1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport
Universally beautiful is an apt description of the 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport.
- Engine:748cc bevel gear driven desmodromic OHC, 4-stroke, air-cooled 90-degree L-twin, 80mm x 74.4mm bore/stroke, 9.5:1 compression ratio, 70hp @ 9,000rpm
- Top speed: 130mph (209kmh)
- Carburetion: Twin Dell’Orto PHM40A
- Transmission: 5-speed, constant mesh
- Electrics: 12v, coil and breaker points ignition
- Frame/wheelbase: Tubular steel open double cradle with stressed engine/59in (1,499mm)
- Suspension: Marzocchi telescopic front fork, twin Marzocchi shocks rear
- Brakes: Scarab twin piston calipers, twin 10.8in (275mm) discs front, single 9in (230mm) disc rear
- Tires: 4.10 x 18in front Dunlop TT100, 4.25/85 x 18in rear Dunlop TT100
- Weight (dry): 333lb (151kg)
- Seat height: 30.5in (774.7mm)
- Fuel capacity: 4.76 U.S. gallons
- Price now: $80,000-$200,000
Universally beautiful is an apt description of the 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport.
Restoration expert Brady Ingelse of Retrospeed in Belgium, Wisconsin, has worked on two of these rare and exotic Italian motorcycles. The first was several years ago. Most recently, Brady helped Rick Fuhry of Milwaukee purchase the one seen here. Over the 15 years Brady’s been in business, one or the other of the Super Sports has graced his showroom for an extended period.
Brady says, “It doesn’t matter if it’s a man, woman or child coming in, they all stop and admire the Super Sport sitting in the showroom. And, they all say, it’s just a beautiful motorcycle.”
Regular readers will recall Rick’s name. We met him in the September/October 2020 issue with the story about his 1978 MV Agusta 750S America. That was a “dream machine” for him, but so too was the Ducati Super Sport.
Back in the day
When he was just a college student, Rick says, “I became aware of the 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport through motorcycle magazines. Late in 1974, I went to Madison (Wisconsin) to check out a Ducati dealer I had heard of. I knew Ducatis were Italian bikes but that was it. I’d never seen one.”
He continues, “When I walked into the dealership, I immediately noticed a new 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport sitting on a small stage under a large picture window at the front of the store. Sunlight streamed through the window spotlighting the bike. I felt like Indiana Jones stumbling upon the holy grail. I was in awe at the sight of it. I immediately turned to the owner in the small shop and said, ‘How much is this Ducati?’ He replied, ‘It’s not for sale.’ I said ‘What?!?!’ He said, ‘We’re gonna hold onto that one.'”
After that exchange, Rick says, “I felt like I was sucker-punched.”
Dismayed, Rick wondered why a dealer would say a motorcycle wasn’t for sale. After doing a bit of research, he discovered the 750 Super Sport was a very limited production model. While any of the other machines in the dealership were for sale, they were going to hold onto the Super Sport. And, while Rick wasn’t exactly wealthy at the time of this experience, he says, “For the Super Sport, I would’ve sold my Kawasaki 750 H2 triple and somehow raised the rest of the money.”
For those curious about what Rick might have learned during his Ducati research, here’s some history. From the end of the Second World War until the 1960s, Ducati was famous for producing small bore, single-cylinder motorcycles — including the Scrambler and Mach 1 models. By the end of the 1960s, however, the motorcycle market was hungry for larger displacement, multi-cylinder machinery. BSA and Triumph launched their Rocket 3 and Trident 3-cylinder motorcycles in 1968, and Honda introduced its 4-cylinder CB750 in 1969.
Here’s where the story shifts to the largest Ducati that was ultimately never produced. In 1959, American-based Ducati importers Berliner Motor Corporation wanted a motorcycle that could compete with Harley-Davidson and their domination of the police and touring markets. Ducati designer Fabio Taglioni, who was hired in 1954 and developed the race-winning 98cc Gran Sport, or Marianna engine in 1955, felt confident he could design such a machine. In 1961, with financial backing from Berliner, Taglioni drew plans for an air-cooled, 90-degree L4 engine. The wide angle between the cylinders gives the engine the shape of an “L,” with the front, or lower cylinders almost horizontal, while the rear or top cylinders are in a near vertical plane.
