1975 Ducati 860 GT
The weird but wonderful 1975 Ducati 860 GT.
By Roland Brown
1975 Ducati 860 GT
Claimed power: 60hp @ 6,900rpm (approx.)
Top speed: 109mph (period test)
Engine: 864cc air-cooled SOHC 90-degree V-twin
Weight (wet): 504lbs
Price then: $2,549
Price now: $2,500 - $5,500
This should not have been happening. There I was, banking through a gentle right-hand curve with the 1975 Ducati 860 GT speedometer reading about 85mph, when a slight twitch of the handlebars announced the start of a gentle weave.
The bike settled down again when I slowed slightly, and it was certainly nothing worrying — but even so! Back in the mid-Seventies, when this bike was built, Ducati’s reputation for high-speed handling and stability was second to none.
My first thought was that the GT’s tendency to get slightly light-headed at speed was due to this particular bike’s age and condition. But a look through some old magazine tests revealed that the 860 GT was criticized for exactly the same thing when it was new in 1975. Words like “weave” and “wobble” had not been necessary when testing previous Ducatis such as the 450 Desmo single or the 750GT, but they were used to describe the 860 by testers who were even more surprised than I was all these years later. At least the problem could easily be solved, because it was eventually traced to the high, wide handlebars that helped give this bike a very different look than previous Ducatis.
Designed by a legend
The designer of the Ducati 860 GT, noted car stylist Giorgio Giugiaro (creator of the original VW Rabbit/Golf, the DeLorean and many others), had combined the new Gran Turismo machine’s striking lines with handlebars that not only made sustained high-speed riding uncomfortable, but also created disruptive steering forces that even the Ducati’s basically sound chassis could not completely control.
That did not prevent contemporary testers giving the 860 GT an enthusiastic welcome, and concluding that a redesigned riding position was the only thing it needed to become a superb machine. This is not to imply that everyone liked the angular shape: They didn’t, but Ducati’s first big-bore sports-tourer was certainly distinctive, as well as being the largest-capacity bike the firm had ever put into production. And if it didn’t match the glamour or sheer speed of the 900SS that followed it into showrooms in the same year, the GT promised plenty of performance along with more practicality and a lower price.
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