My old friend and racing partner Steve Allen of BevelHeaven.com (vintage ducati parts) used to own a Guzzi Ambassador and loved it. Knowing me as he did, he wouldn’t let me ride it…I don’t blame him. However, I did convince his wife one day that while he was working on my Ducati it would be okay that I took the Guzzi to run a couple of errands. What a motorcycle! It was completely stock and ran beautifully. Having ridden British twins forever and Italian twins for a few years the Ambassador was a pleasant surprise. The somewhat gentle side to side rocking of the motor while idling and the definite torque twist when accelerating was a wonderful new feeling. But what really got me was the general smoothness of the ride. It is a motorcycle that instead of going Coast to Coast in 3 days, you’re going to want to take your time and really enjoy “The Ride”.
In 1968 Moto Guzzi upgraded their V700 to 750cc to get more of the American market, you know us Yankees, Bigger is better! In 1969 Guzzi set out to prove how good this motorcycle was by setting a number of speed records in both the 750 and 1000cc classes. Top speed for the stocker was 115mph, not bad for the time. But…what happened was that Police departments all over, including here in the USA, liked the reliability, the good handling and the overall strength of the bike.
When Moto Guzzi designed the new Ambassador they gave it a longer wheelbase, changed the steering head angle and braced it, a bigger gas tank (6.1 gallons), better lighting, and now had a separate speedo and tach. Basically it became a great long distance tourer. Cops liked it because it was strong and reliable could carry all their equipment and you know what…same goes for travelers.
I found one on ebay this morning that is one of those, fly in, buy it and ride it home. It’s in beautiful condition and according the seller a good runner. Strap a duffle bag on the back and enjoy your summer vacation on a Moto Guzzi Ambassador.
Click on the optics below for more pictures and information about this bike.
There are motorcycles that have a smile factor, a giggle factor and then there those that have a HIGH giggle factor. The Moto Morini 3 1/2 is in the latter class.
In the 60’s and 70’s Italian motorcycles were generally described as quirky, temperamental, unreliable and too expensive. Having owned Italian motorcycles of that vintage I have to say…yep. But, along with those less desirable attributes came personality, soul and performance that made you put up with what you didn’t like about the motorcycle. The sound and the feel when you started up an Italian Single or Twin (when it started…) woke you up from the inside out. Looking at Sophia Loren couldn’t give you the same feeling. Well, maybe.
A few years back my Ducati Darmah was part of a Vintage Ducati exhibit at The Moto GP race at Laguna Seca. I met Chris Hammond who was there with a beautiful Ducati 750 SS. While we were talking he was telling how much he liked his SS but his favorite bike and the one he rode the most was his Moto Morini 3 1/2. His enthusiasm was just overflowing. I have loved many of my motorcycles but, compared to Chris I had nothing. He had more pictures of his 3 1/2 in his wallet than he did of his wife and kids!
The 3 1/2 was designed by Franco Lambertini who came to Morini from Ferrari. The engine design was unique for it’s time. Not that it was a V-Twin but how the internals worked. There is more information online that if you’re interested you research it yourself. It is very interesting. The 3 1/2 came out in 1973 but didn’t reach America until 1977 it was immediately compared to the very popular Yamaha RD350. An easy comparison to make. The RD was quicker but the Moto Morini had the handling. When I finally got the chance to ride one I fell in love. I understood my friends enthusiasm. Handling is precise, intuitive and easy. The motor has enough power to keep you entertained and was easy on your wallet when came to fuel up. I see it as a very good around town bike but come Sunday, find the tightest twistiest canyon road you can and put bigger bikes to shame and giggle your way by them. This motorbike is one of the highest giggle factor rides I have ever had.
I found a nice one on ebay this morning. It needs some love, but bikes this vintage generally do. It has not been restored, it is a runner. The seller says it starts on the first kick. It will start on the first kick once you get the hang of it. A big thing there, make sure the battery is always fully charged…makes life a lot easier.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures. If you’re looking for a really fun and very unique motorbike, this could be your next ride.
