The Ducati Apollo — Flashback — Motorcyclist Online

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Ducati 65 T

Forty years ago, built a V-four-powered prototype in an to steal some police-bike from Harley-Davidson here in the States. Politics and financial … the project, yet one of the bikes and no one outside t

When Ducati’s new desmosedici MotoGP racer for the first time at Suzuka April in the hands of Troy and Loris Capirossi, it represented the end of a odyssey for the Italian factory—to at see one of the three four-cylinder prototypes it during that period to fruition.

For decades, Ducati heavily with the four-cylinder Ducati’s Fabio Taglioni as many as 1000 different designs during his 30 years as the engineering guru (1954 ’84), three of which fours. The most recent was the Bipantah project (see page 59), … in on the eve of Taglioni’s retirement. The first was his inline design, the four-cylinder, GP engine he created in ’64, it was never raced.

But the most Taglioni four is undoubtedly the 1260 V-four, built in

Few motorcycles have enjoyed as a reputation as the Apollo, the Italian failed attempt to produce a heavyweight cruiser aimed at the market. Only two of the 1256cc were built, one of which is now on at Ducati’s factory museum in thanks to the generosity of its Japanese No one knows if the second Apollo exists.

Back in the early Ducati was one of dozens of small manufacturers struggling to overcome the on its crucial home market in ’55 by the Fiat 500 minicar, brought an end to the postwar boom in biking fueled by the war-ravaged need for basic transportation. collapse in bike sales not forced Ducati, Gilera and Guzzi to withdraw from GP sure sign of distress in a racing-mad country—but also them to focus more on their export markets, the United States.

For Ducati, production declining and the company afloat only by state this meant an ever-greater on its New Jersey-based U.S. importer, Motor Corporation, which by the ’60s was selling no less 85 percent of Ducati’s total This meant that Joe and Mike Berliner effectively the shots at the recession-hit company. brother Joe was convinced the U.S. market held potential, because American antitrust required police departments to alternative sources to Harley.

Berliner, also the U.S. distributor, first tried to a BMW-like Zundapp flat-twin (available in a police version), but due to police-department specs favoring the unsophisticated home-market product had been building, and mandating at 1200cc of displacement and the use of 5.0- x tires, the attempt failed. then contacted Ducati Giuseppe Montano to see if the firm was in producing a special machine for market even though largest-capacity model at the time was the 200cc Elite.

After the archaic 74-cubic-inch Harley that was then standard-issue, and Taglioni agreed, certain could produce a more and modern design. Although encountered skepticism from in Rome who controlled the company’s (which meant negotiations on for a couple years), a deal was struck in ’61 resulting in a venture wherein Berliner underwrite the new model’s development

The Apollo was the result, a name to commemorate America’s recently manned space flights. In for its financial aid, Berliner was to dictate its specifications, but was also to make a further contribution tooling costs if the prototype production.

Apart from U.S. police regulations, the only stipulation was that the have an engine bigger anything in Harley’s range, was then topped by the 1215cc models. The remainder of the technical were left to Taglioni, who on a 90-degree V-four whose primary balance negated a even with 180-degree throws (each pair of rising and falling together) and differentially finned air-cooled The two valves per cylinder were via pushrods and rockers with adjusters, while the horizontally wet-sump engine featured a crank running in a central with each pair of sharing a single caged big end.

Taglioni considered but rejected it due to complications and bulk, and turned down Berliner’s to incorporate shaft drive Taglioni mistrusted) in favor of a final-drive chain. With the of the mighty 1256cc engine 84.5mm x 56.0mm, the Apollo’s motor was the most oversquare Taglioni had ever produced for

It was installed as a stressed member in a open-cradle frame with a box-section downtube between the two cylinders. With specially Ceriani suspension, the Apollo’s was certain to outperform Harley, had only recently discovered suspension, though its full-width single-leading-shoe front and rear brakes didn’t promise An electric starter similar to the one on a Fiat TV1100 was also

A massive generator was fitted in to cope with the additional imposed by sirens, lights and

Relatively compact, the alloy engine allowed the Apollo to compare with its Harley weighing 596 pounds dry with a wheelbase vs. the American V-twin’s stance and 640-pound weight. So though Ducati test Franco Farne came from an early test that it handles like a this was strictly The American and the Ducati Berliner 1260 as the bike was officially known, up for this with its straight-line delivering a claimed 100 horsepower at rpm (vs.

