‘FOUR-STROKE GP BIKE’
‘BY THE TIME THIS BIKE WON THE ’84 MONTJUIC, TT DUCATIS HAD BECOME CULT BIKES’
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