Ducati Monza Jr.
This machine had high ‘Western’ style handlebars, chromed crash-bars carrying twin air horns, a nicely padded stepped twin seat which even included an ornate array of chrome studs and a matching set of saddle bags as accessories. These Americanised models went totally against everything Ducati had stood for. They had racing in their veins and their 4 stroke motorcycles were all derived from Taglioni’s race proven Marianna, being lightweight laydown bikes with minimal creature comforts. Ducati however needed to sell as many motorcycles as possible to pay their bills and so began the compromise. In 1959 the Americano continued, growing to 200cc as did all Ducati’s other models to satisfy pressure for more cubic inches from BMC’s dealers. During this period Tom Bailey worked for a motorcycle shop in the US selling Ducatis and other brands. He has written about his personal experience with BMC and the US motorcycle market from the late 50’s. While many stories suggest that the Berliners were responsible for deciding what Ducati built, he suggested that the brothers were really just merchandisers with no real idea of the American motorcycle market. Rightly or wrongly they simply reacted to what dealers were telling them and then dictated to Ducati what they needed to make. In the ‘60s almost all Ducati production went to the US, so Ducati had little option but to give BMC what they asked for even though it didn’t always work out well. In 1962 BMC’s drive for bigger engines took an about face to target the large population of young people. This market needed an inexpensive, dependable mode of transport, which was comfortable and cheap to run. Tom Bailey also confirmed that old-school US dealers were asking for light weight Ducati cruiser models in preference to sport bikes. Tom also suggested that rumours of the forthcoming Honda 160 twin version of their 250cc CB-72 Hawk prompted a reaction at BMC. There may be some substance to this as a Berliner advertisement released in 1966 pictured a Japanese looking gentleman standing behind a Monza Junior with the large caption “I’d rather have a Ducati”. Maybe it was a combination of all these reasons but it led to the re-incarnation of a small capacity 4 stroke motorcycle named the Monza Junior.
What’s in a name?
Monza was a name Ducati first used for the 1959 UK version of their 125 Sport. This was shortly followed by another version (again UK only) called the 125 Super Monza. The Super Monza had a highcompression piston, modified camshaft, a slightly larger SS1 Dell’Orto racing carburettor, and a straight-through exhaust. The Monza name had later graduated to a 250cc model in 1961 where it was marketed world-wide. The Monza was a cruise/Americanised version of the 250 while the Diana/Daytona were more traditional sports versions. The origin of the Monza Junior has a natural link back to its original 125 Monza roots as it shared the same crankcases and frame. The addition of the word “Junior” also fits with the fact it was designed purposely to look like a smaller version of the then current 250cc Monza and was sold alongside its big brother. To produce the Monza Junior (M-Jr) Ducati looked in their parts bin to speed up time to market and avoid spending their limited funds on any new tooling. They decided to up-spec the original bevel 125 engine which was smaller and cheaper rather than ‘de-specing’ the current larger crank-cased 175/200cc engine. The only change to the original 125cc engine was the cylinder and piston. The bore was increased to 61mm resulting in a capacity of 156cc. They inserted a new 4 ringed (twin oil scraper) Borgo piston producing 8.2:1 compression. Carburation was provided by a remote bowl Dell’Orto UB22BS and output was claimed at 13bhp at 8000rpm. The small 125 crankcases limited the transmission to 4 speeds.
