It all started with a mad passion for an old Ducati. To be honest it was almost in a box of bits. Unloved, forgotten and abused. Tossed in a corner with nothing even shiny to catch the eye of a wandering magpie. “What the heck is that you’ve found?” I asked Derek (Derek Price – Performance Transmissions, Pukekohe), who by notoriety is an extreme perfectionist when it comes to saving mechanical beings. He replied “It’s some oldish Ducati air cooled twin that I’ve bought, a 900 V twin 1991 Mk1 Superlight. I remember looking at these when they came out thinking to myself who in their right mind would own one of these things, you’d kill yourself as fast as a parrot in a swimming race!”. Derek has a book of these classic one liners that would make even a deaf man grin. so it began, the start of a great journey of two blokes, a few too many beers, a passion for early race bikes and the desire to build something special with a limited production series available for the discerning few with an eye for numbered classic retro Ducati.
“How hard can it be?” uttered Derek in expedient jubilation is the phrase I can keep hearing echoing in my mind and 5 years later the retro styled prototype is coming off the assembly line with aplomb that even a blind magpie would be magnetically drawn to! Now for the motorcycle uninitiated and one is not to be directed into a U turn at this point, Ducati has an interesting history. They were in their early days in the 1900s in Bologna, Italy a manufacturer of radios. Adriano Cavalieri Ducati patented a short-wave transmitter, with which he could connect with the United States. Together with his brothers Bruno and Marcello, on 4 July 1926 they constituted Società Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati. The company produced the small Manens capacitor, assembled in a residence with two workers and a secretary. The success was staggering: in 10 years Ducati provided work to thousands of workers and inaugurated the big facility in Borgo Panigale. With the war, however, the plant became the target of Allied bombardments, which destroyed it on 12 October 1944. From its rubble would commence the conversion into a motorcycle manufacturer and the new Ducati era.
Halfway through the Second World War, designer Aldo Leoni and Aldo Farinelli had developed the prototype for an auxiliary engine designed to be fitted on a bicycle: its name was Cucciolo.
The Cucciolo allowed SIATA to resume its business in May 1945, when a new factory is opened in Via Leonardo da Vinci, in Turin. The new plant was built in a record-breaking time in place of the old factory. The engine was launched at the Turin Show. On 26 July 1945, the magazine Motociclismo presented the micro-engine made by S.I.A.T.A.: “A puppy (cucciolo) was born in Turin”.
In 1945 the Ducati brand, already well known and appreciated for its innovative precision machining and radio-electric products, decided to expand its scope of business by launching the Cucciolo line and purchasing all manufacturing rights thereto. The Cucciolo stood out for its incredible fuel-mileage ratio: almost one hundred km with one litre of fuel!
Ducati went on to manufacture some very innovative technologies like their ‘Desmodronic’ cam and valve system but it wasn’t until the early 1970’s when the brand hit the Jackpot with management’s decision to enter therace circuit. Paul Smart’s Imola 200 race victory on April 23, 1972 changed Ducati’s future for ever. By winning the first 200-miler held outside the USA for the new generation of large-capacity motorcycles embraced by Formula 750, the British rider not only put Ducati on the map, he also kickstarted the process leading to Ducati’s successive World Superbike champions. For the works 750 Ducati V-twins on which Smart and teammate Bruno Spaggiari finished 1-2 at Imola that day, set a benchmark for all other brands to follow. It’s this Ducati Imola edition that inspired both Derek and I (the author) to retro design a Ducati 900 V twin offering tribute to the legendary Imola 1972 V twin 750cc race bike and make it available to others as a limited edition.
