Ducati 996 history
1979 Ducati Pantah 500SL
This was the start of the powerplant which eventually became the desmoquattro. It was air-cooled with just two-valves per cylinder. The camshafts were driven by belts in Ducati’s first move away from the bevel drive V-twins. It was revealed in prototype form at the Milan show in 1979 and available in the UK from 1980. Fast, fickle and gorgeous, it really was the 916’s progenitor.
1988-1992 Ducati 851
The bottom-end of the engine owed its origins to the original Pantah unit but now boasted four-valves per cylinder and water-cooling. The first models were quick but flawed. Odd handling and high prices hindered sales. Later models were better. Ducati claimed 102bhp at 9000rpm from the fuelinjected engine. In 1990 Italian magazine Moto Sprint speed tested one at 148mph.
1993 Ducati 888
Work on the 916 had begun in 1998 with a team led by Massimo Tamburini. Delays in the project caused Ducati to release the 888 in 1993. Ducati claimed 104bhp and the tested top speed from Moto Sprint crept up to 153mph with acceleration to match – pretty good figures even nowadays. It got a bit more timber though, with dry weight up to 202kg from the previously claimed 185kg.
1994-1997 Ducati 916
The first of the breed and a bike that caused dropped jaws everywhere as much for its sheer beauty as for its performance. It was a genius of compact design with the wheelbase down to 1410mm. Ducati claimed 109bhp for the basic Strada from its 916cc displacement, and 131bhp for the SPS. Later racing versions were reputed to kick out 155bhp. At 198kg, the new bike weighed in well against the competition, while out on the racetracks it took five WSB titles between 1994 and 2000.
1999-2001 Ducati 996
The engine was now based on the 916 SPS with stronger crankcase and altered stud spacing to allow the use of bigger pistons. A stronger crankshaft with bigger bearings handled the increased power. The fuel injection system was changed to provide two injectors per cylinder in place of the previous one. Power for the Biposto model was 112bhp, the SPS and 2001’s 996S 123bhp, while the 996R (the first Ducati to be fitted with the new Testastretta engine, also 2001) claimed 135bhp.
2002-2004 Ducati 998
The 998 was the last of the line. All the 998s featured the Testastretta engine debuted on the 996R: shorter-stroke, narrower valve angles and fuelinjection by Marelli instead of Weber pushed the power of the base model to 123bhp with the 998S and 998R claiming 135 and 139bhp respectively. After two short years, the 998 made way for the 999, itself a brilliant motorcycle and more comfortable to ride but no match in looks or lasting appeal for the bikes it replaced. Only 2007’s 1098 would come close...