The Last Ducati 900SS Was the Best

Of all the Ducati SS variants, the last-of-the-line 1982 Ducati 900SS model may have been the best.

| March/April 2012

Ducati 900SS
Claimed power:
60hp @ 6,500rpm (rear wheel w/40mm carbs)
Top speed: 125mph (period test)
Engine: 864cc air-cooled OHC 90-degree desmodromic L-twin, 86mm x 74.4mm
Weight (wet): 477lb (217kg)
MPG: 4.7gal (17.8ltr)/35-50mpg
Price then/now: $6,000 (est.)/$10,000-$20,000

Of all the Ducati “SS” variants, the last-of-the-line 1982 900SS has historically been the least desirable. Second only to the first-year 900SS in rarity (335 made versus 246 in 1975), its beauty and cachet as a “true” Ducati Super Sport is finally being appreciated.

It’s doubtful any other motorcycle manufacturer can point to a single date when its fortunes changed as dramatically as Ducati’s did on April 23, 1972.

In 1970, Ducati management, under Arnaldo Milvio and Fredmano Spairani, decreed the factory would go racing again after an 11-year hiatus. With every Grand Prix class up to 350cc dominated by Japanese two-strokes, the larger capacities beckoned. For Ducati’s re-entry into racing, chief designer Fabio Taglioni developed a 500cc GP L-twin with two-valve desmo heads, but it was no match for Agostini on the MV. Ducati was also developing a 750, and the announcement of Formula 750 for production-based bikes and the inaugural 200-mile race at Imola on April 23, 1972 — billed as the “Daytona of Europe” — was Ducati’s great opportunity.

After assessing the potential competition at Daytona in March 1972, Taglioni had just a month to come up with a race bike. Though based on the just-introduced 1971 spring-valve 750GT, the Imola Ducati used desmo valve gear, which with special cams, twin spark plugs and 40mm Dell’Orto carbs allowed the engine to rev to 9,200rpm and develop 84 rear-wheel horsepower at 8,800rpm. Billet connecting rods ran on a 750GT crank driving straight-cut primary gears to a stock GT transmission. Marzocchi forks and triple-disc brakes completed the specification, and with unnecessary ancillaries removed the Imola 750 weighed in at 392 pounds — light for a street bike, but not for a racer.

Ducati approached a number of top riders including Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini to ride the 750, but all declined; the new bike was considered unproven — which, of course, it was. Evergreen Ducati team member Bruno Spaggiari, then 39, would start, but the team needed a high-profile rider. The story goes that a phone call to rising GP star Paul Smart’s home in Kent, England, was answered by his wife, Maggie (sister of the famous Barry Sheene), who “promised” that the reluctant Smart would ride the Ducati in the Imola race.

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