Friday, 19 January 2018

Jeff Smith - the biography

Not cheap, but what a story. I've only met Jeff a couple of times but he could have been a stand up comedian if motorcycles hadn't worked out. Just a lovely, very funny man who was arguably the greatest off road motorcyclist of all time. You can only buy through his daughter's business (that distributes Benzina and my Ducati TT book in the US so clearly a class act) by clicking here

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Dale Quarterley Ducati TT2/1 for sale


Researching and documenting the history of a Ducati road racing motorcycle which began over thirty years ago is typically both a frustrating and rewarding task. Not so this one for the bike's story is well documented in spite of it spanning two continents. It was in 1985 the American road racer Pete Johnson bought a Ducati 750TT F1 from Steve Wynn's Sports Motorcycles in Manchester, UK. (Steve Wynn was the UK's go-to Ducati specialist who engineered Mike Hailwood's return – as in win - to the Isle of Man TT on the big bevel Ducati). Already this bike was 'special' because it came with a 'factory' NCR 750 air-cooled, 2-valve desmodromic motor built around un-stamped NCR crankcases but NCR stamped cylinder heads. Within came an NCR close ratio gearbox and clutch. And it's for sale at the Bonham's Las Vegas auction.

This two-valve motor was installed in a top quality custom bronze welded Harris Performance (brothers Lester and Steve's Hertford, north of London, shop) Reynolds steel tube frame including aluminum foot pegs, levers, etc. and a Verlicchi aluminum swing arm. The forks were Marzocchi M1R, the rear shock from Dutch specialists White Power (its name changing to WP somewhat later). The latest Brembo brakes were front and back, 280mm discs and 4-pot racing calipers, and 260mm disc and 4-pot fully floating rear caliper, respectively. Veglia supplied a 'race' tachometer. On paper it was just right; on the track it proved itself to be right 'on the docket'. Late in 1985 it was taken to the Fast by Ferracci's shop in (Roslyn, Pennsylvania) where it was bored out to 850cc to take Eraldo Ferracci-designed 92mm Arias pistons. The heads were ported, the valves enlarged to 44mm inlet and 39mm exhaust, and added was a long stroke (64mm) NCR crankshaft (reputedly one of only ten) and titanium rods. 41.5mm flat-slide Mikunis replaced the Dell'Ortos. Seventeen inch Mavic wheels replaced the 'stock' 18-inch.

Pete Johnson won the 1987 AMA Pro-Twins GP2 championship, on this bike – this being the first of many podium results for Ferracci upon his return to motorcycle road racing. Ferracci bought the bike from Johnson the following year and used it as a test mule alongside the new water cooled, four-valve 851 as it was being sorted as race bike. Ferracci's rider was one Dale Quarterley, a road racing 'hard man', who won the AMA Pro Twins GP2 series that year on this bike, too.

By 1989 Jeff Nash (prominent Ducati dealer in Dallas, Texas) had bought the bike and raced it successfully in his native New Zealand. Two years later it was bought by another Jeff, Jeff Knewstubb, who had connections with John Britten and his crew, and campaigned it for the next four years, still in New Zealand, with the best result being at the F1 round of the Bears 'Sound of Thunder' in 1994 ridden by Loren Poole. The bike then sat idle until 2012 when it was purchased by Jeff's father and a sympathetic restoration started. The whole bike was carefully dismantled and rebuilt – as much patina as could be saved was saved – and it was brought back to its 'as raced' by Scuderia Nostalgica's Pete Johnson livery. Auto Restorations of Christchurch – a shop with a huge portfolio of award winning cars - did the painting, Mike Brosnan undertook the final check through and first start up - Brosnan had built the John Britten dynamometer – and perhaps it was no surprise that this Ducati ran 115bhp at the rear wheel!

Motorcycle road racing was in its heyday in the late 1980s with the likes of tuner Ferracci and riders Johnson and Qurterley always battling hard all year from Daytona to Laguna Seca, often on non-factory 'production' racers. To be able to offer today a genuine, no-holds-barred, Ducati home brewed racer – a winner to boot – is indeed a rare privilege.

More on the Bonham's site http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/24509/lot/120/
(for whom I consult and helped research this although it is not my work)

Friday, 15 December 2017

Benelli are back - again!


