1974 Ducati GT750, Incredible Machine !

I really shouldn’t have been surprised at just how good this Ducati GT750 was. After all, as a teenager in the 1970s I’d admired and lusted after those big Bolognese V-twins; read about them and dreamed about them, while riding around on a succession of much cheaper and less glamorous Japanese and British machines.

Since then I’ve been lucky enough to ride numerous classic Ducatis, and not one has been a disappointment. But the brilliance of the GT750 – the first of the Ducati V-twin line – still came as a surprise. Simply looking around this immaculate bevel-drive twin was a treat; admiring its stylish orange-and-black paintwork, its period badges, and the lines of that big air-cooled engine with its cooling fins going off in all directions and its attractive, rounded alloy crankcases. Sitting astride the firmly padded seat and firing up the motor with a lazy kick to send the slender Conti pipes barking out their uniquely tuneful sound...

But after finally riding away on what, after all, was the first and least powerful of the twins, I was stunned to discover that it was not just respectably rapid but torquey, stable, bursting with character and most of all wonderfully enjoyable to ride. Perhaps my sense of surprise at how good the Ducati GT750 was came because such is the reputation of more famous models such as the 750 Sport, 750SS, 900SS and others that followed it, I’d subconsciously assumed that the basic 748cc V-twin that began the line was relatively ordinary. It was overshadowed by the more glamorous sports models, and presumably had some teething problems or at least some minor design flaws that made it less than desirable all these years later?

But nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, the Ducati GT750 with which Ducati’s design genius Fabio Taglioni introduced the V-twin line was not just a bold and innovative high-performance machine when introduced in 1971, it was also remarkably capable and well-sorted right from the word go. Apart from paint colour and a few relatively minor mods there was no difference between this late-model GT, which was built in 1974, and the first machines off the Bologna production line in 1971.

Winning Performance

Fabio Taglioni

For a relatively small and financially struggling company such as Ducati to get things so right in the early 1970s was an impressive achievement. And a hugely significant one, too. It could be argued that, of all the hundreds of models that Ducati has produced since the marque began bike production in the mid-1940s, the model that started the V-twin line is the most important of all. As well as launching Ducati’s superbike range in such style, and leading to so many other great roadsters, the Ducati GT750 was also the basis of vital racing success, most notably with Paul Smart’s famous Imola 200 victory in 1972.

Ducati GT750 was very much the work of Taglioni, who had joined Ducati from Mondial in 1954 in the all-powerful post of chief designer and technical director, at the age of just 34. As an engineering student at Bologna university six years earlier he had produced a design for a 250cc, 90º V4 with cylinders running in line of the bike. At Ducati in the early 1960s, after revitalising the company with successful singles including the legendary 100cc Gran Sport, he adapted this V4 layout to create the mighty Apollo, which never reached production largely because its 1260cc engine was too powerful for contemporary tyres to handle.

Ducati had long been aiming to produce a twin, but not with cylinders in a Vee. The firm had raced parallel twins in the 1950s, and in the mid-1960s developed a succession of larger engined parallel twins, with the aim of creating a roadster to compete with dominant British models. But although a 500cc twin was displayed at the Daytona Show in the US in March 1965, neither that bike nor the 700cc prototype that followed two years later reached production. Meanwhile Honda launched the CB450 twin, whose arrival helped ensure that an improved 500cc Ducati parallel twin was met with little enthusiasm by the Italian firm’s dealers in the vital US market. The project was abandoned.

By this time Ducati was in financial trouble, and in 1969 the firm was taken over by the Italian government. Honda had recently introduced the CB750 Four, and fortunately Ducati’s new management team not only saw the need for a 750cc model, but also realised that it needed to be something special rather than another parallel twin. Taglioni, whose stated design aim was "simplicity, carried out to its ultimate extreme", adapted his earlier V4 layout to create a V-twin, or more accurately an L-twin, that was essentially two 350cc singles on a common crankcase.

