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Automoto lolly store delights

Classic Italian motorcycle specialist Automoto Classics Kettering, Northamptonshire, was stopped in its tracks when Covid lockdown hit in March 2020, writes Brian Crichton.

The previous year, Fabio Grandolfo had made six trips to Italy in a flatbed truck for stock. Almost 100% of his and partner Carla DiFazio’s classic Italian motorcycle inventory is sourced in Italy. Suddenly his home country was out of bounds. Who knew what lay ahead? They had to tread water while Covid panic spread.

And within a year another daunting major hurdle had to be faced when Brexit rules came into force, making trading in Europe a bureaucratic nightmare and pushing up all costs.

Thankfully a passion for Italian motorcycles, fluency in the Italian language, and familiarity with Italian customs (both types) and new ways of doing business have surmounted those hurdles.

Today Automoto, a niche bike business, is confident of better prospects and is now looking for bigger premises.

In April the business moved from lock-ups at long-established FEM Motors, run by Carla’s father Joe DiFazio, to a former lollipop store at Rossi’s Ice Creams in the Northamptonshire town.

Prospects look rosier because the market for lightweight classics is growing as the ageing classic bike generation looks to smaller bikes to manhandle, ride and work on.

The market is further bolstered by buyers who regard Italian lightweights as works of art, perfect for home display in conservatories and front rooms.

While Automoto can source most Italian classic bikes they presently specialise in the smaller machines.

“We now want to expand,” says Grandolfo (43). “Bigger premises with a coffee bar and café. I am impressed by the Bike Shed and would like to follow their lead.”

Passionate about Italian bikes, especially Ducati and MV, Grandolfo has access to ten Italian collections and dealer sources including Ruote Da Sogno, a leading Italian car and bike dealer with a reputed stock value of £200m.

“They have 340 bikes in stock at the moment,” says Grandolfo, who came to England ten years ago. “I buy from all over Italy, many of them private sales,” he adds reeling off a list of towns and cities including Rome, Milan and Naples. “And I’m looking forward to attending a major Italian auction in October,” he adds.

Italy may be a land of lightweight motorcycles but teasing them out isn’t as easy as you might think, says Fabio who initially trained as a hairdresser, doing bike mechanics part-time.

At the time of this interview, Automoto had 23 bikes in stock. The previous best was 40, and Automoto wants to bolster stock to this level as a minimum to be able to cope with seasonal surges.

Current stock (retail price range £2700-£13,000) throws up some obscure marque names including Rumi, BM, Malanca, Bianchi, Motobi, Milani, Maserati, Atala, and Mi-Val as well as the more familiar Gilera, MV, Laverda, Benelli, Fantic and Ducati.

Walking into the current unit – viewing by appointment until bigger premises can be located – is like walking into a sweetshop.

Adding to the flavour is the fact that when Signore Rossi pops his head round the corner the conversation instantly switches to Italian you find yourself drifting over the Alps and across the Dolomites. Just one Cornetto and an MV please.

Automoto imported some classic cars when the business started as Seagrave Classics in 2016, but now the concentration is on motorcycles and Ape three-wheelers, plus some Fiat 500s. Nearly 50 Fiats have been sold so far. All the Italian delights on two, three and four wheels!

The business has a working relationship with a chroming plant in Italy, plus a workshop for repairs and restoration. One current project is to restore a 125 Ferrari two-stroke from an absolute wreck. Two-wheel Ferraris have nothing to do with the cars, by the way. Maserati, however, does; Maserati motorcycles was run by members of the Maserati family. Not a lot of people know that.

Automoto, currently an online business, may have a long way to go before it’s on Dolce Vita Street, but it’s doing its best to spread the word on Italian cameo art on wheels and has built a client base in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and America as well as the UK and Ireland.
Automoto Classics Ltd
01536 235798
www.automotoclassics.co.uk

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