The first design decision was to choose the building platform donor, meaning taking an existing Ducati and transforming it or start from scratch frame up. We spent months researching options and to see who else had been successful in a similar endeavour. We found plenty but none matched our design concept. There was one that showed promise, however their kitset concept proved to be so expensive and the fuel capacity was the downfall with only a 11 litre cell (range of 180km). The Baines motorcycle Imola tribute made six and then no more. The kitset concept which involved a new frame and then donor parts was also going to be a nightmare when coming to road going compliance regulations. We decided to use the Ducati 900 SS (1991 to 2006) as a donor bike and not to modify any structural integrity and therefore not altering any of the road going regulations of any transport agency in most countries. The Ducati Super Sport (SS) was relatively consistent in their production series in their manufacturing time frame which made an ideal donor. 900cc V Twin, Desmodronic, air cooled, 2 valve, carburetted or injected: a well-designed and highly successful Ducati road bike. What we particularly liked about this engine was the fantastic low-down torque delivered from 2 whopping big pistons and long throw rods which gives you lots of low rev power for pulling you out of corners without breaking the sound barrier and are light weight have great suspension and excellent brakes. All this plus a sport touring ergonomic riding position. For those of us who have had a multi piston, multi valve sports bike know that it’s a trip to the chiropractor after an hour of riding torture! Not to mention any torque is only above 7,000 to 11,000 RPM and then it’s not a road cruise but dicing with the law and your statistical expendability!
Now I could fill these pages with the design challenges in taking the design elements from a 1972 Imola to a 1990’s Supersport but by far the biggest challenge was the gas tank. The Imola frame is a centre spa which is very similar to a pushbike with the motor siting inside and the later 1990’s frame advanced to a trellis frame which is like two 1970’s frames running parallel and joined at the steering head and the engine as part of the frame. More research hours and hours of Ducati trolling and we could not find a solution that replicated the 1972 Imola tank beyond a toe in the water. In 1972 the tank was made from fibreglass. Today’s standards will not allow that as a road bike as a fuel tank is a bomb after all! Here’s that phrase once again “How hard can it be?” famous last words like General Custer’s last stand in the battle of the Little Bighorn! We redesigned and built a tank. Well we didn’t as we had to enlist the very capable Richard Pykett. Funnily enough he uttered the same phrase “How hard can it be?”. We found a fibreglass skin of an original 1972 Imola (23 litres capacity) and from thre Richard build a steel rib caged version where he than made a pattern which was transferred to aluminium. The aluminium pieces welded together, filed and polished (top and bottom pieces) into a functioning tank (22.5 litres). The tank dimensions were amazingly close and it looks as iconic as the original. That aluminium tank became the buck for the final carbon Kevlar fibre end product which is stronger and more graze resistant that conventional pressed steel tank. And we were able to incorporate the original fuel sight lines in the side of the tank which no production ducati has done since the iconic Imola tank. I’ve included a 10 shot set of images that demonstrate the process. This entire process we have had to replicate for the seat cowling, seat pan, upper and lower fairing, deadlight assembly subframe, even the exhausts are custom made. CAD (computer aided design) has been used where we can, as the old school methods are simply best said “how hard can it be?” and even with CAD and modelling there is lots to go wrong. We have sourced and the manufactured custom parts using local talent and skillsets. The engine on this 900 has had quite a bit of treatment and the restoration is nothing short of 10 out of 10.
The final product ‘Motoresto Imola 900 Concept’ has been a fantastic challenge and a testament to the brilliant professionals we have in our local area and in New Zealand. The display bike will be on show at the upcoming New Zealand Motorcycle Show, 14-15 May 2022, The Trusts Arena, Henderson. Gates Open - 9:30am - 5pm. Ticket Information: Adult: $25.00 ea, Children (age 5-13): $10.00 ea. Family (2 adults 2 kids): $50.00 ea. Door Sales Only. www.nzmotorcycleshow.co.nz Hopefully, we will not have anymore Covid issues before then.
Come and have a chat to Derek and I and see if you might like to enquire about owning 1 of only a few of these classic Ducatis. You can reach me on 0275977272 for any further information.
“For those of us who have had a multi piston, multi valve sports bike know that it’s a trip to the chiropractor after an hour of riding torture!”