Ducati Suite- History

2 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Ducati Suite- History
Ducati 125 Scrambler

1920’s-1940’s: Humble Beginnings

Ducati, a name long synonymous with motorcycle racing, actually started out manufacturing electronic components. Founded

in 1926 by the Ducati family, and officially named The Societa Radio Brevetti Ducati, they soon became a world leader in the

manufacture of radios, electronic components, and even cameras!

The company grew by leaps and bounds, employing over 11,000 workers before allied bombing campaigns during the Second

World War destroyed the Borgo Panigale factory in 1944.

Post-war life in Italy was extremely tough. The industries once producing transportation for the Italian people were gutted by

the war, and the economy was horrible. The people needed something cheap and reliable to get them around. The bicycle

became the main mode of transportation. But, in 1946 that all changed. At the Milan Fair the Ducati brothers, ever the

capitalists, introduced the Cucciolo . or ‘little pup’ (so named for its barking exhaust)- an auxiliary engine that could be retrofitted

to the frame of a bicycle. The Cucciolo was a smash, and soon Ducati was contracting out frames to be built specifically for

the little engine. By 1950, Ducati had produced over 200,000 Cucciolos, and by the end of its run the motor had been increased

to a capacity of 65cc and was producing a whopping 2hp.

The 1950’s: Burgeoning Success

The production of the Cucciolo continued into the early 50’s, and by 1953, Ducati’s racing success had mane a name for the

company. Ducati was split into two separate operations- Ducati Elettronica S.p.A. and Ducati Meccanica S.p.A. which took

over the Borgo Panigale plant. 1954 saw the introduction of a legend, a young engineer from Lugo di Romagna named Fabio

Taglioni. Taglioni was the man responsible for the most famous of Ducati innovations, including the now famous Desmodromic

valve gear.

Prior to Taglioni’s arrival, Ducati had ventured into the realm of higher capacity engines, introducing the ’98’. Powered by a

pushrod overhead valve engine displacing 98cc, it was somewhat successful in racing but still indicated Ducati’s commitment to

producing ‘budget’ machinery not specifically designed with racing in mind. The Gran Sport changed that. Taglioni’s single

cylinder racer (later referred to as the Marianna ) incorporated Dell’Orto racing carbs, high compression pistons, and a single

overhead camshaft with helical valve gear. Power output was 9bhp, and it showed on the track, devastating the competition.

The 1950’s saw motorcycle racing take Italy by storm, with thousands of privateers competing for victory. Ducati soon

became synonymous with victory.

In 1956, Ducati significantly revised the 125 Gran Sport’s engine to include dual overhead camshafts with helical valve gear, and

in 1957 the triple camshaft desmo debuted. It featured three camshafts and desmodromic valve control for precise, positive

action and no valve float.

The desmo valve gear made for an extremely powerful race bike, but it rarely made its way into the hands of privateers, who

were still racing helical gear bikes with great success.

The 1960’s: The Sound of Singles

In the 60’s, Ducati became known for its successful singles, usually purebred racing machines available to the general public.

Many other designs emerged, but the singles still dominated. It wouldn’t be until the 1970’s that Ducati would develop a

successful twin and stick with it.

Ducati pumped out numerous models of single cylinder sporting bikes, including the Diana . the Spor t, the Mach 1 . the Monza .

and the Cade t all in varying capacities and power output. 1968, however, saw the arrival of the first production desmodromic

head bike, the Mark 3 D . 1968 saw a change from the old narrow engine case to the new wide case. The wide casings became

the most successful and powerful of all the Ducati singles, eventually reaching a capacity of 450cc and a power output of 50hp.

1968 also saw the introduction of the Scrambler . a wide-bar sort of dual-sport bike not considered by purists to be a ‘true’

Ducati (much like the Monster). They feared it was too Americanized and detached from Ducati’s racing philosophy, but

nonetheless it went on to become one of the best selling Ducatis of all time (also like the Monster).