 Well, who'd have thought it? Benelli showed a shedload of new bikes at EICMA, presumably made in China  - although they claim to be selling 3000 bikes a year in India, so who knows? Apparently the much promised 600 four has been sold there, but these newbies are all singles or parallel twins. You can read a Google translate into English of the press bumph by clicking here









Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A new book - a Wiltshire Year



In a previous post  I wrote about my adopted county of Wiltshire, and decided that maybe I should go and work for the tourist board. But of course there are no jobs there - paid, at least - so I abandoned writing about motorcycles and set too on a new book about Wiltshire. And here it is.. 


England was born in Wiltshire when King Alfred won the battle of Ethandune in 878, and one of Wiltshire’s famous white horses still guards the site. Of course people lived in Wiltshire long before that: Stonehenge was once the most populous place in Europe, and the site of a great midwinter feast. One of the few places not covered by dense forests, this was where sheep farming could make England rich and create the biggest empire the world has seen.
But Britain’s rise came with mixed fortunes. The Black Death killed millions, yet allowed a new middle class to emerge and create the first true European democracy. Yet conflict has never been far away, a bloody Civil War being fought across Wiltshire, and we prepared for two world wars including the first military airfields. Concorde first flew here and Wiltshire continues to have the most advanced aircraft in the world regularly visiting her skies.
The canals of Wiltshire brought remarkable feats of engineering that Brunel would build on to create his Great Western Railway. Suddenly fresh food could be speedily brought into cities to feed the exploding population, although not without cost.
By exploring English history through a Wiltshire year each development can be set in context. How dark winters create superstitions and opportunities, and how conflicting demands pressurise farmers and wildlife. Stories that tell how the haves kept the have-nots to heel, but occasionally compromising by offering  rights such as land ownership and the vote. Yet most of all this is a love letter to the English countryside and Wiltshire in particular. In a world riddled with divisions this is a chance to understand our shared heritage, hopefully with plenty of “I didn’t know that”s along the way.
Greg Pullen has lived in Wiltshire for fifty years, working as a chartered surveyor specialising in old buildings. His writing has been published in national newspapers and magazines, and three books for the Crowood Press. A Wiltshire Year is his second self published book. You can buy it here
http://teambenzina.bigcartel.com/product/a-wiltshire-year-the-history-of-england-in-one-county-with-free-uk-postage

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Free T shirt postage! Ducati, MV and MotoGuzzi options



















Running low (entirely out of in fact) on some sizes of these lovely soft t shirts. Of course they feature Italian motorcycles, including the MV Agusta 750 Sport and Moto Guzzi V7 Sport illustrated by Jamie Kinroy. Or there's the best selling red or maroon version celebrating Mike Hailwood's 1978 Formula 1 win for Ducati at the Isle of Man TT. The tees are a high quality side seamed Bella+Canvas item in 100% combed and ring-spun cotton, more like a pricey high street fashion item than the usual online stuff. More at http://benzinatshirts.bigcartel.com/

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Wiltshire way

Walking the dog, up on the Wessex Ridgeway, I can see everywhere I’ve lived since 1969. Is this a good thing, to have seen so much of one place, risking the loss of a better life somewhere else? Perhaps, and I certainly thought so as a teenager stranded in a rural wasteland, peering into a brighter world through the prism of the motorcycle press.
But then I started to travel and work around the world and came to realise my discontent was connected to a lack of transport rather than where I lived. And now I think this probably is one of the best places in the world to live, especially if you like a bit of social history. Yet Wiltshire remains a forgotten county: even our kids have learnt to stop saying they live in Wiltshire, but just say near Stonehenge. Funny that everyone knows Stonehenge, but few know Wiltshire. And yet from up here on the Ridgeway you can trace human civilisation from its beginnings to the highest of today’s high tech.
Wiltshire is the now least populous county in England, ironic given that it was the most densely populated place in the UK when Stonehenge was built. And although you can’t see Stonehenge from the Ridgeway, one the oldest manmade routes in the world, it’s only ten miles away. Ten miles in the opposite direction is the even more impressive Avebury, Stonehenge’s World Heritage Site sibling. Avebury is where the science of archaeology started, back in the Eighteenth century, some 5,000 years after it was built.
Below the Downs in the middle distance is Devizes, with one of the finest Norman church and street plans in the country. There’s also the remains of the castle that marked the divide – hence Devizes – between crown and church control.
The church’s centre of power in these parts was down in Salisbury where the cathedral was built in a single style and at great speed – 38 years, where most took over a century to build. It is home to one of the Magna Cartas, the document that started to limit the crown and state’s power over its people.  
Power over people of a different sort can be found back in Devizes. The Colston family have the finest tomb in the town’s churchyard, paid for by the slave trade. It might appal us now, but slavery was what powered civilisation before the industrial revolution: slaves built and fought in Rome’s colosseum, raised the pyramids, and possibly Stonehenge. The Colston’s were considered great philanthropists in their day building and funding Roundway Hospital (named after their estate on the northern side of Devizes) as the county lunatic asylum. The buildings are fabulous, today converted into housing.