My first introduction to Ducati motorcycles was in 1981 while living in New Mexico. A small dealership on Rio Grande Boulevard (yep, just across the street from the river) Rissman Motors, was just a little hole in the wall but I had to stop in just to see. In the showroom sat two of the most beautiful motorcycles I had ever seen. A Ducati 900SD Darmah and the MHR (Mike Hailwood Replica). The replica was much more expensive but I thought the Darmah was far more beautiful. Over in the corner of the shop sat a very lonely and a bit dusty copper colored 860GT.
The reason it was in the corner…it was the ugly duckling of the Ducati family. The Copper headed stepchild.The Darmah and the MHR were basically the same bike but designer Giugiaro somehow DFU’d on that particular bike. Too angular and the shape just didn’t work.
The 860 motor, a square case Bevel drive 90 degree L-Twin is a wonderful machine. I finally bought the Darmah I lusted after somewhere in the mid 90’s and became intimate with that motor thanks to help from racing friends Steve Allen (www.bevelheaven.com) and Trevor Dunne of Ducati Santa Barbara (www.ducatiofsb.com). The Square Case motor may not be the fastest in Ducati’s history but it has the torque of an Italian locomotive. Are there Italian locomotives?
Sadly, the 860GT,the GTS and the GTE were no match for the for the Big Four from Japan. The CB750, the Z1, XS650 and GT750 all were faster than the 860 and considering that America was into speed and horsepower numbers at that time…well no wonder that one old dusty 860 was sitting in the corner. The 860’s top speed was just a touch over 100mph while the others were all pushing 125mph and more. What the 860 had that it’s Japanese counterparts didn’t was handling.
The 860GT was a perfect platform for customizing. I found a beauty on ebay this morning. Tasteful in all respects. Everything about this bike is right. I love the original Euro shift pattern (means its on the right…which does take a bit of getting used to…I have had on occasion downshifted instead braked! The bike has a very Vincent look to it and the motor is unadulterated. This is a beautiful bike and should be just wonderful to ride. It actually is making me now wish I hadn’t sold my Darmah.
The owner / seller of this bike somehow took an Italian ugly duckling and transformed it into a beautiful British swan.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures. And the picture at the top of this page, really makes the 860 GT look a lot better!
I really love different (some may call ‘weird’) motorcycles. If there is something unique about it, I find it really interesting. Granted, riding friends I have had over the years have always questioned my taste in motorcycles but occasionally I have converted a few from ‘mainstream’ to a little left of center. Lucky for them?
A bike that has always interested me is the Harley Sprint. I love small displacement motorcycles, I believe they offer the highest giggle factor your money can buy. I have traveled a good portion of the Western United States on a Honda 350 and still have four of them. I’ve had singles, twins; four strokes and two strokes…I love ’em all. But why I want a Sprint is beyond me…maybe it’s because it’s just weird enough.
I have written plenty of times about the ‘Italian’ Harley’s so I won’t do it again and besides there is so much info on the net that you can learn more than you ever wanted to, and waste a whole day that you are supposed to be working, just going from website to website and still not really care all that much. Unless, you dig those ‘un-Harleys’…like me.
The Sprint is definitely one of those cult bikes, you either love it or hate it. Compared to its competition at the time; the Honda CB350, Yamaha R5, Suzuki X6 and Kawasaki Samurai, it was slow, heavy, only had a 4 speed transmission, the kickstart lever on the wrong side, and until 1973 was kickstart only, and on top of all that it would vibrate the fillings right out of your teeth. But at that time, what Harley wouldn’t?
But, here’s the thing, these bikes have become really popular in Vintage Flat Track and Roadracing. Why, because there are still plenty of parts available (because they are popular), and in their classes, quite competitive. Most everybody that raced the Sprint 250 and 350 back in the day, got their racing parts from Europe, not here. The Motor Company was working on building their mid-size bike business, not racing mid-size bikes. Sadly, in the late sixties and early seventies it was all about horsepower baby! Mid-size bike sales were declining and Harley just didn’t fit into that market no matter how hard they tried.