The 1970’s: Quiet Progress

The 1960’s were a somewhat successful time for Ducati in the racing field, but the Japanese bikes were soon dominating the

finish line. Singles were still showing moderate success in racing, but Ducati needed a larger capacity bike, preferably a twin, if

it was going to compete. The 500GP of 1971 showed promise, and although it never won any races it was still valuable

engineering wise. 1971 also saw the introduction of the GT 750 . Ducati’s first l-twin street bike. It produced 60hp and was

driven by desmodromic valve gear. 1972 saw great triumph for Ducati when its 750 twin (closely resembling the production

version) piloted by legendary racer Paul Smart won the 200-mile race at Imola. Things were looking up for Ducati and they

established themselves permanently with that win.

1972 saw the introduction of the Sport 750, a sporting twin with a somewhat questioned helical valve gear rather than

desmodromic. It still proved to be very popular with boy racers.

The birth of one of the most legendary Ducati nameplates was seen in the Super Sport 75 0 in 1974. It was immediately praised

by critics not only for its immense power, but also for its superb handling and docile road manners. Triple disc brakes, beautiful

fairing and bodywork, 10:1 compression, dual 40mm Dell’Orto carbs, and a desmo driven 750cc L-twin engine all indicated that

this was a pure-bred racing motorcycle, no doubt about it.

During this time, Ducati attempted to capture a share of the touring market with its 860 GT and (gasp!) parallel twin GTL’s.

Neither were wildly popular bikes. By 1977 customers demanded higher capacity, higher horsepower sports motorcycles, and

the Super Sport 900 was introduced. A legend for good reason, the 900SS was the pinnacle of sports bikes in 1977. Don’t

underestimate its performance even by today’s standards, though, as it was and is still a very competent racer. Official

horsepower ratings were never available, but a 9.5:1 compression ratio, desmodromic valve gear and a weight of only 196kg

were enough to propel the 900SS to over 225kph.

1978 was the year the world witnessed one of the most triumphant comebacks of all time, the kind of story legends are made

of. Mike Hailwood, a former Ducati racer turned F1 driver, returned for one last hurrah and won the 1978 Isle of Man

endurance race. Mike was a long shot to win but his NCR (initials of specialized tuners Nepoti, Carachi, and Rizzi) prepared

900 beat up the competition, and even went on to win a week later at Mallory Park to really embarrass the Japanese.

1978 also marked the introduction of perhaps Taglioni’s finest design and most lasting legacy- the belt drive Pantah (or

‘panther’) engine, a variation of which still powers two valve Ducatis today. These are also known as the rubberband Ducs,

due to the rubber timing belts). Introduced in 500cc form, it later increased to 600 cc and was very successful in the TT2 600 .

the first Pantah-engined racer.

The 1980’s: Dark Times

The TT2 continued its success into the early 80’s, when Ducati took the big leap and punched out the Pantah engine to 750cc to

compete in the TT1 class. The bike used, of course, was the TT1 750 F1 and today street and race variants both are highly

coveted by collectors. Although built in the early 80’s, the F1 combined world-class performance with modern amenities,

including a rising rate linkage rear suspension, into a beautiful body that is regarded as one of the best looking sports bikes of all


Just when Ducati enthusiasts were getting used to consistent factory support and distribution, Ducati made known its financial

troubles. In 1984, control of Ducati was transferred to the Cagiva group, and luckily for enthusiasts Cagiva was interested in

motorcycle production. Ducati would dedicate a large portion of its production to making engines that would power Cagiva

motorcycles, and Ducati would continue its racing ventures. So, while Ducati was focusing on the F1, they were also spread

thin making parts for Cagiva Elefants and Alazurras . And let us not also forget the Ducati Indiana . a large cruiser aimed at the

American market. Nonetheless, mired in a sea of bikes that seemed to have gone off track, Ducati continued to devote its time

to developing cutting edge sports bikes. 1986 saw the introduction of the Paso . a truly revolutionary and unique bike. Never

before had a Ducati come with a completely enclosed fairing or a box section bolted-cradle frame. It was an extremely

competent sports bike, and the Paso line eventually included a 2-valve per cylinder, liquid cooled 907cc engine, essentially a

distant cousin of the 851. While only putting out 72hp, it was still capable of 218kph.

