The mid and late 60s
were the heyday of the Ducati single cylinder
bikes. The 250cc engine that powered many of these bikes could break 150 km
, which was exceptionally good performance for a single at the time. They were light, fast, and won races.
In 1968, there came a turning point in Ducati's history: the introduction of the 450 Mark 3D, the first production desmodromic motorcycle ever. Fabio Taglioni's contribution here cannot be underestimated -- the man was a brilliant engine designer, and was the heart and soul of the company.
During the the 1970s, Ducati turned from single-cylinder engines to large, more powerful v-twins, which coupled with the desmodromic valvetrain, came to be a Ducati trademark. Since they were all 90-degree twins, they are more properly referred to as "L-twins," as the front cylinder points forward, and the rear one points up, as in the letter "L." Taglioni provided Ducati with a brand-new motorcycle, the 750SS, to race at the Imola 200, where it captured first and second place on its very first race. This was no mean feat -- clearly, the bike was exceptional.
Later, legendary racer Mike Hailwood would pilot a larger version, the 900SS, to victory, in one of the most storied races of all time: the Isle of Man TT. The production bike based on Hailwood's machine remains a legendary cafe racer's motorcycle.
In 1978, Taglioni designed the motor that Ducati would come to use throughout the eighties and early nineties: the Pantah. Featuring belt-driven overhead cams as opposed to the bevel-drive cams of the previous L-twin motors, it became known as the "rubber band" engine, and Ducatisti still argue today about the virtues of the two methods. Also, in 1978, Massimo Bordi, a young engineer, was hired by Ducati. Taglioni retired in 1982.
In 1985, Ducati was bought by Cagiva, and the Castiglioni brothers took over the company. This began an era of serious research and development, an in 1988 Ducati unveiled a four-valve L-twin bike, the 851. It was designed to compete in World Superbike, and it began an era of Ducati domination. In 1990, Ducati won its first World Superbike series. In the US, Team Fast by Ferracci took the American Motorcycle Association Superbike championship under the brilliant riding of Doug Polen, who would go on to win the World Superbike series as well. Ducati owes its recent economic success almost entirely to these series wins, as race fans saw the desmodromic superbikes dominating the series and thought "Hey, I want one of those"---this is exactly how my family acquired its first Ducati, a 1992 900SS. Ducati motorcycles dominated both the AMA and World Superbike series for most of the 90s, owing partially to the rule which allowed twin cyclinder motorcycles a full liter of engine displacement, rather than the 750cc limit for the four-cylinder bikes. If you told a race fan two years ago that V-twin motorcycles would be comparable to their four-banger counterparts in terms of horsepower and weight, you would've been laughed out of the grandstand. Now, however, twins routinely beat fours in superbike racing everywhere, because Ducati proved it could be done.
Ducati was purchased in 1996 by the Texas Pacific Group, but it has continued its technological innovation under the brilliant Massimo Bordi, who was responsible for the sleek 916 as well as the stunning single-cylinder Supermono. There is nothing quite like the rumble of a desmodromic L-twin, and the company appears prepared to continue their tradition of speed, sophistication, and style.
Noteworthy models include: