The original Ducati 750 GT represented a new era for the Italian brand, and its 90-degree V-twin would become fundamental to Ducati’s DNA. Here’s what made it so special…
Back in the early 1970s the general consensus was if you wanted power and reliability you bought Japanese, but if you wanted to go around corners it had to be British. But for the average motorcyclist British bikes, notably Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons, were simply too much trouble.
Not only did they leak oil, they were maintenance intensive and unreliable. Knowing they would at least go fast in a straight line, and get home after a ride, most motorcyclists simply put up with the weight, weak brakes and limp shocks of Japanese Superbikes.
When Ducati released their 750cc V-twin in July 1971 it augured a combination of British style handling and braking with improved reliability.
Compared with other superbikes of the day the Ducati 750 was unique. The 90-degree V-twin was basically two 350cc singles lashed together. The cylinder heads followed the time-honoured fashion of the Bologna firm; single overhead camshafts driven by helical-cut bevel gears and towershafts.
The bore and stroke of 80×74.4mm was similar to the 350 single but the twin featured coil valve springs (instead of hairpin) and breathed through a pair of Spanish Amal carburettors. While the crankcases were vertically split, lubrication was by wet sump, without any external oil lines or oil tanks so the engine remained oil tight. Barely wider than a single, the 90-degre layout provided perfect primary balance and was incredibly smooth.
There was no need for a rubber-biscuit engine-insulating system, no tall vibration-damping gear ratios, no sponge-sprung handlebars or Loctite to stop nut and bolt absenteeism. It may have looked a little ungainly but Ducati’s twin was the perfect example of form following function. The central question was “how will it work,” not ‘how will it look,” and Ducati succeeded brilliantly.
Although the alloy engine, with dozens of carefully matched gears whirring away inside, was expensive to manufacture, Ducati didn’t stint on the running gear. With the engine incorporated as a stressed member, the steel frame consisted of predominately straight tubing.
The swingarm pivoted in generously sized bronze bushes and the chain adjusters were a rigid Seeley type. At a time when some Superbikes were fitted with forks with spindly 33mm tubes, the leading axle Marzocchi fork featured beefy 38mm stanchions. The long engine and 29-degree steering head angle contributed to a lengthy 1,530mm wheelbase but this provided exceptional high-speed stability.
It may have been cumbersome at slow speeds but when the footpeg kissed the pavement in a 130-km/h sweeper and the bike didn’t bobble you knew Ducati got it right.
Another thing Ducati got right was the braking. In an era when most front brakes were either drum or a single stainless steel disc with a single-piston floating caliper, the Ducati 750 had a 280mm cast-iron disc with a twin-piston racing style Lockheed caliper. Functional in the wet or dry, the Lockheed brake could comfortably squeeze the bike down from more than 160 km/h time and again without fade. Borrani alloy wheel rims and fibreglass bodywork kept the wet weight down to around 200kg. This was lighter than every other Superbike except the Norton 750 Commando.
Designed by passionate motorcyclists rather than a corporate committee the Ducati 750 was a flawed jewel. Quality alloy Borrani wheel rims contrasted with ergonomically compromised handlebar switches. The chrome and bolts rusted on their first contact with water and the water slide tank decals would peel away when subjected to high-pressure wash.
But for the true believer these details were immaterial. This bike connected your nerve endings to the Dunlop TT100 tyre patches better than anything else in 1972. It may not have been extremely powerful but the way the Ducati 750 leapt forward from 3,000rpm in fourth was exhilarating.
Because of its unusual looks Ducati’s 750 was initially greeted with some scepticism. But this all changed when Taglioni took a batch of 750 GTs off the production line to prepare as racing machines for the Imola 200 mile race. On 23 April 1972, Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari trounced the world’s best, including Agostini and the MV Agusta and the finest Norton, Triumph, Kawasaki, Honda, BMW, Suzuki and Moto Guzzi could offer.
As Ducati’s great engineer Taglioni quipped after this victory, “When we won at Imola we also won the market.” It was the beginning of a new era for Ducati and the 90-degree V-twin (or L-twin as Taglioni coined it) would become fundamental to Ducati’s DNA.
Australia’s go-to-guy for classic motorcycle wisdom. Ian has written nearly 45 books on motorcycles that each offer unparalleled insight on the historical and technical development of particular makes and models.