The late 80’s saw the introduction of two other Ducati milestones- the first desmodromic four-valve-per-cylinder

(desmoquattro) engine that would power the superbike, and the all-new 750 Sport, whose style would later lead to the fantastic

Supersport of the 1990’s.

The 851 was actually introduced in 1986 at Bol D’Or, and won at Daytona in 1987. However, it first raced in the new World

Superbike Championship in 1988, where it placed fifth. Soon after, privateers got their hands on the amazing bike. It displaced

851cc, was liquid cooled, sported a new Weber Marelli fuel injection system and sported four valves per cylinder and pumped

out a whopping 90hp in street trim. It was no wonder the bike was a huge success.

At Phillip Island in 1990, Ducati brought home its first of many world superbike titles after Raymond Roche raced an incredible

season. As they say, the rest is history.

The 1990’s and Beyond: Rebirth

A triumphant World Superbike victory meant that the 888 was now a legend. Doug Polen won an unprecedented 17 times on

the 888 in 1991, and 9 times in 1992, bringing home the championship for the third time. But, by now the 851/888 had reached

its capacity- the motor was stretched to the limit and the chassis was no longer able to contain the power. 1993 saw the title

head back home to Japan with the Kawasaki team, causing Ducati to make perhaps one of the best decisions ever- 1994 saw the

debut of the all-new 916 superbike. Completely redesigned by Massimo Tamburini (who also penned the Paso and Cagiva

Mito), it was instantly recognized as one of the best designs in all of motorcycling’s history. Powered by a new and improved

955cc race motor putting out 150hp, the 916 Superbike won its debut race much to the amazement of team Kawasaki, and went

on take home the title in the capable hands of Carl Foggy Fogarty. 1995 saw Fogarty on the 916 win for the second straight

time. 1996 saw Troy Corser bump Foggy from the top ranks and take the title home for Ducati, for the sixth time in seven

years! 1998 was another unforgettable year, with Carl Fogarty (back again from Honda) winning by a nose, during the last

round against the Honda on its own turf. 1999 also saw Fogarty keep the title in Italy. The 916 was replaced by the 996 in

1999, and featured numerous improvements. By 2001, the new testastretta (narrow head) motor made its debut. Displacing

998cc, the new engine had a larger bore and shorter stroke combined with less included valve angle and redesigned rockers for

less stress at high RPM’s. It developed 174hp at 12,000 RPM, more than enough to bring the title back home under the belt of

Troy Bayliss. Unfortunately, even after a great start by the Italian camp, 2002 saw Colin Edwards aboard the Honda steal the

title back. The 998 was replaced by the 999 in 2003, and the championship was again brought back to Italy by Neil Hodgson.

Ten World Superbike titles in 13 years is quite a feat, considering the basic layout for the bikes (tubular space frame, v-twin

engine) remained unchanged. These Italians must be on to something with their twins?

Ducati 125 Scrambler


After the 888 was retired, Ducati needed a bike that would captivate the world and establish Ducati as a household name. They

did that with the 916 (and 996 and 998). One of the sexiest bikes ever made, it is instantly recognizable as a Ducati. But, looks

aren’t the only thing going for it- let’s not forget that properly setup, this is perhaps the best handling motorcycle in the world,

and power delivery (namely smoothness and torque) are unmatched by any Japanese four. A superb bike with few

shortcomings (maintenance intervals and cost), no other sporting motorcycle in the world has been the subject of as many wet

dreams. If you want proof of this bike’s winning nature, take a look at the starting lineup of a World Superbike race and you’ll

notice how many 9**’s there are ready to trounce the fours. The arrival of the third generation superbike, the 999, caused a mix

reaction among Ducatista. Many new innovations make the 999 a more comfortable and potentially faster motorcycle, but there

are those who just cannot get past the god-awful styling, myself included. Only time will tell whether this is the next 916.


The 1990?s weren’t all about superbikes. In 1993, a designer by the name of Miguelangel Galluzzi put together a naked bike

with the chassis of an 888 and the 900cc 2 valve motor and called it ‘Il Mostro’, or Monster. It was an immediate success,

acclaimed by critics worldwide and went on to become one of the best selling Ducatis of all time. Numerous modifications

abound, making the Monster the most popular Ducati for customizing. Don’t let its upright riding position or standard styling

fool you- the Monster is a very capable racing machine, with a superb chassis, light weight, and the same engine as the

Supersport, except tuned for torque rather than horsepower. 2001 even saw the introduction a new breed of Monster, the S4.

