Monday, 22 September 2014

Ducati's 1973 Pantah preview - 60 degree heads

The latest (September 2014) issue of Classic Bike magazine includes a piece I wrote on the corsa corte (short stroke) 750SS that Taglioni prepared for the 1973 Imola 200.  At least as interesting as the bike is the paperwork that came with it courtesy of John at Made in ItalyMotorcycles. This is a series of internal memos from Franco Farnè to Fabio Taglioni comparing the power of the old heads with an 80 degree included valve angle to the prototype 60 degree items: ultimately the latter gave an extra 8bhp, although only Spaggiari raced with them, Ducati perhaps hoping their favourite son would get the win he was cruelly denied in '72. It wasn't to be, thanks to Jarno Saarinen’s Yamaha taking advantage of a split race that killed his thirsty  'strokers theoretical disadvantage.

But what's intriguing is that the 60 degree heads then disappeared, until surfacing in the new Pantah 500. Bruno kept his bike, but the others dematerialised and the later "NCR" F1 racers (such as the one above, also sold by John) retained the 80 degree head to the end. You have to wonder how much faster Mike Hailwood would have been in 1978 with an extra 8 horsepower - almost 10% more than he actually had


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Morbidelli DVD - the story of fast men and their motorcycles

Finally my Morbidelli DVD has arrived - with English subtitles – and, my-oh-my, was it worth the wait and the meagre £15 it cost (including postage!). The cover’s a bit uninspiring – a sketch of a racer that’s nice enough, but where’s the trademark Morbidelli pale blue? – but you don’t buy DVDs to look at the box.

What you get is an hour-and-a-half of something that feels like the BBC4 Timeshift documentary on old Brit bikes and the Rocker culture but of far more interest to anyone with a love of racing, Italian passion or even just the 1970s. Like the BBC4 series there’s a slightly whacky soundtrack and a lot of talking heads: but unlike the BBC4's talking head’s you’ll have heard of this lot; long interviews with World Champs Mario Lega and Pier Paolo Bianchi, plus  Graziano Rossi and the old man  himself, the incomparable Giancarlo Morbidelli. Many more contributors share tall tales of mechanics laying in front of the grid to delay the start until their rider could join the fray, and other insights into the 1970s Continental Circus. Of course it’s all in Italian with English subtitles, and there sometimes seem to be as many stills as period action – especially of the monocoque 500 we wrote of in Benzina #12 – but that’s the nature of trying to relate a history too many have already forgotten.
 Producer Jeffery Zani has not only tracked down great archive material, but most of all has got people to speak eloquently, and in detail, of Morbidelli’s achievements. Having been lucky enough to meet Snr Morbidelli I find it remarkable this quiet, modest man took on the Japanese and won. He only quit when his son got a drive in F1 racing, and travelled the world to support his boy’s own quest for glory. But even now Giancarlo’s first love is motorcycles, as his wonderful museum and three world championships testify. This is a must-own DVD, and I’d love to see a reference book to partner it.

If you’re still not convinced I’m trying to arrange a screening in the UK next Spring alongside a pop up Benzina live show. But in the meantime, if you’re wondering how to get you biking fix when Winter comes, here’s the answer.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Following in Fabio Taglioni's footsteps

photo courtesy of

End of a wet Bank Holiday Monday at the Classic TT/Manx: with racing cancelled Pat Slinn and I go looking for TT course landmarks. One of which was this well known pic of Dr T watching Dave Chadwick fly past on his Ducati 125GP in 1958. We know the race was held on the Clypse -rather than the Mountain - course, and figured Taglioni and his spanner man wouldn't have moved far from the Grandstand on Glencluthery Road. So off we set...
Initially we struggled, but then realised a 1970s extension over a new garage had led to the gateway Dr T's standing being blocked up with a new driveway created on the other side of the house; those huge hedges didn't help us either, but the chimneys are the giveaway. So here I am proudly standing in Fabio Taglioni's footsteps. The other pic is of the bungalow clearly visible in the original photo but now hidden behind a hedge. Maybe I'm just a feeble old anorak, but Pat had his photo taken in the same spot, so at least that makes two of us

