like he’d got his leg over a bicycle, let alone a carbon time trial bike so I don’t know what the connection was. Anyway, I’m hoping that he’s spotted me looking interested because at this stage, I would quite like him to come over and sell it to me, and it would fit in the van easily. He doesn’t even acknowledge my interest. This is (annoyingly) common in Switzerland. If you want to buy something in this situation, you make the first step. The logic is, if you don’t want to buy it, then somebody else will. It is weird logic and one that I still haven’t got used to even after 10 years living here, but hey, it’s not wrong, it’s just how they do it around here.
I move to the next section where there are more stalls selling model cars to an area where someone has put his/her collection of F1 cars for all to gaze at. There is also an amazing vintage Mercedes racer on the back of its original transport truck. I run my hand along the wings of the Mercedes to really grasp the beauty of the aluminium body. It didn’t say ‘do not touch’ so all good. I take the escalator downstairs to the exhibition area and am hit in the face by the smell of Gruyere cheese fondue. I must admit, it isn’t my favourite smell or food, but the locals are tucking into it with wine, beer and a local drink called Rivella. It is 10.30am.
I walk into the main exhibition area and am greeted by a stand full of very familiar bikes. Not only are they British bikes, and completely oil tight, but they’re bikes that I have a passion for. Greeves and CCM. To this day, I still haven’t heard anything like CCM works rider Bob Wright thundering up the massive hill at Hawkstone Park on his 620 CCM, and here was a CCM looking like it had just left the factory. Next to it was an equally perfect Greeves Hawkstone scrambler, and with a very short, open exhaust pipe. I take some photos and am greeted by the owner. He is 80 years old and his name is Ernst Hausler, from Zurich. He and his father were the first importers of Greeves and CCM in Switzerland back in the late 1950s. He told me that the Greeves I was looking at was bought new, direct from the factory and towed all the way back to Switzerland behind a Velocette. his father didn’t own a van or car in those days apparently, so they set off together on the Velocette and then shared riding and towing duties all the way back to Zurich, which is about 1500 kilometres. Ernst had pictures of all of the top British riders from the 50s and 60s on his stand, because he knew them all. After 10 minutes of listening to Ernst’ tales, I said goodbye and continued on my way to the vintage cycling section, which is another subject close to my heart, but not for this post. After the cycling section, I walked into Laverda-land, which was mostly the colour orange. Amazing bikes and in amazing, as new condition. Laverda-land was next to MV Augusta-land, which was mostly red in colour, as you would imagine. The exhibitors were well set up for the weekend with mandatory Nespresso coffee machines, wines, cheeses and cold meats. This exhibition area also had rally cars, old tractors, model Cable cars (it is Switzerland after all) and even more motorcycles.
I enter the next hall, the one that I took a photo of earlier and wandered around the areas promoting products like Swisswax car polish to Ferrari engine building. After a few minutes looking at vintage spark plug cleaning machines, old oil cans, enamel signs etc, I come across a familiar figure. My friend Stefan Stettler is standing in the middle of several rows of boxes of car parts and other stuff. We greet each other and talk briefly, and then I let him get on with selling stuff as it is busy. Stefan is the owner of THE most amazing vintage bicycle and cars parts garage in the world, and you can read about it here https://diaryofacyclingnobody.com/the-ultimate-aladdins-cave-of-bike-shops-is-in-switzerland/
I pass some Bugatti cars on a stand which appears to have a wide selection of tyres for ‘your vintage Bugatti’ racer or road car. I pass a stand with some rotary aero engines on the floor and all for sale. I pass a man building wooden wheel rims onto assorted hubs and wearing black plus-fours and red socks. There is a an old Porsche 356 that has just been found in a local barn and it is still covered in straw. There is an V12 tank engine for sale. There is a beautiful Benelli that I briefly coveted, and which would have gone in the van, but then moved on as I still hadn’t seen everything.
After two and half hours of intense, potential shopping, and watching everyone else eating and (mostly) drinking wine or beer, I joined the beer queue. I got my plastic glass full of local beer and made off for circuit number 2. I head off back to my favourite area and go back to the place where my potential Motobi purchase stood. It was still there, so I looked at it and then had a sit on it, beer and previous purchases in hands. It felt as good as it looked. The proprietor had by now, been joined by several other friends and they were all sitting at a well prepared table full of cold meats, cheese and boxes of wine. This meant that any potential buyer would have to crash the party. I sided with fate and said goodbye to the Motobi and moved on. I made my last purchase at a stall nearby and was a) pleased with the willingness of the proprietor to sell me something and b) it was a good price.
After 3 hours walking around and after 1 beer, I needed fresh air. However, in order to do this, I needed to get through the smoker’s haze in the outside auto-jumble. Just before I walk out into the bright light, I notice an immaculate Kawasaki Z1000 LTD (the one with the high bars). It had only done 25000 kilometres since 1980 and was in amazing condition and actually, at CHF6k, wasn’t a bad price as it had its usual full service history, spares, manuals etc etc. It would not fit in the van, so it didn’t meet the ‘buy it now’ criteria. Next to the Kawasaki was a row of vintage bikes which included some pretty old Guzzis, and which I hadn’t seen before.
I don sunglasses, take a deep breath and head out into the bright sunshine, which was doing its best to break through the smoker’s fog. The place was now packed with people and it was also lunchtime, so as in every Swiss lunchtime, all buying and selling stops for food, drink and chat. I exit the gate and head across the road to where there is a free exhibition of vintage cars, vans and trucks. It is basically a big area filled with mint condition cars that their owners drove to the event. In recognition of them being happy for others to see their vehicles, the event organisers give them a free parking space with all of the other cool cars, and which then becomes an open air museum. Good idea huh! I walk around and marvel at all of the different shaped cars and from different countries. It is amazing how every country can make a vehicle which does largely the same thing i.e. move people around, but does it differently and with very different outcomes, which is why you buy anything from a Lotus Europa to a 23 window VW bus.
By now, I’m hungry, well over dressed for the weather and need to head home, so I start walking back to the van. Jumping in the sun-heated van, I get the air-con’ switched on (it’s March remember) and drive off out to the main highway. Whilst driving out of Fribourg, I decide to call in at the local Ducati dealership to have a look around. They have everything Ducati from the original scrambler to a MotoGP bike, as well as the usual current stock of new and used bikes. I buy an amazing red and black bike jacket from the Ducati boutique, and which looks great with the amazing scarf my wife has just knitted for me. I took about 100 pictures and I wasn’t the only one, so I estimate that over the weekend, about eleventy million (that’s a very big number) photos must have been snapped. Nearly the same amount of wine bottles will have been recycled as well. Anyway, unlike the song I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there wasn’t the appearance of a streaker. However, I did buy 4 things at the show plus a bike jacket, and had an amazing time. I can’t wait for next year!
All photos by the author except the last one, which is courtesy of the author’s wife, who wanted a picture of the new scarf she’d just finished knitting.