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In Search of Sparks:
By Kieran Stewart, Ireland

Getting the Morini home:
I've always had a soft spot for Moto Morinis. In the late 1970's I saw a bright red 350 dual-drum Sport in a motorcycle shop in Dublin and I've never forgotten the sight of it. The Morini in question was so staggeringly expensive that owning it was about as realistic a proposition as dating a supermodel.

Around 1999 I started to think about Morinis again. This time the pressure of work and family meant that a cheap Morini in need of restoration was he only option. Using the Internet I located a dealer in the UK who had several Morinis for sale, including an early drum brake one in need of restoration. We struck a deal for the Morini; he also threw in a spare engine because, as he informed me, "the bloody engine is seized rock-solid mate". An honest used motorcycle dealer, now thatís an unusual species.

In March of 2002 I sailed from Rosslare in Ireland to Pembroke in Wales on the ferry. The journey was like a sequence from the film 'The Perfect Storm', after many adventures on the high seas I got the Morini and spare engine back to Ireland where it was immediately impounded by Customs for having no import papers or number plate. After some fast-talking and form filling I got my bike and engine released from Bike Jail.

Before I did any major work on the Morini I made a conscious decision to get the bike running and to road test it thoroughly to make sure everything was OK. In the past I have started restoring bikes only to find out at a late stage the engine or gearbox is a write-off.

Getting the Morini Running Again:
The UK dealer was right the engine was seized solid. It was a pity because the engine was a Sport engine, identifiable by the ĎSí stamped on the front of the right crankcase. My first job was to whip out the old engine and slot in the replacement one. Six bolts, some wires, and a chain and the job was done. While I was at it I changed the heads on the replacement engine and ground in the valves. Someone had apparently removed the spare engine with a chain saw! Luckily for me the heads on the seized engine were sound. The simplicity of the Morini design took me by surprise, I could not get over the fact there was no direct oil feed to the cylinder heads. In 1998 I restored a 1963 Ducati SCR 250. The hand-assembled and hand-shimmed nature of the engine made the restoration a time-consuming and expensive operation. Compared to the Ducati the Morini is a delight to work on.

When the replacement engine was installed it turned over and generated some compression. Next problem was no sparks at the plugs. First I checked the generator, plugs, & the plug leads, they were fine. Next I tested the supply and earth wires for the transducers and trigger. The cables, power supply and earths were all OK, the problem seemed to be in the transducer units mounted under the tank or the engine mounted ignition trigger unit. I searched the Internet for a way of testing and/or repairing the transducers and trigger unit off the bike but to no avail. The Wisdom of the Net said if the power supply and earth was OK the problem was in the transducers or the engine trigger unit and they were not readily repairable. I decided to junk the original Ducati (!) ignition and I ordered a Lucas RITA system from a dealer in the UK.

Click on images for original size

There is not much to say about the RITA (amplifier) unit. It is robust, simple and well made. It is reasonably cheap, you get everything you need in the kit and it bolts right on with no modifications required. A detailed instruction sheet is supplied. Unlike the original Ducati ignition the RITA unit requires a direct feed from a 12 Volt battery. The air-box on my Morini was damaged so I removed it and mounted the twin external 6 Volt coils in the air-box space. For an extra sum of money you can specify a compact dual coil. I will fit K&N's to the carbs at a later stage. I mounted the RITA temporarily on the back of the tool-tray. The RITA trigger unit was a direct replacement for the original trigger set. With the RITA installed a quick check at the plugs showed fat blue sparks. After ten or fifteen kicks my Morini started. After two or three hours of adjusting and cleaning the carbs, sorting out minor air-leaks together with some small adjustments to the ignition timing my Morini was starting on the first or second kick and ticking over. So far so good.

The RITA unit has one serious drawback, high power consumption. As I have already mentioned I first wanted to get the bike started and running to make sure everything was OK before doing any major work. I wired the RITA unit up separately using a toggle switch and a small 12 Volt battery. After a couple of hours of starting, running and testing the engine the battery was starting to go flat, more worryingly the Morini was getting harder to start. The battery is new and was fully charged so you do not have to be Mr. James Watt to work out that the RITA uses a lot of current. I have not had the opportunity to carry out detailed tests yet but it is already apparent that the spark generated by the RITA unit is dependant on a battery that is fully or near fully charged. If you fit a RITA to your Morini and ride with your headlight on all the time and use the indicators a lot Iím certain that you will have starting and ignition problems. This will not be a problem for a 'Sunny Sunday' bike but for day-to-day use it will be a problem. But lets face it most Morinis are 20+ years old. Perhaps there are some die-hard enthusiasts who use their Morinis every day; most owners will use their bikes once a week, at most. My suggestion is to buy a permanently installed micro battery conditioner. This will keep your Morini battery fully charged at all times, just remember to plug it in after every spin.

An ex-motor mechanic friend of mine offered one possible explanation. He claims that the RITA unit began life as an automotive part. Most cars have an alternator and a decent sized battery so high ignition system power consumption is not a major issue. However a bike like the Morini with its puny generator and moped-sized battery will quickly run into problems. I'm not so sure but that's his theory anyway.

So there you have it. Buy a RITA if you only use your Morini occasionally, if you want to use your Morini every day you will need a Tritsch unit or a Boyer micro-digital unit. When I have the time I will carry out more detailed tests and I will post the results here.


See the diagram on how to connect the Lucas Rita system on a Moto Morini.

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