The frame for the Apollo concept was an open-cradle duplex design with swingarm rear suspension and the engine was mounted as a stressed member. To meet police department requirements the Apollo had to be fitted with 16-inch wheels and specially designed Pirelli rubber. Ducati officially produced, likely late in 1963 or early in 1964, two running prototypes, and two spare engines. In the spring of 1964, one of the Apollo prototypes was delivered to Berliner Motor Corporation in New Jersey.
In a particularly high state of tune the Apollo’s 1,260cc L4 was said to produce 100 horsepower — but that was far too much power for the tire technology of the day. When ridden at speed the rear tire would expand to the point that it would throw tread.
This put the nail in the coffin of the Apollo. The Italian government essentially controlled Ducati at the time, and it never favored the Apollo concept and officially pulled the plug by refusing to fund the expense of tooling up for production.
From the Apollo to the 750 GT
Unfortunately, Joe Berliner had already shown the prototype Apollo to prospective U.S. police departments, and had started promoting the machine. It never became a reality, but the ill-fated Apollo helped set the stage for what came next, because Ducati really needed something larger than a 450cc single to remain competitive.
It came in the form of the 750 GT, a machine powered by a new engine designed by Taglioni. For this 750cc twin-cylinder engine, Taglioni gave it bevel gear driven overhead cams and a wide 90-degree angle between the cylinders — exactly the same as what was first seen in the abandoned 4-cylinder Apollo project.
This L-angle helps provide ideal primary balance. According to Ian Falloon in his book The Ducati 750 Bible, Taglioni said of the 90-degree arrangement, “With perfect primary balance the engine can be very smooth, with only some high frequency secondary imbalance, and with a narrow crankshaft there is virtually no rocking couple. Also, the twin can be narrow so the engine can be kept low in the frame while maintaining good ground clearance.”
Further, Taglioni explained that with plenty of air flow to the rear cylinder, keeping the engine cool wouldn’t be an issue. By late April 1970, Taglioni had produced a second drawing of his L-twin engine design, and Falloon says by July, “a prototype engine was running.”
A great design
The L-twin featured an 80mm by 74.4mm bore and stroke with cast-iron liners in alloy cylinders. These were attached to a vertically split crankcase with four studs per cylinder, with the rear cylinder located slightly to the right of the front cylinder. From the crankshaft, overhead camshafts were driven by helically cut bevel gears. Primary drive from the crank, which rolled in axial thrust type main bearings, was likewise via helically cut gears to the 5-speed transmission through a wet multiplate clutch. The crankcases included the gearbox in unit-style construction, and also had a deeply finned sump.
For the production 750 GT, Taglioni drew a new tubular steel frame incorporating several details common to Colin Seeley’s design principles, including, according to Falloon, recessed lower engine mounts and rigid rear wheel adjusters. The engine was a stressed member, with the front, or lower cylinder near horizontal and the rear or top cylinder in a vertical plane, similar to the earlier Apollo layout. Debuting at the 1971 Olympia motorcycle show in London, the 750 GT caught the public’s attention. Soon after that debut Taglioni modified a batch of 750 GT engines with desmodromic valve operation.
Taglioni did not invent the desmodromic valve concept, a system where the cylinder heads include cams to push the valves open and pull them shut. Desmo actuation was designed to avoid problems such as valve float and valve spring failure, and had been around since the early years of the 20th century.
With the desmo engines, Ducati built seven machines set up to race, and the motorcycles made their inaugural appearance on April 23, 1972, at the Imola 200. This was Ducati’s first factory race effort in many years, and the competition was stiff — for example, Giacomo Agostini on his MV Agusta, John Cooper on a factory BSA, Phil Read and Peter Williams on John Player Nortons, and Don Emde on a Norton.
Ducati approached several riders to ride in the 1972 Imola race, including Barry Sheene, but they declined. Finally, Ducati approached English racer Paul Smart. Smart admitted he knew little about Ducati, and didn’t even know where Imola — in Italy — was located. He agreed, however, to pilot one of the new factory-built desmo-engine Ducati twins, together with teammate Bruno Spaggiari.
