Ducati’s new Panigale V4 has arrived in British showrooms with a massive reputation to uphold.
The Italian brand has a prodigious reputation for developing show stopping motorcycles that have become the poster bikes for their generation, but what are the top five? The Insidebikes team had a heated discussion and came up with this selection. Let us know if you agree…
Ducati 750SS (1974)
First shown at the Milan motorcycle show in November 1973, the 750SS marked the beginning of Ducati as we know it today.
The engine was a 748cc engine in the ‘L’ twin configuration, with the desmodromic valve technology that would be Ducati’s trademark for the next 40+ years.
The bike itself paid homage to the machine that powered Brit Paul Smart to the win at the prestigious Imola 200 race in 1972, a landmark enshrined in Ducati history.
Painted in Ducati’s silver racing livery and with a sleek half fairing, the 750SS was arguably the most beautiful sports bike of its generation. Just 400 of the original green framed models were built between 1973 and 1974 and their significance can be seen every time one comes onto the second hand market. A good 750SS can command a six figure sale price at auction.
Ducati 900SS MHR (1979)
Ducati and racing are inextricably linked and without exception all of these flagship models have been developed either from the race track or as models to compete on it.
The 1979 MHR (Mike Hailwood Replica) was built to commemorate one of the most remarkable achievements of all time, when British legend Mike Hailwood came out of retirement to win the Isle of Man Formula One TT on a Ducati 900SS prepared by Sports Motorcycles of Manchester.
Having been out of the saddle for 11 years, and at the age of 38, few gave Hailwood a hope, especially on the seemingly uncompetitive Ducati. His win became the stuff of legend, cementing his reputation as the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, and to celebrate Ducati released a tribute model the following year. It was an instant classic.
The win, and the resulting replica model was a godsend to Ducati. The 1970s was a tough time for all but the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers and the MHR handed a lifeline to the struggling Bologna company, helping to keep them afloat into the 1980s.
In essence the MHR was little more than a 900SS in a new frock, but what a beautiful frock it was. The beauty of the fully faired machine, plus the significance of Mike the Bike’s win, means that these original bikes are hugely collectable. Many standard 900s were given the Hailwood treatment but genuine bikes, of which around 7000 were made, are highly coveted and collectable.
Ducati 851 (1987)
The difficulty you have when compiling a list of iconic Ducatis is not deciding what to include, but rather which to leave out.
While the 851 was shortlived and not the most successful machine on the circuit, it is arguably the bike that saved a Ducati company that was teetering on the bring come the mid 1980s.
With the aircooled two valve twins outdated in terms of outright performance, the Cagiva owned Ducati, led by chief engineer Massimo Bordi, developed a new four valve, liquid cooled, unit that would make the company the dominant force in the soon to be announced Superbike World Championship.
The first of these new ‘Desmo Quattros’ was the 750F1, a Formula One race bike that was first seen at the 1986 Bol d’Or 24 hour endurance race. The production machine was this, the 851, which featured the steel trellis frame for which Ducati would also become famous.
In 1988, the Superbike World Championship was born and Marco Lucchinelli won the first ever event (an aggregate success at Donington Park on April 3rd of that year). Technically, the 851 also won Ducati’s first world superbike title, when Frenchman Raymond Roche utterly dominated the 1990 series.
That bike ran, within the rules, an oversized 888cc engine and from 1991 the 851 road bike evolved into 888, which in turned into something very special indeed…
Ducati 916 (1994)
The 888 was a huge success on the racetrack, with Doug Polen winning the 1991 and 1992 world superbike series, but it didn’t do a great deal to turn around the financial fortunes of the Cagiva owned company.
That all changed in 1994 when the 916 was introduced and a legend was born.
With the same basic trellis frame and a long stroke version of the 888 motor displacing 916cc, the spec sheet of the latest Ducati superbike underplayed the significance that the Ducati 916 would have on motorcycling in the 1990s.
Basically, it was beautiful. Penned by South African designer Pierre Terblanche, the 916 featured elegant angular lines, a slim waistline, single sided swingarm and underseat exhausts that would become commonplace on future generations of sports bikes from other manufacturers.
The looks were backed up by its racetrack performance. Carl Fogarty won the 1994 world superbike title in what was its debut race season and although the engine capacity increased over the years (which was reflected in a changing model designation) to 955cc, through to 996cc and finally 998cc, the design remained known as the ‘916’ until it was finally replaced by the unloved 999 in 2003.
The 916’s legend was built on the racetrack, where it became the most successful superbike of all time. Fogarty won all four of his world titles on 916 derivatives, while Australians Troy Bayliss and Troy Corser also scored a championship apiece aboard the all conquering machine.
These days 916s are hugely collectable, especially early ones and while time hasn’t been particularly kind to the riding experience (it feels very dated compared to modern sports bikes) the styling remains timeless. This is one motorcycle where no one will blame you for simply parking it up in the lounge and admiring!
Ducati Desmosedici RR (2008)
Ducati had a massive problem in replacing the 916 series.
It’s official replacement, the 999, found few fans among the Ducatisti. Despite it’s sparking performance and utter domination of world superbikes. The 999 took three world championships in four years (in the hands of Neil Hodgson, James Toseland and Troy Bayliss) but its quirky looks were the polar opposite to the 916’s elegance and that affected sales of the road bike. The replacement 1098 of 2007 was prettier but still never really connected with the hardcore fans of the brand.
Thankfully Ducati had an ace up its sleeve to garner the headlines. Announced at World Ducati Week in 2004, the Desmosedici RR was a road going version of the MotoGP machine campaigned by Loris Capirossi.
While not an exact replica, the Desmosedici RR was the closest thing to a MotoGP bike you could buy, at least until Honda’s RC213V-S of 2015. The engine pumped out just shy of 200bhp and production was limited to 1500 units worldwide.
With a MotoGP derived V4 engine, it also gave the world an insight into Ducati’s future direction, being the forerunner to the new Panigale V4 that would power Ducati’s flagship sports bike range a decade later.
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