Monday, 21 December 2009

Nothing like the real thing

Now this hound appeared on eBay, and despite a lot of scepticism made $16,300 - just over ten grand in sterling - probably to someone who's going to ship it abroad with all the taxes and costs that involves. For a tatty 175cc Ducati. Are they mad?

Oh no - this is an F3, basically a hand built 175cc Gran Sport with goodies like sand cast crankcases, Amadoro brakes and straight cut bevel gears. Made for racing F3s shared little with the road bikes - different frames, tinware, the lot. Probably less than 100 were made between 1959 and '62, making them ultra rare and Giro eligible.

This one will probably be restored to some numpties shiny vision of what it might have looked like new, but we kind of like the race-dog look, with the scars of races won and practice get-offs. After all, if you just want something that looks like new, we know where you can get one, complete with a 250's 5 speed gearbox...

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sammy Miller's is possibly the best bike museum in the world (and certainly the best in the UK) and we're confirming the dates for the 2010 Italian Extravaganze. This'll be the third time Benzina's helped the irrepressible Gary J organise this - we had 1,300 guests last year, proof we mean to make this the Number 1 event for UK Italian bike nuts.

Saturday 24th July; invite only afternoon/early evening do - we're working on a Giro (circular ride out) from the Museum, and on return a light Italian meal followed by a guided tour of the museum's Italian bikes by Sammy himself. Probably twenty quid a head - email if you want an invite, because numbers'll have to be limited.

Sunday 25th - the old Italians in action; hear the Gilera 500/4, the Guzzi Dondolino, bevel Ducatis and much more, with exhausts from a time before decibels were invented. You'll be saying "Pardon?" to people for days afterward, but it'll be worth it. Pizza, barbeque, prizes and more. Just a fiver gets you in. Full schedule when we've thought about it some more

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


MOTO GUZZI V7 SPORT - 1971 2, originally uploaded by BigBlockAgency.
Now this is a thing of rare beauty - the Telaio Rosso (red frame) 750 Sport was the finest sports bike of the very early 70's, and only some 200 were made. What a fab pic, courtesy of  Francis Dreer - an ace lensman and journalist. See his blog at


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Winter daily drivers

Come the dark evenings, come the morning frosts. Friday I saw the first game of car skittles this winter, with a bright yellow Punto parked on its roof. All the stickers, dustbin exhaust, hairgelled owner standing in the road on his phone. He'll learn, we all do.

So what to do, to preserve your pride and joy for another spring? TB friend and Ferrari nut Neil W used to borrow his other half's Golf, but realised that's no way to carry on. Now Neil's not your typically Fezzer nerd -his 355 Spiders a tasteful deep blue, and I've never seen him in Ferrari branded clobber. So I expected him to buy something like TB's Fiat 500 or maybe a Mito as a daily driver, especially on a budget of under £10k.

Hooo no - he's bought an Alfa 156 GTA, with flappy paddle gearbox. 250 bhp through the front wheels in a car that weighs less than some diesel hatchbacks. Good man - but Neil, please keep an eye on the outside temperature

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Original and best?

Every biker in the UK must know about the Motogiro d'Italia, and the magazines seem to give its modern reinvention fair coverage - quite right too, and many TB members have enjoyed pretending to be Giuliano Maoggi, Emilio Mendogni or Leopoldo Tartarini. Next year's event'll be the 10th anniversary of the recreation. You should go.

Go Motogiro!

But no one in the UK seems to know about the original of these Gran Fondo races, the Milano Taranto. Unlike the Motogiro bikes weren't limited to 175cc - you needed something like a Guzzi 500 Dondolino to win. And they raced at night, in the days when there were no streetlights - or indeed what modern riders would call headlights. Heroic, and the modern Milano Taranto today still starts at midnight. There never seem to be any English entrants, presumably because we're sensible enough to know that starting a bike race just as the Vino Rosso and pasta's finished would be madness. Hmmm, wonder if Sammy Miller would lend us his Dondolino?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Retiring to France

There are Team Benzina conscripts who don't get the old motorbike thing, let alone Ducatis - they just refer to our healthy interest in motorised Italiana as The Disease. Well, there's bad news for them because The Disease seems to have spread to France.

Good friend and Giro Le Mans rider Pierre D lives  just outside Paris and loves Ducatis. He's got a blue and silver 1977 900SS, which he bought for restoration but still doesn't seem to have started. I'm sure there's an MV tiddler waiting to do a Giro. Bet there's other stuff too. So what's Pierre done to kick start work? Bought a 350 Desmo to restore. Fabulously original, probably just needs a can of WD40 and some Solvo to get back on the road. Or, as he says, he's going to have to retire if these bikes are ever going to get finished. Ah. C'est la bonne vie pour moi..