To meet the lowest price possible Ducati made some other compromises. They took the original 125 TS frame and fitted the (small peanut-shaped) Bronco tank, headlight and suspension. It then fitted the large Monza seat, and other tinware. Like the cruiser/touring Monza it had highset ‘Western’ handlebars, chromed steel rear rack and crash bars and a very deep and well-padded twin rear seat. The unique feature of the Monza Junior was its wheels. The rims were a smaller 16” diameter with 2.25” wide front and 1.85” rear (yes, unusually the rear rim was narrower than the front). The tyres however were wider than the original 125 models which again matched the requested ‘cruiser’ philosophy. The smaller diameter wheels also brought the seat closer to the ground which was an advantage for younger riders or those with short legs. 1964 saw the release of the Series 1 Monza Junior. It weighed around 106kg and the maximum speed listed varied between 64 to 69 mph (102 to 110kph) “in the prone position” or “in lowered position, race type” as quoted in printed literature. Fuel consumption was quoted at a miserly 84 mpg (2.8 litres per 100 km). Basing the engine on the diecast version of the 125cc (Marianna) made it a solid performer. Tom Bailey suggests that there was an opportunity to upgrade the engine and market a Daytona Junior (Sport version) like they did with the 125 Super Monza. BMC however insisted on leaving the M-Jr in cheap basic form to get beginners to trade up rather than hot-up. To hardened Ducati fans the slow relative speeds, compromised suspension, bling and riding position were scorned, but somehow they sold amazingly well. Tom suggested that in their shop they outsold the combined number of every other Ducati model they stocked and all at full retail price. Kids between 16 and 21 bought them and eventually all their mates were doing the same. In 1966 the M-Jr was priced at just $US229 whereas a similarly Americanised 125 Moto Guzzi was $US429. The other reason sales took off was the price of insurance. Engine capacity categories were set at 200cc and over, while rider age split was 25. For example, a rider under 25 with a 200cc motorcycle would pay around $US330 whereas if the bike was less than 200cc he would only pay $US70. The other selling features of the M-Jr was that it started first kick, was light and easy to ride around town, fast enough on the freeway, sounded great, was cheap to run and you could park it anywhere.
I found an interesting road test by a journalist from “Car Craft” magazine from September 1965. Car Craft is actually a hot rod and drag racing magazine but it appears that Larry Lester was offered a Series 1 Monza Junior for a weekend. He decided to ride the Monza Junior to the local Hot Rod Drags in Riverside 75 miles away and then wrote an article titled “Italian Hot One”. He firstly reported that the Monza Junior was surprisingly quick off the mark at the lights and achieved a speed of 65mph which made it freeway friendly. He then rode it around the pits mostly 2-up and even allowing fellow drag racers and crew to have a ride. They all loved it and were impressed particularly with the beautiful all alloy engine and that Allen bolts were used in its assembly. They particularly loved the bevel drive “overhead cammer” technology which was still rare but desirable in drag racing at the time. My highlight was the way Lester then tested the Monza Junior’s off-road capability. At 200 lbs (91 kg) he was no spring chicken but over some undulating terrain he managed to get airborne and a great photo was included. Lester was impressed that the suspension did not bottom on landing. He then proceeded with 2nd gear slides which he repeated with more and more vigour until the foot peg dug in and both embarrassingly parted company. No damage apart from a skinned elbow, he got home safely and concluded “I spent the most enjoyable weekend I’ve had in a long time”. ‚
The 1965 Series 2 is where the love or hate ‘square’ styling first appeared. Initially it was just the tank only. The tool boxes were also elongated but the headlight and all other components stayed the same. Tom Bailey quoted that he believed the ‘square’ design was to emulate the design of the Japanese imports which had started to creep into the market. Meanwhile the Japanese were actually developing designs to emulate the Europeans. Either way the change didn’t gather many fans. It was not unlike the reaction from the motorcycling community to the BSA Rocket 3 or Ducati’s release of the 1974 Giugiaro designed 860 GT. Surprising to all, the Monza Juniors continued to sell like hot cakes even against the now released Honda counterpart. 1966 saw the Series 3 released. The ‘square’ styling moved on to a new level with further squaring to the headlight and now the mudguards. The seat padding was made even thicker but the rest remained pretty much the same. Mechanically there was a wider chain and sprockets. Mick Walker quotes that for an unknown reason the Series 3 was fitted with a smaller 15 tooth drive sprocket which caused the engine to over-rev in top gear. He believes it even led to a few engine failures from unforgiving riders. 1966 had the Berliner’s business struggling financially. They had ordered a shipment from Ducati which included 1800 M-Jrs which they had to cancel in 1967. This left Ducati in trouble and they desperately had to find a buyer to pay their bills. A car-selling businessman, Bill Hannah of Liverpool (UK), took the shipment. This however did a huge disservice to the UK Ducati distributer Vic Camp as the market became flooded. It was reported that Hannah’s sell price was some 25% less and he was not really interested in stocking or selling spare parts. Vic Camp was paying full price for his Ducatis and was set-up to support the brand and his customers. He rightly felt let down and so didn’t feel obliged to support Hannah’s customers with spares. The result made Ducati owners unhappy and damaged Ducati’s reputation in the UK. It appears that not many M-Jrs made it to Australia. Ian Falloon has quoted that we did receive a shipment of 32 x Series 3 models which must have been post 1966.
