Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A Thing Of Beauty And A Joy Forever

It was August, 1986 and I was about to embark on a long love affair.

With my pockets full of disposable loot, I chugged over to the fair suburb of Knowle in the missus’ Hillman Avenger estate – of which more another time.

I was going to see a Moto Morini 350 Strada – more commonly known as the “three and a half” because of the unusual badging used by Morini.

Moto Morinis are Italian and Beautiful. Think Botticelli's Venus, rather than Ducati's Sophia Loren or Moto Guzzi's Gina Lolabridgida

A Moto Morini 350. Sort of.

The Morini was five years old and had seven previous owners. The current owner was a girl, a young student who had just split up with her biker boyfriend and had lost all enthusiasm for matters two wheeled.

The bike was a little dog-eared – all the chrome plate had fallen off the bike from the exhaust system to the headlamp brackets – something that was quite common in Italian motorcycles at the time – in fact even breathing on to the chrome was likely to start it flaking off.

The paint was a little tired, too, with bubbles of rust appearing around the petrol tank.

oily drainpipes, Rucanors, open face, goggles, red piping on the gloves, black silk scarf, almost a mullet. It must be 1986
No matter – this was my dream bike and I rode it 30 yards up the road, rode it back, gave the girl £350 and crobba-crobbed off into the evening sun, with a huge grin on my face.

(Crobba-crobba is the official noise of any Italian V-twin, by the way)

Well the first thing to do with the Morini was to get out and ride her.

So I did ride her, everywhere. The bike was a jewel, and there was hardly anything on the road at the time that could keep up on a country lane or a B-road – many a rider of a big Japanese four  came frightfully unstuck trying to keep up on the bends.

Theres nothing unnecessary on a Morini 350. You get a gorgeous lightweight engine, a brilliant frame, good sized petrol tank, and the rest is the best bits from Italian industry. Grimeca brakes and wheels, Marzocchi forks and shocks and even the electrical system works brilliantly.
The only duff bit on the bike was the starter motor. Which I solved by the complicated technical procedure of undoing three bolts and throwing it away. Nowt wrong with kickstarters.

The bare bones. Add an engine and its all a motorcycle needs

I‘d had her for six months when one night, remembering at around 2am that I hadn’t locked her.
I went outside and found she had been nicked.

I knew that she had an egg cup full of petrol in her tank – and  hoped against hope she had coughed to a stop nearby and frantically prowled the streets of St Andrews and Montpelier searching for my lovely bike, but she was nowhere to be found. Eventually I gave up and reported the loss to the police, resigned to never seeing her again.

The following morning a policeman knocked on my door.

They’d found my bike. In Camborne, Cornwall.

Two country boys had come to Bristol to look for work, spent a fortnight on the streets and then given up, stealing my bike to get home on.

I threw tent and sleeping bags into the back of the Avenger and the girlfriend and I headed south west.

I was convinced they had trashed my bike. But when I got to Camborne Police Station she was in better condition than she had been when she had been stolen. The tank was full of petrol, and the oil had been topped up too.

I spent a blissful week in Cornwall in glorious sunshine hacking that little Morini round some of the most perfect biking roads in the country. On occasion I even hoped the two lads didn’t get too badly clobbered for nicking the Morini.

Back home that October I was riding home from the Weston Super Mare beach race when the Morini shattered a valve spring. But because of the pretty unique nature of the engine, the valve did not bend on top of the piston - I even rode the bike ten miles home not realising I had a broken spring.

So I stripped her down for a much needed servicing, replaced as many of the rusty bits as I could, had the seat recovered, spent a fortune on a specialist paint job from Dream Machine  (that turned out to be rubbish), and fitted a pair of Tommaselli Gold Commander clip on handlebars.
Waldo DR Dobbs, my cat, is unfazed by the beauty of my Tomaselli Gold Commanders
This just made a great motorcycle brilliant.

The Morini remained my regular transport until the 1990s.

Then I was caught full in the face by the collapse of the late 80s economic miracle, negative equity and all.

I'd started a business two days before Sterling collapsed in 1989, and it all went downhill from there.
I went bust in 1992 and was declared bankrupt in 1993.

And the problem with that was, I wasn't allowed to have any assets worth more than £500. There was every chance the receivers would seize the Morini and sell it.

I was gutted, but There didn't seem to be anyway round it and keep within the law. The Morini was worth more than £500. And then, the day before I was expecting the receiver, I had a brainwave. As a complete motorcycle it was worth more than £500. But as a load of second hand motorcycle parts...

I set too with spanners and sockets, and by the time I'd finished I had three crates of oily parts, two wheels and an engine, worth.... well your guess is as good as mine. The receiver didn't even look at it. And I hadn't broken any rules.

So, 17 years later the Morini sits in my garage still stored in a collection of crates and cardboard boxes, and every so often I go and start to clean up parts with polish and a toothbrush.
Needless to say, a few bits have gone walkabout over the years - and if anyone has a set of 36mm Marzochis out there I'd be very grateful. I have acquired a new engine in the meantime though.
I consider the Moto Morini Three and a Half Strada to be very possibly the finest motorcycle ever built by anybody ever. The purest example of its form. You can keep your Harleys and your Honda Fireblades and your Triumph Bonnevilles. There is no better motorcycle.

One day I will see the return of La Dolce Vita.


Anonymous said...

Fuck, now I want a Morini!

unrealsimon said...

Hi, do you still have your boxes of Morini?
I'm after my next project and have a bit of thing for Morinis, so if you were looking to sell?
Although I completely understand if it was the the last thing you'd part with!