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Cook Neilson (and Phil Schilling) legend

Us Europeans know the Ducati bevel twin legend was forged in the heat of two battles - Paul Smart at Imola in '72, and Mike Hailwood at the IOM in '78. What some forget is that the stool this legend sits upon has a third leg - Cook Neilson's win at Daytona in 1977.

Cook and Phil Schilling ran Cycle, the largest  and (in TB's opinion) at the time finest bike mag on the planet. Somehow they found the time to buy, race and develop a Ducati 750SS - aka the Californian Hot Rod. And by tune we don't mean bolt aftermarket bits on - Harley valves were made to fit, bespoke gearboxes were made and many dyno runs were done.

Finally they beat allcomers in the Daytona Superbikes race in March '77, against the Yoshi Kawasakis of Dave Emde and Wes Cooley, pushing Reg Pridmore's Beemer and Mike Baldwin's Guzzi down to 4th and 5th. In other words a couple of amateurs beat a bunch of pros on big money rides.

Smarty and SMBH's achievements stand as magnificent, but they were hired guns on racebikes prepped and primped by pro tuners. Neilson and Schilling were journalists living a dream, and managed their win with a mix of grease and ink under their fingernails. That's a hell of an achievement, and because all this got reported to the largest motorcycle market in the world, perhaps commercially more valuable to Ducati than the Imola or TT wins.

Thanks to Vicki Smith of for the picture

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Bike photography

Why do all bike pics seem to feature someone trying to look like Rossi on a hot lap? Is it just us, or do they look like right dorks? A racer at his craft is a beautiful thing to behold, but the rest of us need to learn our place.

Benzina is lucky enough to count a pro bike snapper on the team and his view is that's what editors think people want. Which is frankly bollox - if you're a good enough rider, lets see you racing; otherwise we'd like to see the bike, thank you very much.

And surely the master of this art was the late Bob Carlos Clarke. Moody shots that made you lust after the bike even more, and hand tinted by a guy who changed the way we look at bikes.

We're such fans of the classic Le Mans shot we're going to try and reshoot it for a new generation. Can't wait.

With thanks to the Estate for permission to use the pics

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Sheene to race Ducati 750SS at Imola

It never came to pass (obviously), but Barry Sheene was down to race a Ducati 750SS at the '72 Imola 200 Miglia. This was the race that his brother in law Paul Smart won, setting Ducati on the path of big-bike racing success that's been a part of their DNA ever since.

This comes from Livio Lodi, currator of the Ducati museum. It seems Sheeney was approached, and in those lawyer free days the printers were told to include his name on the programme. In truth he decided he'd be more likely to win on a Trident, presumably in a Rob North frame, but  Triumph's cash tin was bare and Barry was a no-show.

Ducati was also chasing Pasolini and Saarinen, but like Sheene they probably doubted the Ducati would be competitive. So Smart and Spaggiari made the history books, and ever since then Ducati have been able to cherry pick their riders. Long may it continue

(And thanks Christian for the excellent pic)

Monday, 23 November 2009

Shiny side up? No thank you

Extreme classic bike ownership is rare, but it’s out there. Immaculate bikes restored with impossible-to-get parts to a standard the factory could never have imagined. These baubles hang around heated garages, waiting for the next chance to add to the prizes on their owner’s mantelpiece.

Don't get it, never will. In a parallel world Team Benzina advise on historic building preservation - not restoration, note, but preservation. Keeping things as close to the way they were made, marked only by the story of their history, not "improved" to some arbitary standard.

Put it this way; if you were given Hailwood's '78 TT Ducati, would you want to see the scuff marks where the great man wrestled the SS over the mountain, or would you repaint the fibreglass to look all shiny and new?

If you want a bike that gleams, go buy a new one. And leave the ones that tell a story alone.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Whatever happened to bike magazines?

Team Benzina inadvertadley congregated in our local newsagent, but decided that the motorcycle magazine is dead. Flick through the stuff on offer, and walk out without buying anything. What's a chap to read on the khazi?

Bike magazine was the bible in the 70's. Wild Bill Haylock (where is the great man these days?), erudite Peter Watson and Ducatophile Mike Nicks served up with a healthy dose of Mark Williams. Bike nuts arsing about and telling the story. These days Bike doesn't seem to stand for anything other than a handful of egos, and lets down the writers and snappers with messy layouts and tracing paper thin stock. Shame.