However, I still think the weird looking, good handling, slow, horizontal cylinder Italian Harley is a very cool bike.
I found a really nice Sprint 350SS on ebay today that would take (it appears) so little to be rideable. Bought at an Estate sale, a complete bike…looks to me that all you have to do is the basics…Clean it up,(and by that I mean you need to pull the bike apart…not ‘restoration’ apart, just clean all the electrical connections and oil lines…) change all the fluids, a pair of new tires, a new battery and really, you’re good to go. Well, there are some mods you can make that will really make this ‘Un-Harley’ really fly and embarrass many bigger more modern bikes. The Sprint’s are a lot of fun to ride and wherever you go, people will gather around.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info. This is a pretty neat bike at a pretty good price.
I have been riding, fixing, and building Vintage Motorcycles since before they were ‘Vintage’. I love the soul sounds old bikes make… I love the shakes that come up through the seat, foot pegs and handlebars that let you know the motorcycle is alive. And so are you. An old motorcycle may/will, require more attention on your part, but if your willing to put in that time, the payback is well worth it.
Recently I sold off my last ‘really classic’ motorcycle, a 1976 BMW R90S. I still have a small fleet of ‘classic’ Honda 350’s, a Honda Hawk and parts that fit something or another, but unique classics…well, the barn is looking a bit empty.
One of the bikes I sold a while back was my Ducati SD900 Darmah. This was a bike I had lusted after for more than 30 years. A Readers Digest version of the story is I saw one , a new one, in 1981 on a dealership floor in New Mexico. It was the most beautiful motorcycle I had ever seen.
Fast forward to 1995…while picking up a suspension part at a racing friends shop I spotted a Darmah, a black and gold Darmah, (the one I have dreamed about for all those years) sitting off in a corner covered in dust and shop grime. Two days later I was riding it home. The sound and the feel of that Italian twin was better than any drug you can imagine. I rode that beautiful Darmah almost every day. It was featured in a Ducati Museum show at Laguna Seca during the MotoGP race. The Darmah is a really great sport touring type motorcycle of the era.
I sold the Darmah because garage space was getting smaller (too many bikes…wait, you can’t have too many bikes…can you??) and I found another classic I really wanted. Anyway, I really do miss my Ducati.
I found a beauty on ebay today. This 1978 Duck has only 15,000 miles and has been well taken care of. The seller put on a 2 into 1 Conti exhaust and pod filters…the bike has to be breathing a lot better now. This is a sweet bike. The beauty of the SD900 is that it is comfortable, reliable, stable at speed and handles like it is on rails. The Darmah is a wonderful, confidence inspiring motorcycle. For someone looking for a bike that you won’t see coming around every corner, this Darmah would be a great choice. Click on the pics below for more pictures and more info.
Oh and one more thing, if you buy this bike or any other classic Ducati Bevel Head, you’re going to need, want parts…contact my friend Steve Allen @ http://www.bevelheaven.com Steve is the best guy you will find for classic Ducati parts..and his knowledge in invaluable.
1978 Ducati Darmah
Recently my friend, racing and traveling partner Erik bought his wife a little 50cc Yamaha to ride around town and develop her riding skills. Well, as it turns out he is spending more time on that little Yamaha than she is. Why? because it’s so damn much fun!!
He put a tank bag on it so he can make ‘small’ grocery runs and even light weight Home Depot runs. He can ‘kickstart’ it with one hand, fills the tank about once a month, and has a giant grin on his face every time he rides it. What could be better? Well, something with more style.
Having owned a Benelli for a short period of time I have developed a slight affinity for the marque and am always intrigued when I find one on ebay, or anywhere else for that matter. And…I am a long time lover of small motorcycles, motorcycles that have a ‘high giggle factor’. I found a sweet little Benelli Fireball on ebay today that I think would be a blast to own.
