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Cafe Americano – 1965 Ducati Monza

 red ducat Monza with owner standing

Many of us wish we could be reunited with the bikes of our youth. Dave Hartleip was extra lucky: not only did he reacquire the Ducati Monza he and his brother rode in the 1970s, he was able to turn it into a concours-winning custom café racer.

Dave and his brother Ray were just 14 and 15 in 1975 when they discovered a sad looking 1965 Ducati Monza in a neighbour’s barn. The Monza was the base model in Ducati’s range of  “narrow-case,” 250cc spring-valve singles that year with a claimed 22 horsepower 

Over the next 18 months, they re-created the Ducati Monza as a café racer in the style of the sporty Mach 1, with a handlebar fairing, bump-stop seat, clip-on handlebars, and rear-set foot controls that Ray made in his high school shop class. The brothers sold their slick looking creation to one of Dave’s school buddies, who rode it just once before the camshaft bevel drive failed. The new owner parked the bike in his dad’s hen house, and the story should have ended there.

It was at his class reunion in 2004 that Dave met up with the Monza’s “new” owner, who told him the bike hadn’t moved in the intervening 25 years. Dave decided he wanted the Monza back. A deal was struck, and the barn-fresh bike was once again his.

Dave wasn’t keen to simply restore the bike: his ideas of what a café racer Ducati single should be had changed.

“I’d never seen a single with an underseat exhaust,” he says, as if that were motivation enough to build one. “I also wanted a more aggressive look, a higher back end.”

This is perhaps the bike’s most distinctive feature. Not content with just bending pipes to fit under the existing frame, Dave removed the rear section completely, and with help from buddy Rick Dittmer, fabricated a new subframe of upcurved tubes that the dual stainless exhaust faithfully follows. The exhaust routing also required a two-inch extension to the swingarm. Dave says Rick helped extensively with welding, pipe bending and other machine operations, while Dave did most of the design and hand-tool work himself.

Dave also wanted a sleeker look to the bike and chose the gas tank from a Benelli Mojave off-roader, bought on eBay. A modern gas filler kit was sourced, the Benelli tank top modified, and the new filler welded into place. The tank badges are made in two layers laser cut from stainless sheet. The tank already had circular recesses for the Benelli badges, and Dave’s Ducati badges fit perfectly. 

The gas tank was blended in with the seat unit and tail piece, which Dave also designed. “I drew the design and hammered that out of steel,” he says. “Then (after welding) I flattened it all out, did the English wheel thing and the planishing hammer. So, yes, I did get my hands dirty with the fabrication.”

Engine work was entrusted to Tim and Tom Frutiger of Wheels Unlimited in Rochester, Minnesota who completely rebuilt
the 250 with the head from a Scrambler, fitting Diana valves and a 30mm Amal Monobloc carb in place of the original 27mm Dell’Orto.

When the bodywork, gas tank and cut-down Monza front fender were to Dave’s satisfaction, a local auto painter applied the beautiful burgundy finish. 

Meanwhile Dave got busy with the alloy. “I did all the polishing on the bike,” he says, “twice!” When the Hartleips restored the Monza first time round, polishing was Dave’s responsibility. The results are spectacular: the alloy gleams like chrome. The project was completed in October 2005, in just eight months!

What’s the finished bike like to ride? “It’s a blast,” says Dave. “I was surprised and very pleased just how well it does go,” he says. 

So far, the café custom has taken two “best in show” awards and won two concours first places. 

ALL DUCATI BEVEL SINGLES TRACE THEIR ANCESTRY TO TAGLIONI’S 125cc Gran Sport and 100cc Marianna racers of 1955-56. A production version of the engine with enclosed valve springs went into production in 1957 and spawned a bewildering array of body styles, performance levels, and engine capacities, depending on the year and market. 

First came a 175cc in both sport and standard forms with 14 and 12 hp respectively but weighing less than 230 pounds which gave the little bikes a lively performance. The 250 came about as a result of Ducati’s road racing program. The company had developed a 175cc production-racing version to compete in Italy’s Formula 3 road racing class. Then, at the request of Ducati’s US importer Berliner, came a 250, essentially the 175 with a big-bore cylinder liner. Road racing success in the US led to demands for a 250cc street bike. These were first seen in 1961 as the touring Monza and sporting Diana.

The Ducati Monza took its engine dimensions of 74mm by 57.8mm from the F3, and wore a 24mm Dell’Orto carburetor. The beauty of the narrow-case singles is their light weight, and at only 275 lbs, the Monza’s 22-hp gave it a top speed of close to 80 mph. The Diana boasted an extra two hp and came with clip-on handlebars. A motocross version, the 250SCR with 30 hp arrived in 1962, and the 30-hp engine soon found its way into another new model, the Mark 3 Super Sport, a true production racer, which was available from 1963. As a prelude to the next chapter in the narrow-case story, the 250s received new five-speed gearsets (replacing the existing four-speeds) in 1964. 

New for 1965 was the iconic 250 Mach1, essentially a street version of the Mark 3 racer with 10:1 compression, larger valves and a 29mm Dell’Orto, producing 27.5 hp. The Mach 1 is perhaps the best known of the narrow-case singles, and certainly one of the most desirable.

There was one further stretch for the narrow-case engine, a 76mm bore and 75mm stroke to produce 340cc, sold in mild-tuned state as the Sebring. The effective limit of engine development had been reached, and it was time for a major redesign.

The new “wide case” singles were announced for 1967 in 250 and 350 capacities, with a 450cc version in 1968, together with the first production Ducati desmo, the Mark 3D—and a legend that continues to this day.

by Robert Smith Canadian Biker #245


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