A visit with Reno Leoni - By: Steve Allen
Bologna, Italy - 2004

It took me more than 30 hours to get to Bologna....  And Reno was waiting for me along with Michael Paratore.  They basically got me checked into Hotel Borgo (A little hotel operated by some real nice folks right around the corner from the Ducati factory www.hoteldelborgo.it) then headed straight off to the factory and museo - click HERE for the photo essay.  These photos were taken the following couple days.  Reno invited me to his home just outside of Bologna, about 15 mins from the Ducati factory. I took these photos at his house where we talked.  The other gentleman is Ruggero Nannini, the brother of Reno's lovely wife.  Ruggero build the racing frames at Ducati for Marco Lucchinelli, Raymond Roche et al - from 1976 to 1990.  Ruggero came to Imola with Reno and riders Mike Baldwin and Jimmy Adamo.  Below these photos are some questions from some friends that I took over to ask Reno along with his responses.  He and I got along real well, I guess folks who are passionate about Ducati motorcycles all get along well no matter where they live!

Reno in his workshop
IMG_1023 IMG_1024
Ruggero Nannini
Ruggero & Reno
An article about my little Mosquito motor
preparing my little Mosquito motor
IMG_1030 IMG_1031
4 hands are better than one, no?
IMG_1032 IMG_1033
An article about Reno from the DIOC
Reno looking at some of his riders from yesteryear.
Reno Leoni in his office
Reno in his office pointing to a 1st place plaque from Laguna Seca
Bruno Ducati signed this mug
Fabio Taglioni signed this mug
Article about the last Ducati family member, Bruno Ducati
I transported this Mosquito motor in my messenger bag on the airplane.
An exploded view of a Ducati Marianna single
Reno makes some pretty neat gadgets for Ducati motors.  Below are his bevel gear sight glass as well as his clear points cover.  He has made up a batch for me to sell through my store if you are interested please shoot me an email.  These parts fit all bevel drive singles.
Img_1099 Img_1100   Img_1101 Img_1102

Interview with Reno Leoni August 4, 2004

On August 3rd 2004 I arrived in Bologna to meet with Reno Leoni, one of Ducati’s legendary race bike builder/tuners.  His big claim to fame is his relationship with rider Jimmy Adamo.  Reno also worked with Mike Baldwin, Freddie Spencer, etc etc.  Reno gave me a personal tour of the Ducati Factory and then the Ducati Museo.  The following day, he invited me to his house where we talked about many things.  Below are some questions that some of my friends asked me to ask Reno and his response.  I have tried to remember as much as I could, but there was so much!  Reno was and still is, very passionate about Ducati motorcycles and when we started to talk about racing, his eyes sparkled and he got a different look on his face…… 

 Reno will be reading this page, then sending me more information, photos and correcting things I didn’t remember right etc…  So please come back to see this page again…

 1:  USBC [[email protected]] writes: Steve, very cool!  I'm sure he will not remember me, but say "Hi" (Motion Cycles, Artmouth, MA) More to your point:  Now (30 years later) that it is no longer a trade secret can he release the "blueprints" of how they flowed the heads at the factory race team for the 750s ?

 Reno:  Alan Cathcart “Ducati the Untold Story” says that in 1981, Reno’s 750, was the fastest at 161.2 mph.  “Headwork is essential to speed” Reno gave me a scan which maps out the shape needed to make this speed.  The blueprints detail valve size at 47mm IN and 39mm EX [stock is 41 and 36].

Click HERE for a larger view of the bevel drive combustion chamber details

 2:  imola23 [[email protected]] writes: I would like to know the REAL reason his Ducati stopped the year Spencer rode it at Daytona.

 Reno:  George Vincenti asked to borrow a rear sprocket from Reno for his rider Frank Schlector to use. Reno obliged. Later, Reno found he needed that sprocket for his rider Freddy Spencer to use and went back. George complained that he just got it installed and it was perfect ETC.  and offered Reno a different front… It was 17 tooth.  George had taken a 16, cut the teeth off, cut the center out of a Japanese manuf sprocket and welded it up. He said it was good and had been retempered ETC.  Reno said o.k. and installed it. Spencer said the gearing was perfect for Daytona so they stuck with the combination and started the race. Previous to that, Reno had installed an enlarged tank on the bike and their big secret plan was to go the race with only one stop. This paid in dividends, as Spencer was way out in front with 4 laps to go. At this point, Reno noticed the slack chain as Spencer circulated the high banking… 3 to go and the chain was visibly more, slack… Spencer said he’d give her gas and nothing. Close inspection showed that all the teeth on the modified front sprocket had worn off during the race and stopped engaging the chain. Bummer. Spencer should have won.

