Bruno Spaggiari's Imola 200 works 1973 Ducati Formula 750 Racing

It was, without question, Paul Smart’s famous victory at Imola on Sunday 23rd April 1972 that really put Ducati’s new v-twin on the map. It was a particularly sweet occasion for hitherto un-fancied Ducati, as the Bologna factory defeated not only the race-proven Triumph Tridents of Percy Tait, John Cooper and Ray Pickrell, but also the works 750 MV Agusta of Giacomo Agostini. Also ranged against Ducati that day were works entries from Honda, Norton and Moto Guzzi, plus semi-works machines from Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW and Laverda. There was a lot at stake: the 750cc sportsbike category was vitally important to all the major manufacturers, so Ducati’s win in this company was of immense commercial significance for the relatively small Italian firm. It also emphatically demonstrated the potential of the Fabio Taglioni-designed v-twin.

Prepared by the semi-official NCR race shop, Smart’s bike was based on the 750 Sport roadster introduced that same year. The racer’s cycle parts remained close to stock - even the centre stand lugs were retained! - merely being up-rated with triple Lockheed disc brakes while the engine gained desmodromic cylinder heads, high-compression pistons and stronger con-rods. In the race, Smart, whose first outing this was for Ducati, was involved in a three-way battle for the lead with his team-mate, Bruno Spaggiari and Agostini. When the latter’s MV broke, it became a straight fight between the two works Ducatis, with Smart taking victory after Spaggiari had run off the road trying to overtake. The Italian eventually finished second.

Keen to repeat their success the following year, Ducati went to work on a heavily revised Formula 750 racer over the winter of 1972. For the ’73 bikes, Fabio Taglioni came up with a short-stroke (86x64.5mm) version of the 90-degree v-twin engine that revved higher and was more powerful. Together with the 6mm wider bore, Taglioni specified a narrower valve angle (60 degrees rather than the original 80). The cycle parts were updated with a modified frame, centre-axle forks (the 1972 bikes had used the leading-axle type) and a new swinging arm that enabled the wheelbase to be varied. The result was an engine that produced around 100bhp in a package weighing 326lb (148kg), both these figures representing a significant improvement over those of the 1972 model.

Only three bikes of this specification were ever built. They were entered in the 1973 Imola 200 under the Scuderia Spaggiari banner and ridden by Englishman Mick Grant, the Swiss Bruno Kneubühler and Spaggiari himself. Although Ducati had done much to improve its Formula 750 racer, at that year’s Imola 200 it faced one of the most formidable man/machine combinations in the history of motorcycle racing: Jarno Saarinen and the Yamaha TZ350. Spaggiari finished runner up for the second year in a row. Perhaps sensing that the era of four-stroke domination of Formula 750 was coming to a close, Smart had chosen to ride a Suzuki two-stroke that year. For the rest of the decade Ducati would focus its attention on endurance racing and TT Formula 1.

The short-stroke Formula 750 racer offered here is the one ridden by Spaggiari at Imola in 1973 and the sole survivor of this very special trio of works prototypes. At the end of the 1973 season the machine was sold to Norstar, the Canadian Ducati importer, which passed it on to one of their favoured customers, Keith Harte. Bought from him by Team Obsolete’s Rob Iannucci, the Ducati was rebuilt by TO and raced by Yvon Duhamel with some success. The current vendor, an American private collector, bought the bike from Team Obsolete circa 2000. The Ducati was fairly complete, and on acquisition was treated to a ‘ground upwards’ restoration using as many original parts as possible. Components were sourced from across the world, including a pair of the correct cylinders, with help provided by Ian Gowanloch and Arthur Davis in Australia. NCR’s Rino Caracchi, who had built the bike back in ’73, assisted with the restoration, providing the connecting rods and crankpin. The result is as genuine a short-stroke 750 as you will find. The restoration was carried out over a two-year period by Advanced Motorsports (Ducati Dallas) and on completion the machine was ridden by Paul Smart at the ‘Vintage Motorcycle Days’ meeting at the Mid Ohio circuit in 2004.

Its successes at Imola in the early 1970s effectively established Ducati’s credentials as a builder of exceptional high-performance motorcycles. As such, the Formula 750 racers built specifically for this prestigious event are among the most important the company has ever produced, and the example offered here represents a wonderful opportunity to acquire an ex-works Ducati of immense historical significance and undisputed provenance.