Saturday, 30 October 2010

Happy Hallow'een

Hallow'een in the UK? When I was a kid it plain didn't exist; bonfire night was the biggie. Everyone had their own back-garden party with fireworks, guy and an unspoken who's-built-the-biggest-bonfire competition. Then the kids set-to, baking potatoes wrapped in tin foil, burnt fingers stirring pans of beans with mini sausages over the bonfire - what could possibly go wrong?

But sometime in the 1980s the big firework shows came along, everyone got the health and safety paranoia, and with family bonfire parties gone there was a void. The supermarkets didn't need asking twice, and gleefully imported Hallow'een from the US, pushing the usual suspects - witches hats, sweets and other plastic tat. And then the trick or treating started, another US import I didn't ask for. I'm not lovin' it...

Although I mustn't grumble, because Hallow'een's been kind to me: my wife and I got together (not married then, obviously) at a Hallow'een party in 1990 - her cousin was my neighbour, and wanted a lift to London for the party. Since I had a company car I was happy to drive. Odd to think that if I'd had a different neighbour, or just didn't want to drive a 200-mile round trip to a party, life would have been very different. And if my wife hadn't organised for me to ride the Giro as a Christmas present in 2005 I'd never have met the wonderful people who've made Benzina possible. Spooky...

Legends in full colour

This from the legendary Cook Neilson - Cook and Phil Schilling(left)way back when, following yesterdays post. As ever, Cook tells the story best

"Was entertained to discover that the "sea green" color of the 750 SS was inspired by the paint job on Ducati's stationary diesel powerplants. When my dear friend and Old Blue co-conspirator Phil Schilling designed tee shirts for our 1976 racing season, the diesel engine was prominently featured. First time I saw one in the cotton, I asked Phil why. His response: "That's the only part of Ducati that's making any money." So can we have a tee shirt like that?

"Unfortunately, the shirts are in vanishingly short supply. My personal one was sold in a charity auction a couple of years ago for $1100."

If there's enough interest I'll have some run off - you know where I am...

Friday, 29 October 2010

Ducati green - or is it blue?

So, why did Ducati paint their racebikes (and the bevel 750SS) a mix of blue-green? Nobody seems sure, but here's some facts...

By the late sixties, Ducati's state-appointed masters has a simple job to do - create jobs for Italian workers: this line had to be toed until the Castiglionis took over the reigns in 1983, and is the main reason so many early eighties Ducatis were blighted with unsuitable (but Italian) Webber carbs - the Nuovo 900SS was transformed when it was allowed to breathe through Japanese Mikunis, and finally painted red

Through the seventies Ducati's main source of income (and management's faith in its future) came from (Ducati fans look away now) marine diesel engines. Oh yes...

The blue/green reflected this watery ambition, and was used all over the sea-going plodder's engines. So when they went racing, Ducati bosses naturally wanted the same paintwork on motorcycles, to convince punters (and Government paymasters) that the bikes and outboard motors really did come from the same factory. Even the Pantah was painted a silvery-blue, ironic considering it's launch was delayed nearly three years while bosses focused on diesel engine production. The good news is that if they've still got any Valentino Rossi could have one for his yacht

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Guzzi Green

This is the wonderful Guzzi V8 featured in Benzina #2, and mentioned in a current bike mag (unless I misunderstood) as being painted the house-green filigreed of Guzzi fifties racers; hmmm, filigreed means fine work in precious metal wire, usually for jewellery - I think they mean verdigris, the green-grey of corroded copper...

The choice of this colour wasn't chance or whim - it's an anti-corrosion treatment for the super-lightweight mag-alloy fairings the race bikes wore; designer Carcano was so obsessed with weight saving he wouldn't countenance merely painting any race bike.

