Ducati 750/900SS

Italian style and performance

The 750SS

Although the superb 750ss was the first of the Super Sports Ducatis, it was the 900 that really established Ducati as a big bike player in the marketplace. This was mostly due to the fact that it could offer more performance for not a lot more money, the two bikes were virtually identical otherwise. Kawasaki had also introduced the 900cc Z1, upping the capacity stakes to a new level. The original 750ss is absolutely beautiful, with its sleek half fairing, curvaceous fibreglass tank with see through panel, imposing round case engine, gorgeous upswept Conti mufflers and unique silver and blue-green colour scheme, it vies with very few others for the title of best looking bike of all time. This hand built and blueprinted gem is the most coveted of all Ducatis and collectors will pay more than $130,000 to get one. The 750ss is rare, it was only made in small numbers (400 I believe), the 900, while not common, is easier to get hold of.

The square case 900SS

The 750ss was released at a time when the Japanese power race was starting to get serious. Honda had the CB750, Kawasaki the Z1900 and the H2750 triple and Suzuki, the water-cooled GT750 two stroke. Ducati already had the GT750 and the yellow 750 sport but they weren't really perceived as high performers. It was the 750 sport that was to form the basis of the SS and it was the SS that was about to change that perception.

Bruno Spaggiari on the factory bike
Image: Ducati

Imola changes everything

Ducati had produced two Super Sport prototype bikes for the Imola 200 race in 1972 to be ridden by Paul Smart and Ducati test rider Bruno Spaggiari. The sweeping bends of Imola suited the long wheelbase and raked out front end of the GT/Sport based frames and Spaggiari lead in the final round until he suffered from air bubbles in his fuel system. After he ran wide on a corner, Smart overtook him with a few corners to go and won the race against what was the cream of the crop at the time, with Spaggiari second. Jaws dropped in the paddock and Ducati was on the map.

The bike Cook Neilson rode to victory in the 1977 Daytona 200
Image: Motorcycle Classics

The double Imola victory was beyond anyone's expectations and the Ducati management decided to produce a street-legal 750 desmo replica to celebrate the victory. What was initially only meant to be a 200 bike production run to satisfy homogulation requirements for racing, turned out to be the beginnings of a long line of highly desirable sporting Ducatis. The frame was taken from the 1973/'74 750 Sport and was fitted with a centre axle 38mm Marzocchi front fork. The Ducati 750 Super Sport was the first street bike with triple disc brakes; two Scarab discs at the front and a single Lockheed at the rear. The crankcases were taken from the standard 750 Sport. The crankshaft is similar to the original race bike that won at Imola, and is strengthened around the big-end. Dell'Orto 40mm carburetors were fitted, but the cylinder head was where the real goods were kept. The 750 Super Sport was the first road legal Ducati to feature desmodromic camshafts, in this case even with highly polished rockers. It had a five speed gearbox and the power output was 70 bhp at 9,000 rpm.

A later model steel tank 900ss

A glorious engine

It was a stunning bike built like only the Italians can do. Even though the styling of the bodywork was superb, this was a bike that just said "engine" with an exclamation mark! It looked as though the other bits were just bolted on to allow the engine to use its power. And what power it was. The peaky power delivery that is often associated with race replica machines just wasn't there. It would pull from almost any rev range and keep going hard to the redline. The bike was extremely stable to ride. On a fast sweeping bend they were excellent, particularly if it was bumpy, but throw it into a tight corner and it would try to go straight ahead! The long 60.2 inch wheelbase and 29.5° rake combined to make the bike reluctant to turn. You had to get used to this and adapt your riding style to suit. It was never much of a problem on the road but on the track it was a big drawback.

An Imola bike
Image: Saltarelli Collection

The 750 and the 900 seemed to have everything going for them as a racetrack weapon, after all, that's what they were designed for, but this wasn't necessarily the case for a number of reasons. On a track where the biggest gains in lap times could be made on the faster sections they excelled due to their stability, but on a track full of tight corners they usually weren't competitive due to their inability to turn into a corner quickly. Another problem they had was with the physical size of the engine. It was big and heavy, wide for a twin cylinder and fairly low to the ground causing ground clearance problems. The successful racers seemed to have had extensively modified frames with a shorter wheelbase, the engine raised a little and steeper front-end geometry. This appears to be the case with Cook Nielson's Daytona winning bike. There was not a lot of them that made it to the racetrack for these reasons and the fact that they were much more expensive than a Japanese bike with similar performance. There were also quality control issues and the finish on the first ones in particular was terrible. The electrics were pretty dicey as well but a true Ducati enthusiast is not going to let these things cloud the issue. Not a chance. On these bikes you could experience the exquisite purity of a raw motorcycle, something that few other bikes can offer, from any era.

Written by Paul Harmon. 19-1-18
Recommended further reading:
Ian Falloon (2004) ' Standard Catalog of Ducati Motorcycles', Iola: KP Books
Ian Falloon (2006) 'The Ducati 750 Bible', Dorchester; Veloce Publishing
Ian Falloon (1998) 'Ducati Twins Restoration Guide, Bevel Drive 1971 – 1985', Osceola; MBI Publishing Company

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