And although Classic Bike might be the new Bike, I don't get the old Jap roadtests. We've all ridden this stuff, and learnt the hard way that wrestling 130mph Bull Elefants always ends badly - like flirting with other bloke's girls, it seems like fun 'till you get caught out. Surely a testing a bike more than a few years old tells you more about past owners than the bike itself.

But then there was Sideburn, a bike nut's bike mag. It's about flat track racing, except it's not. It's about bike mad folk telling their story. The bike magazine is dead; long live the bike magazine

Sideburn mag - mad as a monkey's hairdo

Friday, 13 November 2009

Styling it up

A classy old Italian bike is a beautiful thing, but can you get the riding kit that puts the cherry on the cake? Davida have the helmet sussed, and dear old Arai do some full- faces that don't look too out of place. But gloves and boots? They always seem to look like they were either designed for Stormtroopers or gardening. You only have to look at the prices paid for old Lewis Leather's boots to realise Team Benzina are not alone in this sartorial quandary, but Lewis Leather's stuff doesn't do it for us; worn by too many motorcycle cops as they wagged fingers at us way back when.
Anyway, as Italophiles what we want is retro Sidi boots. Good enough for Hailwood at the TT, and King Kenny when he was still racing Stateside in short trousers. So TB go to Sidi in Italy, and courtesy of Google Translate ask what chance of retro-repros as part of their 50th birthday celebrations? After all, Spidi made replicas of the gloves worn by Lawson&Co on their 30th anniversary.

Not a chance, say Sidi. Which is a shame

King Kenny pics from the very wonderful Sideburn magazine

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

128mph Royal Enfields and pig farmers

I know it's about as Italian as Dolmio sauce, but I've been chatting with Richard Stevens, the old time racer and our local bike dealer. Richard was the development rider for Enfield's Interceptor, based at the Bradford on Avon workshop, which was actually an old mine RE moved into for WWII but somehow never left. Last summer Richard bumped into a Canadian who was fed up with his Interceptor, so a deal was struck, Richard repatriated and restored it, then stuck it in his shop window. He's a quiet but fascinating chap I met in the 70's when he raced my old Yoshi 460.

When RE folded Richard was working on an 800 Interceptor he wound up to 128mph at MIRA, alongside a dumbstruck Percy Tait testing a Trident. ("Percy Tait was like a farmer - well he was a farmer"- thank you Richard, another childhood hero brought down to size)

Richard raced and won on the Interceptor - MCN made much of this with a front page splash showing "Cal Rayburn trying out the new racer" Turns out he was riding round Heston Services carpark. Richard had brought the bike up in a van, and even had to lend the mighty Rayburn his riding kit

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Paso lust

Something very strange is happening. I'm getting stirings again, this time for the Ducati Paso. A 750, the one everyone's rude about, but that was my first Ducati and one of many firsts for Ducati themselves. The first Ducati designed by Tamburini, who'd go on to pen the 916. First with proper, bespoke detailing - just look at the footrests. And the first to recognise the factory couldn't live in a world of GPZ900R's and VFR's by just offering bare-bones street racers. This is my long-gone example, circa 1990. I've still got the leathers, and yes - they still fit; thank you for your concern.

The press loved the Paso, but it still bombed. Far too expensive, and with the Japanese rolling out 150mph rocketships for tuppence ha'penny 127mph was far too slow. So Ducati made hardly any, which would make you expect them to be sought out by collectors and Ducatisti whose advancing years and dodgy backs mean 916's are a think of the past. But nothing could be further from the truth, and a serviceable Paso can be yours for the price of a secondhand 125. People will tell you they're not real Ducatis, that they're ugly and that you can't get the oddly sized tyres. But they're wrong, and I want one. I just can't decide if it's to be another red one (ideally an early model, with the Ohlins shock) or the America-only Limited in shiny white. Bling-bling; ah, hopefully that's the 'phone....

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Bianchi 'bikes are a fine thing - with or without an engine

The gym's too dull, running kills your knees, and riding motorcycles doesn't get rid of pizza-pounds. Cycling's the answer, and a chance to relish yet more fine Italian machinery. My choice is a Bianchi 120th Anniversary special, customised with Brooks saddle and bar tape. The metallic grey paint is a change from the traditional Celeste racing blue-green, and doesn't shout "race me, race me" when I'm just pottering around the Pewsey Vale.