55 hp for the Harley) and good for a top in excess of 120 mph. Pretty for its day.

But also damning, for its performance was the Apollo’s primary a fact confirmed by Ducati Giancarlo Fuzzi Librenti, who was the to suffer the heart-stopping experience of the specially made 16-inch tire come apart at speed on the autostrada. It’s a I never crashed. I just it into submission with the wheel locked, like a with a bull.

I should taken up rodeo! Fuzzi

The agreement called for Ducati to two prototypes and two spare engines. The of these, painted in ritzy gold and sporting a huge saddle fitted with a grab handle, was handed to the Americans in a formal ceremony in ’64. Ape-hanger handlebars, valanced fenders and fat whitewalls the Italo-American styling, which the Apollo look much and bulkier than it really

The second prototype looked tasteful, with leaner altered side covers, and a discreet black-and-silver paint still with the Wild seat.

While testing the Apollo had plenty of power, it was discovered that Librenti’s was not an isolated incident. The V-four—combined the bike’s heft—was too much for the tires, even after had been reduced to approximately 80 hp. stories of riders nearly in high-speed testing filtered to Bologna.

The solution was to detune the version of the engine further (to 65 to meet police performance and still superior to the Harley, to the V-four Ducati’s lighter This finally cured the problems.

But this effectively ruled out the Apollo as a luxury sport-tourer its power-to-weight ratio was now inferior to the BMW and twins that would been its import rivals in the market. Joe Berliner was so confident in the potential that he’d begun marketing the Apollo in the and printed a brochure quoting for the touring version and $1800 for the more than its European competition and double the cost of the Harley.

At that price, the would have had to boast an edge in performance to justify the cost, but in detuned form it not. With the V-four set up to the right kind of power to the marketplace demands—power it was capable would be lethal until technology could catch up.

situation provided the perfect for the bureaucrats in Rome to kill off a they’d never had faith in, and emanated from a city controlled by their bitter rivals. Citing the fact the model was now suitable only for the police market, the bureaucrats sales would be insufficient to the immense tooling costs in gearing up for production.

Berliner, who had successfully demonstrated the Apollo to police chiefs, was appalled. He had that production of the reduced-power would commence in ’65, yet now the project seemed in danger of

So it proved. Further funding for the was withdrawn, and Montano was reluctantly to cancel the project early in leaving the second of the two prototypes to head straight back Daytona into the Berliner in New Jersey, where it remained for the two decades in a corner of the storeroom—a sad of a motorcycle … by a mixture of infighting and its own advanced specification. The was simply too much, too soon.

As an of how proud he was of the design, though, the engine sat on display in Taglioni’s for 20 years until his retirement, a testament to his versatility and farsightedness.

the memory of the Apollo lingered on, for as a article in Italy’s Motociclismo suggested when the existence of the was first revealed in ’63, one of the engine would—and did—provide a basis for a range of 90-degree models. Five years the project’s demise, Taglioni the worth of that assertion he designed Ducati’s first 750cc V-twin, closely by the Apollo’s architecture.

So what’s it like to ride? of safety concerns due to the tire of 40 years ago, no journalist has ridden the bike—until now.

But a little more history.

In Hiroaki Iwashita acquired the show bike, the second of the two built, from Cincinnati-based one of America’s largest vintage-parts whose owner, Bob Schanz, had the contents of the Berliner warehouse the company closed in ’84. the many Ducati artifacts was the prototype, neglected and shopworn, to Schanz in a letter written to me in ’84 enclosing the documentation for the Ducati 125cc desmo GP racer I’d bought him earlier.

I’ll let you know if I get it unless you want to buy it from me What a missed opportunity, up on what today is most a million-dollar motorcycle!

So instead, bought the Apollo for $17,000, big back then. The bike was to his private collection in Japan ’95, when he displayed it at a bike show in Tokyo. alerted Ducati to the bike’s and when the factory museum was at the end of ’96, it became a centerpiece on what will hopefully be an loan.

