1977 Ducati 900SS
Engine: 863.9cc air-cooled OHC desmodromic 90-degree V-twin, 86mm x 74.4mm bore and stroke, 9.5:1 compression ratio, 80hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed: 143mph
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Fuel capacity/MPG: 4.75gal (18ltr)/25-40mpg
Price then/now: $3,600 (approx.)/$30,000-$50,000
This is not your average Ducati tale. Almost unbelievable, it’s a story with horror movie elements along with a whiff of romantic comedy.
Matt Linex isn’t sure which genre this tale best suits. The one thing the college student from Denton, Texas, does know is this — it’s the tale of a rare 1977 Ducati 900 Super Sport that positively changed his life.
Setting the stage
In 2012, about a week before Halloween, Matt’s cousin invited him and a friend to a pasture party in South Arlington, Texas. After getting off the highway and navigating some back roads, the pair eventually traversed a bumpy and rutted trail. It was dark, muddy and overgrown. Branches were brushing the sides of his Jeep, and a rusted “No Trespassing” sign hanging from a tree was flapping in the wind. Matt wasn’t comfortable. It didn’t get any better when he saw the party was happening in a derelict-looking trailer house.
“I said, ‘I ain’t having any of this,’ and started to turn around to get out,” Matt explains, adding, “That’s when the headlights of the Jeep caught a flash of chrome hidden in the weeds.”
Overcoming his nervousness about what he thought was a sketchy situation, Matt got out of his Jeep and walked to where he’d seen the chrome — just inside a half fallen down wooden barn. He pulled aside the weeds to find an old Honda CB350, and behind that was a Norton and a bunch of Chevy Corvairs. Nearby, but fully exposed to the elements, Matt found a 1977 Ducati 900SS.
“At that point I’m ready to join the party, and we went and found the owner of the land, who turned out to be a kid about 22 years old,” Matt says. “We learned his dad, who was a motorcycle racer at one time, had died and left everything to him. I asked if the motorcycles were for sale, and he said, ‘Everything’s for sale.’” Armed with flashlights, they all went to look at the motorcycles.
“I knew the Ducati was special, but didn’t know exactly what it was — I had never seen one before,” Matt says. “I pretended to be mostly interested in the Honda and Norton, but asked what he wanted for all three machines. He said he’d sell them all for $1,500. I only had $1,000, but I also had the first rifle I’d ever bought to offer as a trade, and he agreed to that.”
After the cash and gun were exchanged for titles, Matt removed the Ducati first. The bike had been sitting, unused and uncovered, since the late 1970s. There were just over 2,000 miles on the odometer, so it was most likely parked due to a mechanical issue. The brakes were seized and the chain was rusted solid. It took him six hours of sweaty labor to get the 900SS onto his trailer. Matt took another trip to pick up the Honda, which he sold, and the Norton, which went to his uncle. With the bikes off the land and passed along, Matt settled in to research the Ducati.
“I couldn’t find a lot of information, so I phoned Ducati of Dallas,” Matt says. “I told them I had a 900SS and they laughed and hung up the phone — seriously. I called back and asked to speak to a manager, and when I told him the story again he said, ‘If you really have this bike, bring it to the shop and we’ll take a look.’ I only wanted confirmation that what I had was something special.”
Matt says when he pulled up to the shop the entire staff came outside for a look. Nobody was laughing.
Ducati Super Sports are some of the most sought-after motorcycles the Italian manufacturer has produced. In 1972, Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari made a 1-2 sweep at the first Imola 200 race aboard 750cc desmodromic V-twins designed by Ducati’s famous Fabio Taglioni and based on the production 750GT introduced in 1971. Shortly after, Ducati set out to build a race-replica version that would be known as the Super Sport.
The street-legal desmo twin took some time to materialize. “Although a handful of Super Sports were produced out of 750 Sports during 1973, the 750 Super Sport wasn’t generally available until 1974,” writes motorcycle historian and Ducati expert Ian Falloon in his book the Standard Catalog of Ducati Motorcycles. “At the time it was one of the most exotic production motorcycles available, a true race replica boasting triple disc brakes, racing fairing, and a race-shop prepared engine.”
It was also in 1974 that Ducati launched its little-loved 860GT series, machines that emphasized new, angular styling and a revised engine that was less costly to build. The 860GTs did not receive critical acclaim, so Ducati built another limited run of Super Sports for 1975 in both 750cc and 900cc variations. The engine for both models was based on the “square-case” engine (so named for its squared-off engine cases versus the earlier rounded ones) found in the new 860GT, and was fitted into what was basically the 750SS chassis of 1974 with fiberglass tank, fairing and tail section. These machines were “race replicas,” with no electric start or provision for signal lights. They were also right-foot shift, a drawback as recently adopted U.S. legislation required all new production motorcycles to have left-foot gearshift mechanisms.
Berliner Motor Corp., Ducati’s American importer, requested that the 750SS and 900SS enter regular production for 1976. This necessitated “upgrades” including a toned-down intake and exhaust, with smaller carbs fitted with air filters and Lafranconi mufflers instead of Contis. Also, the gearshift lever migrated to the left side of the bike and operated through a crossover linkage, and a 4.75-gallon steel tank from a 750 Sport replaced the fiberglass Imola tank. Signal lights helped complete the specifications.