Monday, 11 August 2014

The first Imola 200 and Paul Smart's 1972 win for Ducati

Fantastic video posted by Flant79 of the 1972 Imola 200 won by Paul Smart on the then-new Ducati 750

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Moto Guzzi get their mojo back

After years of being largely ignored by the folk at Moto Guzzi, out of the blue I get press releases and these photos. Even better, it' s telling of the factory's open house weekend with full access to the factory, wind tunnel and museum. As ever with the Italians there's a deliberate cock up - you've got barely five weeks to cajole your loved one into a romantic weekend in Milan, lose her (or him) in the famous shopping arcade, before jumping on a train to Mandello del Lario.

If there's a brand I'd love to work for it's Guzzi. Yes, I'm a dyed in the wool Ducati fan, but where could you take it? It's already hyper successful, and any downturn in sales might result in the hunt for a scapegoat. So if things go well, you risk getting no credit - but if things turn sour...

 Guzzi, on the other hand, are ripe for a Frederico Minoli style turn round. He's start (I'd guess) by losing the dealers who only stock Guzzis because they wanted the Aprilia or Piaggio franchise, build up the dealers who are enthusiasts with their mile crunching existing customers - and then go chase the new wave hipster wannabes. World Ducati weekend was one of Minoli's first innovations and it's great to see Guzzi following suit. And nice to at last have someone prepared to act as a real press officer rather than avoid the little people, even if we did know who your dad is...

Shameless plug of my Moto Guzzi book that you can buy here – and there was a big piece on the Guzzi factory in Benzina issue six

Moto Guzzi's own PR guff follows!








Mandello del Lario, 5 August 2014 – Following last year's resounding success, the Moto Guzzi Open House Weekend returns this September.


From Friday 12 September to Sunday 14 September the famous red door on via Parodi, the historic entrance to the Moto Guzzi factory at Mandello del Lario, will open up for a weekend dedicated to the legendary motorcycle brand that has been continuously manufactured on the banks of Lake Como for 93 years.


For the 2014 Open House, Moto Guzzi has prepared a full schedule of activities which range from guided visits to the engine and vehicle production lines to the opening of the museum, the Moto Guzzi store with its brand merchandise and accessories and, above all, the chance to test ride a wide selection from the Moto Guzzi range.


Riders will be able to test the whole range: the powerful California 1400 (available in Touring and Custom versions), the three interpretations of the best-seller Moto Guzzi V7 (V7 Stone, V7 Special and V7 Racer), the striking dual-purpose Stelvio 1200 and the spirited Moto Guzzi Griso, the naked with a personality all its own.


The Moto Guzzi Mandello plant is a symbolic place in Italian motoring history and one of the most famous in the world. Here, since the year it was founded in 1921, Moto Guzzis have been manufactured without interruption. It is a site with a rich heritage that has accompanied Italian industrial development and the affirmation of the eagle brand on a global level, one of the most beloved brands by riders from all continents. This has been the birthplace of such legendary models as the Falcone, the Galletto, the V7 family, the iconic Le Mans and Imola models all the way to the current, technologically advanced California 1400 models.


Of course Mandello was also the birthplace of the famous and successful racing Moto Guzzis, that were to dominate the most glorious years of motorcycle racing, taking 15 championship titles (8 rider and 7 manufacturer) in the World Motorcycling Championship.






This is an opportunity not to be missed by any motorcycle enthusiast: the opportunity to test the products in the Moto Guzzi range, right here in the place where every Moto Guzzi is born, on the magnificent roads that run along Lake Como.

Test riding will be held on Saturday 13 September and Sunday 14 September from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM with registration opening at 9:30 AM.



From 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM on Friday 12 September and from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM on Saturday 13 September and Sunday 14 September, the Moto Guzzi Historical Museum will be open to the public. This space contains more than 150 models that have made the history of the Mandello Eagle, an extraordinary path going back to the roots of the Moto Guzzi legend.

Factory bikes, racing bikes, prototypes and engines are accompanied by an exceptional collection of never before seen photographs and documents which narrate the deeds of one of the most noble brands in global motorcycling, capable of producing models which became legends.



