Ducati: Object of a young man's desire
When I was a very young man and the possessor of a cheap-and-cheerful 98cc Excelsior motorcycle (now to be found in a museum) I would gaze for hours into the window of a motorcycle shop in my local town of Bolton in Lancashire.
Behind the glass was the pinnacle of my 16-year-old desire (I always had simple tastes and was a late developer): a shiny chromey Ducati motorcycle with a red tank. I can't remember much about it after all these years, but I suspect it was a single-cylinder 200cc Ducati Elite. At any rate, it was a gem of polished aluminium and chrome, with dropped handlebars and rear-mounted footrests, finished in Italian racing red. The vibes that came out of that humble shop window were indeed heady.
I would cheerfully have sold my grandmother for a day astride this fantastic beast. In retrospect, though, it was probably as unreliable as hell with an electrical system that would splutter to a halt at the first sign of a shower.
But it was Italian, it was shiny and decidedly sexy. I wanted it fiercely. Although I wasn’t to know at the time, it was the catalyst for my later career writing about and promoting motorcycles in Britain.
All those powerful ccs were a disturbing fantasy when viewed from the staid dual seat of the spluttering Villiers-powered two-stroke, two-speed Excelsior, the very antithesis of Italian flair. It was love at first sight, although unrequited, when I met the Ducati. I was in severe danger of succumbing to mechanophilia. The only thing that saved me was a lack of cash.
What I didn't realise at the time, though, was that Ducati also made cameras. Rangefinder cameras, albeit half frame and not full-frame. If I had, I would have wanted one of those as well. Forget the German-made M3, not that I could have remotely found the necessary £125 for a Leica — more or less the same price as the much-ogled Ducati motorcycle. No, it would have been a Ducati camera for me. At the time I didn't know the difference between half frame and full frame but the name was exciting.
With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that the Ducati camera could have been just as exciting to own as the motorbike. Every outing might have been an adventure. Both Italian motorcycles and cars then had a rather unenviable reputation for unreliability, particularly in the electrical department. And British cars and motorcycles were, if anything, even worse. This has changed, I feel sure, or we would see more Ferraris and Lamborghinis on the backs of AA trucks.
I suspect that at the time my two-wheel needs would have been much better served by German products — by a less flamboyant but more sensible BMW R27 two-fifty, for starters. And, of course, the Leica M3 to massage my nascent interest in photography. But I was 16 and didn't know much about such things; the glister was all that mattered. Nor did I have more than ten shillings in my pocket. Yet all that glittered in that Bolton dealership was indeed gold to my young eyes.