Motorcycles: That 70's Show
Accompanied by a questionnaire asking the Ducatisti for their comments, photos of three Ducati prototypes appeared without notice on the company’s web site last October. “We had tremendous feedback immediately,” says Michael Lock, CEO of Ducati North America. “We wanted to know how much interest is out there in classically inspired high-performance sportbikes, and the response has been encouraging.”
The concept bikes are the SportClassics, three retro machines reflecting the designs of the 1972 moto-sculptures that lifted the Bologna firm to the pinnacle of style and performance. The GT 1000, Sport 1000, and PaulSmart 1000 share the 992cc air-cooled V-twin engine that powers the current Supersport, Monster, and Multistrada models, but that is where the similarity with today’s Ducatis ends. Owners of racing motorcycles such as the 999 will discover that the user-friendly SportClassics lean more toward everyday utility than high-speed performance; Ducati envisions riders using the GT 1000, for example, as a commuter. Also, older riders might enjoy the ease of maintaining and the comfort of piloting the GT and Sport models, especially compared with the harsh riding positions that modern Ducatis demand.
Pierre Terblanche, Ducati’s design chief, was first captivated by the marque in the early 1970s, when the Bolognese racers were the ultimate in style, speed, and handling. The 750 SS, a lean and powerful bike with splendid road manners, is perhaps the most significant model in company history. “I thought they were the best bikes ever,” recalls Terblanche, whose first street bike was a modified 750 GT.
He paid homage to the early machines with the MH900e, or Mike Hailwood evoluzióne, a 1999 limited edition retro release named after the former Ducati world champion. The bike was available only online and sold out immediately. The instant success of the MH900e convinced Ducati that a market for retro bikes existed, and so Terblanche quietly began working on the current SportClassic threesome.
When the three roadsters were displayed on the Ducati web site and at motorcycle shows in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and New York, most enthusiasts applauded Terblanche’s efforts. Ducati loyalists and motorcyclists faithful to other brands praised their classic styling. Some bevelheads (fans of the original bevel gear–driven cam models) took issue with the stacked mufflers and single shock absorber on the Sport and PaulSmart models, but Lock anticipated such criticism from traditionalists. “When the 916 [a bike released in 1993 that represented a radical departure from previous models] was announced, there was resistance from some of the Ducatisti,” he says. “That’s understandable when you have a passionate following. You risk alienating some of them when you make a new statement, but we are defined by making new statements.”
Ducati has yet to announce a production schedule, but Terblanche has privately stated that the SportClassics will be available in 2005. Lock predicts that the GT, which can be considered the base model of the three bikes, will sell for less than $10,000, while the Sport will have a $12,000 price tag. The top-of-the-line PaulSmart machine, modeled after the 750 Imola that its namesake piloted to a victory at Imola in 1972, will sell for approximately $15,000.