Got a devil in your bevel drive Ducati? Here’s a bloke that is referred to in hushed tones when it comes to these idiosyncratic beasts. Let’s meet him.
There is a little piece of Italy in the nondescript backblocks of the bush 30 minutes east of Melbourne’s inexorable suburban sprawl, out past Dandenong. We are not telling you any more than that.
As Lance Smith says… ‘I don’t have the internet, this is how modern I get’. He opens a flip phone that I’m surprised is not analogue, such is its retro charm. ‘But, I bloody know about Google Earth’. Savvy. Not prepared to get involved in what he perceives as ‘the fad of the day’, but he knows enough to protect his shed and all it contains.
Meet, the Bevel Wizard.
He peers expectantly and affably from the door of the workshop that has been his ‘comfortable place’ for more years than he wants to remember. There’s happiness in the walls, and serious nous in the bloke. He’s glad we are there.
Measured and self-contained, but if we weren’t welcome, I get the feeling we’d know about it toot-sweet.
He’s the man when it comes to Ducati bevels in Victoria. His rambling but tidy shed supports the talk among Ducati-heads.
All the earmarks are there. Tools, all in their place. Not all ‘Bunnings Look-at-Me’ style. No… Used, in order, at arms’ length. This is not about decoration, but I register the beauty in the utility. This pleases Lance. He likes his conversations fair-dinkum.
A powerful lathe hunkers in one corner. It’s grubby – that industrial green that can’t be replicated without time and endless turning. That chuck must have spun a billion times.
Saving old Ducatis from people that know less about them.
There are sprockets and sidecovers and handlebars and… well you get the drift, hanging on wire just above our heads from the ceiling. It looks like some sort of ‘madman’s mobile’, but it’s nowhere near that romantic.
“I hang them up there so I remember what I’ve got.”
This bloke is all about Ducatis. He’s not alone, but owning an old Duke has always called for commitment. Loved or hated, there is a lot of mythology about them. Particularly bevels and Desmos.
Are they difficult to set up and maintain and can the average bloke do it?
“The scary part for people is the fact that they are full of shims.’ Lance points to an open 750 bevel engine on the bench.
“You’ve got three bevel gears there that have all got to mesh super-correctly, or they are a piece of shit. You have to shim them up and down, pull them apart again and again. You can spend 20 hours on that alone.’
“If you don’t have the range of shims you have got no hope,” adds Lance.
To support his position, Lance grabs a couple of bevel gears that came from that same 750 engine when he first attacked it. They are chopped out from misalignment.
While bevel parts are around now, it’s obvious that owning a well setup example costs lots of money in parts. “They used to be unobtainable, but you can buy them new now out of Europe. They cost 650 Euro for just those two gears,” says Lance. Serious quid.
Lance has watched the meteoric rise of Ducati prices on a global basis. While it amazes him, it’s clearly not distressing him greatly. With 14 bikes in that modest shed, it’s hard to keep the smile from his dial.
“There’s such a following for bevels worldwide now that parts are a whole lot easier to get than they once were. Someone with a heap of money will need a part, so he will commission a batch to be made. And, made properly. He’ll sell those to pay for the ones he needs.”
His daily ride is a well-used 750 GT, complete with tankbag that he has just that weekend ridden to the Classic races at Phillip Island. “I paid $5000 for that 750 GT in 2000. That would bring $30,000 plus now. I bought another one in 2008-ish, the motor was in bits and there was a bit of it missing, but I paid $750 for it. That bike is a running thing, not rideable, it needs paint and wiring as it stands. That would bring 20 grand easy.’
Lance’s move to the Italian marque came as a bit of a surprise, he’s been a Yamaha man early in the piece, but he was smitten from the first encounter. Let’s call it D-Day.
“In 1978 I was 24 years old. I bought my Darmah new, and I’ve still got it. I was Mr Fixit among my mates and I did a bit of work on a bloke’s ’76 900 SS. He offered me a ride after I got it fuelling properly. From that ride forward, well that was it.
“I started saving like buggery and bought the Darmah on December the 14th 1978.” Yep, that was D-Day.
“I did 15,000 kays in five weeks and I was in love.”
In 1982 the Peter Stevens Thunderbike Series came into being and the lure of the track was too much for Lance.
“I started racing the Darmah then and there and did so for four or five years. Racing against some pretty big names back then. Martin Hone on the Drum BMW Kevin Magee on Bob Brown’s Ducatis and quite a few others. I was only a C Grader mind,” adds Lance modestly.
Lured by the lovely idea that he’d ride the Darmah to the races and home, leathers still full of the day’s sweat, my hopes are quickly dashed. “No way. Stripped. I lightened the thing as much as possible. Road gear was flicked.” Silly me. Racers are racers.
Lance still hand laces and trues wire wheels. It’s a black art – ask any old mechanic, but Lance takes it in his stride. “Yep, I do them. It’s simply time and patience. Trueing them takes time, you just can’t rush it.”
I’m in the company of a man that has forgotten more about bevels than I’m ever likely to know. I figure I’ll find out some incredibly cathartic secret to keeping an old Duke going. No such luck, he’s too straight up to boast about his ability.
“It’s not hard. They have to be shimmed correctly. Quality oil, regular. You just work them out.”
Yes Lance. I have a feeling you are underselling yourself in this regard, but it’s endearing. He’s an easy bloke to know, this Bevel Wizard.
Lance can be reached on 0400 870 321. But, I’m not telling ya where he is. That’s up to him.
The Green Frame mystique
When it comes to collectable Ducatis, it’s impossible to go past a green frame 750ss according to Lance. Created to celebrate the dominance of the 750cc race bikes, the Supersport has become the streetable icon.
Devoid of electronics, slipper clutches, big brakes, sophisticated suspension or even modern tyre technology, exactly what Paul Smart did to triumph at the 1972 Imola 200 is quite amazing. The green frame 750 Supersport was intended as a tribute, but was a tremendous success in its own right.
Lance clearly loves the whole Green Frame phenomenon, but global prices will probably never see one in his stable.
“A Green frame replica might be worth 60 grand when a genuine green framer is now $200K,” he smiles.
The one that got away…
By pure chance Lance once came across the legendary 860 Green Framer that Ken Blake won the production race in 1975 at Bathurst.
“That bike is one of two or three that were ever built. I came across that bike in about 1980 on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. The bloke had a broken clutch cable so I gave him my spare – which I haven’t got back I might add.
“The owner had bought it in a car yard like that and he had no idea of the history of the bike. It had black Craven pannier bags on it!
“I know it was sold 18 months ago and I can tell you, he would have got a shitload for that bike.
“If I had have been smart, I’d be a rich man right now. He had no clue what he had until I told him,” says Lance with a faraway look.
Ian Falloon is the world’s foremost authority when it comes to all things Ducati. Here’s his take on the bevel variants…
Despite their foibles, the bevel drive family of Ducati twins has come to epitomise the finest attributes of Italian motorcycles of the 1970s and early 1980s. This was an era when Italian motorcycle manufacturing usurped a faltering British industry, and was yet to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of Japanese bikes.
For some, the Italian motorcycles of this time were unsurpassed in their representation of form following function.
As the production reality of engineer Fabio Taglioni’s vision, the bevel drive Ducatis were, arguably, the finest of all. These bikes formed the basis of some astonishing racing successes, and still provide a combination of sufficient power and excellent handling.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.