Métisse – The House of Motorcycling Alchemy
The bikes which shine on and off the Silver Screen
The warmth of welcome at the Oxfordshire based factory of Métisse is not unlike being invited into a family home.
The host, in this house of motorcycling alchemy, is Gerry Lisi – a friendly, honest gentleman with no airs and graces, deeply passionate about all he produces; an opera singer and a true artisan.
Gerry was born in Italy in 1949 and his parents left their native country when he was one. His father, Ferdinando, had been invited back to work at Mitchin Court Farm in Oxfordshire, where he had previously worked as a prisoner-of-war.
The farmer at Mitchin Court, Gordon Shepherd, rode scramblers at an expert level in the South Midland Centre and was a huge influence on the young Lisi. By the age of 16, Gerry was competing on an ex-Brian Curtis Matchless 500 Scrambler. He also dabbled with grass-track racing, including a period on a sidecar outfit. By the age of 19, Gerry moved onto cars and successfully raced a Mini in 1000cc Free Formula Club and was often the first Mini home.
A career change working as a rally sport mechanic at Hartford Motors in Oxford beckoned and Gerry was trained by Ford on the RS1600; he built himself an RS2000 and used it to tour Italy for six months. In 1983, Gerry took over the family thatching business, purchasing a 156-acre farm to grow large quantities of thatch straw material, but within 10 years health problems forced him to give up thatching. Gerry decided to diversify and the farm was converted into an 18-hole Golf course (also the current home of Métisse). The irony is that Gerry doesn’t play Golf!
In 1999, Gerry linked up with Pat French and MRD Métisse, forming Métisse Motorcycles Ltd. In April 2001, Pat sold his share of the business which Gerry purchased to become sole owner and so the modern era of Métisse was born.
Métisse have a wide range of bikes on offer, including the Hammer MK3, the stunning MK5 Café Racer and MK5 Street Scrambler. The MK5 is very much the Métisse factory bike, as it’s powered by their in-house designed and built air-cooled parallel V-twin 997cc engine.
One of their most famous builds, however, is the 650cc T6 Triumph powered Steve McQueen Métisse Desert Racer replica. Originally built for McQueen in November 1966 so he could go desert racing, it was designed to Steve’s own specifications (including battleship grey paint) so that both bike and rider could cope with long hours in the saddle, often in tropical temperatures, racing through the scrubby, sandy terrain of Southern California. It was apparently the “best handling bike” McQueen had ever owned.
Gerry notes that Métisse is attracting many more customers in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who appreciate the enduring appeal of Steve McQueen and desire to have a connection with the ‘king of cool’. Films like “The Great Escape” (1963) and “On Any Sunday” (1971) have added to McQueen’s biking aura. By owning an exact replica of Steve’s Desert Racer, approved by the McQueen family (Chad McQueen) and Steve’s biking friends such as Dave Ekins (brother of stuntman and Hollywood Triumph dealership owner – Bud), buyers have a direct connection with the movie icon. They also purchase a great future investment; the Desert Racer is a limited production run of 300, which Gerry mentions is now almost half way through including the current orders.
Asking Gerry about famous owners of his Métisse’s and mentioning Jason Statham, he replies “I’ve seen the photos of Jason, but have no idea who’s bike he’s on. It was not supplied by me (sold to Jason by me)…I have sold bikes to a variety of famous and important customers across the world though” even Prince William has tried a Métisse for size.
One of those important customers includes director Guy Ritchie who approached Gerry to supply bikes for his 2015 film “The Man from Uncle”. Gerry recalls that actor Armie Hammer visited the factory and the film crew were supplied with a number of MK3 Métisses, including mock ups, and also a modern Honda for the extreme high jumps. However, the Métisses proved to be so robust that the Honda was not used as much as expected. After filming Guy Ritchie kept one of the Métisses for his own personal use and it is highly likely that another stayed on Ritchie’s 1,200 acre Ashcombe House estate in Wiltshire.
Gerry mentions to me an exciting project on the boil at the moment at Métisse; in that Henry Cole (the TV presenter) and Dave Ekins are looking into possibly producing a Bud Ekins special (motorbike) to commemorate 10 years since his passing away on 6th October 2007 in LA, aged 77. If the project goes ahead we could see something at Motorcycle Live at the NEC, Birmingham in November 2017.
A final comment to finish – if you do decide to order a motorbike from Métisse, I can assure you that Gerry Lisi will proudly hand-build you something very special – that will not only stand the test of time, but will instantly become a treasured classic as soon as you ride it out of his factory.
With thanks to Gerry Lisi of Métisse – for more information on their range of bikes visit www.metisse-motorcycles.com
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