1975 Ducati 860 GT

Angular beauty

| July/August 2011

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
MPG: 35-45mpg

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.

Jonas Jansson
2/16/2013 3:49:22 PM

Hello Yes I´ve been around for some time now so maybe I should share some moments with you. Now and then, guess I ought to. Ah, yes the Ducati 860 GTS, It still rests beside the 450 MK III D in the garage. I bought the ´76 860 new in 1977 at a discount price (it wasn´t very popular even then), and it was last used in 2009 travelling from Sweden to the I.O.M. MGP . Fabulous bike, it never stops impress me. There was always the question about how many horsepower there was, but I can´t tell. I can tell, however, that once when I was challenged by one of the pre-series sand-cast engine- Honda 750s we were absolutely on-line up to a little over 90 mph, then the jap pulled away. It was probably when horses started to count instead of torque. -But who cares, nobody wants to go that fast on public roads anyway. Lovely comfy bike the 860. If you like you can eysily skip some gears now and then. It doesn´t really matter which gear you are in. Just twist the throttle and off you go. Low speed riding is a bit odd. The front tyre has to be kept inflated HARD to be able to keeep a nice line below 30mph. Then again, who wants to go that slow (on public roads)? Then you might by an NSU Konsul. We can get to that one an other time. Jonas Jansson, Sweden

9/15/2011 10:03:28 AM

Gee, do ya think with the [optional] 2nd front disk, that wooden feel in the brake lever would go away? Do ya? ;)

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