White Elephant

After years of longing, Editor Backus pulls the trigger on another Italian project.

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by Richard Backus
Marketplace flop or not, the Ducati Paso has undeniable presence.

Ten years or so ago, as part of a panel discussing the future of vintage motorcycle collecting, the question of The Next Big Collectible was raised. My vote? The unloved and much maligned Ducati Paso. My esteemed panelist partners — including Ducati restoration specialist Rich Lambrechts, who would later craft a perfect replica of Old Blue, the Ducati Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling rode to victory at Daytona in March 1977 — looked at me blankly. The Paso? Ten years or so later, I’ve been proven … wrong.

Introduced in 1986 by new Ducati owner Cagiva, the Paso was the Castiglioni brothers’ bid to launch Ducati into the modern era and, it was hoped, challenge the ever-ascendent Japanese. Designed by Bimota co-founder Massimo Tamburini, it was revolutionary, its fully enveloping bodywork hiding a square-section tube frame carrying famed Ducati engineer Fabio Taglioni’s belt-driven, overhead cam desmodromic twin.

Contemporary reviewers praised the Paso, Italian tester Bruno de Prato calling it “the very best ever” Ducati, and the editors of U.K.’s Performance Bikes opining that “after years of pulling dinosaurs out of the corporate hat, they’ve [Ducati] suddenly produced a very sleek, very agile and very beautiful rabbit.” In the U.S., Cycle Guide called it “the first of a new breed of Italian sporters … to combine beauty with brains,” and Cycle World said the Paso was “destined to be one of sportbiking’s most exciting performers in a long time.”

So where did it all go wrong? A hint came in Cycle’s May 1987 review, which noted a “glitch” in the performance of the two-barrel, down-draft Weber carb. “We hope Cagiva can correct the carburetor problem and deliver to us Tamborini’s masterpiece full measure, because this most extraordinary motorcycle deserves a flawless canvas.” A further hint came in the very word used by Cycle, “canvas.” Tamborini’s Controlled Air Flow concept might have been cutting edge, but out in the real market it was seen as quirky and awkward. Combined with increasing issues with the Weber carb, the Paso quickly gained a reputation as being unreliable and unrideable. And while the Paso was improved over time, ultimately gaining a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engine, it never achieved the marketplace influence Cagiva envisioned.

According to motorcycle historian and author Ian Falloon, a paltry 4,863 first-generation Paso 750s rolled out of the Borgo Panigale factory, with about half of those coming to the U.S. That makes the one I recently bought — a 1988 Limited Edition, one of only 50 white versions imported to the U.S. — a decidedly rare beast. But that doesn’t make it valuable. Prices haven’t moved in years, generally hovering around $3,500 — or less — for well-kept bikes.

At the 2019 Motorcycle Classics Pennsylvania ride, a Paso-owning attendee invited me to throw a leg over his 1988 Limited — also white — my first time to ride the bike I’d lusted after for years. While other’s lament the Paso’s looks, I’ve loved the design since I first laid eyes on one in 1988, and the riding experience did not disappoint. Light, flickable, and endowed with great tractability from the desmo twin, it was a delight, and everything I’d expected.

Enter reader Graham Dallas. After reading my impressions riding the Paso following the 2019 event, Graham sent me a note letting me know he was interested in selling his 1988 Limited. Acquired in a trade, the bike had a bare 7,029 miles on it and had been sitting in Graham’s garage, unridden, since 2003. The price was in line, but tempted as I was, I already had too many projects in front of me, so reluctantly I passed.

Six months later, Graham contacted me again. The Paso needed to go and he wanted me to have it, so to further tempt me he dropped the price substantially. It was a good gamble on Graham’s part, because two months later the Paso was sitting in my garage. Importantly, the bodywork is almost perfect, and the bike’s overall condition suggests a bright future. A set of Mikunis already sit in place of the troublesome Weber, which came with the bike should I ever get a hankering to make it stock. Surprisingly, the hydraulics all work (no doubt they’ll benefit from rebuilding), but it will need new cam belts before I even think about starting it. As it turns out, I’m glad my rosy prediction for the Paso was wrong, because otherwise I’d never have been able to afford one. Ride safe.

— Richard Backus/Founding Editor

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