At the start of the race, Agostini took the lead and led for the first four laps. Then he was passed by both Smart and Spaggiari, who took turns throughout the race battling for the lead. Agostini eventually had to retire from the race, and Smart and Spaggiari took Imola in first and second place, respectively. It was this sweep at Imola in the Formula 750 that really brought the machines to the world’s attention, and demand for the non-desmo 750cc Ducatis quickly outstripped supply. The factory did its best to meet their orders, and even during this rush for production, Ducati developed the 750 Sport model from the 750 GT.
Here’s where we get to the 750 Super Sport, a road-legal machine Ducati’s Fredmano Spairani promised to produce as a replica of the Imola-winning desmo. In its final form, the Super Sport closely emulates the Imola machine, and it was listed on distributor’s export price lists in early 1973 and a small number of 750 Super Sports were made from 750 Sports that year. However, Super Sport production began in earnest in January 1974. Most went to the U.S. market followed by Australia and the U.K. Eventually a total of 401 were produced, all in 1974, making it a one-year-only model.
Now highly sought-after, the Super Sport featured larger 40mm Dell’Orto carburetors, a 9.5:1 compression ratio and made 70 horsepower at 9,000rpm. With its blue frame — it’s a color closer to green, and one that provides for what has become the “green frame” moniker of the Super Sport — and silver fiberglass body panels, the machine had a claimed dry weight of 333 pounds.
Unique to the Ducati, the fiberglass gas tank has a translucent middle strip to act as a fuel level sight gauge. Carrying over the early 750 “round-case” engine construction, the Super Sports were essentially hand-built machines and were not cost effective to construct. As mentioned, only 401 of the motorcycles ever left the factory. Many of these were modified and raced, and it’s difficult to find one in essentially complete and unmolested condition.
Rick had never forgotten the Super Sport that he’d been denied in 1974 at the Ducati dealer in Madison. For years, he watched newspaper classifieds and then the internet, but never saw one for sale. What he did see was steadily rising values. In January 2020, at the Mecum auction in Las Vegas, there were four Super Sports offered for sale. He decided to act, and enlisted Brady’s help to inspect the machines on the auction floor.
“We decided on the best one of the four for me — one which was restored and restored well,” Rick says, and adds, “We won the bidding, and the bike was delivered to Brady’s shop.”
Brady says the restoration of the Super Sport was indeed very well executed. However, he felt a few details needed rectification to bring it to his, and ultimately Rick’s, standards. For example, the base green and silver paint colors were very accurate, but the highly reflective clearcoat and vinyl decals made the motorcycle look too new.
“An original green frame Super Sport actually has a toasted marshmallow look to it,” Brady says. “And that’s most apparent when seen from the back, on the tail section of the bike. That only happens on the fiberglass parts, not the steel parts.”
To make the change on Rick’s Super Sport, the panels were removed and finely sanded — not to be repainted, but re-cleared. A lightly tinted clearcoat, to replicate that “toasted marshmallow” look, was then applied to the fiberglass parts. Then, water slide decals were sourced from Germany. Retrospeed tried to apply them but found them difficult to work with, and called in a professional for help. That pro was Brady’s stepdaughter’s model-making grandfather, Dave Lindow. He had the skill and experience to apply the decals, but it wasn’t an easy task. Ultimately, the decals were placed with precision, and that brought Rick’s Super Sport another step closer to original specification.
Other changes included re-chroming the header pipes and swapping out the modern tires that were on the 18-inch rims with more period-correct Dunlop TT100s front and rear. One of the Scarab front brake calipers was hanging up, and that issue was also repaired.
“It’s a beautiful bike and it runs really nice,” Brady says. “I’ve ridden it to ensure all systems work correctly.”
Rick adds, “Although I feel like a lucky guy to be able to afford a green frame, it’s sadly ironic that I won’t be able to ride mine, something I had always hoped for. I have some health issues that won’t allow me to really ride it, but we plan on showing it.”
When shown, it will be Brady who pilots the running machine. As for Rick, he’s preparing a special room, just off of his living room, to hold three of his dream machines — the 1978 MV Agusta 750S America, a 1974 Ducati Sport and his ultimate motorcycle, the universally beautiful 1974 Super Sport. MC
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