A Satisfied Mind: Phil Schilling’s 1959 Ducati 175 F3

The Ducati 175 F3, the bike with the funny front brake, inspired a man who inspired us all.

| July/August 2012

This is a story about a bike that inspired a man who inspired us all. It begins with an article written for Cycle magazine that opened on page 62 of the July 1972 issue. Normally, it would have ended there, as well. But not this story. So, where? Well, that part of the story was unforeseeable, and somehow simply perfect.

“Satisfied Mind” was a story by future Cycle editor-in-chief and AMA Hall of Famer Phil Schilling about an exotic little Ducati 175 F3 he called the “Ducati With the Funny Front Brake.” It was beautifully written, even for Phil, a beautiful writer. But something about this story was different. Deeply personal, the story line seemed straight from the popular 1970 movie Love Story. Boy is smitten from afar, the object of his affection well beyond him. Then destiny intercedes and they meet and fall in love. It looks like happily-ever-after is in sight, but they lose each other to unforeseeable and tragic circumstances. In the movie, Ali MacGraw dies. In Phil’s case, a major fire in the Cycle magazine shop destroys the F3.

But this time there is a happy ending. Against all odds (and good sense) Phil shuns the advice of friends, turns his back on insurance money, resists the siren call of faster, more modern machinery, and rebuilds the F3, a Herculean task because of the damage the F3 suffered and the sheer rareness of the parts and pieces involved. It was great storytelling, and to this day the story moves all who read it. If you loved motorcycles beyond reason (in 1972 that would have made you a subscriber to Cycle magazine), it was inspirational, expressing the pure joy of knowing what you want and following the road through hell to make it happen. But before Phil could inspire our lives, Cycle magazine had to change his.

First gleanings

It’s the summer of 1959, in a college dorm at Northwestern University, Chicago, final exams week. Phil Schilling is fighting to concentrate on the academic matters at hand, but he keeps losing his mental grip to the “Ducati With the Funny Front Brake” that had captured him when he first saw it on page 10 of the May 1959 issue of Cycle magazine. It is now two months later, and he’s still smitten with the little Ducati racer. He is unaware his destiny is already sealed. Page 10 was an offramp from his life’s highway, and he has unknowingly taken it.

In Phil’s words, when it came to motorcycles, he was “1959’s World Champion Magazine Racer.” In those dark, pre-iPad, pre-Google, pre-glossy magazine days, you had to work hard to be in the know. A good magnifying glass was essential since most photographs were small, fuzzy and poorly exposed. It helped to have a creative imagination to compensate for mis-captioned photos and sparse descriptions. And most important, you had to be willing to really, really dig for more information. So add a #2 pencil, a roll of stamps and some envelopes for the chase to the podium.

In 1959 he was “magazine racing” the jewel-like Ducati 175 F3. He wrote to the Ducati importer, Berliner Motor Corporation, for free literature — over and over, each time gleaning a new piece of data essential to the chase. He “calculated, guesstimated, cross-checked, double-checked and almost burned out my left eyeball” trying to determine the differences between the 175cc street Ducati and the Ducati 175 F3, which came in race trim with street parts in the crate. As details emerged it became clear the F3s were Real Racers, the highest-possible forms of life, genuine single-purpose machines, worthy of Phil’s sort of devotion. He had given his heart to the right bike. Schilling had fallen hard. It was to be a lifelong commitment.

9/19/2014 1:23:05 PM

Thank you for a fine piece. I recall being amused, entertained and informed by Phil's writings, and by others who made Cycle the magazine of motorcycling.

john goulet
8/30/2012 5:28:39 PM

Phil and Cook were my heroes back then. That Phil would have that level of passion and dedication to one particular bike was fascinating and spoke volumes for the bike, which I otherwise knew nothing about. The Motorcycle Classics piece is therefore greatly appreciated!!!

8/30/2012 2:17:18 PM

I remember reading that article, and wondering "Why so much work, just to restore a weenie little bike?" But I was young then. Still, I was particularly impressed by the guy Phil found to reassemble the transmission. I was blown away by the phrase, "He just knew.." P.S. I hope you got that salt spray off right away, or you'll be doing another restoration soon!

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