Edoardo Bianchi started making bicycles in 1885, adding motorcycles to his range 12 years later. Innovations and first-seen-on stuff peppered both ranges, and although it's the bicycles that are famous today, give up some time to remember the motorcycles.

Tazio Nuvolari rode Bianchis to GP wins, and there were also victories in the Motogiro and Milano- Taranto. Lino Tonti designed Bianchis, Bob McIntyre took a second place in the Dutch TT on one, and worlds speed records were set. So what went wrong?

The usual Italian thing. Every penny went on racers and lightweight road bikes. By the mid 1960's buyers wanted big, fast road bikes and Bianchi's cupboard was bare. RIP.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Never a lender be - not even to Eric Clapton.

Not a huge car fan, but the Ferrari club picnic at Wilton House was excellent - they even had one of Eric Clapton's old cars was there - the 365 he refers to in "Wonderful tonight".

"It's time to go home now and I've got an aching head, so I give her the car keys and she helps me to bed." She was Patti Smith (he bought her a 308 - and the plate Patt1 308, an AA man told me - more later)

Clapton sold the 365 after blowing it up in Spain, and told the new owner the story. Had the Ferrari flown home to be fixed first, mind - now that's what I call minted.

Also on show was an Enzo, Daytonas, a lovely little Lusso and a blue Dino. Plus a sea of modern stuff in watch-your-residual red. And if, like my boy, you're no Red Car fan there was a Lambo, AM V8, Mazzer Q-Porte. Oh, and a Veyron..

But, but ,but had to call the AA on the way home. And as the excellent Lotus-loving patrolman told me, problems with Ferraris always start with the explanation "It was fine until I lent it to.."

With me this was the comedians at Practical Classics rag. Just for static shots at Santa Pod, they said. Fine, I said being a fan and contributor of neighbouring Classic Bike. But family obligations meant I had to pull out at the last minute, and feeling guilty let them come and get my very own Fezzer. Idiot.

So I find the "static shots" involve driving round in circles, until centrifugal force does it's bit, the breather fills with oil, and crankcase pressure dumps 20/50 all over the V8. Including the very tucked away alternator/water pump belt.

So sitting with the AA bod in glorious sunshine, we get the back wheel out, then the splash guard, and tug out the burnt remains of the belt. But does he have a suitable replacement? Nope. So it all goes back together and I wait for a recovery lorry.

So thanks, Practical Classics. I'll send you the bill and you still owe me 5 hours of my life. And I'm never lending anyone anything ever again.

See the pics at Or wait until next months Practical Classic's is out and see the 308 racing a, um, Mini...

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Crappage scrappage

So it's all over - HM government's feeble attempt to rescue our car industry while saving the planet boosted the sales of Korean wheels beyond their wildest dreams, while destroying perfectly good bargain-basement transport and forcing Aston Martin to doll up a dull, dull, dull Toyota iQ.
Now consider Exhibit A above - a mid '70s Honda 500T that managed to be slower, infinitely less cool, and even more unreliable than the CB450 it replaced. Yet here it is on Sidmouth seafront 35 years later, providing some drop-out with his everyday ride.

Compare that with the outrageous-but-true story of a Newbury car dealer who scrapped a 10 year old 23,000 mile Yaris just because elderly polish-it-every-Sunday fancied a new 'un under the scrapage scheme. And these cars really are scrapped - as in "hello crusher" - an idea presumably dreamt by an unemployed IRA negotiator determined these wheels go to the out of reach world where he had to leave his AK-47s. So no breaking 'em for spares, which'll mean more cars become uneconomic to repair,and get scrapped. Car Industry must be laughing crocodile tears at us poor saps. Not that it's cost the taxpayer owt, I hope - after all, there's still 15% VAT on new cars which amounts to pretty much each Government contributed £1,000 pot to take the piss in.

And the next Eco-wheeze? All manufactures to have a maximum average CO2 emission across the range. Manufacturer's of tiny hatchbacks like Fiat can't believe their luck, so run out and buy eco-horrors Chrysler to celebrate. And Aston Martin re brand Toyota's eco-cred laden iQ, ostensibly to give Vanquish owners a city car; the fact that this wheeze almost halves AM's average CO2 emissions apparently hasn't crossed their chairman's Teutonic little mind...

