Full House: Ducatis in the Living Room

Peter Calles lives a surreal (yet real) version of a passing dream every collector has had: Bring all the collectibles inside.

article image
by Phil Aynsley

Do you love motorcycles enough to share every waking moment with them? One man does.

From the outside it’s a typical American ranch-style house: single-story, three bedrooms and a double garage in a suburb of Washington, D.C. But walk inside and any similarities to a conventional house soon end.

The floors may be polished wood and the wall panelling complemented with sleek furniture, but that’s not what catches your eye. It’s the sight of nearly 30 motorcycles that have taken up residence in every room.

Where to begin

Let’s start in the kitchen. Sharing space with the coffee maker, refrigerator and dishwasher are a 1972 Ducati 750 GT, a 1957 Gilera 175 and a 1968 Triumph Bonneville 650.

Move along to the adjoining main room and you’ll get a quick history lesson in motorcycle exotica. Two Sixties-era MV Agustas, a 125 Centomila and a 150 Rapido Sport, share space with Seventies showpieces including a Hailwood Replica, 750 Sport and 900SS from Ducati. There is also a humble little Ducati Cucciolo that makes its own statement.

Slightly farther on are two bookmarks of Ducati development. A 1985 Ducati Hailwood Mille, powered by the ultimate bevel engine, goes head-to-head with a 1985 Ducati 750 F1 which has never been started. A side-room-study houses a 1962 MV Agusta 125 GTL, as beautiful as any piece of artwork.

This is all very fine but surely the master bedroom will be free from motorcycles? Nope. Here a 1950s Ducati single and 1940s Gilera Turismo are reclining on their centerstands. Bedroom two has a 1964 Ducati 250 Mach 1 tucked away discretely, and in bedroom three a 1967 Ducati Cadet and 1954 MV Agusta 175 Disco Volante share space.

So does this mean that the garage is a motorcycle-free zone? No way. Packed in here are more Ducatis, a BSA 650 Thunderbolt Rocket, a 1972 Harley-Davidson 1,000cc Sportster and the homeowner’s everyday ride, a 2006 BMW K1200R.

Way back when

“It all started back in 1970 when I was still in high school,” Peter Calles says, master of all he surveys indoors. “By 1984 I had seven motorcycles, but after my divorce in 1985 the collection increased considerably.” It was a case of wife goes, motorcycles arrive, as Peter slowly filled up the house.

What was the bike that started all this? “That would be my 1968 Triumph Bonnie,” Peter says. “It was my first bike and we have been together 42 years. Actually my parents forbid me having a bike so my older brother bought it for me.”

That Triumph, resplendent in the correct chrome, Hi-Fi Scarlet tank color and glossy black side covers, has some opposition in the kitchen. Parked beside it is an immaculate red 1972 “round case” Ducati 750 GT. The wall behind is covered in framed posters of Italian motorcycle models. But somehow the Triumph holds its own.

“The one bike I could never sell is that ’68 Triumph,” Peter says. “My thinking about the whole collection is if I can’t replace it, I won’t sell it.”

Upping the pace

Initially the collection evolved slowly, picking up pace after 1998. That was because Peter had spent the previous 10 years racing. “I became a licensed motorcycle road racer [he graduated from Novice to Expert in two seasons] and raced a factory Ducati TT2 for Reno Leoni [famous Italian-American Ducati tuner],” Peter says. “I retired from Pro Twins racing in 1998 and since then I have just collected and restored Italian motorcycles.”Those racing years, which included broken bones at a Daytona crash, also introduced Peter to the mythology of Ducati.

“It was a privilege to race Ducatis,” he says. “The handling, sound and looks are all turn-ons. When I bought my first Ducati several friends made jokes about them. Now they ask me how I got all these beautiful motorcycles, and my answer is I was at the right place at the right time.”

Of course, devoting your life to motorcycles also makes it easier to keep in tune with the market and what’s coming up for sale. This includes buying up a huge amount of memorabilia, from models to posters to rare spare parts, leathers and helmets. “It’s taken many years to collect, but I now have more than 120 custom-framed pictures throughout the house,” Peter says. “There are also parts and the exhaust display is one example of my collecting. It was custom-made and the mufflers are held in the display by magnets.”

Peter earned the equally impressive collection of trophies and sashes over two decades of racing Ducatis. The house looks fully furnished, but don’t think that Peter has reached the limits of collecting.

“I’m always looking for the next one,” he says. Peter doesn’t just display the motorcycles; he also rides them from time to time. But his fascination with Ducatis remains at the forefront. “Recently I even found an original 1940 Ducati radio in working order,” he says. Could this be the finishing touch to a house of motorcycles? MC

The Reno Connection

Peter’s relationship with Ducati tuning legend Reno Leoni started in 1980s Battle of the Twins racing and continues today with restoration of parts of his collection.

“We felt like Ducati orphans,” Peter says of his early years of racing Ducatis. After Ducati importer Berliner closed in 1984, Reno, the technician it had brought over from Italy in the 1960s, was on his own. An indication of the seriousness of Ducati’s situation was brought home to Peter in April 1985.