A little history is required here though. This little motorbike was born in the Benelli factory but was sold through Montgomery Wards as a ‘Riverside’ brand motorbike. Back in the ‘Leave it to Beaver’, ‘Father Knows Best’, and Ozzie and Harriet’ days, both Sears and Wards sold everything including motorcycles. Most all were sourced out of Europe and sold rather inexpensively here in the States. This was at a time when small bikes were selling well as basic transportation and fun to ride. Motorcycling was growing fast and everyone (businesses) wanted to cash in. That happy time didn’t last all that long. Sears stopped the Allstate brand, Wards dropped Riverside even Western Auto stopped selling mini-bikes. Fortunately, a good number of these bikes have survived.
I found a really great example today on ebay of that time period. A Wards ‘Riverside’ 50cc motorbike. It’s a Benelli 50cc Fireball. A simple little two-stroke racebike with a head and tail light. This little bike is so cool. The owner went over the bike and removed all the ‘Wards Riverside’ logo’s and rebadged it as Benelli and it looks great. The seller says it runs good. There isn’t a lot of information about these bikes out there but there are a few websites that have info that you might want at a some time.
If you live in a city where getting around on a scooter works well, you’ll have a lot more fun on this little Benelli. And you’ll look a lot cooler too.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.
My good friend Tad of Purgatory Pizza in Los Angeles is a big fan of the Honda CB500/550 Fours, so am I. I have told the story before of the ‘one-upmanship’ game my friend Eddie and I played for years with motorcycles. I was riding a BSA 650, Eddie was still on his ‘little’ Yamaha DT1 250. One Saturday morning Eddie called wanting to go for a ride, I had the day off, the weather was fall perfect so how could say anything but “yes”.
An hour later, I arrived at our usual meeting spot to see Eddie sitting not next to his DT1 but a brand new Honda CB500. Resplendent in its gold paint and four chrome mufflers and Eddie with a big sh*t eating grin on his face. I knew I was now losing the game.
The CB500/4 was and is an amazing motorcycle. Jewel like in its precision and smoothness. It’s no wonder that it was copied.
European motorbikes had long been the standard of performance motorcycles, but the Japanese were coming fast. The Brit’s were slow to respond, the Germans just kept their steady course but the Italians, Benelli, decided to respond. Good for them. That response to the Japanese onslaught was the spectacular 750 Sei.
Benelli was the first manufacturer to build a ‘production’ six cylinder motorbike, Honda had been racing them for a number of years. What Benelli did was, essentially to take the very successful Honda CB500/4 add a couple of cylinders and a few more slight modifications. Take the alternator and put it behind the cylinder block instead of on the end of the crankshaft, to keep the engine narrow, use a three carburetor set up to increase torque and give it true Italian Styling.
Remember at this time Alejandro de Tomaso, the creator of the Pantera automobile was the head of Benelli. He hired the Italian design studio Ghia to design the new Sei. The shape is pure Italian of the times, angular yet smooth.
Here’s the thing about the Sei…the sound. The song of those six cylinders makes you dream of speed, sweeping corners and a bike that responds to each and every thought. Japanese motor precision, Italian handling precision…there is no better combination. This is one of the most beautiful sights in motorcycling.
The Sei wasn’t the horsepower king of the world at the time but it’s 71HP was respectable for a 750, it had a decent top speed around 127mph. But again, more importantly was the look, the sound and the feel of this beautiful motorbike
I found a really nice 750 Sei on ebay today that I think is actually a good deal, as compared to many bikes I see that are waaaayyy over valued. This particular 750 Sei has just a bit over 11K miles, which isn’t too bad considering how it is built, it does have an aftermarket exhaust but thankfully it is still a six into six and looks right. If you’d like an exotic sport tourer that will give you years of pleasure and also knowing that you will probably have the only one at your favorite Sunday morning breakfast stop, this is a good deal. Click on the pics below for more pictures and info.
Today I was doing my daily research on cool old motorcycles and started finding an interesting pattern, small displacement motorcycles seem to live on decade after decade with minor changes, but larger bikes come and go and change every couple of years. My closest reference is the Honda 350. Honda built that model for years with little changes and was the largest selling motorcycle in the world. Sure, the CB750 was a world changer and spawned the ‘Superbike’ (actually, Triumph trumped them on that one with the Trident, but Honda got the title…), but while everybody was one-upping each other in the performance range, smaller bikes just kept selling.