This new beast was not powered by the venerable two-valve Pantah, but rather the 916cc four-valve liquid cooled motor of the

Superbike. The chassis, essentially that of the ST4, was wider to accommodate the new engine, and of course weight was up

some 50 pounds, but that didn’t matter. The new Monster was a screamer. Changes for 2003 upgrade the 750 to an 800 and

the 900 to an all-new dual spark 1000cc, and the S4 to the S4R, which houses the 996 motor rather than the 916 motor. Should

be very interesting.


Based heavily on the 750 Sport (which used the old style Pantah motor), the all-new for 1990 900 Supersport was the birth of

another legend. Light weight, excellent handling, beautiful, clean styling, and an affordable price tag meant that if you couldn’t

afford the 851 Superbike, you could at least have a small slice of heaven. The beauty of the Supersport lay in its simplicity, and

these bikes are practically bulletproof. A well-tuned Supersport is a good match for a small capacity Japanese inline four any

day of the week. Originally introduced in 900cc form, it was later expanded to include 750, 600, and even 350cc form! The

1990-1998 Supersport to this day remains a very competent and coveted Ducati sportbike.

1999 brought out an all-new Pierre Terblanche styled Supersport. Drawing heavily on Terblanche’s own Supermono, the new

SS was more aggressively styled and also carried with it a more aggressive riding experience. It was a tad heavier, but

performance was up, suspension components were upgraded, and the riding position was geared more closely to racing than

street riding. A new model was introduced as a ‘budget’ Superpsort- the 750 Sport. A lower price tag meant that Ducati was

reaching out to the financially challenged and the bike was very successful. As with the Monster, 2003 models include the

all-new SS1000 Dual Spark and a new 800 and 620 Sport.


As if an all-new Supersport and the new Monster lineup weren’t enough, Ducati decided to corner the market with a new

sport-touring bike. The ST2, first introduced in 1997 (Europe), carried a new fuel-injected, liquid cooled 944cc two-valve

motor. While limited in ground clearance, the new sport tourer was well capable of handling twisty mountain roads with a 24.5

degree steering head, rising rate rear suspension, and short wheelbase. The ST2 was later joined by the ST4, powered by a

916cc desmoquattro liquid cooled superbike motor, and the awesome ST4s, powered by a 996cc world Superbike desmoquattro

engine. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a big, heavy tourer can’t compete on the track, as a recent motorcycle magazine test

proved that a Ducati ST4s was capable of 996 Superbike lap times.

The MH900e

Last but not least in the barrage of 1990’s Ducatis is the MH900e, or ‘Mike Hailwood 900 Evoluzione’. Using the running gear of

a 900 Supersport and all-new bodywork by Pierre Terblanche to capture the style of Mike Hailwood’s TT winning Pantah, the

MH900e was a very limited collectible available to only a couple hundred lucky souls. Unfortunately, not much has been written

about the performance of the MH, as not many people have actually ridden them. They have achieved cult status without

actually achieving anything. Perhaps sometime when the collectible bike bubble bursts, owners will realize what they were

meant to do- ride.


This article is meant to be only a touchstone on the highlights of Ducati’s illustrious existence, and is by no means complete. I

suggest you surround yourself with a library of Ducati books for the most complete history, including Ducati: 50 Golden Years

Through the Pages of Motociclismo Magazine by Bianchi Masetti, Ducati: The Official Racing History by Masetti and the

Ducati Museum, Ducati by Rafferty, Ducati 2-Valve Belt Drive Twins and Ducati Desmoquattro Superbikes by Ian

Falloon, Ducati by Thompson and Bonello, and Ducati by Walker.

This page is in no way associated with Ducati.com, nor is it an entity of Ducati Motor Holding, S.p.A. All content, information, and views expressed herein

S.p.A. all other content on this website is copyright 2006, Monster Man Productions. If you would like to link to my page, feel free to do so.

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