Tamburini’s Dream Machine: The Ducati Paso 750

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Ducati Paso 750
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Contenders: Moto Guzzi 1000 Le Mans
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Contenders: Honda VF750F and VFR750F

Ducati Paso 750
Claimed power:
72hp @ 7,900rpm
Top speed: 131mph
Engine: 748cc air-cooled; SOHC L-twin; desmodromic valves
Weight: 420lb (dry)
Price then/now: $6,377/$2,000-$4,000

If you remember the 1980s, you probably remember Victor Kiam saying on TV he was so impressed with his Remington shaver, he bought the company. And that’s pretty much what Cagiva’s Claudio Castiglioni did. After using Ducati engines in its own bikes for three years, Cagiva acquired the Bologna bike maker in 1986, and the Paso was the first of a new generation of Ducatis to emerge from the partnership.

So just how much of the Paso was authentic Ducati? Pretty much only the engine, a 750cc version of famed Ducati engineer Dr. Taglioni’s Pantah mill, with belt-driven overhead cams and desmodromic valve operation. The rest of the bike was designed by Massimo Tamburini (the “TA” in Bimota), and owes much to that company’s DB1 model. “Paso” was the nickname of Tamburini’s friend and fellow Rimini native Renzo Pasolini, who died at Monza in 1973 after crashing in the 250cc Grand Prix race.

Tamburini took the engine from Ducati’s 750 F1 Sport, reversed the rear cylinder head and fitted it into a new cantilever frame made from square-section chrome-moly steel tubing with the engine as a stressed member. With the rear head reversed the intakes could now be paired, breathing through an automotive-style Weber DCNF dual-choke downdraft carburetor with a large air box under the gas tank. Kokusan ignition replaced Ducati’s own black box. The headers, now exiting in front and behind the engine, connected to dual mufflers via a trick diamond-shaped collector box that split the exiting exhaust evenly to both pipes.

A single Ohlins shock controlled an aluminum swingarm with eccentric adjusters at the rear. At the front, a steep-ish 25-degree rake matched to a more conservative 4.1-inch trail promised sharp handling while retaining stability. Ingenious Marzocchi 41mm anti-dive forks used one leg for compression damping and the other for rebound. The Paso ran on 16-inch Oscam wheels with dual 11-inch Brembo discs up front and a single 10-inch rear disc.

But what really made the Paso stand out was its bodywork. To set the Paso apart, Tamburini designed a swooping full-enclosure fairing with dual oil coolers mounted one on each side, with the promise that engine heat would be wafted away by the Paso’s “Controlled Air Flow.” And it worked, as period reports confirm Tamburini’s hypothesis.

The engine was in essentially the same state of tune as the 1987 F1 Sport with 10:1 compression, 41mm intake valves and 38mm exhausts. That said, more restrictive mufflers and changes to the intake tracts reduced power from 75 horsepower to a claimed 72. Helical primary gears and a dry clutch directed engine output through a five-speed transmission and finally a chain to the rear wheel.

How well did all this work? Cycle World clocked a pre-production Paso at 12.96 seconds and 102.52mph in the quarter-mile, and a flat out 131mph — a speed no doubt helped by the aerodynamic bodywork. On the track, testers praised the Paso’s handling and braking, attributing quick direction changes to the bike’s low center of gravity, 16-inch wheels and low profile Pirelli radial tires. And while tightly controlled on the track, the suspension was still comfortable on the street.

So is the Paso a good investment? Maybe, maybe not. When new, the Paso’s biggest issue turned out to be the Weber carburetor, which produced a big flat spot in the mid-range, ruining street-ability. Various fixes were tried, the best of which utilized a pair of 36mm Dell’Ortos — but that also meant discarding the air box.

The other big issue with the Paso is those 16-inch wheels. Tires to fit the rims are no longer being made, and any inventories are about exhausted. Frustrated owners have resorted to fitting 17-inch wheels from later 900SS models, but some modifications are required, so caveat emptor!

For better or for worse, the Paso 750 has become the neglected and unloved Ducati, much as once was the case with the angular 860GT. But like the 860, it may find its place in the market as prices for other 1980s Ducatis increase. MC

Contenders: Plastic fantastic rivals to the Ducati Paso 750

Moto Guzzi 1000 Le Mans
Claimed power:
81hp @ 7,400rpm/135mph
Engine: 948 8cc air-cooled OHV V-twin
Weight: 540lbs (wet)
Price now: $3,500-$5,500

Alejandro de Tomaso is often denounced for the tight financial constraints he introduced at Moto Guzzi and Benelli when he took over in 1973. But he was also responsible for prompting Guzzi into its most successful franchise: the Le Mans. Launched in 1976, the Le Mans started at 850cc in Mk1, II and III forms, each featuring changes in styling and trim, though usually adding more weight along the way.

The Le Mans 1000 (also referred to as the MkIV) arrived in 1984, with the familiar transverse 90-degree V-twin now bored to 88mm from 83mm for 948.8cc. With 10:1 compression, larger intake and exhaust valves and dual 40mm Dell’Orto pumpers, the 1000 gave an impressive quarter-mile time in the mid-12 seconds at 110mph. As on previous models, the MkIV retained Moto Guzzi’s controversial linked braking system.

The Le Mans continued to use Lino Tonti’s elegantly simple dual cradle frame, with the engine driving through the familiar Guzzi five-speed transmission and shaft drive. Its swooping bodywork and handlebar fairing echoed Guzzi’s own 650cc Lario.

Following the fashion of the time, Guzzi fitted a 16-inch front wheel to the MkIV, but an 18-inch wheel (and forks) from the MkV should be an easy replacement. The MkV, which featured uprated suspension components and revised geometry, arrived in 1988.

Honda VF750F and VFR750F
Claimed power:
86hp @ 10,000 (VF)/103hp @ 10,500rpm (VFR)
Top speed: 138mph/151mph
Engine: 748cc liquid-cooled DOHC V-4
Weight: 548lb/505lb (wet)
Price now: $2,000-$4,000

When Honda’s range of liquid-cooled DOHC V4s came to market in 1982, the street standard bikes used a cam chain, while the sportier models, like the VF750F Interceptor — intended as the basis for a Superbike racer — used gear-driven cams. Severe valve train wear quickly became a major issue on most of the V-4s, with tensioner problems plaguing the cam chain bikes. Honda’s second generation VFR750F arrived in 1986, intending to clean the slate.

While the earlier Interceptor used a steel tube cradle frame, the VFR housed its engine between two aluminum frame spars. In both cases, the engine was a 90-degree V-4 with 70mm pistons running in iron sleeves on a 48.6mm stroke crank. Keihin carbs were 30mm on the VF and 34mm on the VFR. All Interceptors up to 1987 ran on 18-inch rear and 16-inch front wheels.
The VFR also featured a completely revised valve train with gear-driven cams, a 180-degree crankshaft replacing the VF’s 360-degree item, and six gears instead of five. Output went from 86 to 103 horsepower.

Although born out of Honda’s V4 fiasco of the early 1980s, the VFR750 went on to become the gold standard of sport-touring motorcycles, taking Cycle World‘s “Best in Class” award six years in a row.

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