1981 Ducati Pantah 500SL

Darmah Dave and his 1981 Ducati Pantah 500SL.

| March/April 2015

  • 1980 Ducati Pantah 500SL
    Photo by Jody Spychalla
  • 1980 Ducati Pantah 500SL
    Photo by Jody Spychalla
  • 1980 Ducati Pantah 500SL
    Photo by Jody Spychalla
  • The original seat is supple and still surprisingly comfortable today.
    Photo by Jody Spychalla
  • 1980 Ducati Pantah 500SL
    Photo by Jody Spychalla
  • 1980 Ducati Pantah 500SL
    Photo by Jody Spychalla
  • The belt-drive 499cc V-twin is just 14.8-inches wide and makes 45 horsepower at 9,050rpm, but little happens under 5,000rpm.
    Photo by Jody Spychalla
  • The belt-drive 499cc V-twin is just 14.8-inches wide and makes 45 horsepower at 9,050rpm, but little happens under 5,000rpm.
    Photo by Jody Spychalla
  • The stability of the 500SL is obvious on the first ride down a pockmarked road.
    Photo by Jody Spychalla
  • Owner Dave Eulberg has carefully revived his 500SL back to as close to original condition as possible.
    Photo by Jody Spychalla

1981 Ducati Pantah 500SL
Claimed power: 45hp @ 9,050rpm
Top speed: 115mph
Engine: 499cc air-cooled SOHC 90-degree V-twin, 74mm x 58mm bore and stroke, 9.5:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet): 433lb (197kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 5gal (19ltr)/40-50mpg
Price then/now: $4,549/$2,000-$5,000

You only get one first love, and no one’s counting after that. But if you remember your first, you’ll never know which one’s your last. Best to keep a restless heart, and be fickle with devotions, especially with old bikes.

“Darmah” Dave Eulberg’s love affair with 1970s-era Ducatis happened the way it often does. From a bored 15-year-old dirt-biking on a Montana farm, bikes became a flourishing addiction in progress. From Honda CB350 rebuilds in his parents’ basement, Dave became a Honda dealer technician whose eyes were drawn to the Superhawks and Hawk GTs he’d work on. Forsaking reliability and embracing a problem-solving nature, he purchased his first English bike, a 1977 Triumph Bonneville. And if you can love old English iron, you’ve got an inside track to an unhealthy obsession with vintage Italian twins. Enter the less glamorous Ducatis of the 1970s.

Though Dave’s first Ducati was a 1978 SD900 Darmah, his hunt for a second Ducati began as an interest in vintage racing took hold. After a track day on the Darmah, Dave realized he’d better start looking for a Ducati that was more suited to racing. Unable and unwilling to shell out ransom-like amounts for a 750GT or 900SS, Dave settled on the lesser-known Pantah. But trying to secure a Pantah means lots of searching and little finding.



Beyond scanning Craigslist or eBay, leads came from a well-cultivated network of fellow riders and old acquaintances. After a few months of pounding the pavement, Dave’s search finally paid off. He found his Pantah in Tennessee in the fall of 2013. He brought it home to Illinois on a December day during the worst Midwestern winter in a generation. He was pleased to find it nearly mint aesthetically, but in need of work to make it roadworthy. Having been part of a collection, the Pantah had sat for a number of years. “Cryogenically stored” in Dave’s garden shed, it would sit for another month and a half before a light recommissioning could begin. Though he didn’t anticipate finding an almost 100 percent period-correct example, it was the only one for sale at the time. Understanding the value of the bike he’d found, Dave decided to stay on the lookout for a less pristine example to race.

From the beginning

How Dave’s Pantah came to be is almost as interesting as how the bike itself came into existence. The Pantah is best understood as a collection of firsts for Ducati. Almost everything about the Pantah had shown up on previous Ducatis, just not together in one package. Ducati’s innovations and ingenious designs in the 1970s were paired with poor sales figures and even worse marketing decisions. The Pantah was born from improbable triumph and colossal failure.



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