This article was originally published in the February 1994 issue of Sport Rider.
It was a dark and stormy night. Sort of. Actually it was in broad daylight. Not too stormy either. But it was raining, not real hard, but it was wet. Not what you’d call optimal conditions for trucking around a practically priceless antique motorcycle. But hey, this was Southern Cal, where it never rains except hardly, and where they don’t know from priceless antiques. But Southern Californians do know toys, perhaps better than any other subgroup on the planet, and Rich Podolor had one of his old toys in the back of his pickup. In the rain. On this dark and stormy night (which was actually just a really damp December afternoon).
Richard was kind of ambivalent about the toy in the back of his truck. He had bought it 14 years earlier, in 1974. That’s an unheard-of stretch of time for a Southern Cal kind of guy to hang onto any toy. Podolor had played with it for five years and then left it under a tarp out in the yard where it sat, gradually returning molecules to the earth, air and water whence it came. Then in 1988, at the beginning of winter—a time when even Southern Californians sometimes are driven indoors and into deep ruminations about such abstracts as aesthetics and intrinsic worth—Richard Podolor’s thoughts wandered back to that shape he had fallen in love with, form so tightly tracking function; he remembered the stirring he felt when he and his marvelous toy played in the streets together. So he shoved it into the back of his pickup and went hunting for a pair of hands to make it playful again.
Did I mention it was raining?
The hands he found were those of Bobby Weindorf, and what Weindorf remembers of that day he will never forget. “It was in a rainstorm, in the back of a truck,” Bob tells us. We knew that. “A 100 percent–original Ducati 750SS.” Something we didn’t know.
Something Rich Podolor didn’t know was that his rusty, oxidized, ozone-rotted, acid-rained-on Ducati was the motorcycling equivalent of a Fabergé egg. Rich didn’t, but Bobby did, and so did the rest of the elves who tinker with the toys at Pro Italia Motors in Glendale. They had gathered around Rich’s sad-looking scooter, and, not to put too fine a point to it, not all their thoughts were honorable ones. Podolor, though his friends swear he has this unconscious gift for buying toys that later prove to be collectibles, didn’t immediately believe he had anything out of the ordinary. “He just wanted us to make it run again,” Weindorf said.
Podolor’s innocence and the lusty pheromones pouring in waves off the 750SS posed your basic Faustian bargain dilemma to the boys at Pro Italia. They might have played him for a fish and traded him out of the Duck for something shiny and cheap—God knows any Duck hunter would swap his mom for a 1974 750SS—but, as Richard Nixon once said on tape, “That would be wrong.” It wasn’t until Pro Italia offered a brand-new Paso against the 750 that Rich believed he really had something and decided to keep it. And at that point he told Bobby, “What the hell—go for it.” Which meant a frame-up restoration, eating up many moons of Bobby Weindorf’s time and six yards of Rich Podolor’s profits from his recording studio. That’s about $6000, American.
The details are straightforward: All the original stuff was there, including the inferior Scarab master cylinder, which gave way to a Grimeca that Weindorf says looks the same. Rusty spokes were 86ed in favor of stainless. Ditto the hydraulic lines. Bobby built the motor with stock parts, and what wasn’t available from the factory was from a shop in Varese, Italy, called Firenzo Pannati—a gold mine for old Duck oddments, Bobby says.
Once again, sad to say, the Duck just sits. It sits indoors now, properly mummified in a storage locker and brought out for photo shoots and vintage bike shows. Podolor has an 851 for his everyday beater, and the restored 750SS is pretty rare and pricey to risk lane-splitting on the 101. It’s worth about $35,000 now, extrinsically. Intrinsically, of course, the 750SS is priceless because it is the father of the dynasty, and perhaps the maximum motorcycle. The bloodline of the Ducati desmo V-twins did not start humbly and build to its present strength. It began with a bang. The 750SS was the first of Dr. Taglioni’s 90-degree twins to employ a desmodromic valve train—closing as well as opening the ports via mechanical rockers instead of springs—and it was born hairy-chested and long-legged.
The 750SS was race-ready and street legal—things are legal in Italian streets that Americans can’t do behind closed doors, and even our streets were less regulated then. It was 140-mile-an-hour fast, it tracked like a bullet train, and, oh, did it make a joyful noise. They only made about 200 of them, and of these an estimated 88 came to the U.S. Rarity lends to desirability, which creates escalating values.
Start with the innate sex appeal of the lithe and lean Ducati, and combine it with a proficiency unmatched in its time and impressive still in this time, and you’ve got a legend, the heart of which is its V-twin.