This much you might know - but the next bit I didn't, until very recently. When Guzzi launched the V7 Sport the green tank colour (that lives on in the current model) was chosen to mimic the old racers, but this being the 1970s a splash of metalflake was added. So as with the orange chosen by Laverda (see blog passim) and the blue/green of the early Ducati 750SS, the colours were chosen for good reasons. What, you don't know why Ducati used that blue/green? More later...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Price-tag MV

Spotted on Pistonheads - a lovely MV Agusta 350 at an unbelievable £12,000. It's with a posh car dealer, so maybe they don't know what they're up to; time will tell. But I've never seen one crack four grand, even via true specialists like John Fallon.

John recently managed around twelve grand for a lovely Tony Brancato restored 450 Desmo that was probably the best 450 you'll see, and let's face it, Ducati single prices have recently skyrocketed. But MVs? The fours, oh yes, but in the end the MV 350 was just a poor old pushrod parallel twin trying to keep up with Japanese 400s, when it cost more than their 750's - in 1976 the £1400 asking price was just a few hundred quid less than a Ducati 860, and half as much again as the surely superior Morini 350 Sport. The press were particularly cruel to the MV (but loved the Morini) and Bike magazine called it a great pretender: the black and white pic is their wonderful spoof of the sort of poseur they imagined would buy it. Tester Peter Watson was unequivocally damning, but then time tends to re-write every line. The bike sure is pretty, and having followed them on the Giro, I can vouch for the handling and brakes.

But £12,000? That's bevel 900SS money...

Time on the Lav

Bob Dixon's racing year finished on a high last weekend, with the 200 miglia event at the Franciacorta circuit, Brescia: his (OK, Piero's) Laverda Corse team finished first in the 500 race to secure second overall in the 500 classic endurance championship. It was a bit of a nailbiting finale because although the opposition in the 500 class had all but melted away, they were faced with the task of trying to complete the necessary amount of laps before the race ended. To score points in an endurance event you have to complete at least 75% of the total laps covered by the winner - regardless of what class the winner is in. Easier said than done when you're racing big-inch Bimota KBs, SBs and suchlike. To compound Laverda Corse's problems, the race was terminated 10 laps ahead of schedule due to poor visibility.

Anyway they did it, with riders Piero Laverda, Hermann Ansorge and of course Bob. Incredible achievement, and congrats to all. And proof that if you need the fastest and most reliable Laverda 500 in the world, you need to get to

Monday, 25 October 2010

Comedy Store

Not Italian, but still worthy of a look (if not pointing and laughing out loud): a CZ 175 with trailer on eBay right now. Might even squeeze into the Giro, and think of all the spares you could carry...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Bevel drive DOHC - in 1924

This is probably the first engine to ever use bevel driven cams, the vertical tube and double overhead cambox looking remarkably like the Ducati 125 Desmo tested in Benzina #3 - but the Ducati came nearly forty years after this bike raced around the Circuito del Lario, the nearest thing the Italians had to a TT.

The bike's a Bianchi Freccia Celeste ("Heavenly Arrow") and it might have been the first motorcycle to feature DOHC, an idea pinched from the car world. The short stroke (71x81mm) 348cc twin gave 20bhp at 5,000rpm, a hell of an engineering achievement in 1924. But Bianchi had one further trick up their sleeve.

Bianchi's rider was Tazio Nuvolari. Because the early racer had a crude friction brakes (not replaced by drums until 1927, by which time power was up 20%) a lever throttle and hand gear-change, a very special rider was needed to make the most of the engine.

So, spend all the money on a bevel-cam engine, and then buy in a rider able to make up for other short-comings? Sounds like another source of Taglioni inspiration...

Friday, 22 October 2010

Autumn breaks

Benzina #3 is bagged, labelled and almost ready to post - freebie stickers due here Tuesday, together with a little extra something to say thanks to all who've ordered.