The other market towns are further away from the Ridgeway, following rivers. They are punctuated at roughly ten mile intervals, that being a reasonable day’s travel if droving livestock, or travelling to and from an outlying village. Early on people lived up on top of the Downs, building hill forts and terraces to grow food: there’s one such terrace, known as strip lynchets, a few hundred yards from where I climb up to the Ridgeway. Little but grass grows up here, just a few inches of soil covering solid chalk, which is why there are occasional white horses carved onto the slopes. The one I can see above Devizes was created for the millennium, and most are only a few hundred years old. The valleys below were heavily wooded and home to bears and wolves, so trips down to collect water and firewood were fraught with danger.
Some of the steep slopes made these lands easily defended, but this could be a double edged sword. The steep, rounded rise near Devizes is Oliver’s Mount, scene of a bloody battle in the English Civil War, still the bloodiest war in human history: a greater proportion of the population were killed than in any other conflict. The mounted Royalists drove Cromwell's Roundheads down  the slope in the biggest cavalry victory of the first civil war.

Over by West Lavington there’s a short church tower, and above it the plague pit. The plagues killed a third of the population, and mass graves near the church – and so consecrated ground – were the only way to cope. This is the reason churches are often on the edges of villages, as people moved away from the burial sites.
Gradually human activity cleared the woodland that covered Wiltshire’s plains and valleys to the extent that felling oak was an offence by the end of the Eighteenth century, the timber reserved for warships. The chalk uplands became home to the sheep that can still be seen occasionally, and were a great driver of England’s wealth. The barter of wool for Port from Portugal is the oldest surviving commercial agreement in the world, but the wealth it created was soon mopped up by the rich for themselves. The 1773 Enclosures Act allowed anyone with a title to claim common land as their own, leading to desperate rural poverty. My own home is built on such land, and from the Ridgeway I can see the Lansdown monument, an obelisk built by the Bowood Estate near Chippenham (just visible down by the River Avon) to mark the end of their land. Bowood has one of Wiltshire’s Capability Brown landscapes, although it is far less impressive than the one at Stourhead, down in the south west of the county.

Also near Chippenham is Lacock, a village perfectly preserved in time by the National Trust, and the star of many period dramas. I would stay with family here when parents went on holiday, getting soaked in the ford or building model aircraft in the front garden while trying to avoid inquisitive tourists. The village’s Abbey was confiscated from the church during Henry VIII’s reformation and the Fox Talbots who lived here invented photography. It was also used for the early Harry Potter films.

Up to the north is Swindon where Brunel based his Great Western Railway, now a museum and shopping village.  In front of me is Calne, where Harris the butchers were the main employer. You still see free-range pigs around Stonehenge and, with the new railway, Harris developed the Wiltshire ham cure that used less salt but still allowed hams to be taken to London without refrigeration. Pigs and ham were so central to diet here that some houses still have a brining bath in the cellar, added as the house was built but too big to be removed.
The gentle slope to the west of Devizes is home to the longest series of canal locks in the world. “Putting your back into” was how a lock was opened, and only the Victorians would think to bring a canal up to a town 400 feet above sea level. It’s a mightily impressive sight, and when you get to the top you can visit Wadworth’s brewery for a sharpener.

The Ridgeway marks the northern boundary of Salisbury Plain, Europe’s largest area of open grassland and the main practice zone for the UK military. As reminders of our high tech world Apache attack helicopters are commonplace, fast jets a regular sight and tanks occasionally block the roads. Makes a change from a hunt or a tractor. Over beyond Chippenham is Malmesbury, home to Dyson one of the biggest engineering research and development facilities in the country. They also make the odd vacuum cleaner.

So it might look empty, but Wiltshire is home to much of our history. And, if you must stray, the fabulous city of Bath is just over the border and London’s an hour on the train. We even get far less rain than the average for England. And there are some bloody fantastic roads and trails when you want to mess around on motorbikes. The countryside varies from soaring Downs, hidden lanes, forests and empty valleys. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live.