The Ducati 750 Sport
Introduction: Whilst not claiming to be a classic bike expert, I have penned a few articles. My life mainly revolves around four wheels as long as they are old; preferably older than me. That is how I first met Gary Keen, owner and restorer of this Ducati. Certainly not his first restoration and definitely won’t be his last. Gary fully restored his father’s 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air to the highest standard, a car that has been featured by many magazines and web sites. He has also completed another Ducati, a 900 Sport Desmo Darmah and is currently enjoying his time with a Super Sport version whilst his credit card, no doubt, feels the pain of over use. Personally, I have always had bikes in my garage but I joined the party later, at a time when the Japanese ‘2-strokers’ ruled and I am ashamed to admit the beauty and sound of the Ducati would have slipped under my radar. Grant Ford
Ducati 750 Sport Lei è una bellezza (she’s a beauty)
It had only been 15 months since Fabio Taglioni first sketched his new 750 L twin engine design; incredibly in June 1971 the Ducati 750 GT was in production and company directors Arnaldo Milvio and Fredmano Spairani signed off plans for a 750 Sport model for the Italian Marque. The Japanese manufacturers had yet to achieve their strangle hold on the world motor cycle market and a prototype 750 Sport was presented to a dealer conference in September of the same year. The new design went down well with the faithful, so a second machine was produced by Christmas; the final version was shown to the press in January 1972 and their reaction ensured no delays were required and production began immediately. This was going to be a massive year for Ducati and the start of a journey that would span 40 years and allow Gary Keen to fulfil a lifelong dream of restoring and owning a 750 Sport.
Apart from its stunning beauty the Sport brought many things to the enthusiast, handling was considered to be second to none and with 62bhp on tap the performance figures were impressive. With a 130mph top speed and a standing ¼ mile of 12.5 seconds this was a quick bike for its day; a race machine for the road and racing would feature heavily in the factory’s future plans.
An idea taken from the Daytona races in the States was the Formula 750 Series that began in Europe at Imola in April 1972, its future would continue under various names but we have come to know it as ‘Superbike’. Ducati entered machines based on lightened production frames and engines modified to produce 80 ‘horses’. The machine known as the 750 Imola Desmo was the first to be fitted with the Desmodromic valve system. An estimated 70,000 watched the Ducati team with their new bikes and riders take 1st and 2nd places after 200 miles of racing at Imola; Paul Smart led team mate Bruno Spaggiari across the line; now the motorcycle world would look towards Bologna.
The 750 Sport using the GT frame was only produced for one year in 1972. This was called a ‘wide frame sport’ or ‘Z stripe sport’ (due to the distinct tank decals). Later models (1973- 5) had a different ‘narrow’ frame which can be clearly seen by the position of the rear shock absorbers – the wide frames are underneath and the narrow frame ones are outside. The whole persona of the Sport was encompassed with a narrower tank, single seat, ‘clip-ons’ and rear sets. The Super Sport ‘Imola’ Desmo version became available in 1974 and only 401 were produced and that model is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of round case 750 bevels. However, in terms of rarity, it is thought that only about 100 of the early Sports were made (albeit difficult to prove). So, all Sport versions produced are rare, desirable and the restoration of one is not for the faint hearted.
The Purchase (l'acquisto)
Gary was facing an MOT test on another 900 bevel Ducati back in 2008, the tech doing the test commented he knew of an old 750 Sport that had sat for many years in a barn in Sussex. Desperately trying not to show too much excitement a new home beckoned for the Sport that October, last tax disc was from 1987 and the paper work confirmed renowned Worthing dealer Bol D’or Motorcycles sold the bike on in the early 80’s. Back home and surveying his purchase Gary decided to restore the bike as close to original as possible, ‘without being too anal’ he told me. ‘There are details some scholars of the marque will pick up on, such as the crank cases have a polished finish rather than the crinkle black; this is a personal choice and I have to live with and love the bike’.
Strip Down (spogliarsi)
The stage where you discover what you have actually bought comes with the systematic removal, checking and pricing of all the parts that come off the machine, what looked ok in situ needs time and money spent when placed on the bench. The frame was in great shape so went away for blasting and powder coating along with the swing arm. Replacing every bearing the frame was complete, though it would be a while before re assembly started. The original Borranni wheel rims responded well to many hours of polishing but the spokes were rotten and replaced with new stainless versions.
