05 July 2016

90 Years of Ducati

commissioned for World Magazine - Winter 2016 (click image to see digital edition)
Would you call yourself a Ducatisti?

Some might say it’s all in a name and when the name Ducati is mentioned, it conjures both sights and sounds in the mind that set this fabled Italian brand apart.

Indeed, anyone who has heard one of the legendary L-twin bikes at full noise will never forget the husky, hairy-chested note, climaxing at the red line. Despite varying degrees of racetrack success, Ducati motorcycles were always the glamour favourite in pitlane and the paddock.

To drop just a few more names:Troy Bayliss, Carl Fogarty, Casey Stoner and Mike Hailwood are some of the famous bottoms to have graced the saddles of Ducatis over the decades, with Hailwood’s 1978 Isle of Man TT triumph aboard a 900cc Supersport Twin particularly notable, since the legendary rider had been in retirement for the previous decade. Before and after the nine-time world champion’s untimely death in a freak highway car accident in 1981, the 7000-odd replica bikes (MHRs) produced from 1979 until 1983 became instant classics and went some way to saving the financial stakes of Ducati. Today, a faithful example could fetch as much as NZ$50,000.

The brand has had quite a tumultuous ride since leaving the hands of the Ducati family who founded the name in Bologna in 1926. The factory originally made radio parts and equipment, was bombed heavily during WWII and didn’t start making full size, large displacement motorcycles until almost 1960, having graduated from their earlier successes with small capacity machines, like the 98S and scooters.

The 1960s is when it all changed. Despite the failure of the first big L-twin project, the monstrous US-inspired 1200cc Apollo in 1963, Ducati developed great prowess in mid-sized machines, particularly the 250cc Mach 1, introduced that same year. The highly collectable Mach 3 came in 1967.

In the 1970s, Ducati continued to make great strides with the introduction of the first commercial L-twin, the 750 GT. Racing success followed throughout the decade, culminating in the fairytale win for Hailwood in the 1978 Isle of Man TT mentioned earlier.

Since 2012, the Ducati brand has been owned by the Volkswagen group via their Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A subsidiary, but motorcycles are still produced at Borgo Panigale in Bologna.