The Ducati Indiana

Under the Radar

  • ducati indiana
    Looking like an Italian Virago, the Ducati Indiana was surprisingly quick but poor handling.
  • yamaha virago
    The Yamaha Virago XV700.
  • honda shadow
    The Honda Shadow VT700C.

  • ducati indiana
  • yamaha virago
  • honda shadow

Ducati Indiana
Years produced:
Claimed power: 53hp (claimed), 43hp (period test)
Top speed: 121mph (period test)
Engine type: 649cc air-cooled SOHC 90-degree V-twin
Transmission: 5-speed
Weight: 453lb (wet)
MPG: 40-45 (avg.)
Price then: $4,295
Price now: $1,000-$3,000

If Claudio Castiglioni had known what Erik Buell was up to in 1986 (and vice versa), the outcome of this story might have been quite different. While Buell was trying to build a sportbike around a cruiser engine, the Italian entrepreneur planned to break into the American market with a cruiser built around a sportbike engine. The latter experiment, though unsuccessful in the marketplace, produced a fascinating and well-executed motorcycle that could easily out-drag its competition while cutting a dash in the glamour stakes with its European flair.

Italian connections

In spite of the name on the gas tank, the Ducati Indiana was not, in fact, built by Ducati, but by Cagiva. Founded in Varese, Italy, in 1950 by Giovanni Castiglioni, the Cagiva (CAstiglioni-GIovanni-VArese) company made its money in electronics; but in 1978 and under the direction of Giovanni’s two sons, Claudio and Gianfranco, the company started producing motorcycles, buying the remains of the old Aermacchi factory from Harley-Davidson.

Why the Ducati engine? Most likely, because it was there. By 1982, Ducati’s then-government-backed owners had lost interest in building motorcycles. The company’s flagship models — the bevel-drive Ducati 900SS, Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica and Ducati Darmah — were unprofitable because the engines were expensive and time-consuming to build. It seems staggering in retrospect, but the company planned to pull the plug on Ducati motorcycle production completely. At the same time, though, Ducati did agree to supply belt-drive SOHC desmo Pantah engines to other bike makers, including Cagiva.

The Pantah engine owes its origins to two earlier racing engines: a 1970 Fabio Taglioni-designed (bevel-drive) SOHC 500cc GP race motor and a 4-valve (belt-drive) DOHC 500cc V-twin designed for Ducati by Renato Amaroli under Taglioni’s supervision. Taglioni then blended both engines into a proposal for a 500cc V-twin with belt-drive single overhead cams and desmo valve operation.

Ducati management had already decided to develop a 500cc parallel twin, but the development was not going well. The story goes that when the parallel twin was finally abandoned and management came to Taglioni for help, he simply smiled and produced the completed drawings for the Pantah engine from his desk drawer. As a result, Ducati produced 500, 600 and 650cc Pantahs in a range of specifications between 1979 and 1985.

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