Ducati worked fast. Taglioni’s design was finished by March 1970, the first engine was being tested four months later, and it was so impressive and trouble-free that by September a complete bike was ready to be unveiled to the press. By June 1971 it was in production: called the Ducati GT750 (also often referred to as the 750GT), and incorporating a few changes from that prototype, including flat bars instead of clip-ons, a 280mm Lockheed single front brake disc instead of a Fontana drum, 30 mm Amal Concentric carbs instead of Dell’Ortos, and a reshaped tank and seat unit.

As well as being distinctive, the engine layout had obvious advantages of small frontal area and low centre of gravity. The 90º Vee angle gave perfect primary balance, while Taglioni’s decision to raise the front cylinder by 15º from horizontal allowed good cooling to both pots while also helping exhaust routing and ground clearance. The effect of the L-motor’s inevitable length was minimised by the way the front cylinder head fitted between the downtubes of the tubular steel frame.

Like the factory’s well-proven singles, the V-Twin Engine featured bevel drive to a single overhead camshaft, wetsump layout, and an integral five-speed gearbox. The 748cc motor had conventional coil valve springs instead of the Desmo layout that Taglioni had already introduced on some racing singles, and produced a claimed 60 HP at 8000 RPM. At 185kg dry the Ducati GT750 was 15kg heavier than the prototype, but considerably lighter than the 67 HP Honda CB750 four. That gave the GT750 a very impressive power-to-weight ratio back in 1971.

With its rider’s chin on the tank the Ducati GT750 was good for a genuine 125mph that made it one of the world’s fastest bikes in the early 1970s. And its handling, especially at high speed, was notably better than that of heavier Japanese multis such as the CB750, Suzuki’s GT750 and Kawasaki’s H1 500 air-cooled triples. Right from this model – its first superbike–Ducati hit on the format of relatively light-weight, minimalist but rigid frame and fairly firm suspension that would make the marque’s name a byword for handling excellence.

With just a single disc up front, the Ducati GT750's braking ability didn’t live up to its cornering performance. The other fork leg had lugs for a second disc but Ducati never fitted one, though the factory did introduce a few updates on later versions, including this bike’s centre-axle front forks (instead of the original leading-axle design), and the addition of an electric starter on the last bikes to leave the factory. There was also a GT750 USA model, with higher bars, and a police version with screen, pannier and single seat.

Production ended in late 1974, when the Ducati GT750 was replaced by the 860 GT, with its controversial angular styling. By this time the 750 had been hotted up to create the more aggressive 750 Sport, with its clip-ons, rearsets and optional half-fairing; and the even racier 750 Super Sport, with its Desmo valve operation and single seat, that was inspired by that famous Imola victory.

Ducati’s V-twin range was well under way, and one of the great motorcycling dynasties had been established. More than four decades later those sportier models and bigger 864cc Desmos get the lion’s share of the publicity, but the Ducati GT750 that began the V-twin line in such brilliant style is far from forgotten...

Ducati GT750 Specs

Engine : Four Stroke, 90º L-Twin, SOHC 4-Valve, Air-Cooled
Capacity : 748 cc
Bore x Stroke : 80 x 74.4 mm
Compression Ratio : 8.5 : 1
Induction : 2x 30mm Dell'Orto
Max Power : 60 HP @ 8.000 RPM
Transmission / Drive : 5-Speed / Chain

Frame : Steel Tubular
Front Suspension : 38mm Ceriani Telescopic Forks
Rear Suspension : Twin Marzocchi Shock Absorber, Adjustable Preload
Front Brakes : Single 280 mm Disc, 2-Pot Calipers
Rear Brakes : 203 mm Drum Brake
Front Tyre : 3.60 - 19 Pirelli Phantom
Rear Tyre : 4.10 - 18 Pirelli Phantom

Wheelbase : 1.500 mm
Seat Height : 790 mm
Wet Weight : 185 Kg
Fuel Capacity : 17 Litres