 3.   chris&roy [[email protected]] writes: Way Cool Steve, Yes that will be great fun visiting with Mr. Leoni.  Kinda like a visit with Smokey Yunick.  You could pick his mind for hours on technical aspects of his bevel builds, but I'm sure that would be boring to him and way beyond the general bevel owners grasp so pleasure him by letting him talk at will of highlights of his career , how he got started on two wheels, famous wins and aspiring riders and what they said after racing one of his bevel or other racers.  Hey do a good job and we'll all feel like we were there.  Good Luck and have a fun trip.  Roy in Ks.

 Reno:  I started out at NSU as a frame builder, they had their product called “Mueller” which has a 100cc Sachs Engine.  I put the engines into the frames there at 16 and 17 years old.  At 18 I went to Minarelli, building 2 stroke engines and I was in charge of the 125cc 2-stroke line for them.  I moved very close to the Ducati factory in 1959 and took a job test driving.  I also got the 48cc “Brix” & “Falcon” etc ready for homologation.  I had to build special bikes for Holland because they had a 30 kph max speed limit.  De-tuning the engines was very difficult but we did it!!  In 1965 I went to the U.S. to figure out why the 250cc and 350cc engine connecting rods were breaking….

 After that, there has been much written about what I did so it is better to not spend time going through that more…

 4: Thomas Hudson [[email protected]] writes: Steve,  ask Reno if he still has a parrot.  I met him many years ago through Jimmy Adamo.  I was humbled to be in the presence of these two early giants in the world of racing bevelheads.   T. W. Hudson

 Reno:  Thank you!  Yes I still have my same parrot, his name is “Chico” and I got him in 1981 probably, he was 4 or 5 years old then…  He is an old man now, lets see, 27 or 28 years old now.  

 5: Dave Duck [[email protected]] writes: Steve, if it was me, I would ask him about what it took to make a bevel perform at the 100HP level as I am major curious as to what level of mods were done.  How far did they have to do to get the bike to produce that kind of power?  What was modified on the bottom end? Did they convert from roller bottom or stay with it? If they stayed, did they do any mods we would want to know about? What compression level? Did they use straight cut primary gears? If yes, why and what advantage was noted over the helicals? Did they remove the damper weight from the primary drive (crankshaft primary gear) or just swiss cheese it? If removed, did they do anything special to rebalance the crank? What was the best race he entered with a bevel? What was the worst one? What was the highest speed attained with a bevel? Where was that (track)? Did he run the rear shocks at 13" or 13.75" length? I could keep going, kinda wish I was going actually! Anyway, if you get the chance, there is my wish list of questions! :))     Dave.

 Reno: Reno went on about building his motors.  He repeated over and over that getting oil to the crank is the most important task in building a strong, reliable engine. He didn’t like the oil pipes on the 750 round case engine, but felt that the 860 pumps were up to the task. He would build an exterior oil line to directly feed the end of the crank and top end, the top end hose would get a very small orifice to favour oil to the crank.

 Reno made a copy of his head design for the combustion chamber along with stating the value sizes [intake 47mm/exhaust 39mm]. His drawing indicates relative slope of chamber with the key measurements listed. He favors a 1mm squish to allow for any con rod stretch and prefers CARILLO rods over stock because of their strength (resistant to stretch).  A flat piston with 11.2:1 compression ratio gave the best power. 

 Reno’s bikes used 142.5mm Dellorto carbs usually with no pumps, unless his bike was running on very slow speed technical tracks, then he would install the accel pumps.  Mains were mostly 170-175 with the rear (sinestro) carb being 1 maybe two steps richer depending on track and temperature.  Reno mounted flexible hose from the front of his bikes to direct fresh cooler air to the rear cylinder fins and the front (destro) carburetor.

 For the bottom end, he did not convert to roller and he preferred the factory helical gears in the transmission. NCR used helical gears in their transmissions but were constantly faced with broken teeth… stock is good.

 Remember that Reno also always used a dry clutch (from a Mike Hailwood 1000cc Replica - the "MHR") on his bevels and the kits already had lots of holes drilled in the primary gear as well as the clutch basket.  He pointed out that these were also straight cut gears. On a stock motor, the damper weight on the crank (primary gear) can be drilled out to lighten but only to a point, too much material removed = an unreliable and weak gear that could fail… The bottom line is that Reno believes a drilled and rebalanced stock primary gear would be an advantage.

 The fastest “Team Leoni” bevel drive reached 161.5 mph at Daytona. His riders preferred 13 to 13.5 in. shocks (he had ride height adjusters) and his triple clamps had a 25mm offset.

 6:    Misc. Notes on Important Bevel Drive Mods:

What did you do to keep your bevel drives running and reliable for race use??  Reno: Use a “Gear Gazer” - soft rev. only while thick oil is visible on glass - when oil thins (not so much showing on the glass) then warm up with higher revs, then ride.

 What oil do you recommend, or, what oil did you use??  Reno: AGIP was a sponsor or ours, we were given many barrels of 10w/50 synthetic, so we changed it out every race.

