The story of an en­gine born be­fore its time

Cycle World - - Ducati - By BRUNO DEPRATO / Pho­tog­ra­phy by DU­CATI AR­CHIVE

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...

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