A BRIEF HISTORY
|FOR THE DO-IT-YOURSELF DUCATI OWNER
|This is an outline of the major models and triumphs in Ducati's
history. I still need some photos obviously, but finally making this
page was a big step. So, stay tuned.
|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
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 Sport, the Mach 1, the Monza,
and the Cadet 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 750 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?
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.
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
are those of myself and do not reflect those of Ducati or its affiliates. The "DUCATI" logo and "Circle D" are registered trademarks of Ducati Motor Holding,
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.