Although something of a compromise from its earlier versions, Falloon says, “The 1976 and 1977 Super Sport re-established Ducati as a premier manufacturer of sporting motorcycles, and maintained its reputation for outstanding handling and braking.” Ducati produced the 750SS until 1979 and the 900SS until 1982. Only 137 examples of the 1977 900SS came to the U.S., making it a very rare motorcycle, indeed.
Back in Texas
Matt picks up the story again. “Ducati of Dallas originally sold the 900SS I’d found in 1977, and apparently they’d gone searching for the bike in the late 1980s or early 1990s to try and buy it back,” Matt says. “When I showed up with it, they were making me cash offers, but I said, ‘No, thank you.’ I wanted to wait.”
Matt put the Ducati in his parents’ garage, but after a few months his mom grew less tolerant of the rusty old motorcycle taking up space. That’s when he decided that if he could sell the Ducati for a good profit, he’d let it go. So, to test the waters, he put it on Craigslist for $18,000.
This is where Italian motorcycle enthusiast and restaurateur Eric Kurtev of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, enters the story. Always on the hunt for rare and interesting models, Eric checks Craigslist and other sites at least twice a day, and that’s how he came across Matt’s listing. The two connected via telephone, and Matt described the Ducati as best he could, and sent photos to Eric. As it turns out, Eric is a friend of Ian Falloon, and Falloon weighed in on the derelict 900SS.
“I forwarded the photos to Ian,” Eric says, and adds, “He said all the correct pieces were on the bike, including the wheels and shocks, and the engine number matched the frame. The most important part was the engine bottom end had never been apart, because from the factory Ducati installed a wire between two engine bolts and secured it with a lead seal — that wire and seal were still there.”
Eric agreed to pay $15,000, and without any deposit or other assurance Matt rented a U-Haul trailer, loaded the Ducati and began the 1,100-mile drive to Wisconsin to deliver the machine and pick up his cash. “I was terrified someone would steal the bike, so I stopped only once and slept for an hour,” Matt says. Once in Wisconsin, Matt dropped the Ducati off with Brady Ingelse at Retrospeed, whom Eric had already contacted about restoring the bike, then linked up with Eric to complete the deal. “This was one of the craziest things I’ve ever done,” Matt says, “but for all the worry, it did turn out okay.”
This is where the romantic side of the story happens. Matt was rushing the 16-hour drive back to Texas to see his girlfriend, Andrea, and take her to a Pearl Jam concert. “I loved her, and drove straight back home to see her and take her to see Pearl Jam. Selling that Ducati also allowed me to be able to afford traveling around with her. We went to Vegas, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. I was incredibly happy during that time. It was all thanks to that Ducati. It gave me financial freedom, a chance to repay debts and travel.”
Back to the Ducati, which now sat at Retrospeed in Belgium, Wisconsin, waiting to be restored. Falloon’s advice to Eric was to leave the patina and mechanically restore the 900SS. But when Brady met with Eric to discuss options, he said they felt the Ducati was too rough and required a complete restoration. Brady started by breaking apart the 900SS, and he says the amount of corrosion on both aluminum and steel components was “intense.” To rescue the alloy, Brady worked through multiple stages of media blasting to bring up a uniform surface, then Evan Steger at Evan’s Detailing and Polishing brought everything up to a fine luster.
Scott Moore of Fast-Finish Painting in Alabama sourced the correct colors for the 900SS and sprayed the frame the unique shade of Ducati silver. That’s when Eric flew Ian Falloon in to give some critical advice in the restoration process. “He said keep it 100-percent stock, that there’s no place for aftermarket parts on such a bike, and that whatever we did, do not over-restore the Ducati,” Brady recalls.
An example of over-restoration would have been to fit stainless steel spokes and nipples to the wheels. But that’s not how Ducati built them, so all of the new spokes Brady ordered had to be individually painted the same silver color as the frame. Scott applied every bit of paint on the 900SS, from the frame to the gas tank, fairing, side panels and spokes. The nickel-plated nipples were stripped back to steel and then clear zinc-plated before being laced into the restored hubs and rims. Fresh bearings went into the neck and hubs, and small parts including some fasteners were scavenged from a donor Ducati 900GTS.
“It’s amazing how many part numbers are the same between the two bikes, and a wrecked GTS can be had for about $3,000,” Brady says.
Luckily, although the top end of the 900SS’ engine was seized, the bottom end had been full of oil and the crankshaft and lower connecting rod tolerances were fine. This was important, because for the purpose of authenticity, Brady didn’t want to disturb the original Ducati wire and lead seal. The cylinders were sent out to be bored to the next serviceable oversize, and new pistons and rings were installed. The heads were treated to freshly cut three-angle seats and new valves, work done in-house at Retrospeed.
Brady sourced new rubber components, a seat cover and windshield for the fairing, and over a period of two years the 900SS came back together.
“It was a really rough core for a rebuild, and if it had been any other bike than a 900SS that a customer brought to us, I’d tell them to find a better candidate for restoration,” Brady says.
Eric now has a no-expense spared Ducati 900SS in his collection, and for his part, Matt dreams of some day buying the bike back.
“That rusted, dilapidated, neglected motorcycle gave me freedom, romance and a great story to tell,” Matt says. “It will forever be a part of my life, and buying it back is about No. 9 on my bucket list.” MC