Peter Gaunt Ducati 350
I sometimes wear a Ducati t-shirt on my world travels as I have a secret passion for many things Italian. It also comes in handy as Ducati is internationally recognised as a pretty cool brand, and it’s surprising what doors it can open for you. We all like Italian food and booze, especially pizza and Peroni beer which springs to my mind! In the automotive world it’s Alfa Romeo and Lancia cars and, of course, Ducati motorcycles for me. As Sammy Miller’s British Championship winning years came to a close at Bultaco he had pretty much pushed the twostroke trials motorcycle to the top of the sport as Ossa and Montesa followed suit. It was whilst I was researching articles that I noticed Miller’s name missing from the 1971 Scottish Six Days Trial results; of course, he had retired from mainstream events. He was still at the event though, in the capacity of the Bultaco UK Trials Team Manager. At the traditional weigh-in held at the Gorgie Cattle Market in Edinburgh he noticed Peter Gaunt with his four-stroke 350cc Ducati. He had converted it from a road-going motorcycle into trials trim. Did this plant the seed for a return to four-stroke trials machines in the future for Miller? Words: John Hulme with Peter Gaunt • Pictures: Brian Holder, The Nick Nicholls Collection at Morton’s Archive, Ducati and Eric Kitchen
JOHN HULME: “I have known Peter Gaunt since I asked him for his autograph at the 1969 Northern Experts Trial. Over the years I have watched him perform some very interesting conversions from road to trials motorcycles with much interest. He has been a mine of information since I started to produce magazines on trials, always at the end of the phone to answer questions.
“He suffered a stroke in December 2016, from which he is still making a slow recovery. The mention of trials and in particular the Ducati conversion and I was all ears as you will find out, as his brain remembered the task at hand all these years on.”
A Racing Start
With good results including a third-place finish at the Scott in October 1970, Peter Gaunt followed them up with a win at the Irish Experts riding the 125cc Sachs engined Dalesman. He had been taken on board at Dalesman; they recognised his engineering skills on the popular ‘Micro’ trials machines that were based around small capacity engines.
The idea was to develop a new trials model, but Gaunt became frustrated with the slow progress and the number of promises not being fulfilled by the management.
At the trade shows at the end of the year, he had noticed the Ducati 350 Sebring model and had a conversation with a guy named Bill Hannah who was with the four-stroke machine. Scotsman Hannah was a successful car and motorcycle entrepreneur who, off the back of his business success, ran a motorcycle racing team using Ducatis.
The Sebring model’s history is quite interesting as the Ducati concept model arrived in 1965 as a 350cc single cylinder air-cooled four-stroke. At the time it was the largest capacity machine available from the Italian brand.
Aiming to break into the lucrative American market they attended the Sebring race. Based near Florida, the Sebring International Raceway is a road course where Ducati team rider Franco Farne entered the 251cc–700cc international race on the 350cc Ducati. With strong opposition from much larger capacity machines he was delighted to come home in 11th position, winning the 350cc class. A common feature with many motorcycle manufacturers is that they name models after competition success, and Ducati was no different with the Sebring. Peter had explained to Bill Hannah about his experience with motorcycle trials development, and he agreed to fund a conversion from the many parts he had at his warehouse near Liverpool. This was full of parts and cannibalised Ducatis that had been robbed for road racing activities.
In 1967, Ducati was on the edge of financial ruin as both the 350cc Sebring and the 160cc Monza Junior models had not sold well at all in America. The trend in America had moved to larger capacity two-stroke machines, and in truth, no one wanted the Ducatis. The American importer had a huge order due, and when he could not fund the shipment, it was Hannah, forever the speculator, who purchased it. He sold the Ducatis into the UK market, undercutting the official UK Ducati importer Vic Camp’s prices.
This Ducati brochure shot of the 350 Sebring makes you understand the enormity of Peter Gaunt and Ray Dell’s task to convert it into a trials machine.
The Ducati Monza 160 is still quite physically big for a small-capacity motorcycle.
It’s the size of the 350 engine that dominates the Gaunt Ducati trials machine.
As Sammy Miller quoted in the press at the 1971 SSDT: “It still needs plenty of development work” on which Gaunt commented: “It’s now going to get six days of that”.
Every picture tells a story, and when you look up close at Sammy Miller’s face you can tell he is trying to understand the engine characteristics!