It is fair to conclude that owners at the Monza Junior’s end of the market are not enthusiasts and are reluctant to spend money on servicing and maintenance. It must be remembered that the 160cc and all other Ducati bevel singles were derived from the racing Marianna. While the design bodes well with high rpm race engines which received regular attention, there were a few chinks in the armour when used on the street. Lugging the engine meant the low-pressure oil pump didn’t circulate the oil very well and the roller type bearing big end didn’t spin like it should either. A meagre strainer was the only oil filtration and unless the oil was changed regularly the fines from the wet clutch would eventually clog the oil ways. Unlike the race bike, a kick start mechanism was required for the road. The limited space available meant that the resultant design was a little delicate (more-so with the larger capacity engines) and needed to be treated with respect to prevent damage. The biggest issue was the close vicinity of the engine drive sprocket to the clutch lever. No worries on a race bike where the chain is always serviced, adjusted and often replaced. Chain neglect leading to excessive play or worse, breakage, could allow contact with the cast clutch lever lug sometimes tearing the lug off the crankcase which was an expensive fix. Those in the know shaped a flat steel strip around the sprocket and bolted in place as a chain guard to protect the lug. Production of the Series 3 continued up to late 1960s with final stocks sold by 1970 or so. Total actual production of Monza Juniors is unknown but figures quoted range from 13,000 to over 15,000. Although not acknowledged by Ducati enthusiasts as the companies best offering, the production figures make it significant, exceeding the total number of all the other Ducati singles made between 1967 and 1975.
Steve Maxwell loves motorcycles. He continues to ride to work every day and then ride all day delivering the mail. He also has a soft spot for old bikes and acknowledges he is no spring chicken himself. While he will continue to ride until no longer possible, he and his wife Sal decided that they would leave both offspring a motorcycle when this day comes. Son Gratten has inherited a 1954 Triumph Thunderbird Steve restored while he was living on Norfolk Island and daughter Eloise will receive a shiny 1967 Monza Junior that Steve found locally which needed some tender loving care. It is a series 3 model and I’m thinking that it may be one of the 32 imported to Australia. Steve has spent many hours restoring it to a beautiful state. It wasn’t an easy path, with many setbacks along the way. Steve made the conscious decision to change a few things from factory original but most of the components are correct. There are even a few dents in the original taillight bracket which he got as straight as possible rather than fit a modern replica. The biggest change he made was increasing the wheels to 17” diameter. This makes replacement tyres easier to find and will increase the top speed. The centre stand also needed a little extension to suit. Eloise lives in Perth but recently spent Christmas with the family. This gave me the opportunity to take a few photos. Steve had some vinyl letters cut and fitted them to the inside of the tool box lid. It says ‘Eloise Love Dad & Mum” which was sweet and I used this to set-up my favourite photo. I admire Steve and Sal’s gesture which ensures that the Monza Junior is now guaranteed to find a great home.
The engine from the drive side, with typically Italian rocking pedal gear change.
ABOVE CENTRE Series 2 & 3 models had a bent manifold so the UB22 BS bowl was vertical. ABOV RIGHT Crankcase damage due to loose or broken chain. LEFT AND BELOW RIGHT Monza Junior ads from the ‘60s.
Squared off headlight and push pull ignition switch. Substantial side stand make the oil filler hard to get to. Original number plate bracket carries a few scars.
FAR LEFT Sal and Steve with their gift to Eloise. INSET LEFT A sweet touch inside the toolbox.