I WAS rebuilding my 1950 AJS 500 cc single; doing a great job and spending lots of money on chrome and paint and new piston rings. But I was getting an itchy throttle hand as the bike had been off the road for almost a month and a half. I needed a bike to ride right now, and the Ajay was still a few weeks from finished. A fella named Lawrence said he had an old 250 Ducati; apparently, it went really well and good. Old Lozza said I could have it for a case of beer.
We piled into Skraps’ fur-covered Morris ‘J’ Van one Saturday morning and headed across Sydney to pick up what I thought would be a pile of crap. Now this was 1975, so a slab of Tooheys Flag Ale cost about $19, I think, or maybe it was only $9. In any case, it made for a cheap Ducati.
When I clapped eyes on it, I realised what a bargain it was. The little overhead camshaft Duke was a very rare 1967 Motocross model, and while it had lights, the little bugger had never been road registered. Lawrence had used it as a racer from brand new, then as a bush basher. Consequently, it was just a little bit knocked around, but get this: there was a mere 459 miles on the speedo!
Fitted to the bike was the factory straight scrambles pipe so it was loud as anything, but included in the deal was a new Silentium road muffler and a race kit comprising a long, tapered, road race reverse-cone megaphone and a white-faced Veglia tachometer.
By late Saturday afternoon, it was all fettled and ready for the rego office come Monday morning—I could ditch the ferries and buses and ride to work again.
With the bike finished, there was nought to do but go to the pub and celebrate. I hitch-hiked there.
All the blokes I rode and drank with owned Norton, Triumph or BSA twins, or maybe Honda 4s or Kawasaki 900s, so I don’t know how they’d react to a little 250 cc Wogboy bike.
I knew one of my mates, Rumbowl Of The Baileys, would love it, because he owned a 1975 Ducati Super Sports SS750. Although he didn’t get that nickname until a few years later when the TV show called Rumpole of the Bailey aired. I named him that because, unlike the rest of us, beer wasn’t good enough for him; his poison was either OP Rum or Baileys Irish Cream. Depending on the night, Rumbowl was either an affable chappy with sweet-smelling breath or a Rum-breathin’ foul-mooded arsehole.
But his Ducati Super Sport was one sweet machine. Being one of just 249 SS750s produced in 1975, it was one exclusive alright, and like the 246 examples of its bigger brother, the SS900 made that year, they were all hand-built roadracers with lights and rudimentary Conti mufflers. With less than 500 Super Sports models sold worldwide, and almost half the production run landing in Australia, it was a very rare machine, but we didn’t know it then because they seemed to be everywhere. Lots of them hit the racetrack, and lots more terrorised Australian roads at the hands of irresponsible young men like Rumbowl. Regardless of its antisocial demeanour and the gun slinging, streetfighting attitude, that blue and silver beast was a truly beautiful motorcycle.
Another mate, who I knew definitely wouldn’t like my little 250 cc Ducati, was Crusty. Crusty had a Kawasaki 900 Z1, the very first (and fastest) Kwakka Nine, the legendary ‘Black Motor’ model; so called because, well… the motor was painted black. It went like stink but its handling was worse than crap. Crusty hated anything that wasn’t a Kwakka Nine.
So there we were, Crusty, Rumbowl of the Baileys, and me—the newest Ducati owner in Sydney—sitting around a pub at closing time discussing what we should do now.
“I know,” yelled Crusty, and I immediately knew what his suggestion would be. “Let’s ride over to the Cross and kick on,” he yelled, as I smugly nodded my head.
“That’s right, ride over to Kings Cross, the last refuge of the desperate drunk who doesn’t know the night has already finished,” I muttered.
“Go and get your Ducati 250,” Rumbowl suggested.
“No,” I responded, acting sensible for a change. “It’s unregistered and doesn’t even have number plates.” That’s right—plates—in the bad old days, a motorcycle needed a number plate on the front as well. Sacrilege, I say.
“No worries,” Crusty joined in. “He can ride in front, and I’ll ride behind you—no-one will notice there’s no number plates and hey presto! We’ll be over the Cross and kickin’ on!”
Now, I’ll admit I was a bit thick when I was younger, but I knew a stupid and friggin’ dangerous idea when I saw one.
“I’m IN,” I shouted as I was easily led when subjected to peer group pressure.
So after a short trip to my place to get helmet and Ducati, the Infamous Three Bike Convoy of ’75 set off. Destination: Kings Cross.
Down over the Spit Bridge and towards Mosman we rode. True to their word, Crusty and Rumbowl shepherded me, one in front and one behind, shielding the world from the horrific sight of a plateless bike. As the Infamous Three Bike Convoy passed the ever-present radar trap just over the Spit Bridge, Crusty even executed a brilliantly-timed lane-changing manoeuvre which completed camoflagued the fact there was no number plate. The coppers, who were no doubt dirty on us three bikers for being too smart to speed through one of the better known radar traps, regarded us with a malevolent eye as we trundled past.
