The Superbike that saved Ducati

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This Ducati 750SS, or 750 Super Sport, is a rare breed. Only 401 were made in 1974, the first year of production, as road-legal replicas of the bikes that took first and second place at the 1972 Imola 200 with Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari behind the dials.

To say that the 1-2 at the Imola 200 saved Ducati is almost undeniable. This made the Ducati 740 one of the most desirable superbikes in the world and gave the Italian motorcycle manufacturer a fighting chance against the onslaught of Japanese competition.

Fast Facts – The Ducati 750SS “Super Sport”

  • In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ducati was a company trying to recreate itself to better compete on the world stage. Luckily for them, they had hired Italian engineer Fabio Taglioni who would almost single-handedly turn the company around with a new motorcycle design in 1972.
  • Taglioni’s now-legendary design featured a new 90º L-twin engine with a single overhead camshaft per cylinder, desmodromic valvetrain, 748cc displacement, 72bhp at 9,500rpm and a 5-speed gears.
  • This new engine had its work cut out, it had to compete with superbikes from MV Agusta, BSA, Norton, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Triumph and Suzuki.
  • In 1972 at the Imola 200, Ducati shocked the motorcycling world when Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari took a dominating 1-2 victory in their Ducati 750 GTs. In late 1973 the road-legal Ducati 750SS was introduced to the world and sales began in 1974 – only 401 were made that year.

Ducati – From Radios To Cucciolo

It is not widely known that Ducati started in 1926 making vacuum tubes, capacitors and other radio parts.

Description of the imageThis 750SS was modified at the time with a host of faster parts. It now produces 90 bhp at the rear wheel, significantly more than the original’s 72 bhp.

During World War II, the company was frequently targeted by Allied bombers due to the importance of radio communications on the battlefield and the fact that Ducati supplied many critical components for the manufacture of Italian radios.

Nobody knew it then, of course, but less than 30 years later, the Allied Nations would still be fighting with Ducati, but this time on the race tracks of Europe and North America.

Five years after the end of the war, Ducati will release its first motorcycle. Companies were springing up across Italy and the rest of Europe offering cheap scooters, small motorcycles and small cars.

Demand for motorized transport was high, but European economies were struggling, so it was the smaller, cheaper and more fuel-efficient motorcycles that tended to sell in greater numbers.

Ducati’s first motorcycle was the Cucciolo, it was basically a motorized bicycle with a purchased 48cc “Cucciolo” engine – the Italian word for “little” or “puppy”.

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Description of the imageThis Ducati was won by Tony Guest at Road America and in the Daytona BOTT Amateur Modified category.

Over the next few years, Ducati would develop its own engines in-house and release larger, more complex motorcycles.

The ill-fated Apollo and a new “L-Twin”

In the early 1960s they were working on a 1200cc V4 engined motorcycle designed by Fabio Taglioni and developing over 100 bhp. It was going to be called Ducati Apollo but tragically the project was canceled after a few prototypes were made.

A new Fabio Taglioni design is born from the ashes of the Apollo project. It used some of the design concepts of the V4, but instead used a narrower V-twin design.

Ducati would call this engine configuration the “L-twin” because the engine has a 90º V-angle – also because they wanted to differentiate themselves from American V-twins across the Atlantic.

Unusually for V-twin designs at the time, this new Ducati engine used a desmodromic valve train – no springs were needed to close the valves as the opening and closing of both valves is controlled directly by the cam.

This adds some complexity to the engine, it was chosen because the metallurgy was less advanced then it is today.

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Description of the imageDucati calls this 90º V-twin engine design an L-twin, to help differentiate it from the narrower, more well-known American V-wins.

Getting small motorcycle valve springs that could handle a redline above 9000 rpm reliably was a real challenge – using a desmodromic system eliminated the problem.

The Ducati 750SS “Super Sport”

After Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari’s now-legendary double at the 1972 Imola 200, Ducati was overwhelmed with demand for a road-legal version of the racing bike. Work was already underway in 1972 and at the end of 1973 the production-ready design was presented to the world at the Milan Motor Show.

Ducati was not a particularly big motorcycle manufacturer at the time and so they struggled to build the bike in numbers that would even come close to satisfying the demand. Only 401 are believed to have been made for 1974, with the design changing significantly from 1975.

Fabio Taglioni’s design for the 750SS was just as clever as his previous design for the winning Imola 200 race bikes.

It featured a tubular steel frame which used the engine as the stressed member, the engine was oriented with the front cylinder nearly vertical to the ground as it helped provide better cooling for the rear cylinder and lowered the center of gravity.

This 748cc L-twin engine has a single overhead cam per cylinder operating two valves, as a desmodromic system the cam has lobes and rocker arms to open and close the valves, eliminating the need for springs.

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Description of the imageThe 1974 750 Super Sport is known as the “Round Case”. A new version appeared in 1975 with a “Square Case” design and a host of other changes – older Round Case bikes are more sought after by collectors.

This engine is of unit construction with a 5-speed gearbox included. Power was rated at 72 bhp at 9,500 rpm and top speed was 220 km/h (137 mph).

Unusually for the time, the 750SS featured dual front disc brakes and a single rear disc, together providing exceptional stopping power by the standards of the time. A distinctive fuel tank design similar to Imola bikes was used, along with a half-turn and a unique seat with a small rear cowl.

The Ducati 750SS was so close to racing bikes that many modified them for competition and won races on them. The fact that they could also be ridden on the road made them all the more appealing.

The 1974 Ducati Super Sport shown here

The bike you see here is one such example that was modified for racing at the time. He also had remarkable success, competing in the AMA “Battle of the Twins” (BOTT) in the 1970s and 1980s, scoring a number of victories in the process.

Rider Tony Guest rode this machine to wins at Road America and in the Daytona BOTT Amateur Modified class. It was then bought by Jerry Roman, winning several competitions.

This bike was modified at the time by the Woods Motor Shop, it has a 905cc big bore conversion, 11.5:1 compression ratio, modified Dellorto 40mm carbs, high lift cams Imola, cylinder heads worn by CR Axtell and a total power of 90 hp at the rear wheel.

If you want to learn more or register to bid, you can click here to visit the listing on Collecting Cars.

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Images courtesy of Collecting Cars

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