 What pistons did you use?  Reno: Flat top pistons with 1mm squish – very important not to make too small.

 How did you ensure proper lube to the crank? – Reno: “most important thing is proper engine assembly!!!”

 7: “COULDA BEEN”    Phil Schilling called up Reno and asked if he had a bike to let a young rider who was showing promise in his racing. He agreed and they decided when and where ETC. The bike was prepped ETC. but a week before the race (Pocono), Phil called to tell Reno that the kid had fallen during a race at Willow Springs (or was it Riverside?), hurt his back and wouldn’t be able to compete! The kid’s name was Eddie Lawson (1978)

 8: What was “Speedy Gonsales”?  Reno: A mouse-cartoon, long before NRC came into play, there was a team known as “Speedy Gonsales” whose shop was very near the Ducati factory.  The team consisted of Ducati racers; Franco Farne, Bortolotti, and someone else…

 9: Frank Scurria [[email protected]] writes: Hi Steve, You are in for a treat. Reno is a first class guy. Please put me on you list and say hi to him from me. Frank

 Reno:  Ah yes, How is Frankie?  It would be nice to see him one day again!

 Note from Steve:  Frank Scurria raced Ducati singles in the 50s and 60s.  You can read about him on my “Ducati Racers” page….

 10: John Gumina [[email protected]] writes: Ciao Steve!   My name is john, I don't write much on the group but I love to read it.  I have a question  that may not be useful for you article,  but I would love to be able to talk to him about the history of my race bike.  I have one of the 7 SCD single racers that went to Daytona in 67. It now has a motor that Reno built in it. I would love to know if he knows what happened to the original motor and if he knows where I might be able to track it down? If I could get his contact info that would be great!  Have a great trip! Thanks  JG

 eMail Reno through his son Stefano at [email protected] or call +39 051 676-6830

 11:  Photos – someone from California (?) who was writing a book on Moto Guzzi borrowed several photos of Reno’s Moto Guzzi race bikes etc.  If you are that person, please return them to him asap!

 12:  Ruggero Nannini (Reno’s brother in law) – He was a frame builder for Ducati race teams 1976 – 1990 (superbike etc for riders Marco Lucchinelli, Raymond Roche etc) He came to Imola twice with Leoni – with riders Mike Baldwin and Jimmy Adamo.   Ruggero and his wife came over to Reno’s house for lunch one of the days that I was there.  He is the gentleman working on my little Mosquito motor in Reno’s garage.

 13:  Hans Mellberg [[email protected]] writes: History of NCR, how it was before the bean-counters, how during and after they merged with Cagiva/Ducati?  I am pretty sure he was involved. Rumor has it that NCR was a clandestine supported race team when not allowed overtly by the bean counters during re-org.  

Maybe Reno can send in his insights on question 13 and 14?

The best story is when Jimmy & Reno went to Mexico to buy a parrot!! [details soon]

 14:  Tim O'Mahony [[email protected]] writes: I would love to hear more about the relationship between Reno and Jimmy Adamo. They seemed pretty devoted to each other, and I remember back in the day, they seemed tight in the pits. I am sure Reno has some good Adamo stories. Too bad we can't hear Jimmy's Reno stories....  Tim

 15:  Richard Albee [[email protected]] writes:  Steve, I knew Jimmy Adamo and Reno fairly well beck in the late '70's and early '80's.  Spent time in the pits, at their homes and at gatherings with them both.

 Reno's track bikes were the best and Jimmy knew how to ride 'em. Jimmy was the best friend of one of my best friends.  He was amazing at anything he drove. Reno worked on one of my bikes and a few bikes of people I know.  Have a good trip.   Rich in MA

 Reno:  Thank you!  Hello from Italy Richard.

 16:  Miquel Borillo [[email protected]] writes:  Hi Steve,  If you have not left yet, I should like to know the opinion of Mr. Leoni about the next:   I've heard that one of the basic modification in a bevel twins when trying to get more power and revs it to increase diameter of crank pin.  If so, if the situation arises that a standard big end gets blown, and rebuilding is a must, what should he recommend about big end bearing-crank pin- conrods to install in a bevel twin in the way to improve its capabilities?   Thank- you    Miquel

 Just earlier I sent you a mail about Reno Leoni questions, and as you're travelling to Bologna, I believe there is also Mr. Caracchi (form who and workshop I saw  pics you posted long ago in Bevel Heaven), and perhaps you can meet him also. As I feel curious about NCR  sand cast cases used in their preparations back in the last 70', I wonder if we could know more details about them and their construction and if their molds still exist.

 Reno: My daughter in law is Spanish and can help out with correspondence for me.  A 38mm pin is ok with forced lube through the crankshaft.

 Photos & content for viewing purposes only & copyright Steve Allen 2004 - present