Ducati’s, Velo’s and cafe racers
Who doesn’t at least enjoy looking at a Cafe racer or even riding them, not that many I would wager but rose tinted glasses are only worn by the old and lots of older riders may imagine this style of motorcycle would be nice to own except their back and wrists have a bit more say in the matter.
What makes a good Cafe racer well clip-ons, rear-sets, swept back pipes and mega’s ,a humpy solo seat, large alloy tank, alloy guards, a tacho, and if the wallet will stretch a half or fullfairing, a alloy centre mount oil tank. Monza fuel and oil tank caps are de rigour as are lots of chrome and anything stamped Dunstall or Unity racing equip, good examples are always hybrids hence Nor-Vin,Tri-BSA, Triton, Gr-umph or Vel-ton of course to build one of these two bikes must be sacrificed this was easy when examples of these in the old days when there were lots of “old bangers” but now it’s virtually financially impractical.
Fortunately in the late eighties when choppers were slowly dying and people looked back to the sixties and the Cafe Racer was the pinnacle we all wanted only then quite a few people started making replica featherbed frames and accessories to cope with the increasing demand and shortage of many parts. Paul Dunstall the Cafe king was probably one of the best accessories manufacturers and bought new Norton’s to convert enabling him to retail brand new bikes and be classed as a manufacturer in his own right, not something to be taken lightly. Dresda was another company that made a business building cafe racers particularly Tritons they invented them.
The factories had also built successful cafe racers as well starting with BSA Gold Star in the fifties then the famous Velocette Venom Thruxton in the early sixties also the 250 Royal Enfield GT and the Ariel Golden Arrow for the learners, the Norton Commando 750 production racer in the early seventies was sold at Stanco in Elizabeth st only to people that had a competition licence to add even more to its desirability and mystique, the appetite for such machines was wetted and of course all the home built hybrids were manufactured Rickman Bros the famous scrambles riders who built BSA and Triumph frames for off road made a beautiful Triumph Cafe Racer frame and developed with Weslake a 8 valve Triumph top end kit and this lead onto the Rickman Interceptors in the early seventies they also made frame kits for Honda and Kawasaki as well.
The British industry was failing in the early seventies and that famous Swissman Fritz Egli found that Vincent engines were getting harder to find and expensive so he made frames for virtually all engines, the Bimota factory we’re producing solid handling frames and favoured at first Ducati then Suzuki. Ducati of course made the famous 750 Sport and Super Sport models and MotoGuzzi made Le Mans models, Laverda caught the bug with 750 twin Sport some of these machines are legendary others faded away but others people drop to their knees in veneration at even being near one.
I caught the bug at 17 and lusted after a Dunstall 750 Triumph they were very rare and impossible to find by the time I turned twenty I found a crashed 1968 version at Athol Patterson’s in Springvale it wasn’t to bad the fairing written off, bent staunchions and clip-ons, the tank seat and rear sets were ok and it didn’t have the 750 big bore kit otherwise the most important parts were good along with the frame. A few weeks later it was on the road albeit without the fairing which was to expensive for my meagre income. It’s first outing was into Elizabeth st and I parked out side Mayfair Motors the Honda agents in Melbourne to buy some bits for a mates roadracing Honda outfit I came out to see over thirty people around my Dunstall and thought a truckie must have backed over it initially as to cause so many spectators, fortunately all was fine and I pushed through the crowd casually fitted my helmet and gloves prayed it would start first kick(which it did) and idled out onto the street, it was hard to get the helmet on as my head had swelled two sizes with pride.
I rode this bike for a couple of years then sold it to buy a V8 Valiant AP6 and I instantly regretted it. A guy I knew hassled me for a year solid and eventually I said yes, sadly he crashed in the first week of ownership. The Dunstall’s claim to fame was it was used in a early Division 4 episode filmed by Crawford Productions they wanted to borrow it for a day and for about $450 I jumped at it, they picked it up in a van and it came back crashed! Needless to say I went “off my head”and after a little reluctance they eventually paid up which I managed to repair it well and the leftover money was spent on a ARE 750 zip kit to make it go harder.
My next cafe racer was the epitome of the ultimate in British engineering a 1964 Velocette Venom Thruxton engine no VMT 173 it was bought from a good mate Garry O’Connell who had just bought Kenny Blake’s Ducati 750 SS green frame so the Velo was redundant and mine for $1,400 quite a few months of paying it off at $100 here and there but eventually it was mine. It had been a Earl’s Court show model so prepared to a inch of its life in finish it was a blue frame model with silver tank and guards and fitted with the optional Avon Avonaire full fairing, the huge GP Amal carb and 40 BHP on tap it went like “shit off a shovel” and I used to to go out hunting for SR Yamaha 500 ‘s the Velo out handled, outbraked, and top-ended them by 75 kph, unfortunately the close ratio box in the Velo was slower off the line but I could take one in 2nd gear! Beside that it was a bike with ”killer” looks and it had a GP Amal carb with no idle circuit and the lower fairing used to hit you square on the knee caps, quite painful it’s clip-ons were a killer on the wrists and back for long distances. I kept it for about 10 years then sold it for a 1975 Ducati 900SS
Ducati”s are much like Velocettes thoroughbreds they are finicky and sound beautiful they are super quick and handle like they are on rails, mine had Imola tank, Conti”s, and 40mm pumpers, with a right hand gearchange and was made in less numbers than the legendary green frame 750”s. It was stored with the fairing, tank and seat removed in a attic and at a shade under $10K was a bargain. It was possibly the best motorcycle I have ever owned but I grew out of it with limited lock, rear sets and clip- ons the old back and wrists were complaining and a mate had been hassling me for two years captured it for $29k these things are hedging over $100k now but one must have a few regrets in life otherwise it no use coming back after you’ve karked it.
The best Cafe Racer is the BSA GoldStar the first one a Indonesian ex police bike 350 cc in Touring trim which was a option the few ordered preferring the clubmans version was a really sweet motorcycle with a Amal TT carby and a standard ratio gearbox mine had a Amal Monobloc fitted and with the touring cams was a sweetie and comfortable to boot. I rebored it with a 750 Bonnie piston and that made it a 420cc with more power and no disadvantages, the standard footrests and handlebars made it a good bike to ride distance without pain , anyway I sold it to a real estate guy in Warrnambool and suffered remorse for a few weeks.
Recently I have bought a 500 BSA clubmans US spec which unlike the UK variant has high bars, standard footrests and normal headlight brackets and standard ratio gearbox. The only thing that was wrong is the original ridiculous small 2.1/2 gall fuel tank which I have replaced with a 4 gallon version a quite good repo from India, the last owner of this machine is a mate of mine who has given up riding he fitted a Amal Concentric carby instead of GP (now on the shelf) a electric starter and 12V alternator, in all a civilised Goldie as without the UK spec notorious RRT2 close ratio gearbox that the yanks never ordered the standard ratios make it a treat to ride. I fitted a 1971 Triumph TLS front wheel and BSA A10 fork sliders to make it stop as the infamous 190mm front brake is really only a ornament, it’s a civilised Goldie that is good to ride now and the closest to a cafe racer I’m getting at this time of my life.
Phil Pilgrim 2021