In 1977, Cycle magazine editors Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling took a Ducati 750 SS to first place at the Daytona in the second-ever season of AMA Superbike racing. Neilson retired from racing at the end of the year, but the bike he and Schilling built — nicknamed Old Blue for its blue livery — became a legend.
How big a legend? Big enough for Ducati to team with Italian specialty builder NCR to craft a limited-edition update, New Blue, based on the 2007 Sport 1000S, and big enough to inspire the crew at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, arguably one of the most important motorcycle museums in the world, to commission Ducati specialist Rich Lambrechts to craft a bolt-by-bolt replica for its collection. The finished bike’s name? Deja Blue.
The California Hot Rod
Deja Blue’s inspiration goes back to the mid-1970s, whenCycle editors Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling were campaigning a Ducati 750 SS in West Coast racing. The California Hot Rod, as Cook called their Ducati, was one of only a handful of the race-bred Ducati 750 SS models in the U.S. (their bike was one of three pre-homologation specials shipped over in 1973), and with Cook riding and Phil developing the bike, they raced it with great success in the 1974-1975 seasons.
When the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) announced its new Superbike Series for 1976, Cook and Phil turned their attention to preparing their bike for the series, with a win at Daytona their ultimate goal. Coming in third in the inaugural Superbike race at Daytona in 1976, they were off to a good start, and they continued to race in the series throughout the year.
To get the California Hot Rod into contention for the 1977 season, the pair modified their Ducati 700 SS with, among other things, a set of 87mm Venolia pistons (pushing capacity up to 883cc), 44mm Harley-Davidson intake valves, a 5-speed Marvin Webster gearbox and Morris magnesium wheels. At the same time, Phil designed a new and very blue paint scheme, and the bike became Old Blue. “It was blue,” Cook says. “And God knows it was old — the cylinder heads dated back to 1974, although other parts were steadily and religiously refreshed.”
By the time Daytona rolled around in March of 1977, the pair was ready. The 1976 season had proved their faith in the Ducati 700 SS, and they knew that under favorable conditions a win at Daytona could be theirs. In the days leading up to the race, everything went like clockwork, Cook and the Ducati consistently ticking off lap times that were two seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
The big day came on March 11, and as Cook made his way around Daytona, a track he’d raced only four times before, he built a lead that never faltered. When the race was over, Cook had come in first, 28 seconds ahead of David Emde and with an even longer lead over young gun Wes Cooley. Cook and Phil had realized their dream, and they had given Ducati its first major North American win. Their place in history was sealed.