You can credit the Berliner brothers with this one. Joe and Mike had decided to make their fortunes by importing European (including British) motorcycles, beginning with Zundapp back in 1951. They picked up the Ducati distributorship in 1958, which had several nice lightweight machines at lightweight prices. Beautiful little 98cc and 125cc overhead-camshaft singles, creations of a brilliant engineer called Fabio Taglioni. Just the look was exciting.
Any thought of writing about Ducati without mentioning Taglioni would be sacrilegious. Within a year after his employment began in 1954, he had developed a nifty 98cc single with an overhead camshaft driven through a chromed tower and bevel gears operating the two valves. He soon expanded it to 125cc, and then created a similar but larger motor, the 175cc, putting out 14 horsepower at 8,000 rpm. The 175 grew to 200, and then to 250, with the 250 appearing in 1961 as both the sporting Diana and the touring Monza.
However, it is the smaller 125 engine we are concerned with here. The OHC 125 (55.2mm bore, 52mm stroke) had been a steady moneymaker in the marketplace since 1957, but in the early 1960s Joe Berliner asked if it couldn’t be made a little bigger and more appealing to the size-conscious Yanks, there being no substitute for cubic inches, or centimeters. Joe felt that while Americans were more interested in high handlebars than racy crouches, they were always impressed with numbers. And anyone in the market for an around-town machine would probably be more attracted to a 160 than a 125.
This small-bike concept was a far cry from the generally grungy look of motorcycling in the U.S. in the ’50s. The Japanese had taken a logical look at the American motorcycling lifestyle and figured that a whole new approach could be taken—having nice people on motorbikes. The Berliner boys had taken note.
The post-war Japanese motorcycle industry, as well as the Italian, had begun on the premise that people wanted transportation, not sport, and both countries began producing lightweight scooters and motorcycles by the tens of thousands. Around 1960, the American college student, with limited discretionary income and eager to avoid using a city bus, was targeted. A small motorcycle would be easy to park on a crowded campus, as well as take on a pleasant ride into the countryside with a friend, a blanket and small picnic basket.
A simple bore job to 61mm and the 125 size went up to 156cc—with the factory claiming 11 horsepower at 8,000 rpm. Ducati prided itself on its easy to ride “elastic motor,” and the name was Monza Junior. As with the 250 Monza, this was not intended to be a sporty machine, the knee-sliding types looking at it with unconcealed yawns, but a pleasant get-around-town motorcycle, easy to start, easy to ride, easy to look at, with the gas tank having the smooth lines of the turismo world.
The 160 was robust, with ball bearings on the crankshaft and a caged roller bearing at the big end. Lubrication of the dry-sump engine was done using four pints of oil in the reservoir. A modest 8.5:1 compression ratio made it easy to kickstart—as Ducati had balked at the idea of doing an electric starter. Gas on, key on, tickle the 22mm Dell’Orto carb, and one kick should do the job. The unitized engine had a gear-driven primary, wet clutch and 3-speed transmission…a fourth gear was added for 1966.
The compact engine sat in the lightweight steel tubular frame of the 125, with single front downtube, using the engine as a stressed member. The fork was a bit on the skinny side, being only 31.5mm, but this was a light-touring bike, not sport. Wheels were 16 inchers, with single-leading-shoe drum brakes. The smaller wheels kept the saddle height at a manageable level for just about anyone, women included. Wheelbase was 51 inches. And the weight? Advertised as 234 pounds dry.
For the ’64 and ’65 model years, sales of the 160 did not come up to Berliner expectations. Maybe the look was a little too smooth, too functional. For 1966 there was a change, with the gas tank and headlight taking on a manlier look. Denoting its touring purpose, a luggage rack was at the back, and a set of crashbars (sorry, engine protectors) were bolted on.
The full-page Berliner ads were marvelously entertaining. One in 1966 had a very Japanese-looking fellow standing beside a 160 and saying, “I’d rather have a Ducati.” Another showed a couple riding a 160, the gent sporting a suit and tie and the attractive passenger wearing a skirt and sitting sidesaddle. Not that many American girls ever mastered sidesaddle riding, which was the way genteel young women rode in Italy. A third ad had a fellow throwing his leg over the saddle, with a tweed jacket merely sitting on his shoulders, his arms not in the sleeves—that would blow off in the first 50 feet.
The 160 was still not selling well, perhaps due to the styling, as high pipes were coming into vogue. Even the pricing was good, with the ’68 costing $529, while Honda’s 175cc street-scrambler was $645. Berliner had a lot of unsold Italian product. The 160 might have been a bust, but Ducati’s bigger desmodromic singles, a Taglioni specialty, began selling like hot cakes.
Note: On this ’64 model, an unidentifiable megaphone has replaced the Silentium muffler, the side panels are missing, and dropped bars have replaced the relatively high original bars.