11-12 May 2012

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Lot 191

1972 Ducati 750 200 Miglia Imola Corsa Replica

  • Frame no. DM750SS/751064

Sold for €70.200

Specifications: 748 cc SOHC Desmo V-twin, five speeds.

It’s a matter of spirited dispute among the Ducatisti about which is the most historic factory racer. But Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola race-winner has a distinct edge as regards provenance—Smart still owns it. It was given to him after he won the inaugural Imola 200, the Daytona of Europe, by Ducati’s Fredmano Spairani. Spairani had given designer Fabio Taglioni the go-ahead to build the 750-cc Imola Desmo V-twin racers that would put Ducati on the map for all time.

The other contender, of course, would be the Steve Wynne-prepared 864-cc Ducati Formula 1 V-twin, with which Mike Hailwood won the 1978 Isle of Man F1 TT. At an average speed of 110.62 mph, Hailwood broke Phil Read’s lap record by nine mph. To cap it all, the 38-year-old Hailwood had retired and hadn’t raced at the TT for 11 years, and his bike gave away 20 horsepower to the Hondas and Kawasakis.

But the Isle of Man TT triumph was still seven years away, and in the meantime Taglioni was charged with improving the Formula 750 twin that Hailwood had tested at Silverstone in July 1971, with serious misgivings. While this first Desmo twin was able to rev to 11,500 rpm, with its 40-mm Dell’Orto carburettors, the frame had been developed by Colin Seeley from Ducati’s 500-cc racer, and Hailwood didn’t think it handled well enough to be competitive. He was not very charitable about the single Lockheed front disc brake either, and noted it was unequal to the task of stopping the bike.

Taglioni went to Daytona to assess the opposition in March 1972 and concluded he had better focus on handling, weight and braking to stand a chance against the Japanese. He was not worried about the engines, which had more or less the same bottom end as the 750 GT. The new 40-mm Dell’Orto concentric carburettors meant the Desmo V-twin could turn 9,200 rpm and generate 88 horsepower. It also had a good power curve, producing 70 horsepower at 7,000 rpm. A total loss ignition system meant that the alternator could be removed, as was the kick-start, which improved ground clearance on the right side. The bikes were fitted with an oil cooler, twin plugs and four ignition coils.

The opposition was impressive. Nine factory teams were bringing 21 bikes to Imola: MV Agusta, Norton, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Moto Guzzi, Triumph, BSA, Laverda and even BMW. The riders were a who’s-who of front-runners: Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read, Walter Villa, Roberto Gallina, Tony Jeffries, Percy Tait, Don Emde, Ray Pickrell, Ron Grant, Cal Rayborn and John Cooper.

But Imola seemed to suit the Ducatis, as it was a track with sweeping curves and variable surfaces. It was not going to be a horsepower race. Taglioni built seven bikes and approached Jarno Saarinen, Renzo Pasolini and Barry Sheene to ride them. They all declined as they did not think the 750 would be competitive.

So Taglioni went back to Bruno Spaggiari, who knew Imola well and had raced Ducatis since the 1950s. The young Ermano Giulani signed on as Spaggiari’s apprentice, and Alan Dunscombe came over from England, where he raced a 750GT for importer Vic Camp. Taglioni then approached Paul Smart, whose BSA triple ride had fallen through. Ironically, Smart would never have made the trip if his wife Maggie had not accepted the offer on her husband’s behalf over the phone. Smart did not think the Ducatis would be competitive—an opinion he revised once he started practicing.

When the race began on 23 April before a crowd of 70,000 mostly Italian fans, things got even better. Agostini took off in the lead, but Smart and Spaggiari discovered they had his measure. All three set the same fastest lap time, an average of 100.1 mph, but when the fourth lap came round, Smart had passed Agostini, followed by Spaggiari one lap later. From then on, it was Ducati 1-2, to the delight of the crowd. Spaggiari actually passed Smart on the last lap but began to run out of gas and ran wide to let Smart back into the lead.

From being an obscure marque to the rest of the world, Ducati suddenly had a lot of press. The win was considered an amazing upset, and it set Ducati on the path it follows to this day. Ducati promised Imola replicas, but it was 18 months before any started to trickle out of the factory. Meanwhile, Smart took his bike home to England, where he raced it with some success, and he won the Greek GP on the isle of Corfu that October. Three 750s were taken to the U.S. to be entered at Daytona in June and then to the Canadian GP at Mosport.

The bike on offer was constructed from a frame given by the Ducati racing department to Mr. Saltarelli in 1975 as prize money for his racing efforts with his private team of Ducati racing motorcycles. The frame is a 750GT unit as per the original Imola machines and is in the same frame number sequence of the Imola bikes. Mr. Saltarelli had a plentiful supply of parts from the factory and built this machine as a spare racer for his team in period. The engine is a correct round-case unit, which features racing pistons, high lift camshaft and a lightweight flywheel.

The bike remained with Mr. Saltarelli from the 1970s, and it was then in the year 2000 that he decided to start on the restoration so that it could be put on display at his museum. There are two fuel tanks supplied, and the bike is currently fitted with the larger endurance type racing tank. It has Marzocchi leading axle forks, three Lockheed disc brakes and the “left high-right low” Conti exhausts, as Imola was mostly a left-hand track. The 200 Mile Imola 750 Ducatis represent the pinnacle of collectible Desmo V-twins and are on the wish list of every Ducati collector. Given that none of the factory bikes are available to purchase, this lot represents an opportunity not to be missed, being as near to the original Works machines as possible, constructed using original parts from the factory in period. In addition, it has been featured and run at many events, including the 200 Imola Revival in 2010 where it was displayed and ridden by Carlo himself.

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