This is the area of the plant where the legendary twin cylinder engines, the emblem and heart of Moto Guzzi, are individually assembled by hand. Here a unique engine was born and made history and secured Moto Guzzi’s place in global motorcycling lore.  Today this engine has evolved into the 1400cc unit that equips the new California, the largest V-twin engine ever made in Europe.



Here the Moto Guzzi bikes take shape. Here the finished twin cylinder engine meets the motorcycle that will accompany it for the rest of its life. On the line visitors will be able to follow, step by step, operation by operation, the birth of new Moto Guzzi machines that continue over 90 years of tradition and experience.



First commissioned in the Mandello del Lario plant in 1950, this was the first example of a wind tunnel for aerodynamic motorcycle testing. A singularly fascinating place, today it is the testament to a technological first and a glorious history that only Moto Guzzi possesses.

Monday, 4 August 2014

More Ducati Scrambler weirdness

Plasticine  models? Stop motion videos? Ducati have gone all Tony Hart and Vision On to publicise the new Scrambler, but there is a nice story behind it. Apparently the original Scrambler was launched in 1968 with Ducati employees who were a real life couple hamming it up for (to my mind) Ducati's best ever advertising campaign. The original guy and gal were Franco and Elvira - he was working at Ducati as a test rider and she – "easily as beautiful as any professional model" according to Ducati's blurb – was working in administration.

These lovebirds - though Ducati call them plasticine protagonists - are reimagined as bringing the Scrambler to the present day via a bonkers time travelling storyline that has Franco as a man from 2078 being catapulted back to the Woodstock festival of August 1969, where he meets and falls in love with both Scrambler Ducati and Elvira. They joyously elope on the bike, yet before the two can even kiss the time machine hurls them forwards to the present day, to 2014. Franco and Elvira find themselves directly in front of the fabulous “yellow container” - first visited by Ducati employees and then the enthusiasts who flocked to WDW 2014 - from which they exit astride the new Scrambler Ducati. As I said -bonkers.

You can follow episode 1 here then episode 2 here nad finally episode 3 here

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The 1970s - great for motorcycling, if not for food

Good friend and Benzina contributor Richard Skelton has just self-published a number of eBooks reminiscing on motorcycling in the 1970s: as ever with Richard, these are minutely researched and thoroughly readable even if you’re not hopelessly nostalgic about an era that was a defining moment in so many areas of life. Of my top 100 production motorcycles only a few would be post 1970s: the Ducati 916 and Monster, for sure. And I'd have to allow the Honda RC30, perhaps alongside the oval pistoned NR. Err… perhaps I'd also want the first GSX-R1100 and Katana 1000 as well. Oh, and a Guzzi MGS-01. But that’s it for the last 35 years, peanuts compared to what’s been launched since 1980. I can think of more mopeds from the 70s scorched into my memory banks than modern bikes, and chances are you’re the same: Honda sold 10 million of the original sohc CB750 in 10 years, but have only just sold the 100,000th Fireblade, 20 years after its launch. To put that in perspective, over the same period little old Ducati have sold 250,000 Monsters.

The fabulous summer we’re having in (most of) England is another reason to reminisce about the 1970s. I wonder if this might be current teenagers 1976 memories in years to come, although our generation spent rather more time outdoors than the Facebook and Xbox crowd do. But were the seventies really so much better? In many ways I think so, despite the dire state of our economy back then, often forgotten by the trendy Radio 4, Thatcher hating, pseudo intellectuals none of whom seemed able to grasp Higgs Boson let alone the cruel truth.  

But there was one area of British life that was really dire back then – the food. If you loved Angel Delight and raisins and desiccated coconut with your curry, it was… OK. If not, lumpy mashed potatoes with fatty grey lamb passed muster as a typical school dinner, and through 1976’s heatwave my grandmother thought cold baked beans and lettuce was a reasonable tea time staple. No wonder I soon learnt to cook, even if (along with arriving everywhere on a motorcycle) it was seen as a very strange pastime for a chap back then. A girlfriend once boasted to her dad that I could cook, to which he responded, “What, fairy cakes?” – and in those days “fairy” was a standard homophobic slur that shows how far we’ve come.

