Racing Improves the Breed: 1973 Ducati 750 Imola Racer

Alan Cathcart rides the 1973 Ducati 750 Imola, the follow-up to Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola-winning racer.

1973 Ducati 750 Imola Racer

1973 Ducati 750 Imola Racer

Photo by Kyoichi Nakamura

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1973 Ducati F750 Imola
Claimed power:
89hp @ 10,000rpm
Top speed:
749cc air-cooled OHC desmodromic 90-degree V-twin, 86mm x 64.5mm bore and stroke, 11.2:1 compression ratio
Weight (w/oil, no fuel):
325lb (148kg)

Ducati has won 14 World Superbike titles in the past 25 years, but there was a time when the Bologna factory had precisely zero big-bike credentials.

Up to the 1970s, Ducati was known for producing small-capacity 4-stroke singles, some with the quirky addition of desmodromic valve gear. But Paul Smart’s 1972 victory at Italy’s Imola 200, with Ducati teammate Bruno Spaggiari a close second, changed all that. Smart not only put Ducati on the map, he also kickstarted the development process leading to today’s Panigale 1199 World Superbike contender.

Although Ducati’s air-cooled 750 Imola racers had a 2-valve desmodue cylinder head design with bevel-driven single overhead camshaft, they were in every way the forerunners of today’s liquid-cooled 8-valve double overhead cam Superbikes. Imola 1972 was the race-winning debut of what would become Ducati’s trademark engine format — the 90-degree desmo V-twin. Rather than building a faster-steering, lightweight race chassis like most competitors in Formula One, Ducati equipped the Smart/Spaggiari racers with a street chassis, using the same heavy Seeley-derived steel frame fitted to its new V-twin road bikes. Smart’s 1972 Imola victory was achieved on a bike not so different from the street-legal Ducati 750SS Imola Replica released in 1974. That was a true production racer, and Smart’s Imola win proved racing really does improve the breed. MC

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