Peter Calles's Magnificent Obsession

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks

As a nationally and internationally recognized collector, former amateur racer, and daily motorcycle commuter, Peter Calles is living his dream. A total of 17 exotic Italian models and other vintage machines are on display throughout Peter's house, located in suburban Washington, DC, and another 10 timeless rides occupy the garage, turning his residence into a veritable museum.

First Bike
The American Heritage Dictionary defines obsession as a "compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea." Peter Calles's fixed idea involves motorcycles and his obsession with them began at an early age. While still in high school, Peter became enthralled with the beauty, sound, and styling of motorcycles. While other boys his age obsessed over Corvettes and muscle cars, Peter preferred the simplicity and uniqueness of what some have called the "perfect vehicle."

"In those days," Peter says, "new riders often started out on small, inexpensive Japanese bikes," but his heart was set on the larger more expensive Triumph Bonneville T-120R. There was just this one problem, though. His Greek immigrant parents wanted nothing to do with motorcycles and wouldn't allow their son to own one. Peter's passion had already taken root, however, and it wouldn't be denied; so he convinced his older brother to become the owner of record for the new, 1968 Bonnie of his dreams. With this sleight of hand, Peter began his motorcycling saga in 1969. That first motorcycle is still in immaculate condition, still in his brother's name, and on display in Peter's kitchen today.

Over the years the immutable law of expansion took over: Peter's fascination with, and ownership of, motorcycles continued to grow. One bike became two, two became three and so on. After marrying and beginning work, Peter found a practical application for his fervor, by commuting to work on a bike. "Back then," he recalls, "we had only one car, which my wife drove, and I commuted on the bike pretty much year round, except when it snowed."

Change Happens
Then came 1986, a year of major upheaval in Peter's life, but also a time when his fixation entered an entirely new phase. "When my wife moved out of the house that year, the bikes began moving in," he says, "including a vintage Ducati single in my bedroom." To help raise his flagging spirits, Peter also initiated his amateur motorcycle racing career. In his first race, at Summit Point raceway in West Virginia, Peter managed a third-place finish - not a bad beginning. And after two years of racing in the novice class, he advanced to "expert" where the competition was faster and more ferocious.

Over twelve years at the track, Peter raced in the super twin and formula twin classes of AMA's Championship Cup and ProAm series. His only serious injury occurred at Daytona, when he low-sided on a dogleg and landed in the hospital. While his Ducati race bike suffered only minor damage, Peter wasn't as lucky. His get-off at over 100 mph resulted in a number of broken bones

The Collection Grows
In 1998 Peter felt he didn't have anything else to prove at the track, and so he began focusing his full attention on motorcycle collecting. With a strong preference for Italian bikes, he built an impressive collection of Ducatis and MV Agustas, with a few classic British bikes, a rare Harley, and a 305cc Honda Superhawk thrown in for good measure.

"I love the sound and design of Italian motorcycles, particularly the Ducati twins. They may not have been as technically advanced, at any point in history, as the Hondas, but the swoops and curves of the Italian machines are seductively sexy." And, as he also notes, "The 1970s vintage bevel-drive Ducatis, with Conti mufflers, make such beautiful mechanical music that they are highly prized by collectors." Of course, he has several of these in his collection - one of which is on display in the dining room.

After running out of garage space for his burgeoning collection, Peter decided, quite logically it seems to me, to drain the fluids and remove the batteries from his most prized collectibles and display these rare beauties inside the house. Walking around, I notice every room holds at least one motorcycle, and each appears to have just rolled off the factory floor. The 1985 750 F1A Ducati in the den, though, is very special: not only is it quite rare, it has zero miles on the clock. I learn that Peter bought it new from a dealer in the early eighties, before most U.S. riders became aware of the Ducati brand. This bike, in fact, has never even been started. When asked why, he simply admits that was his choice. "The next owner can decide whether he or she wants to start the bike and ride it."

Peter's motorcycle museum home also exhibits an extensive collection of 1960s black-and-white racing photography and beautiful vintage posters, most of which were acquired over the Internet. Gleaming in the china cabinet are polished aluminum motorcycle parts, and vintage motorcycle helmets are lined up on the dining room hutch. There isn't even a table for dining on in the room, and Peter laughingly says that when people first have a look inside his home he usually hears, "Oh, you're not married are you." More often a statement than a question.

Being a lifelong Honda guy, I'm pleased to learn that Peter's favorite motorcycle of all time is not a Ducati, but the Honda 250cc, six-cylinder race bike of the 1960s. A few years back, he witnessed legendary racer Jim Redman ride one of the few still in existence around the Daytona track for several laps. The sound emitted by the 250cc engine, with its six megaphone exhausts thrusting out the rear, was ear-splitting, but also, as he put it, "an out-of-this-world mechanical symphony" that reached a crescendo as the engine neared redline. He said people in the pits laid down their tools and walked toward the track like zombies, transfixed by the sight and sound of this magnificent machine.

After hearing about the Honda six-cylinder race bike, I wasn't surprised to learn that his favorite motorcycle legend of all time was Mike "The Bike" Hailwood, who raced that Honda to fame and glory in the 1960s. And I couldn't help but notice that we both have the same poster-sized photograph of Mike "The Bike" racing the legendary Honda 250-six.

Peter is quick to point out, though, that Mike Hailwood did ride a Ducati to victory at the Isle of Man TT, when he returned to motorcycle racing after a 10-year retirement: one of the greatest comebacks of all time and a glorious moment in motor sports history. And it's no surprise that Peter owns one of the approximately 200 Mike Hailwood replica bikes Ducati produced to commemorate the event. Let's see, if I recall correctly, that one is resting comfortably in the kitchen so that Peter can feast his eyes on it in the morning while having his oatmeal.

What the Future May Bring
Counting an inventory of 27 motorcycles here, plus the 500cc Kawasaki at the family home in Greece, I ask Peter which other classic bikes he covets for his collection. He reels off a list of several bikes from other Italian marques, but also observes philosophically that, "I, more often than not, let collectible motorcycles come to me, and they usually do when I least expect it." Instantly embracing this notion of motorcycle karma, I secretly hope that someday a sexy, vintage Ducati twin, bevel drive with Conti mufflers will somehow come to me.

And even though his house and garage are almost bursting at the seams with motorcycles and regalia, Peter isn't at all worried about finding space for any of the other the goodies that may come his way. "Oh, that's no problem. I'll just get rid of some more of the furniture," he says.