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Time for Tee

Unless there’s a wedding, job interview or bank manager to get to, chances are a tee shirt is the default setting for most bloke’s wardrobe. Pull on the tee, dither between cargos or jeans, and us chaps are good to go. But it wasn’t always like this. Invented (as are most good things) by us plucky Brits, what we think of as a tee shirt first appeared in Victorian England as underwear. Always white and hidden from view it was called a vest or undervest, and that’s probably how things would have stayed without two World Wars. So the Germans probably think they invented it.

When the Americans were persuaded to come and win World War I for us hopeless Limeys it wasn’t just our Sopwith Camels they admired. Our nice cotton tees were far more comfy under scratchy wool uniforms than Uncle Sam’s knitted woollen vest, so when GI Joe went home he took our cotton tees with him, although to this day an American will call a white cotton tee worn underneath his shirt a vest.

Sometime between the wars the American military started using the term “tee shirt”. Some say the cut off sleeves led to it being nicknamed amputee, quickly, er, cut short to “tee”. More plausible is that when the tee was adopted as the US Army and Navy training shirt abbreviation loving servicemen labelled it the t-shirt.

So when the Germans got feisty again in 1939 the Americans repeated their trick of turning up fashionably late and overdressed. By now the British Tommy had moved on to what we’d call a vest and dodgy looking gym fiends call a singlet, but our transatlantic cousins were still using the tee as a vest. This was considered very much gentleman’s underwear and to be hidden from a swooning damsel’s sight at all times.

Except Pathe News had other ideas. Noble war heroes were shown in cinemas, stripped to what the wide eyed world considered their underwear, fighting the good fight and defending our freedom. Today there’s nothing at all strange about a soldier fighting in boots, trousers and tee shirt (although we’d expect a Flack Jacket and Oakley shades as well) but in the 1940’s this was groundbreaking. No wonder the Yanks were so good at pulling womenfolk who’d been treated by the local Odeon to the sight of strong young Americans stripped to their undies. Now you know where Arnie and Stallone got their ideas.

So by the time American GI’s returned to peacetime America turning up in a plain white tee and jeans might still have been outrageous but was now just about acceptable, especially if you really were returning from war. Add a leather jacket and the world was suddenly full of wannabe Marlon Brandos and Jimmy Deans.

And as so often happens what was once outrageous was picked up by the Establishment and churned out for a profit. The first printed tee shirt was produced for an American politician’s election campaign in 1948, and within a few years a Miami based business was selling printed tees commercially. From there it’s just a short ride to everything from the designer branded organic high ticket number, all the way down to the guy selling unlicensed logo tees printed in his garage.

So maybe, just maybe, our modern tee is an American invention. But they probably thought that already. But the best are definitley Benzinas -

Monday, 3 August 2009

The Motogiro was a thousand mile road race that was banned along with all contemporaries in 1957 when the equivalent race for cars, the Mille Miglia, launched the incandescent mix of an Italian Playboy and his Ferrari into a crowd of spectators killing 11 people. So these days the Motogiro “race” involves chasing down checkpoints and time trials.

But the original must have been unbelievable. The 'bikes were a maximum of 175cc, but could touch 70mph (over 100kph) on roads that were little more than farm tracks. One thousand miles in five days would have been tough enough, but turn it into a race which had to compete with other traffic, farm animals and drunken locals was certain to kill more than time. So why do it, apart from the fact the Italians will race anything with wheels. Simple - prizes money and the prospect of sponsorship. In poverty wracked post-war Italy, as one rider put it, your family either died of starvation or you risked death in the 'giro to feed them. Absolute bloody heroes. More pics at

Friday, 31 July 2009

Huh, old Italians...need new switches before the 450 Desmo's new headlight'll fit, the new sidestand for the Darmah doesn't fit, and I took the Ferrari out and scrapped the air dam on a speed bump. Still, at least I'm doing better than poor ol' Fillipe Massa....

And then I see the British Moto GP will clash with the TT - where's the good news? Ah, here it is - Michael Schumacher's going to replace Mass at Ferrari. Could be the biggest comeback since JC rolled the stone away over 2000 years ago.

And although it's not Italian you've got to love the new Phantom Motorcycle..

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Some say there are 3 sports: bullfighting, mountaineering and motor racing... the rest are just games.

But sometimes three’s a crowd.Some say racetracks are good. But top gear on a racetrack is one thing, second gear on an uphill, gravel strewn, hairpin is quite another. In times past heroes saw racing on these open roads as the ultimate challenge. Reckless, perhaps, but that’s the real reason we miss those long, hot summers.

Benzina offer clothing, accessories and gifts inspired by the passion of those heroes and the spirit of the open road... see you out there.Benzina... the spirit of the open road