Fond memories of Diana, Ducati’s pretty little sport bike

John L. Stein

Back in 1970, in a wooden garage in hippie Topanga Canyon, my buddy John discovered the scattered remains of a metallic blue and silver 1961 Ducati 250 Diana.

Once a pretty Italian sport bike, it was humbly advertised as a $50 “basket case.” John bought it, imagining that it would be a fun project, but he soon felt overwhelmed and offered it to me. Quite literally, everything that could be taken apart was. Referencing diagrams and photos in the manual, 17-year-old me spent months on the project. I also learned new fabrication, electrical, and mechanical skills along the way.

The single overhead camshaft, for instance, is driven by four bevel gears, all individually shimmed, as are the crankshaft and gearbox assemblies. Setting these up took weeks of trial and error, which felt like a lifetime, because I couldn’t wait to ride the thing. Soon after completing the build, I finally did, a night ride in sleepy Malibu, where I lived. Spontaneously—because why not?—I decided to twist the bike’s tail. When the revs soared, the piston broke in half, smashing the valves and necessitating a second rebuild.

1961 Ducati Diana on highway
John L. Stein

One Saturday night shortly after I’d gotten the Diana back together again, a grudge race brewed with a dirt-bike buddy on his box-stock 175cc two-stroke. The contest was up a mile-long, wide-open route at the edge of town, and his run-of-the-mill Japanese bike decisively beat the Ducati. Oh, the humility! Then and there, it began dawning on me that exotics, artistic and esoteric as they were, weren’t necessarily better.

Maybe I had the last laugh, after a fashion. Another friend, Art, was seriously into club racing and offered to haul the Diana and me to Ontario Motor Speedway. Early that Sunday morning I rode to his pad, where we slotted the bike between other racers in the back of his Econoline. After pushing the bike through tech, I donned leather pants, work boots, a borrowed leather jacket, a helmet, and gardening gloves, and I gridded up on the front straight, the machine buzzing and jangling. To my great satisfaction, the Ducati started the race, ran every lap, and finally rushed under the checkers. No clue where I finished, but it was likely way downfield in the 250 Production class. But we finished.

After two years of ownership—what felt like my first real relationship—I sold the Diana to a man named Larry in the San Fernando Valley, as I’d bought Ducati’s new 750 GT and needed to dispatch the little bike. By now, it’s long past long gone. But young love never forgets, so if you’ve seen my Diana around, be sure to write!

1961 Ducati Diana and John L. Stein
John L. Stein
1961 Ducati Diana driveway
John L. Stein
1961 Ducati Diana and John L. Stein
John L. Stein




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    I had a Ducati 250 Sebring as well as a NSU Super Fox – both of which were acquired in much the same condition. I long to have both back again. Thank you for such a memorable story.

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