The Iconic Ducati 750 Sport

Italian made
By Greg Williams
July/August 2011
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Photo by Jeff Barger
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1973 Ducati 750 Sport
Claimed power:
62hp @ 8,200rpm
Top speed: 124mph
Engine: 748cc air-cooled OHC 90-degree V-twin
Weight (dry): 402lb (183kg)
Price then: $2,500
Price now: $15,000 - $35,000

Wisconsinite Jim Fitzgerald’s relationship with his Ducati 1973 Ducati 750 Sport was sparked by his youth. Back in the late Seventies, Jim wasn’t content to just follow his motorcycling compatriots. Even as a youngster messing around on a dirt bike, while the rest of his friends were aboard Honda Super 90s, Jim’s ride was a modified 1948 Harley-Davidson Hummer.

In high school, he rode a run-of-the-mill spray-bombed purple 1971 Honda CB350 — simply because it was what he could afford. After graduating and serving his tool and die apprenticeship, though, he started making better money. And while his friends were buying the Suzuki GS1000 and Honda CB900F, Jim wanted something different, like an Italian-made Moto Guzzi LeMans. Until he saw a 1978 Ducati Darmah, that is. The Duc caught Jim’s fancy, so he bought the Darmah. That was in 1979.

Going racing
Soon after, Jim realized his riding skills were above average, so he bought and prepped a 350cc Ducati single, racing it in Western-Eastern Racing Association (WERA) lightweight superbike events. In 1981, Jim’s younger brother, Rick, who rode a BSA 650 on the street, became interested in going racing.

At one of their breakfast rides, an acquaintance pulled up on a Ducati 750 Sport, the very machine featured here. Everyone admired the Italian motorcycle, but Rick showed particular interest in the Ducati, and the owner said he could have right of first refusal if the bike were ever sold. A year later, Rick bought the Ducati for $1,500.

“Rick bought it from Paul Egner, and the story is that Paul bought the bike from a neighbor of his just down the road,” Jim says. “The original owner didn’t like the riding position, and he didn’t ride it much. It was very original when my brother got it.”

Almost immediately after buying the Ducati, Rick decided to take it racing. He made a few modifications, including swapping the stock Scarab front brake caliper and rotor for a dual-disc Lockheed setup. Ditto the original Conti exhaust system, replaced by a two-into-one header. A set of 36mm Dell’Orto carburetors replaced the stock 32mm units, and an electronic ignition system replaced the stock breaker points. “Everything he took off he stored properly,” Jim says, “Rick was meticulous about that.”

The brothers went racing, Jim on his 350 Ducati and Rick aboard the Ducati 750 Sport, competing at tracks like Road America in Wisconsin and Blackhawk Farms in Illinois. Weeknights, the brothers would work together, prepping their bikes for the next weekend of racing.

Rick was competitive on the Ducati 750 Sport, until a 1984 race at Road America. When Rick didn’t come back around the front straight, Jim thought he must have crashed. Rick had pulled off, and when Jim got to him Rick said the rear rod was knocking. They got the Ducati back to the pit, started it — and shut it down immediately, an ominous sound emanating from the rear of the engine. “Rick took the bike home and pulled the motor,” Jim recalls. “After we opened it up, we could see where the rear piston had been tapping the head. The valves and head were still fine, but I told him the crank would need to be rebuilt.”

Moving on
Instead of investing money in the Ducati 750 Sport, Rick bought a 1981 Ducati 900SS. He rolled the 750 Sport into his basement, where it was pickled and stored away. It was one of those projects he was always going to get to, but when Rick took a job as a police officer  in Missouri, the Ducati 750 Sport went to Glen Bishop’s Thoroughbred Cycles in Troy, Wis., where it sat untouched in storage.

Meanwhile, Jim hung up his leathers and focused on raising his family, and getting his manufacturing business up and running. He still had his 1978 Ducati Darmah, however, and in 2005 he completely restored the motorcycle. Reconnecting with the mechanics of that machine brought Jim back to his Ducati days, and the resulting restoration is something he is very proud of.

Jim had been watching eBay for Ducati parts, and he’d witnessed a couple of Ducati 750 Sports sell for relatively large sums. Over the years, the brothers had often talked about the possibility of Jim restoring the 750 Sport, and in 2008 Rick sold the project to Jim. “Rick knew it was worth some money, but he just wasn’t in a position to restore it,” Jim says. “He knew I was capable of restoring the 750.” When Jim went to collect the Sport, he found a dusty rolling chassis and several cardboard boxes of parts, each one neatly labeled and the pieces organized within.

Sport history
Jim’s Ducati 750 Sport was first registered in the U.S. as a 1974 model. It was, he would later discover, actually a 1973 model, the second year of production for the 750 Sport, a machine that evolved from a long history of legendary Ducati engineering.

From the end of WWII until the 1960s, Ducati became famous for producing small bore, single-cylinder motorcycles, including the Scrambler and Mach 1 models. But by the end of the 1960s, the market was hungry for larger-displacement, multi-cylinder machinery. BSA and Triumph launched their Rocket 3 and Trident triple-cylinder motorcycles in 1968, and Honda introduced its four-cylinder CB750 in 1969. Ducati needed something larger than a 450cc single to remain competitive.

Ducati’s maestro, the famous Fabio Taglioni, or “Dr. T” as he came to be known, drew plans for a new 750cc V-twin with bevel-gear-driven overhead cams. A wide, 90-degree angle between cylinders provided perfect primary balance, and gave the engine its distinctive “L” appearance; the front cylinder is 10 degrees above horizontal, while the rear cylinder is in a near-vertical plane. The engine is a stressed member in the steel tube frame.

