Retrospective: Ducati Sport Desmo 500: 1977-1982 Rider Magazine

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Ducati 350 GTV

Retrospective: Ducati Sport 500: 1977-1982

Photo Clement Salvadori


May 2, 2013

The moral of this is simple: Do not let non-motorcycling bureaucrats run a company.

Ducati had a pretty run from its inception in 1946, after it introduced the Diana 250 to the American market in 1961. financial problems cropped up in the ’70s and, in the typical way, the government stepped in to the company. The new board, a governing made up of gentlemen in Brioni knew little about the of motorized two wheelers.

1977 Sport Desmo 500.

Ducati had made its reputation on the board decided to phase out after 1974…and replace with 350 and 500 parallel twins. The of a 350cc bike was sensible, as the provided a huge tax break for under that size. And a 500 version would be inexpensive, as all the work would have into the 350.

But a parallel twin? The board’s was simple, too simple: If the Japanese sell a lot of parallel twins in even with the heavy taxes on imports, then the industry should copy Nobody has ever stood up to the blame for this fiasco, but the had no idea what was really the market for Italian motorcycles: semi-exotica, like Ducati’s Laverda’s 750 SFC, Moto V7 Sport and Benelli’s 750 Sei, all exciting machines.

The motorcycle in Italy—and Europe in general—was Insofar as basic transportation a Fiat 600 could do the job better any motorcycle, being able to four people and keep dry in the rain. For urban use, a would do nicely.

The suits adamant, and the order was given to a parallel twin—and keep the down. Renowned engineer Taglioni, the originator of Ducati’s drive, did let it be known that he nothing to do with this and spent his time working on a capacity L-twin.

1977 Ducati Sport 500.

The first versions of the twin were designated as Turismo Lusso—and a boring combined with boring left them gathering in the back of showrooms. The styling was the of one Giorgetto Giugiaro, an automobile contracted from Italdesign to do the He had previously been hired to do the 850 GT, won no styling plaudits and, unable to forget four made a very slab-sided which nobody seemed to

And he did the same for the GTL, invoking a lot of rather than curves.

of a dramatic power-packed engine the sporting crowd expected Ducati, this little looked squat and stolid. The was decidedly oversquare on both the 350 and with alloy cylinders—cast as one replaceable liners. No bevel-drive camshafts here, but an invisible between the cylinders ran a single camshaft operating two valves per

The pistons rotated 180 degrees each other, which the engine smoothed out at speed but a lot at lower revs; this was a weakness to potential buyers. The seemed rather oversized for the displacement; tough they be, but the general view was too much too little bike. Down at the the crankshaft ran on plain bearings and to be quite solid.

The transmission definitely have used a gear.

1977 Ducati Desmo 500.

Since was to compete with the Japanese, an starter was mandatory. But just to the old fogies, who were nervous such advances, a kickstarter was

The chassis on the GTL was adequate, with a downtube to the front of the engine, but inspiring. This was intended to be a bike, utilitarian, a variety was falling out of favor with the crowd. Ducati had hoped to a new breed of buyer with bike, but the new ones weren’t and the Ducatisti thought it a slug.

This is where the Sport comes in. Management finally to its senses after two years of bad asking Taglioni to please up the engine and turning the chassis over to a fellow named Tartarini, who ran his own successful firm, In the early ’70s, Tartarini had a good many British from Triumph and Velocette and them into his own frames.

Ducati 350 GTV
Ducati 350 GTV

Ducati Sport Desmo

Taglioni immediately turned to his desmodromic valve actuation and the heads. He also used a of 30mm Dell’Orto carburetors to the combustion chambers, where the was compressed with a 9.6:1 This allowed the engine to rev easily; horsepower figures for the are hard to find, but 53 horses at rpm could be considered. However, in with the overly square power was found only in the 2,000 rpm.

A whole slew of go-faster were also offered.

It was who had the major fun. For the Sport the seat got racing styling, an upturn where a passenger sit. To add to the sporting image, the were set back and clip-ons the previous flat handlebar. were abbreviated and the gas tank was appropriate curves.

The exhaust was all black. He revised the frame, one with twin downtubes to the engine, all the better to get around the He tossed the spoked wheels and put on Borrani cast-alloy items, six spokes.

Marzocchi shock and fork handled the suspension well, and three Brembo 260mm each, brought the Desmo to a quick halt. Dry was a shade over 400 pounds.

all this added to the price And the Sport Desmo was a little too for some, especially those who to have a young lady on tightly. So the final iteration was the GTV, which came a longer seat, passenger and flat bars—a melding of the GTL and the Desmo.

1977 Ducati Sport 500.

Then in 1978, half-liter L-twin came on the the Pantah 500 SL, which later to 600 and 650 sizes. What little there had been in the parallel soon vanished.

Note: If any would like to ride little Ducati, it is for hire .

(This Retrospective was published in the May 2013 issue of magazine.)

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