A great example of small displacement bikes that just kept selling and going strong was the Moto Guzzi Airone 250. This was a bike that was born in the 1930’s and finally retired in 1957. The Falcone (500cc) was the better known of the two Guzzi singles but the Airone was the better seller. In Italy,the Airone was up against scooters and ultra lightweight two strokes for market share and was considered a ‘big’ motorbike. If you had a an Airone you were definitely in the big leagues, the Falcone in its home market was considered too big?!
Early on the Airone was a very simple motorcycle, a pressed steel frame, girder front suspension and an eye-popping 10 horsepower that would propel the little single to a top speed of 60 mph! Pretty impressive for its time, but still the Airone was considered a very sedate motorcycle.
1948 brought out the ‘Sport’ version of the 250 single. The motor was pumped up to 13.5 horsepower and the top speed went up to 75 mph…now were getting serious here! The styling became a bit more ‘dashing’ with the new paint job and ‘Fishtail’ muffler,the new muffler did more than just look good, it did add a bit of power to the little single and it sounded much more robust (as robust as a 250 single can sound). You could get a speedo and a tach for the bike as options but as was the common thought of the day “If you have to check your speed, you’re not going fast enough”. The Airone was Moto Guzzi’s best selling single through the 1950’s outselling the Falcone four to one. It was also Italy’s most popular lightweight motorcycle at the time.
Today I found a very nice Moto Guzzi Airone 250 Sport on ebay that is selling for what I believe is a somewhat reasonable price considering some I have seen on the market and the fact that there are very few around here in the US. This particular Airone is a 1950 Sport model in really good condition that would only need a basic going through to make a fun rider right now. It’s not a show bike it is a rider…you show up at your local Sunday ride hang out on this bike with the ‘baloney cutter’ flywheel spinning away, you will have a crowd instantly…don’t expect to be eating breakfast all too soon.
For more info and pics, click on the pics below. Nice bike, it ain’t cheap but rare and unique bikes from this era never are. They are worth it however.
Starting back in the Victorian era when motorcycles were just emerging, you’d have a guy building bicycles in one village, and another guy building motors the next village over. The guy building motors was thinking about putting them in an automobile or a farm tractor, the bicycle guy was just making bicycles. Well, one day at a wedding for some local farmers daughter (there has to be a traveling salesman and shotgun joke involved here somewhere?), the bicycle builder and the motor builder met. Over a pint of the local brew, they hatched the idea of sticking a motor in a bicycle frame!!! Our life (as motorcyclists) was born. They designed motorbikes over a pint of beer and we still talk about them over a pint of beer. Or two or five. Ain’t life grand.
Over the past century or so a lot of motorcycles have been joint ventures. Matchless frames with JAP motors, Enfield motors in Indian frames, German motors in English frames…the list goes on and on. It is a very interesting part of motorcycling history that there are many books written about. Another twist on this same theme is a manufacturer from one country (in today’s story, Ducati) contracts or licenses a factory in another country to build motorbikes under their name for them. It’s been quite common since World War Two and is still done today.
Starting in 1957, Ducati of Italy licensed their motor design to Mototrans of Spain, who put it into their own design frames. But, they were also building Ducati motorcycles with…some slight differences. Most of those slight differences were in suspension components, carburetion and general build quality. The early Mototrans Ducati’s were not known for their quality, but later versions of the Spanish Ducati’s were as good as the homegrown models. They still had different suspension components and Amal carbs but the bikes worked just fine. There was only one niggling glitch and that was the oil pump gear…but the Italian model had the same issue.
The Mototrans Ducati’s got a bit of a bad rap from the beginning so the value of one of these motorcycles is not as high as the same bike from Italy but little by little that is changing, I think in part due the fact that Genuine Italian Ducati’s are getting way too expensive for the average Joe to start his collection with.