First thing I cooked – aged 15 - was spaghetti Bolognese, back in that long hot summer. My best mate at the time (Andy Lee, where art thee? Still in Australia?) had very middle class, Francophile parents. They had duvets, cafettierres and fondue parties. They were the 1970s, with white furniture and fluffy rugs that were a million miles from the museum pieces in my antique dealing parent’s house. Anyroadup (as Mark Williams used to say in 1970s Bike magazine) leaving Andy and me for the day, his mum said “oh, I’ve left lunch in the kitchen” before disappearing to shop in Bath. "Lunch" turned out to be a purple paper packet of super long spaghetti, some mince, an onion and a tin of tomatoes. Of course, there was Elizabeth David’s Italian food on the bookshelf. It would be decades before I realised how great the 1970s were, always chasing on to the future as the young tend to. But it was the summer of 1976 when my love of Italy was stirred by making a passable spaghetti Bolognese and obsessing over another good friend’s Garelli Rekord. Within a few years I knew that Ducati made the finest motorcycles on earth and that ragu Bolognese is never served with spaghetti in Italian homes – and that along with the ingredients we’d been left for lunch there should have been chicken livers, bacon, carrot and celery. And a lot more time – ragu needs a couple of hours to meld on a low heat, ready for another couple of hours spent at lunch itself, along with –as Elizabeth David put it – some “good, rough red wine.” She might have been writing in the 1950s but really it took 20 years for her ideas to pass into my tiny corner of rural Wiltshire, and become a part of a very special decade. So that was the 1970s, that was; mostly great, especially if you loved motorcycles.

You can buy Richard’s book here – his synopsis follows

'Motorcycling in the 1970s. The story of motorcycling's biggest, brightest and best ever decade' Volumes One to Five by Richard Skelton, author of Funky Mopeds.

'Motorcycling in the 1970s' is a series of five books about motorcycling. The books are designed to be read together, but can also be enjoyed separately.

The first volume, 'A Brief History of Motorcycling from 1887 to 1969', is a general history, swiftly told, of motorcycling in Britain from its beginnings at the end of the 19th century up until the dawn of the 1970s (interwoven to an extent with two-wheeled goings on in the USA and elsewhere).

It charts motorcycling’s pioneering years, skips through two world wars, tells of social acceptability in the 1920s, hard times in the 1930s and growing ostracisation and decline in the 1950s and 1960s.

This book attempts to make sense of the two-wheeled world order, and of motorcycling’s place in society and everyday life, and sets the scene for the larger, more detailed volumes which follow.

Volumes two to four are entitled Funky Motorcycling Parts One to Three and together they form a comprehensive, in-depth history of the bikes and motorcycling trends and events in the 1970s.

These three books tell the story of the arrival of the Superbike, the continuing and inexorable rise of the Japanese motorcycle industry and, partly from an insider’s point of view, the wasteful, lingering death of its British equivalent.

They tell of the thrilling and extraordinary sporting machines from Italy and of the bulletproof BMW twins designed in Bavaria. They tell of motorcycling culture and of two-wheeled life and lives.

In the 1970s, motorcycling became a leisure activity in a new and exciting way, there were more motorcyclists than ever before, or since, and dozens of new and ever more fabulous and technologically advanced motorcycles crammed the showrooms every year.

It was the time of Jarno Saarinen and Giacomo Agostini and of Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene. The time of British magazines Motorcycle Sport and Bike, and of Cycle in the USA, the time of Mark Williams, Dave Minton and LJK Setright in his pomp.

These books set out the argument that although the protagonists were largely unaware of it at the time, the 1970s as a whole can now be seen to have been a golden era in the history of the movement, a pivotal decade which represent a high point in the history of motorcycling that is never likely to be matched.

The final book in the series is entitled ‘The Magic of Motorcycling'. It takes a sideways look at the 1970s classic motorcycle scene in the second decade of the 21st century, and explores what it is that makes motorcycling so special to so many people yet an anathema to a great many more.

This is followed by a comprehensive set of appendices listing nostalgic, amusing and sometimes poignant reminders of the life and culture of the 1970s, reminding us of the global goings-on and domestic backdrop underlying the motorcycling scene and, of course, all lesser matters!