The Paso Puzzle

Read about one of the more controversial models in Ducati’s history, the 988 Ducati 750 Paso.

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Mikuni carbs

The 1988 Ducati 750 Paso I picked up last year is close to being road worthy, and getting it there has provided an interesting education about one of the more controversial models in Ducati’s history.

Penned by Massimo Tamburini, the plastic wrapped Paso was a radical styling departure for Ducati — and a marketplace flop. Excepting the failed 350cc and 500cc parallel twins of the late ’70s, the Paso is probably the most shunned Ducati ever made.

I was smitten by Tamburini’s Controlled Air Flow concept when it was unveiled in 1985, and I still am. From its massive rectangular headlight to its trend-setting 16-inch tires, everything about the Paso screams 1980s, apparently part of the appeal for me.

Yet as a collectible proposition the Paso occupies an odd no-man’s ground. Unlike almost every other vintage Ducati, prices have not only stayed flat, they may have actually gone down. And this in a post-COVID environment where vintage bikes and cars appear to be exploding in value, often with no apparent logic. Recently, someone on paid $23,000 for a 1974 Norton 850 Commando. No offense to seller or buyer, but while it was a nice bike with apparently strong sentimental value, it wasn’t necessarily any better than dozens of other Commandos I’ve seen and ridden, and it was kitted out with lots of non-stock hardware that normally would have the anoraks falling over themselves screaming “heresy!”

A closeup of motorcycle parts

And Paso prices? The same week that Commando sold I found a nice, correct, clearly loved albeit high-mileage (54k) one-owner ’88 Paso for $1,200. A few weeks earlier a low-mileage (8,500) ’87 needing a little love but in full operational condition and with all the correct bits on it sold for $2,000. Those “bits” matter, because much of the Paso’s hardware is unique to the model, a fact hardened by the Paso’s low production numbers. On the flip side, the Paso shares major components like brake hydraulics and engine parts with other models of the same era, easing the pain of recommissioning.

Save for aftermarket mufflers and a pair of Mikuni flat-slide carburetors swapped in for the stock and notoriously problematic Weber two-barrel carb, my Paso is original. Initially, I figured I’d get it running and use it as is, but as I’ve gotten more familiar with my specific bike and the model in general, I’ve found myself working to return it to stock.

The story of the Weber’s woes is well known and has put off would-be buyers for decades, but what’s less known is that Paso enthusiasts long ago figured out how to slay the Weber’s demons. My Paso came with its original Weber carb setup, and armed with the hard-won knowledge gained by a small but faithful cadre of Paso lovers, I’m well on my way to getting my Paso back on the road very much as it left the factory in 1988.

When I got the Paso, it hadn’t run since 2003. Owner #1 was a hot-rodder who only avoided completely trashing the bike in the short 1,700 miles he owned it because he broke second gear. Owner #2 was a wrench at the local motorcycle shop where it came in for trade after Owner #1 broke said second gear. And while #2 also liked the fast life, he was quite a bit kinder to the Paso, updating the exhaust and hanging on the afore-mentioned Mikunis during his ownership. When kids came along he parked the Paso, with just over 7,000 miles on the odometer, and it eventually found its way to me, thanks to reader Graham Dallas. I’ve had some fun phone calls with Owner #2, who’s regaled me with memories of hard, fast rides throughout the Northeast, and he’s glad to know someone is returning his old Ducati back to running shape.

And run it does, in fact taking surprisingly little to coax to life. A new battery, a set of cam belts, new spark plugs, a carb clean, fresh oil, and a valve lash check (thankfully all in perfect spec) had it running. I’ve replaced the fork seals and both brake master cylinders, and after a thorough flush the clutch hydraulics still work perfectly. Fortunately, the once hard-to-source 16-inch tires are available again. New tires were simply unobtanium for at least a decade, further eroding interest in Pasos, even though later 907ie models switched to more common 17-inch wheels.
One of the most interesting machines to ever leave the Borgo Panigale factory, it’ll be interesting to discover what it really means to own a Paso once it’s on the road. Ride Safe.

— Richard Backus/Founding Editor

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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