“This is working a treat,” I chuckled to myself. “I think we’ll make it to the Cross no worries!”
I spoke too soon…
There’s a set of traffic lights at the top of the Spit ‘S’ Bends and we got ’em red. All three of us were in the middle lane and as Rumbowl pulled up to the line, I made the mistake of pulling up beside him, probably to mention that, “We sure fooled those cops, back there, eh?” or something similar. Of course, Crusty pulled up to my right to join in the conversation. Before my talking got done, the lights went green and Crusty did his usual Castlereagh Dragstrip start. The big Kwakka let out its booming war cry, hooked up perfectly and roared away from the line. Naturally, Rumbowl saw that as an obvious challenge, dialled in 8000 rpm and fed the SS Ducati clutch to the bellowing V-Twin motor. He thundered off in raucous pursuit. That left me to chug off from the line at a much slower rate of knots than my two ex-number plate shields.
I chugged the little Duke to the vacant spot left between them at the next set of traffic lights a little further up Spit Road.
“Thanks a lot, you arseholes,” I bleated as I flashed a dirty look to my right, then an even dirtier one to the left.
“Sorry, mate,” they said in unison, but it didn’t sound genuine, especially as they both had hunkered down over their tanks, throttle and clutch hands tensed, elbows in the air and feet bracing backwards. Both Crusty and Rumbowl were staring intently at the traffic light stanchion, just waiting for the green. When the green light hit, the same cacophony of beautiful noise rent the air once more and the Super Sport Ducati and Kawasaki 900 leapt away in fierce combat. Once again, the little 250 cc Ducati single was left to chug alone after them with no hope of even staying in the same suburb, let alone race.
The next set of lights saw the same exchange, only this time, I was a little bit more pissed off.
“Come on, you pricks…” I began to say, but it was way too late, the light went green.
This disgraceful display was performed at every single set of traffic lights from there to the Harbour Bridge so I virtually rode alone with no number plates and no registration and no bloody brains the whole way to the Cross.
We stopped at Harry’s Café de Wheels down in Woolloomooloo for a pie; I finally got to tell these bastards just what I thought of them.
The answer was an apologetic, “Yeah, yeah, whatever…”
Then it was back on the bikes and up the back way to the sewer that was Kings Cross.
That short trip bought some sense of revenge to me, right on the wild and twisty turns of Wylde Avenue, which leads to Macleay Street and on to the dead heart of the Cross. As Crusty and Rumbowl approached the first, tight hairpin bend, I slotted the little Duke first inside the Kwakka, then up, out and around the Ducati Super Sport. I’d taken them both by surprise and rounded them up beautifully before leaping ahead towards Macleay Street.
It didn’t last, the first straight bit of road and they blasted past me again, leaving me sad and lonely once more.
We arrived outside one of the many sleazy dives owned by a prominent Sydney businessman and parked the bikes. It was around about now that paranoia set in. When two drunks in a row staggered past and slurred the same thing, “Hey, no number plates!” I started to question the intelligence of the act of riding an unregistered bike across Sydney to partake in the late night drinking of cans of ‘Crap’ brand beer, which cost so much money that the price of four cans would buy a slab of two dozen Tooheys the next day! “Yep, I’m in!” I could hear myself saying.
The doorman deemed us acceptable clients (we were still vertical, had cash and hadn’t vomited on ourselves—primo customers!)
I reckon I had two Crap brand beers and thought, “Bugger staying here for breakfast!” and bade fond farewells to Crusty and Rumbowl.
It was a lonely, nervous ride home to the Northern Beaches using back streets wherever I could (not many backstreets can help you avoid the Harbour Bridge or the Spit Bridge and man—you feel so naked without number plates!
The next day, I heard the great war stories from Crusty and Rumbowl, of the ride they’d had. Off the Harbour Bridge and up the Warringah Expressway, Crusty reckoned he had his Kwakka flat knacker, with the speedo needle going not one increment past 125 mph, when the bellowing Ducati Super Sport blew past him and pulled away at what must have been 140 or 150 mph.
And Rumbowl regaled us with, “Well, the off-ramp of the freeway was coming up but the bike was going so well, I couldn’t bring myself to turn off, so we kept going; only just got back!”
I got the little Ducati registered on the Monday. Only cost $60 for the year. Jeez, things were different in those days; a Ducati for the price of a case of beer, and one year’s registration only cost the equivalent of 15 beers at some sleazy King’s Cross dive. Man, things have changed.