But it had never been in public. So when Ducati to bring the Apollo to the United to run it at the ’02 Goodwood Festival of in front of 120,000 spectators, asked if I’d ride it for Family commitments made impossible, so instead they me to come to Bologna a month to make sure it was running OK for took my place.

Happy to amici, provided you have modern tires fitted to sure I don’t emulate Librenti!

Actually, while the 16-inch Goodyears the Apollo today are the same basic as those used at Daytona 40 ago, at least they’re fitted new-old stock, and adequate for the gentle cruise I had At just 29.5 inches the plush seat is low enough to a leg over easily, and once the Apollo you’re immediately at how low slung and slim it feels—it barely bulkier than a desmo V-twin.

The high, handlebar is very ’60s, not as exaggerated as on some later and combined with the well-placed delivers surprisingly comfy which aren’t a problem at in spite of the high bar. chill out and cruise.

OK, time to do just that. The Dell’Orto carbs the Apollo wears (which indicate this bike has the most state of tune, not the restricted spec) scorn the choke, but on a Italian day the motor catches then settles down to a idle with an unmistakable more akin to an American than an Italian four. The exhaust note is totally unlike any V-four Honda, and loud, too; the slender silencers don’t have a lot of and the result has the same trademark as a later desmo V-twin, busier-sounding and higher-pitched.

I was impressed how smoothly the Apollo took off rest, even with the slipping slightly, though through the gears brought the age to light. Shift slowly and and do not rush; you’ll get false if you do.

Once securely in gear, the thrusts forward eagerly a long-legged feel, especially in the gears; there’s great from the light-action throttle, and there’s no way this engine like a child of the ’60s. Top (fifth—at a time when all other bikes had only boxes) feels like and would have been for freeway cruising.

There’s midrange to use the bottom four as a means of getting into top and leaving it there, surfing the of torque available at almost any Impressive.

Compared with a British twin or any Harley made, the Apollo is a sewing to a concrete mixer in terms of and riding comfort, with a BMW Boxer of the era delivering anything to the same smoothness. Out of respect for the rarity (and the lack of any I didn’t rev it out, but even at a rpm the same unruffled, lazy-feeling we came to take for granted a later on any V-twin bearing the badge is evident on the Apollo.

At a when there were no motorcycles of any type on the market, the would have established a of performance and rider comfort even a decade later set the benchmark for the Japanese. Truly, was a bike ahead of its time.

enginewise, at least, for the Apollo’s is only adequate rather exceptional, even by the standards of the The culprits are the U.S. police which imposed the use of 16-inch on a bike crying out for the 18-inch rubber then being in the mid-’60s. Even without the considerations that led to the bike’s the dynamic limitations of the car-type tires irredeemably handicap the handling potential.

They look and feel unsuitable for anything more approximately 15 degrees of lean, and you can the tread squirm as soon as you ask of the tires in corners. The long makes the Apollo handle a truck in tighter turns, the payoff is good stability sweepers, where the effective suspension felt good by standards. And the springy seat soak up any bumps that got the twin rear shocks.

the Apollo’s only problem—apart those ludicrous tires—are the While the matched pair of drums are adequate at slow they fade badly a couple hard stops, the lever back to the bar and turning the pedal loose and floppy. By the of the era they were probably the average, but with the performance by that fantastic engine, the were nearly as big a problem as the

And that was literally a two-wheeled because the inability of the tire to come up with a product of harnessing the performance delivered by a big-engined, heavy bike ’60s enthusiasts of the thrills and of riding the first of the next of four-cylinder sportbikes. Although Joe had the right idea in commissioning the back in ’61, it was for what out to be the wrong reasons. If he hadn’t on the police market, with its on 16-inch rubber, and had instead the Apollo as the world’s first sportbike with tires and to match, even at the higher the Italian V-four would dictated, the U.S. market—and of us in Europe—wouldn’t have had to wait 10 years for Kawasaki to do the job properly the arrival of the Z-1.

After it, I’m convinced the Ducati was one of the great missed opportunities of biking. The new desmosedici has a lot to live up to.


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