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1965 Ducati Elite
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When the 204cc Elite was first built, it was Ducati's largest capacity production motorcycle. Laurie Richardson wins prizes with his...

Prior to the launch of the Elite in 1958, Ducati's biggest home-grown bike was a 175cc single. As the company's racing campaign flourished at the end of the decade so their range of production motorcycles grew and they bored out the 175's cylinder to give a new engine of 204cc. This was christened the Elite, and in the years that followed it spawned the 250cc Daytona and then the most famous of all the narrow-case OHC singles, the Mach I.

All bikes were balck and white in those days... 1965 Ducati Elite

However, the Elite was good enough to please not only the riders in Italy but also motorcycle enthusiasts further afield, as Ducati themselves explain: 'The Elite 200 won the hearts of bike-lovers world-wide with its combination of performance and pleasure. It was considered an extremely fun bike, and very well suited to a wide variety of activities. In its own time, it was described as "simple and strong".'

The Elite engine used a bevel-driven single overhead cam with enclosed valve gear and an all-alloy unit construction engine with a deeply finned sump which held the oil. The 67mm by 57.8mm motor produced 18bhp at 7500rpm which would propel its miniscule mass of 105kg to nearly 90mph. The standard roadbike was an all-purpose run-around rather than a racer, but if you wanted to go faster then there was a different carb set-up and a camshaft with a steep cam angle. Of course, the bog-standard spec bikes could happily return 70mpg, so you might not want to tinker with it too much…

...this picture has obviously been coloured in by a particularly talented nine year old. 1965 Ducati Elite Brochure

The single-tube open frame cradle was made of steel with tele forks at the front and twin, three-way adjustable shocks attached to a swinging arm at the rear. Both wheels were 18-inchers, with a monster 180mm drum brake up front and a 160mm drum at the back. The front brake was good enough to bring the Elite to a screeching stop in about 26-feet from 30mph (and it was also sharp enough to show up the flexibility of the forks when used hard by a heavy rider!).

The seat height of 28.5-inches made the Elite easy to ride, although starting it could be a little tricky. The rider had to take care not to drown the plug, and it was advisable to stuff a rag into the inclined Dell'Orto carb overnight to prevent water ingress. Once warm, however, the engine ran smoothly and would tick over reliably.

The four-speed gearbox was considered to be 'first class, with positive, foolproof changes' although top gear was strictly for cruising. The bike wouldn't pull much below 40mph in top - but acceleration in second and third was 'pretty brisk'.

The Elite usually wore two stacked silencers on its right side - the touring model offshoots were more commonly fitted with single silencer. All suffered somewhat from patchy chrome finish, which meant that rust tended to show through after just a couple of outings in the rain.

Laurie Richardson originally owned an Elite in the 1960s and knew that he would have another, one day. He bought his 1965 example in 1978 for just £100, without even setting eyes on it. He certainly didn't need to take it for a test ride - the Ducati came in three tea-chests… not that he was discouraged.

'I just wanted it!' said Laurie.

Absolutely everything on the Elite had to be refurbished, and Laurie did the majority of the work himself using spares from the Italian Vintage Company and AJ Calladine in Newark for the metalwork. Only the paintwork and chroming were handled by professionals; all the fastners, for example, are stainless steel and were home-made.

Since its rebuild, Laurie has used the Elite for local rides and this year it won its class in the Sleaford Historic Car and Motorcycle Show, where it has taken runner-up prizes before.

Random Ducati single stuff on eBay.co.uk

When new, the 204cc Ducati sold for £190 and was considered 'a near perfect mount for anyone and just right for the rider who wants an economical lightweight.' These days you'll have to pay a fair bit more than that!

Like I said, all bikes were balck and white in those days. 1965 Ducati Elite advert

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Show Off!

If you'd like to display your classic motorcycle at an event this autumn, there's still a range of shows around the UK, and a whole bunch of trophies and RC prizes up for grabs.

If you enter your bike for the concours competition then most organisers will give you a pass for free or discounted admission, too. Your bike doesn't need to be a very rare model, entirely original or immaculately restored; our judges are often just as interested in well-worn, practically modified popular classics.

So bring your bike along - even if you don't win an award you've still had a cheap day out! Contact the organiser for specific details about each of these events for autumn 2007…

September 30th: The STAFFORDSHIRE CLASSIC CAR & MOTORCYCLE SHOW returns to Uttoxeter Racecourse. 01253 407779 / www.markwoodwardclassicevents.co.uk

October 28th: The SOUTH OF ENGLAND CLASSIC BIKE SHOW returns to Ardingly, near Gatwick. www.elk-promotions.co.uk or call 01797 344277

November 4th: The MALVERN REALCLASSIC BIKE SHOW returns to the warm and cosy halls at the Three Counties Showground at Malvern, 10 mins from J2 off the M50 or J8/J7 off the M5. Enter your classic by calling 01484 452002 or see www.classicshows.org



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