“I went to the Ducati factory and bought a new 1985 Mike Hailwood replica,” he recalls. “Mr. Valentini, the export manager who helped me, said I would be the last person to buy a Ducati directly because the factory had just been sold to the Cagiva group. I still own the MHR. I was at the right place at the right time. Now I have 21 Ducatis in my collection.”

Reno transferred his reputation for building fast and reliable Ducatis and Moto Guzzis in the 1970s into the increasingly popular Battle of the Twins/Pro Twins class of the 1980s. This had its showcase event as a support to the annual Daytona 200 race. He would become part of the Cagiva-Ducati story, going on to race early versions of the 851 Superbike with his long-term rider Jimmy Adamo. Reno’s story is often lost in the telling of Eraldo Ferracci’s success in World Superbike, but he played just an important part in the late 1980s.

The cigar-smoking Reno had a reputation for doing things his own way, as Peter recalls. “I remember the first time I saw Reno’s toolbox I wasn’t impressed,” he says. “Then I learned he made most of his tools by hand. Back then that’s how Italian mechanics did it, the Old World way.”

Peter also remembers Reno saying in his distinctive Italian accent: “If it doesn’t say ‘Made in Italy’ I shutta my toolbox.” Being part of Team Leoni Racing, which at various times in the late 1970s had included Mike Baldwin and Freddie Spencer, means Peter has many stories to tell. One favorite is the two years Reno’s team pitted beside the Ducati race team at Daytona.

The first year Cagiva-owned Ducati was racing the ultimate version of the air-cooled F1. The next year it debuted its liquid-cooled 851 Superbike prototype. The Battle of Twins was a huge focus for Ducati in those years and it brought out its star rider Marco Lucchinelli and development brains Franco Farne.

“The factory had three large containers, two for the bikes plus parts, also wine, cheese and prosciutto,” Peter says. “The bikes were out of the crate ready to race, then they got down to eating and drinking. I remember Reno telling me that’s how it’s done in Italy.”

Reno soon became the “go-to guy” for the Ducati team and the two outfits hung out together. When Peter returned from getting a birthday cake for Jimmy Adamo, Lucchinelli, Farne and Giorgio Nepoti, one of NCR’s founders, joined the celebrations.

“In the garage next to us the John Surtees team was racing the Quantel Cosworth,” Peter remembers. “They would borrow our rollers to start their bike. It was big and ugly and I remember Reno would refer to ‘that English Moose.'”

However, the Cosworth, campaigned at Daytona for several years by several different riders, including Australians Rob Phillis and Paul Lewis, beat Ducati’s 851 Superbike in the 1988 Pro Twins race. Placing third in that year’s Super Twins support race on a TT2 was a highlight of Peter’s career with Team Leoni.

By now, Reno was racing Ducati’s 851 Superbike with Adamo in AMA Twins events with Peter continuing on the air-cooled F1. Peter crashed heavily at Daytona in 1990, suffering several broken bones, but the real lowlight was when Adamo was killed at Daytona in 1993. It was a huge blow to the team as he had raced with Reno since the late 1970s, won the first two AMA Battle of the Twins championships and an amazing 31 AMA Twins nationals.

“I enjoyed Jimmy’s company and he always took the time to help a fellow Ducati racer,” Peter remembers. Now his focus is on the motorcycle collection.

“Reno still helps me with my Italian motorcycle restorations,” Peter says. “Every time I go to Italy I visit Reno, his lovely wife and his son Stephen. Reno likes it when people still remember him and all he’s done for Ducati.”

Highlights in PeterCalles’ Collection

1964 Ducati 250 Mach 1

Restored by Henry Hogben, of Ontario, Canada. The Mach 1 was an important model that many Sixties journalists compared to Britain’s iconic Gold Star single. Peter also owns two other Ducati singles restored by Hogben. “A really incredible effort for someone with only one arm,” Peter says.

1985 Ducati 750 F1

Peter bought this new-in-the-crate from a dealer in 1985. It has never been started. The F1 model marked a turning point for Ducati. It was the first production model to use a Verlicchi frame, a monoshock rear suspension and floating disc brakes. It was also hugely expensive.

1964 Ducati 50cc prototype

Berliner Motor Corp. (the U.S. importer for Ducati and Moto Guzzi) were sent this portable motorcycle for evaluation. Complete with lights and a rear carrier, it folds for ease of transport. The little Ducati was used by Reno Leoni as a pit bike for many years. Reno now lives back in Italy after decades living and breathing Ducatis in the U.S.

1972 MV Agusta 750 Sport

Simple, purposeful and drop-dead gorgeous from some angles; slightly bulbous from others. MV’s 750 Sport, an inline-4-cylinder, was unique in the motorcycle world. It had drum brakes when its rivals had discs. It was a performance motorcycle that had shaft drive, not chain. Peter bought the MV in 1993, waiting five years for the bike’s second owner to sell it.

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
Motorcycle Classics Magazine
Motorcycle Classics Magazine Featuring the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!