In between this and writing a piece for Classic Bike on Pat Slinn's BSA C15 (yes, Tony Rutter's famous Ducati fettler has a C15!), Pat's been telling me about the autonomy Taglioni and his development workshop enjoyed. Pictured is - well, you tell me? A Ducati prototype single? Looking for all the world like a Desmo Sport 500; ironic, really, since the original twin was prototyped in 450 Desmo bodywork, only to hit showrooms in sub-860GT style. The Leo Tartarini styled Desmo Sport appeared in 1976, two years after single production ended. This was taken (Pat thinks) in '75, and yes, it was a runner - he even had a go on it. So was this Taglioni trying to cuckold the twin with his beloved singles? Sadly we'll probably never know, but as Pat points out, part of the romance of Ducati is the complete mystery that surrounds so much of its history

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Sleepless in Stafford

10 hours sleep in 3 days might have left me a bit out-of-it, but huge thanks if you came and said Hi at Stafford. The kind words (especially when parting with hard cash) make it all worth while.

By Sunday I must have been hallucinating, because the Bonham's auction results looked all over the place. Having seen the Roger Nicholl's NCR Ducati (and realised that like most race bikes it's not all it once was) I'm not surprised it didn't make daft money, but even so the £44k-odd it got to is a lot less than a roundcase 750SS would rush you these days; surely it's a better bike than that? And a lovely early Gilera Saturno (complete with original funny suspension) just scraped past £7,000 - 25% less than a lesser bike made a year ago. I guess that's down to a weaker Euro, because while the Italian's love Saturno's, most Brits don't even know what they are (better than any Brit equivalent, is the short answer). And a grand for an MV125 track star? Cheap as patate fritte.

But as predicted in Benzina #1, Paso's are on the up - a 907 made over £3 grand - bargain against a new Multistrada, but double what you would have paid 18 months back. And a £1,600 bid failed to secure a fairly ordinary 750 Paso - that would have been over £2k with premiums, and I remember when £700 would have sealed the deal. Buy now, while stocks last...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Why you must go to the Stafford show

I'll be at the Stafford Bike Show this weekend with Benzina #3 fresh off the press - on the balcony, next to the bar. Ah, the wit of show organisers. But that's not the only reason to go. This is lot 358 in the Stafford Bonham's auction. And yes, it is what you think it is - the ex-works NCR/Ducati prepped by Sports Motor Cycles for Roger Nicholls to ride in the 1977 Isle of Man TT Formula 1 race. He was just beaten into second place (some say robbed of victory) by the Read/Honda combo . Roger teamed up with Hailwood the following year, and the rest is history.

TB friend and hero Pat Slinn confirms it's the real thing, and Bonham's say Steve Wynne and Livio Lodi agree. So how much? The upper estimate is £75,000, but based on the £130,000 asked for the NCR recently sold by Made in Italy Motorcycles I'll be astonished if it doesn't make more. Just wish I could afford it.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Ducati Diavel - first official pic

No surprise, but official confirmation the new Bruiser cruiser will be called Diavel and launched at the EICMA Show in Milan and the UK's Motorcycle Live showin November.

Ducati say Diavel is the Bolognese word for devil, pronounced Dee-ah-vel. Fair enough. The rest of the story is suspiciously like the original claim for the Monster's name, back in 1993. The official line is that an employee saw the bike and exclaimed in a Bolognese accent “Ignur├ánt comm’ al diavel!” (Evil, like the devil!) Just how the Monster was named, say Ducati. a recent interview the Monster's designer, Miguel Galluzzi, repudiated that story, saying the name came from toy robots his kids were into. He also famously said of the Monster “All you need is a saddle, tank, engine, two wheels, and handlebars to have fun” Shame people sometimes forget that

Anyway, the official line is that the Diavel will "have a commanding presence and take the man-motorcycle relationship to the next level in absolute comfort. For connoisseurs of technology, ABS, Ducati Traction Control and Ducati Riding Modes will deliver confidence-inspiring sophistication while, the Testastretta 11° engine and 207kg (456lb) of authentic Ducati performance will drive a comfortable sport lifestyle that could only be dreamt of until now"

Gosh. But if you have dreams like that, think about cutting down on the cheese at bedtime

Remember 1978?

Love this - Ducati's Monster Logomania that lets you change the look of a Monster in around 10 minutes. You can match your Monster to a whole range of past classics, from the black and gold Darmah/900SS combo seen here, back to a fantastic Mach 1 or 100 Sport colour scheme. Pure class.

