Mike Hailwood Replica: 1985 Ducati MHR Mille
Ducati built more than 7,000 MHRs, making it the most numerous of all the bevel-drive twin models.
In 1984, poor results in the all-important U.S. market and a general decline in motorcycle sales in Europe, together with the increasing impact of Japanese imports, meant Ducati was being squeezed on all sides.
Photo By Jeff Barger
1985 Ducati MHR Mille
Claimed power: 76hp @ 6,700rpm
Top speed: 138mph
Engine: 973cc air-cooled OHC 90-degree L-twin, 88mm x 80mm bore and stroke, 9.3:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 436lb (198kg)
Fuel Capactiy/MPG: 6.3gal (23.8ltr)/35-50mpg
In 1984, motorcycle production at Ducati was in steep decline. The bevel-drive 900SS and Darmah had ended production in 1982, the Pantah engine-based 500, 600 and 650SL street bikes had run their course, and the parallel twin 350cc and 500cc range had limped into oblivion. After producing almost 7,000 motorcycles in 1981, Ducati production in 1984 reached fewer than 2,000 bikes.
The causes were many. A state-supported company since 1975, Ducati’s nominal ownership had switched in 1978 from one government-controlled company — EFIM — to another, the VM Group, part of Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica and maker of, among other things, industrial diesel engines. Ducati’s Borgo Panigale factory seemed well suited to diesel manufacturing, and motorcycles became a secondary pursuit. Poor results in the all-important U.S. market and a general decline in motorcycle sales in Europe, together with the increasing impact of Japanese imports, meant Ducati was being squeezed on all sides.
VM had pretty much pulled the plug on Ducati’s racing efforts, too, though engineer Fabio Taglioni and his small team continued work on developing the potential of the Pantah engine. The iconic NCR bevel-drive racers were no longer allowed in the production-based Superbike class, and pretty much the only bevel Ducatis left on the track were privateer entries in European endurance racing and in the U.S. Battle of the Twins series. The result was that Ducati’s principal marketing tool — racing prowess — was seriously undermined.
Hovering in the wings were the Castiglioni brothers, Claudio and Gianfranco, with their startup motorcycle company, Cagiva. Ducati had begun supplying the Varese factory with engines in the early 1980s, allowing Cagiva entry into the big bike market. This relationship morphed into an agreement for Cagiva to take over Ducati from VM in 1985. Cagiva planned to move all motorcycle production to Varese by the end of 1984, using Ducati’s Borgo Panigale factory just to manufacture the belt-drive Pantah-based engines. Expensive and time-consuming to assemble, the bevel-drive motor would be axed.
Long live the bevel-drive
But Cagiva underestimated the enduring legacy of Mike Hailwood’s remarkable comeback win in the 1978 Isle of Man Formula 1 TT. Of the 1,965 motorcycles that Ducati produced in 1984, 1,728 — 88 percent! — were bevel-drive Mike Hailwood Replicas. Between 1979 and 1986, more than 7,000 MHRs were built, making it the most numerous of all the bevel-drive twin models — including the 900SS, 750GT and Sport, the 860GT range and the Darmahs.
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