Meeting a True Petrolhead Legend
They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. I’m sure there’s some truth in that statement, but when I was invited to join a small group to visit Giacomo Agostini at his home in Italy, it took me less than a split nanosecond to weigh up the pros and cons before deciding, yes!
My Petrolhead credentials mean I love motorcycles as much as cars, especially when they’re racing. In the world of racing motorcycles, Agostini – ‘Ago’ – has no equal. He holds 15 World Championship titles, 18 Italian Championships and 122 grand prix victories. No one has yet got anywhere near that tally. Even Valentino Rossi, currently his nearest ‘rival’, has only 89 GP victories to his name… although at age 41 he’s about to start another season hoping to reduce that gap!
Receiving the invitation to meet the man himself, see his everyday garage and then see his private museum, came about through a long term relationship with Pole Position Travel, specialists in MotoGP and other bike racing holidays. I hasten to add, I’m a customer of theirs and so this is not an advert!
Our group of 12 stayed for the weekend at the sumptuous B&B ‘Villa Vittoria‘ in Bergamo which just happens to be run by Ago’s daughter, Vittoria. A couple of mini buses whisked us the short distance to the great man’s home where he welcomed us firstly with a tour of his garage. It contains a few glorious bikes that he uses regularly, mostly MV Agustas, with whom he won 13 world titles. There was also a good selection of helmets, leathers, etc. that were mere teasers for what was to come.
Ago welcomes us to his ‘everyday’ garage… that just happens to be full of motorcycling treasures!
The main event was his stunning private museum a short walk away and built into the side of a hill like a Bond villain’s lair.
Inside is a brilliantly designed space that evokes a track and podium, but filled with motorcycle racing treasures. I was reminded of Howard Carter’s famous quote when he was asked what he saw on finally entering Tutankhamun’s tomb… “wonderful things”!
Trophies, medals, certificates, helmets, bikes, leathers, gloves, every one with its own story to tell.
Ago regaled us with many of those stories whilst serving us his own branded bubbly in his branded flutes. It seemed a bit surreal.
He led us to his private museum that includes his first helmet and winning bike, a Moto Morini 175.
Perhaps adding to the surrealism was the genuinely warm and welcoming nature of the man himself and of his gorgeous wife, Maria. They could not have been more relaxed or accommodating.
He almost flitted between the artefacts as another story sprung to mind. This was no scripted or timed visit. It felt like a bunch of mates had popped round for a cosy reminiscence.
Giacomo shares another amusing anecdote with the author.
One of the amazing themes that runs through the display is how rider safety changed during his career. His cork ‘pudding basin’ helmets share space with one used to good effect a the Goodwood Revival recently. His leathers, plain black in the 1950’s, weighed only 1 kg. His more recent sets are 8 times as heavy, thanks to improved collision and friction padding. His earliest set of gloves are almost kid-like, albeit with his own invented palm protection after feeling the effects of sliding along tarmac with palms down in his early career!
He also showed us his ‘computer’: a series of notebooks that outlined his strategy and result (usually a win!) for each circuit.
Ago shows us his ‘computer’ and his hospitality!
Sadly, all good things come to an end and so, 2 hours after we arrived, it was time to leave. I could have stayed all night just to inspect every single trophy… and then return the next day to read his certificates!
However, our evening didn’t end there. Signor Agostini then hosted us for dinner at a local restaurant serving traditional Bergamo cuisine, again sharing his time and company generously. He left only when we all did, despite having an appointment with the ski slopes requiring a 3 hour drive as the rest of us returned to Villa Vittoria for a night cap and happy reflections on a stunning evening.
The moral of the story is that if you get a chance to meet your heroes, ignore the doomsayers of the past. You might just to get to find they’re even more of a hero than you thought beforehand.
I can guarantee that you won’t find a better hero in that context than Signor Giacomo Agostini… a true petrolhead legend!
By the time we left is had gone dark… time for dinner (and yet more autographs).