The new engine and chassis debuted at the 1971 Olympia motorcycle show in London as the GT750. Soon after, Taglioni modified a batch of GT750 engines with desmodromic valve operation. In April 1972, a pair of these desmo-equipped 750cc Ducatis ridden by Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari took first and second place, respectively, in a 200-mile race at Italy’s Imola race track. Ducati’s sweep in the Formula 750 class brought the machines to the world’s attention, and demand for non-desmo 750cc Ducatis quickly outpaced supply. Somehow, even during this rush for production, Ducati developed the 750 Sport from the GT750.

According to Ian Falloon’s The Ducati 750 Bible, the first 750 Sport appeared in Italy in September 1972. Very few — Falloon estimates perhaps 50 — 750 Sports were constructed in 1972. Many components were shared between the GT and Sport. The engine in the Sport was similar to the GT, with the exception of a few minor changes, including a folding, curved kickstart lever with a longer kickstart shaft, plus larger, 32mm open carbs. Higher compression pistons gave the Sport a five horsepower edge over the GT.

The main differences between the two were the body components. A longer and narrower fuel tank, bum-stop rear seat cowl, clip-on handlebars and rearset foot controls gave the 750 Sport its boy racer nature.

Added to the 750cc line in 1973 was the now-legendary Ducati 750 Super Sport, featuring desmodromic valve actuation with two sets of cam lobes and rockers — one to push the valves open and another to pull them shut. The system, used by Mercedes-Benz in the 300SLR racer in the 1950s, was designed to avoid valve float and valve spring failure, and has been around since the early years of the 20th century.

Dr. Desmo
Early versions of the 750 Sport feature fiberglass fuel tanks, but Jim’s 1973 machine was fitted from the factory with a steel unit. The rear seat cowl is molded in fiberglass. When Jim started restoring his 750 Sport he enlisted the help of John Lumley of Chicago. John is a Ducati specialist, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s he was a dealer for Berliner Imports, operating MCR East in the Chicago area. Now, John is known simply as Dr. Desmo. “John was around when these motorcycles were (first) uncrated in the U.S.,” Jim says.

With John’s help, Jim was determined to make his 750 Sport restoration as faithful as possible to how it would have rolled out of the showroom when brand new in early 1974 — right down to every bearing in the engine and transmission. Jim split the engine and delivered the crank, rods, heads and cylinders to John. The crank was rebuilt and the heads were treated to new guides and valves, while the cylinders got new-old-stock (NOS) sleeves and pistons. By the fall of 2008, Jim was reassembling the engine.

Distinctive to the early 750 Sports and Super Sports are the black engine side covers, and Jim was able to match the black paint from a NOS cover supplied by John. Also painted were the frame, fork lowers and triple tree. To get the distinctive yellow/orange color Ducati used on the 750 Sport, Jim borrowed a NOS body side panel from John and had the color computer matched. Mike Brietbach of Milwaukee sprayed the Ducati’s body panels.

“John had the original paint numbers from the factory, but he told me the Ducati paint color could change depending on who was mixing paint that day at the factory — some were more yellow, while others were more orange,” Jim says. Very few pieces had to be rechromed, but Jim did have the shifter linkage and the kickstarter replated. The distinctive Conti exhaust is original; it only needed a good clean and polish. Several smaller items, including the grips, horns, headlight switch and steering damper knob, were NOS finds, located on eBay.

Jim changed three things in his rebuild that deviated from standard. From the factory, Jim says the 750 Sport came with yellow and red diamond pattern spark plug wires, while he fitted black. Stainless steel spokes replaced the stock silver painted items, and Pirelli Demon tires were installed as Jim intended to ride the 750 Sport as much as possible.

Finishing up
Jim’s only hitch putting the motorcycle back together came when he laid out the wiring harness. Jim was reading a wiring diagram for a 1974 750 Sport (remember, the bike was titled as a 1974), but things just weren’t adding up. There was an extra switch and signal lights on the schematic, items his Ducati didn’t have. “The stamp on the steering head plate reads Jan. 1974,” Jim says, “but this bike was obviously manufactured in 1973, and it took me a while to work that out.”

Jim wanted the Ducati finished by his 50th birthday in the spring of 2009, a goal he met. Upon completion, the Ducati fired up as expected, and Jim was soon on the road. And just about everywhere he went with the bike it drew a crowd, to the point he often couldn’t even get off the Ducati when he pulled up somewhere.

After putting some 3,000 miles on the Sport, Jim decided to sell it, and in 2010 the Ducati went to Anthony Gee in San Diego. A collector of European and Japanese motorcycles, Anthony says he’d been searching for a 750 Sport for some time to add to a stable that already included a Ducati GT750, several Ducati singles and a couple of Hondas.

“They just weren’t coming up for sale,” Anthony says of the 750 Sport, “so when Jim’s bike popped up I decided I should move on it. It’s a bike I really like, and it’s very aggressive when compared to the GT in terms of riding position and style. It’s fun to ride, and I’ve put on a few hundred miles.”

Jim, meanwhile, still has his Ducati Darmah to ride — the bike that originally forged his and Rick’s relationship with esoteric Italian machinery.  MC 

Read more about the motorcycles mentioned in this article:
Suzuki GS1000
Honda CB900F 


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