30-Year Wonder: 1987 Ducati 851S

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Photo courtesy Alan Cathcart archives
The 1987 Ducati 851S.

1987 Ducati 851S KIT
Engine: 851cc liquid-cooled 90-degree DOHC V-twin, 92mm x 64mm bore and stroke, 10.6:1 compression ratio, 119hp @ 10,000 rpm
Top Speed: 155mph
Weight (dry): 417lb (190kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 4.6 (17.4ltr)
Price then/now: $20,995/$16,000-$40,000

2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the debut of the legendary Ducati desmoquattro V-twins, yet it would have been hard to envisage at the start of the 1980s that a decade later Ducati would end up defeating both Honda and Yamaha to win the World Superbike Championship with a twin-cylinder racer. 

By 1983 the Italian company was at a low ebb, with fewer than 3,000 bikes a year trickling out of its Bologna factory, having passed in 1978 into the hands of the VM Group, a state-subsidized manufacturer of industrial engines. Motorcycles were a low priority for VM, and with worldwide bike sales crumbling, Ducati’s future looked bleak. But in 1985, with the marque literally days away from being consigned to the scrap heap of history, a deal was struck with the late Claudio Castiglioni and his brother Gianfranco, owners of the flourishing Cagiva factory, to acquire Ducati. As this coincided with the retirement of Fabio Taglioni, and his replacement as the company’s chief engineer by his understudy Massimo Bordi, this was a significant event in Ducati’s history. 

With the energy and flair that had driven them to make such a success of Cagiva, the Castiglionis transformed Ducati’s model range, manufacturing facilities, PR image and racing fortunes. Determined to create a new generation of desmo V-twins, they commissioned Bordi to produce a new engine. While still retaining the firm’s trademark desmodromic 90-degree V-twin format, Bordi’s desmoquattro was the first-ever Ducati engine employing liquid cooling, electronic fuel injection, and more than two valves per cylinder. Its four-valve desmo cylinder heads, each with eight rockers and belt-driven twin overhead camshafts, turned the page in Ducati’s technical development.

Order the November/December 2017 issue of Motorcycle Classics to read more about the 1987 Ducati 851S. Contact Customer Service at (800) 880-7567 or contact us by email

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