Italian Job: 1963 Ducati 350

Built in California by racer Frank Scurria, a Ducati 350 began life as a Ducati 175 single in a 125 F3 frame.

| January/February 2018

Although most people don’t know this, the first-ever Ducati 350 was made in America — by an American with an Italian surname.

Before this bike existed, there was no Ducati 350, and like the mongrelized Cadillac in the popular Johnny Cash song, it was built one piece at a time. Meet Frank Scurria and his Ducati 175-cum-200-cum-250-cum-350 that had its origins in a 125 F3 frame but eventually found a home in a modified 250 frame.

The pieces to this Italian-American puzzle have their origins in America’s oldest motorcycle road race organization, the California-based AFM (American Federation of Motorcyclists). Among AFM racers in 1959 was a young Frank Scurria, who grew up in Glendale, California. Scurria began road racing his Ducati 200 when he was a teenager and like many young men then and now he was, as he puts it, “a California hot-rodder type who liked working on cars and motorcycles.” Calling him a “hot-rodder type” is shortchanging his talents; Frank Scurria was, and still is, a gifted fabricator who also commands a firm grasp of engineering principles, two qualities that led to the development of his Ducati 350.

Scurria was a skillful road racer, and he campaigned his Ducati 200 with success. When he learned about a special stroker crankshaft developed by master machinist Allan d’Alo that boosted a Ducati 200’s displacement closer to 250cc, Scurria wanted in. With an eye cast towards competing in the 250cc class, Scurria bought one of d’Alo’s flywheel assemblies, and by the end of the 1961 season he was top dog in the AFM’s quarter-liter ranks, winning the class championship.

Scurria didn’t stop there, mapping out a plan to compete in the 350cc class that was ruled by guys riding Manx Nortons, AJS 7Rs and hot-rodded Honda Super Hawks. Initially he wanted to race his bored-and-stroked 200 (by now 247cc) against the 350s, but AFM rules disallowed undersize bikes in the larger classes, so Frank turned to his friend and sponsor, Bob Blair, owner of ZDS Motors in Glendale, for help. Blair supplied Scurria with an over-bore cylinder with matching piston that would bump the engine’s displacement to 254cc. The legal engine worked: “I finished a close second in the 350 class behind an AJS 7R,” recalls Scurria today. He was hooked, and the road to a full-on Ducati 350 suddenly got a little straighter.

Progress begins

“In late 1961 Ducati came out with an over-square 250 that had a bore of 74mm and the same 57.8mm stroke as the 175/200 bikes,” Scurria explains. “The biggest bore I could have without making the cylinder liner too thin was 76 millimeters. With a bore of 76 millimeters and a stroke of 76, I would have a 344cc engine.” Perfect for the 350 class!

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