THE DUCATI APOLLO V-4 SAGA
The story of an engine born before its time
Long before the Panigale V-4 came, the Ducati Apollo V-4 already was. The legendary Ducati engineer Fabio Taglioni devised this advanced project, in 1963, as only he could—primarily the engine, which was an absolutely overwhelming technical achievement and creative exercise in the context of the time.
The Apollo project was inspired by U.S. importers Joe and Mike Berliner, who had a plan to erode Harleydavidson dominance in both the touring and the police-service markets. Taglioni designed a 90-degree V-4 in order to obtain an engine that would be both vibration-free and perfectly exposed in all its vital departments for optimal air cooling.
Taglioni selected radically oversquare measurements (84.5 x 56mm bore and stroke) to obtain a record 1,257cc displacement. The short stroke granted maximum rigidity to the press-fit crankshaft. The Apollo was the first 90-degree V-4 in motorcycling, and it also featured radical innovations—in a time when crankcases were typically vertically split, it used a diagonally split
case, incorporating the seats for both pairs of cylinders, solidly locating the crankshaft main bearings in the process. Crankpins were set opposed at 180 degrees. Taglioni’s V-4 featured a 10:1 compression ratio and breathed through four Dell’orto SS 32 separate-bowl carburetors to deliver a claimed 100 hp at 7,000 rpm.
The engine was virtually vibration-free. Dr. T. once told me about the day the bike was unveiled to U.S. dealers, and one of them mentioned “vibration.” In response, Fabio reached for the change in his pocket, extracted a quarter, and laid it on the tank—he proceeded to whack open the throttle, and the quarter did not move.
Road tests were conducted by the great Giancarlo Librenti, one of the best Ducati technicians ever, who always reported high-speed-stability problems. By his own admission, Taglioni was a supreme motorist but not a chassis specialist. Power and torque were astonishing, but the vagueness of the steering response compounded negatively with the massive 600 pounds of the Apollo. American Ducati dealers and the various police-department testers eventually came to the conclusion that the Apollo V-4 need not go past the first (and only) prototype.
The Apollo as a complete bike was a failure, but its engine opened a new era. It broke all standards of the time in terms of power, torque, displacement, mechanical sophistication, and rationality. It set new targets for the whole industry. Indeed, the Apollo was a magnificent failure, and worth celebrating 55 years later.
The one and only Apollo V-4 lived at Berliner Brothers headquarters in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, until Berliner Motors shut down and bike was acquired by a Japanese collector. In the early 2000s, the Apollo V-4 returned to Ducati for a complete...