The bike came with the twin front disc set up (an option from new single disc the norm) although the discs were well past their ‘sell by’ date sourcing the original solid centre version proved difficult but not impossible. A Brembo master cylinder was fitted to feed the Lockheed callipers and although these looked nasty, once rebuilt they work perfectly. The forks and yokes were restored and Gary managed to achieve the original splatter black effect, new in period Koni rear shocks were fitted and with a set of Avon’s on the refurbished rims a semi rolling chassis sat on the bench.
The Motor (il motore)
The heart of the beast, the L Twin ‘Bevel Drive’ motor looked a sad sight in the frame; years of corrosion had turned the alloy exterior grey with any chrome parts useless. Pietro, boss at Motori Di Marino was Gary’s choice for the rebuild, an ex-Ducati factory guy who lives and breathes these engines daily, a cheap option ‘no’ quality ‘yes’. Stripped down the crank was re ground, several chipped gears replaced and a new high performance oil pump fitted, bearings, valves and seats etc... The cylinder bores looked in good order as did the original pistons and rings so they were reused. It later transpired that the front cylinder had become porous and a new liner was sourced, honed and fitted. An electronic ignition was fitted with a dual output high voltage coil because the bike was being rebuilt to be ridden – so it had to start and run reliably. Rebuilt along with the carbs the engine looks a work of art and as for the sound, more of that later.
The Dials (i calibri)
With the engine back where it belongs, it was time to look at the clocks and deal with a rather nasty headlight. The light unit on the bike was way past saving and tracking down the original Aprilia JOD Duplo part was proving to be impossible without melting the credit card completely. Removing the original idiot lights, Gary stripped and plated them and remade coloured inserts as an alternative to fitting ‘out of place LEDs’ as he put it. Refurbished electronic tacho and speedo finished the look, now visable, as the half fairing would not be refitted.
The Paint (la vernice)
One thing that will create heated debate amongst a group of Ducati connoisseurs would be the original colour ‘Ochre’; factory applied as a gel coat finish onto the fibreglass tank and side panels. In order to obtain a colour as close as possible to the original required rubbing down the inside of the seat back unit and taking a match from that. Gary is sure it is now as close as possible to the original; I noticed during the photo-shoot the tank changed quite dramatically from bright yellow to deep orange as the sun went behind the clouds. The paint finish carried out by a retired Burgess Hill based sprayer (Pete the Paint) is superb; the graphics were supplied direct from Italy. With the tank lined to stop melting by modern fuels Gary fitted the correct fuel taps, not easy to source but worth the effort.
The Sound (il suono)
The 750 Sport exhaust system was supplied to the factory by the ‘Conti Brothers’ back in the 70’s, complete with Ducati part numbers they were bespoke to the marque with a sound of their own. Easier to locate the ‘Lock Ness Monster’ than find a new pair to replace the rusted, beyond salvation examples Gary inherited with the bike. It came to light that every now and then the brothers re-release a batch of original pipes and they did so in 2008; soon after getting the bike home Gary received a package from Italy. I didn’t ask how much and he didn’t offer. Standing at the side of the road waiting to catch the passing image I realised why they became so important. I could hear the Sport going through the gears long before it was in sight, the sound rolled across the countryside like a summer thunderstorm and as he passed you could feel it down to your boots.
"Il nostro passato ha un grande futuro" (Our past has a great future)
The slogan released with the launch of the Paso model in 1986 referred back to the early days of Ducati race machines; Renzo Pasolini nicknamed ‘Paso’ was a factory rider who was killed at Monza in 1973. The past for the Italian marque is as important as the present and the machines produced during the time of the 750 Sport was the launch point for the modern Ducati, a company that has been around since the 1920s. To own one of these machines you will need deep pockets and patience, they are typical Italian motorcycles and any biker knows what that can mean. In return you get something as beautiful as any Ferrari with the agility of a Falcon and a sound to match Pavarotti, leading some to believe Ducati’s past is the place to be.