What's really brave is that each kit uses the Ducati font and badging of the era - these day's the marketing gurus fret endlessly about the brand, and worry that people are dumb enough to get distracted by a bit of history. Now how about an SCR Scrambler with chrome tank panels and a proper badge instead of a sticker?

Monday, 11 October 2010

Tight sweaters

Now here's something it would be good to see more of - cheerful advertising that doesn't take itself too seriously. Modern ads seem to fall into two camps - deadly serious (bloke with stubble looking off to one side, sportsbike at max attack) or knowing and funny (which works once or twice, but soon drives you nuts). Of course, way back when, you could always use sex to sell, but that's not allowed now.

But these period ads are proof there's another way - cosy and comfy, in a Kath Kidson way. The Mosquito was Garelli's Cucciolo, a clip on engine that gave birth to complete motorcycles, and ultimately(?) the sports mopeds, the Rekord and Tiger Cross. Full details of Garelli's birth in Benzina #3, available at Stafford (I hope!)

And tight sweaters on ladies. Loving that.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Great Bustard

A few fields from us, there's the Great Bustard Rally - an annual weekend for those that think camping in a field in October is fun. And it is, sort of: the bar opens Friday afternoon and closes late Saturday, about the same time an enormous bonfire gets lit. There's bands, hot food, and best of all the most eclectic bunch of bikes and bikers you could meet. Slightly posh types on big Japanese stuff, right through to the HD bad-boys (one being ignominiously towed in by a Yamaha 600). And of course, there's the Guzzi crowd - if ever a group use their bikes, it's the Guzzi crowd. When the petrol runs out, I'm convinced the last bike running will be a Guzzi V-twin, because like the old UK V-Bomber force, there's always a Guzzi taking off somewhere in the world.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Devil in the details

The first time I saw the Monster chop here, I didn't know what to make of it. Very clever, some amazing details but would I want one? No: I love the Monster, and having owned loads of them I now reckon the simplest (ie the aircooled ones) were best. Sure they needed some tidying up (I hated the early rear mudguard, and the pillion footrest hangers), but less is more - so take them off. The Monster's a good old fashioned motorbike for sunshine cruising or chasing surprised sportsbikes owners off your home turf. It didn't (I think) need watercooling, let alone chopperising.

But I see Ducati disagree - the new Diavel has been leaked in advance of its Milan-show debut by Italian website Motoblog, and it's hideous. Or is it just me? But then I wouldn't want anything to do with the new Ducati his'n'hers smellies either. Splash it all over? No thanks; now can I have my favourite motorcycle company back, please?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Big Lamps

Spotted on a Dutch (I think) Le Mans (or whatever it started life out as): a brilliant and original solution to getting that race-bike look on the road. Behind the mesh vents is a light. Not sure how effective it would be, but who'd ride this in the dark? I mean, no-one would see you...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Anyone know what this is? Clue: it's not what you think. It's a really early 1953 Ducati 98 Sport, as run in the '54 Motogiro, and apparently not (exactly) the same as the later 98s (as in the photo below). If this is all too esoteric for you, join the club but TB supporter (and push/pullrod Ducati aficionado)Diego Montefusco has asked for help - check out his magnificent obsession here

Basket case

Spotted on a rare Gilera 300 twin (basically a doubled up 150 Tourismo) - a wicker top box. Apparently this was a genuine option back when the bike was new.

Nearly all bikes had a top box fitted at some point back in the seventies - I guess when your bike was your only form of transport, you had to be able to put the shopping somewhere. If memory serves, they really took off when helmets became compulsory, and leaving your helmet locked to the bike wasn't an option - you'd return to find some wag had stuffed the remains of his fish supper into it.

Then the street racer thing took off, and the top boxes disappeared. But a rucksack's a pain, and as autumn appears I realise I use the car not because I mind getting wet, but because I worry about cameras, paperwork and such getting wet. So maybe a wicker basket is the way forward...