Mototrans kept building Ducati’s through 1983 when they were bought out by Yamaha. The Spanish company was quite successful with the Single cylinder bikes, the most popular being the Vento, a very sporty bike still featuring the Bevel drive motor.
I found a nice Mototrans Ducati 350 on ebay that is a rider and really only needs a good going through to be a great Sunday rider, vintage roadracer or….a really great little Cafe Racer! These bikes put out around 28HP, (which is quite respectable for its age, size and weight…there has to be a joke about my age, size and weight in there somewhere!?), have good handling characteristics and parts are still available…Maybe. This particular 350 seems to be very stock except for air filter and muffler, but these are two things that don’t take anything away from the bike if you are going to ride it. If you want to show it, well, you’ve got some work to do.
Now speaking of parts for older Ducati’s, and this Mototrans 350 is a prime candidate, Steve Allen’s Bevel Heaven (www.bevelheaven.com) is the best source in the United States. Information, parts, forums…it’s all there.
For more pictures and info about this neat little Ducati, click on the pics below. Oh, and if you do buy this little gem, check the oil pump gear…if it’s plastic, replace it with the steel version, your bike will love you. And so will your friend that might have to come rescue you on a Sunday morning.
Little hot rod two strokes are way too much fun to ride. Like a lot of us of a certain age, we grew up riding little ring dings, dirt bikes or street bikes, the late 60’s and early 70’s were ruled by two strokes. Three out of the four Japanese manufacturers based their whole product line on the smokers and so did many of the European builders.
Two stroke motorcycles are great fun for a number of reasons…they are lighter, easier to work on, they love to rev and I like nothing more than leaving bigger, heavier, high horsepower bikes in a cloud of blue smoke on a tight twisty road. Small displacement two strokes have a high giggle factor.
While Japan was making their inroads into the American market the Euro’s didn’t just retreat into the background, which is really what they did do looking back, some of them tried to make bikes that would appeal to the American buyer by bringing European performance and handling. Sadly, most of them just got beaten by the Japanese. Japan was able to build light, fast and reliable bikes at a much lower cost than the Europeans. Here in the USA at that time, cheaper was better and low cost bikes sold like hot cakes. Its sad too because the bikes from the grand houses of Europe were generally better. Yeah, the fit and finish wasn’t all that great (neither were the Japanese), the electrics were always a bit dodgy (so were the Japanese), but…the Eurpoean bikes’ handing was always far superior, the downside was that at that time, handling was not as important as horsepower and straight line speed.
I found on ebay this morning an early 70’s Benelli 250c two stroke that has winter project written all over it. The Benelli 250 2C was one of those bikes that the Italians trotted out as a direct competitor to the Japanese models. It had a more bland style than some of the bikes that had been brought before but still had a Euro flare to it. The 2C had a good chassis, quality suspension, a high revving motor and was comfortable to ride. All in all a very good bike, except for one little thing…you still had to mix the gas and oil yourself. While the competitors were using self mixing units (separate tanks for gas and oil and a pump did the mixing for you), you would have to measure out the right amount of oil at each gas stop and mix the two together. A minor nuisance but still a bother compared to one of the Japanese bikes. Honestly, I’ll deal with the minor hassle of mixing gas and oil to have the handling of the Benelli.
The bike I found this morning is going to need a lot of love, it sat outside for over 20 years and it looks it. The chrome is rusted, paint faded, the seat cover is gone (it does still have the Benelli logo on the back though), the gas cap won’t close (that’s why the tank is a bit cruddy I imagine), BUT…it’s all there! It’s a complete bike and it has only 681 miles on the clock. All too often I find bikes like this that are missing all kinds of parts and have absolutely no hope of ever being a motorcycle again, this one just needs some love…OK, a lot of love. But give it that love and you will have a very unique and fun little quarter litre bike to blast around the canyons with a big grin on your face. If it were me though, I’d leave it all rusty, just get it running, spoon on some new tires and just have fun.
One more little tidbit here, the Benelli 250 2C was also marketed as the Moto Guzzi 250TS, same exact bike, made in the same factory, different badge.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.