Classic Bike (UK) - - Ducati Endurance Racers -


Of­ten, less is more when it comes to mo­tor­cy­cle de­sign – and Du­cati proved that con­clu­sively in 1979 with its 500cc V-twin Pan­tah. A gi­ant-killer on the race tracks and in the show­rooms, it launched Du­cati into an­other suc­cess­ful era. English­man Tony Rut­ter won four world TT For­mula 2 ti­tles on 600cc Ducatis built in a part­ner­ship be­tween the fac­tory and NCR and chan­nelled through Bri­tish dealer Steve Wynn’s Sports Mo­tor­cy­cles. Be­tween 1980 and 1986, NCR won Spain’s 24 Hours of Mon­tjuic five times on sim­i­lar ma­chines. Th­ese TT bikes were of­ten de­scribed as ‘four-stroke Grand Prix ma­chin­ery’.

Built in limited num­bers and far re­moved from the spec­i­fi­ca­tion of the Pan­tah pro­duc­tion mod­els, they were the very essence of light­weight per­for­mance. Their Ver­lic­chi space frames weighed just eight kilo­grammes. Their Cam­pag­nolo mag­ne­sium wheels were the same as those found on 500cc Grand Prix bikes, as were the brakes and sus­pen­sion. In fact, th­ese rac­ers were so small that many rid­ers sim­ply couldn’t fit on them.

En­gine spec­i­fi­ca­tions were al­ways chang­ing, even­tu­ally end­ing with a 748cc ver­sion of the Pan­tah en­gine – built to TTF1 specs, which in­cor­po­rated an en­gine size limit of 750cc. It had a bore and stroke of 88 x 61.5mm com­pared with the 597cc TTF2’S 80mm/58mm. This re­quired new crankcases and a lot of in­ter­nal re­vi­sions to en­sure re­li­a­bil­ity.

Du­cati re­alised you needed a big en­gine to com­pete in en­durance and the bur­geon­ing Bat­tle of the Twins classes, and it is tes­ta­ment to the orig­i­nal 500cc Pan­tah en­gine’s ar­chi­tec­ture that it could be en­larged like this with­out a com­plete re­design.

The most highly de­vel­oped ver­sions of th­ese en­gines even­tu­ally pro­duced nearly 90bhp at over 9000rpm and there were ex­per­i­ments with four-valve heads. The last of them dis­placed 851cc, but were soon re­placed by Du­cati’s liq­uid-cooled, four­valve Su­per­bike. The new Su­per­bike was ac­tu­ally no more pow­er­ful that the last air-cooled ex­per­i­ment, al­though what it did of­fer was a new plat­form of po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ment.

The TT1 fea­tured here is the 1984 Mon­tjuic win­ner, rid­den by Ben­jamin Grau, Juan Gar­riga and Luis Reyes. It is No 24 of the 25 ‘cat­a­logue’ 750cc TT1S built in 1984 for se­lected race teams. No­tice the en­durance rac­ing de­tails, such as a quick-re­lease rear wheel, large oil cooler and NCR clutch. It also has a lower en­gine rev limit marked on the tacho at 8500rpm. Then there is the strange plas­tic reser­voir loosely tied to the up­per fair­ing on the throt­tle side, vis­i­ble be­hind the screen – it’s the over­flow reser­voir for the fuel tank to make an af­ter-dark re­fuel fool­proof. Clever, eh?

Why did Du­cati per­sist in en­durance rac­ing with an air-cooled en­gine? Sim­ple. Its fi­nan­cial struc­ture was hob­bled by in­ter­nal pol­i­tics of both the com­pany and Italy’s gov­ern­ment. By 1984 TT Ducatis had be­come cult bikes around the world. Even the fa­mous Har­ris chas­sis business in the UK was build­ing ver­sions of the Ver­lic­chi frame to meet de­mand from road rid­ers who wanted to copy the look. It would be an­other year un­til the fac­tory brought out the F1 road bike. This was be­cause the firm was go­ing through a huge pe­riod of change, with Cagiva tak­ing over.

Out on the race track, th­ese tiny Ducatis found them­selves fight­ing a los­ing bat­tle against Honda’s new V4 and Suzuki’s ground-break­ing GSX-R750.

But just around the cor­ner was Du­cati’s wa­ter-cooled 851. NCR moved on to de­velop this model – and an­other chap­ter be­gan with the in­tro­duc­tion of World Su­per­bikes.

The TT Pan­tahs con­tin­ued as pri­va­teer rac­ers well into the 1990s. Now they have a new life in his­toric rac­ing.

NCR clutch (and moniker on crankcases) Large oil cooler is an en­durance es­sen­tial

Neat fuel tank over­flow reser­voir is vis­i­ble be­hind the screen

Clas­sic Ver­lic­chi frame was much repli­cated in the ’80s, by the likes of Har­ris

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