When people think ’70s superbikes, they usually conjure up images of Japanese machines like the Kawasaki Z1 900, or the Honda CB750 K-series. Thanks to a winning combination of power and reliability, these machines basically took over the market. However, there was one thing those early Japanese machines hadn’t quite figured out: Many of them had crap handling.
So what was a rider to do, if they wanted power and maneuverability? The answer was, look to Europe for something like this 1974 Ducati 750GT.
When Ducati brought the 750GT to market in 1971, it was a significant moment in the company’s history. This was Ducati’s first 90-degree L-twin engine. That configuration came to define the company for the next 40 years, and even though Ducati’s flashiest machines sport V4 engines now, there are still several L-twins in the lineup.
The air-cooled SOHC 748 cc engine was supposedly inspired by Ducati racing engines. The L-twin used the company’s famous (infamous?) bevel drive for the camshafts (although some production racers were converted to desmodromic top ends). It came with vertically-split cases, unit construction engine, wet clutch and a five-speed gearbox. The new Duc made about 60 horsepower at 8,000 rpm. That’s less than Honda’s CB750 (which made roughly 67 horsepower) but more than BMW’s R75/5 (which made about 50 horsepower). The Norton Commando would have been a close competitor in that era; some Commando models made slightly less horsepower, while Norton’s Combat engine made a little bit more. Suffice to say, Ducati was basically in the middle of all its competition. Not bad, considering it was really just recycled tech, combining two of the company’s 350 singles to run off the same crank.
The 750 L-twin has a kickstarter, standard for that era, and gearshift on the right side of the engine, a common feature on Euro machines (with one up, four down shift pattern). Ducati made very, very few electric-start models (less than 1,000); supposedly, many of those were later converted to kickstart-only. The bike for sale here is kickstart-only, it appears. This seems to have been a sticking point for GT owners, as Ducati’s in-house historians even mention the lack of electric boot as a problem for the machine.
As was common with Euro machines (and still is), Ducati outsourced plenty of parts, with Amal providing the carburetors on early models (this bike has Dell’Ortos, as one reader noted below—recently tuned, the seller says).
The 750GT’s engine was a stressed member of the chassis, and the L-twin design meant the rear cylinder still received plenty of airflow. It might have looked ungainly when compared to a Brit parallel twin, but it worked, and was a very narrow package. All together, it was very clever stuff for the early ’70s.
While some of the competition still went with stodgy drum brakes up front (cough cough, BMW), the GT had a single disc. Note that this owner has a dual-disc Brembo setup on the front of this machine. Supposedly, these machines would reach 200 km/h, so having the extra stopper would be re-assuring. Even in stock configuration, the single disc would no doubt have been preferable to the dual drum setup on some competitors’ machines.
The GT came with a drum brake in rear, and that’s how this machine is set up.
Being a vintage Italian bike, you’d suspect this machine would have dodgy electronics. Some owners might believe the GT was reliable enough, but the seller here says the bike was “rewired using modern components, though the indicators are not wired and do not function.” Alas, there’s always a catch. Sounds like the electronics shouldn’t be too difficult to sort out, though, especially with a Dyna electronic ignition fitted. No points, no problems (maybe).
The GT came with spoked wheels, like other era superbikes. This owner has converted the rear to an aluminum 18-inch Borrani rim; up front, there’s an 18-inch Akront rim, with 110/90 and 100/90 Avon RoadRider rubber. In recent years, some companies have developed new tire designs to help older bikes like this handle better, but don’t expect the sticking power of a modern racing slick.
Still, with a reasonably low weight (dry weight 185 kilos, wet weight around 200 kilos), this bike was much fun to ride in the early 1970s, and still a hoot today. This bike’s handling might be even better thanks to a set of aftermarket shocks (sounds like the original Marzocchi forks are still on the bike, though).
A bargain classic bike?
Ducati built the 750GT from 1971 to 1974, before moving to the 860 engine. This ’74 machine should be almost identical to the ’71, with the main differences being the aftermarket add-ons. That paint doesn’t appear to be original either. No doubt a fussy Ducati purist would tip their nose in the air and sneer at this bike.
And yet—this appears to be a very rideable classic machine, one of the most significant in Ducati’s history, with 16,000 miles on the odometer. There’s a beat-up muffler on the right side, and probably other issues to sort out, but at time of writing, it’s sitting at $2,000 on Bring a Trailer’s auction site. Will it stay there? Probably not, but the BaT crowd doesn’t seem anxious to bid this to the stratosphere, at least not yet. This might be your chance to buy a vintage bike that you don’t feel bad about riding, instead of garaging it as a “collector.” (Edit: A day later, and it’s already up to $5,000. Sigh. Good for the seller, not for average enthusiasts though).
Photos: Bring a Trailer