If you were to ask anyone today they would likely agree that Ducati is synonymous with performance motorcycles. But what if I was to tell you that wasn’t always the case? We have to go way back into the archives, but there was a time that Ducati’s were not taken seriously. It took one bike to change that, and that would be the Ducati 750 Imola.
With a racing pedigree dating back to 1950, it’s no wonder Ducati has had their fair share of success. But before the 1970’s Ducati still struggled to really put a stamp on their success. They had a young Mike Hailwood as a pilot, but still never managed to wow the competition and fans. That is until the 1972 Imola 200. Banking off of their 500cc Grand Prix prototypes, Ducati was ready to solidify its place in racing history. The bike that came out of this drive for success was the beautiful 750 Imola. The design was one of the first production based race bikes that Ducati produced, and it featured the now famous ‘Bevel drive’ V-twin engine.
As legend would have it, the production bikes showed up at Imola in stock trim, hastily being assembled for the race. The team would go on to file down any component they could to save weight, and with the custom Dellorto carburetors being fitted the 750 was able to produce 80hp at 8,500rpm. A lot of hp for 1972. The bike was a smashing success with Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari going on to take first and second in the race. This would singlehandedly change Ducati’s approach to racing to this day.
By 1978 the wonderful V-twin was growing in displacement, up to 900cc. But even then it was being considered as outdated, and with the aging Mike Hailwood, it was given absolutely no chance at winning the 78′ Isle of Man TT. In the amazing hands of ‘Mike the Bike’ Hailwood the Ducati reigned king once more, solidifying its place as one of the greatest motorcycles of all time.
Now-a-days, a true ‘Bevel drive’ Ducati can run up to an astonishing $200,000 for the right model. And even if you have that kind of cash burning a hole in your pocketm, the other issue becomes the rarity. Some of these models have become so rare they reside in museums instead of garages. It’s no wonder that a company like Vee Two Australia would pop up and recreate the magical V-twin.
Vee Two have been around since 1979 in Australia, first producing performance and replacement parts for the Bevel drive Ducatis. Now they have since branched out into the world of producing their very own version of the iconic engine. They purchased the original patents for the Bevel engine in 2010 and got to work putting their own twist on the legend. The result was The Vee Two Ritorno Twin that harbored the classic mystique of old, with a new performance that brings it up to date.
The Ritorno engine is built to the same dimensions as the original ‘Bevel drive’ V-twin, but with many minor changes that have largely boosted the performance. First, let’s tackle what a ‘Bevel Drive’ engine even means.
In any 4 stroke engine you have valves that open and close allowing air into the chamber and exhausting all that air out once it’s been burnt. These valves have small springs that thrust them back in place after the camshaft has forced them to open. But back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the material that was available to construct the springs wasn’t what it is today, causing what is called ‘valve float,’ where the valves stay open longer they are supposed to resulting in poor performance and even catastrophic failures. The Bevel drive system uses two bevel gears and a shaft to mechanically turn the valves, resulting in perfect timing and no need for silly soft springs. Hence the name ‘bevel drive’.
Utilizing the same system, the Ritorno has been heavily modified, resulting in the new 992cc engine producing a crisp 122 horsepower. Vee Two changed the bore and stroke of the V-twin, allowing it to rev more freely to a new redline of 9,500rpm. On top of that, the heads received a complete overhaul, allowing for much better breathing. The overall construction is now much more stout, with the use of newer metals even the cases are stronger.
The other aspect of The Vee Two Ritorno engine is that all the parts used can be swapped directly with the original Ducati engine. Or if you happen to have an original Ducati 750, 860 or 1000 with a blown engine you can now get a full replacement engine without robbing another bike. And with modern performance to boot.
For us that grew up in the modern age of motorcycles, who also appreciate the great vintage bikes, The Vee Two Ritorno powered Ducati is possibly one of the coolest bikes we could possibly hope for. And it will only cost you a cool 60 grand to make it your own. Surprisingly cheap when you compare it to the original. Either way it’s great to see a new take on possibly the most iconic Ducati engine we will ever know.