This Motorcycle Helped Put Ducati Back on the Motorsport Map. Now It’s up for Grabs.

Long before Ducati became the prestigious race-bred powerhouse we know it as today, the Italian manufacturer struggled for credibility in the high-stakes world of motorsport. By 1972, the brand had been out of grand prix racing for 13 years in order to focus on its street-legal production bikes.

This absence from the starting grid, though, meant that Ducati’s motorcycles lost their competitive edge. Intent on sharing the rarified air dominated by MV Agusta’s fearsome three-cylinder racers, piloted by legends like Giacomo Agostini, the Bologna brand needed an all-new weapon capable of reshuffling the pecking order.

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A 1972 Ducati 750 Imola Desmo motorcycle.
The 1972 Ducati 750 Imola Desmo offered through Gooding & Company’s online auction from May 8 through May 17.

Ducati’s general manager at the time, Fredmano Spairani, set the company’s head of engineering, Fabio Taglioni, to task: build a machine that could conquer the field of top contenders. The resulting motorcycle featured a new engine, which paired Ducati’s signature desmodromic valvetrain with a large displacement, 90-degree L-twin configuration—a previously unseen format.

The once-state-of-the-art air-cooled 748 cc power plant features a sandcast case, lightweight billet connecting rods and cranks, and an asymmetrical exhaust. It’s fed by a bevel-drive single-overhead camshaft and two Dell’Orto PHM carburetors. A heavily modified frame houses the drivetrain. And it was all developed with the hope of restoring Ducati’s former track glory.

A close-up of the 748 cc, 90-degree L-twin engine in a 1972 Ducati 750 Imola Desmo motorcycle.
With Ducati’s signature desmodromic valvetrain, the bike’s air-cooled engine comprises a 748 cc, 90-degree L-twin configuration.

The brand’s return to competition took place at the 1972 Imola 200. The event was a big deal, and thus dubbed the “Daytona of Europe,” where nine factory teams would compete for an unprecedented 35 million lire. The highly anticipated showdown drew a crowd of 75,000, and Ducati boldly presented all ten of the 750 Imola Desmo examples built—eight for the four riders entered and two spares.

Ducati's lineup of 750 Imola Desmo race bikes, with their glass-sided transport, at the 1972 Imola 200.
Ducati’s lineup of 750 Imola Desmo race bikes, backed by their glass-sided transport, at the 1972 Imola 200.

Due to a last-minute issue, Gilberto Parlotti was unable to race, leading Ducati to call on Paul Smart, who flew in from California and laid eyes on the distinctive model for the first time at the Modena Aerodromo. He later recalled: “There was this flashy new bus with plateglass sides in which all the race bikes were transported around so people could see them . . . that’s when I realized this was a very serious venture, by a company that was determined to win.” As such, Ducati promised that the victorious racer would be able to keep his bike, providing further incentive.

Racer Errol James competing with a Ducati 750 Imola Desmo motorcycle in South Africa, circa 1973.
Racer Errol James competing with this same 750 Imola Desmo in South Africa, circa 1973.

The race started dramatically, with the favored Giacomo Agostini breaking away early. However, Ducati’s Smart and Bruno Spaggiari overtook Agostini by the fifth lap and held steady for the remainder of the competition. Smart finished first followed by Spaggiari in second. The win inspired a massive procession through Bologna with the bikes on display in the transporter. The effect was dramatic for Ducati, thrusting the manufacturer back on the world stage thanks to the comeback win, one that Smart later described as “completely life changing.” As for the works race bikes, they inspired the Ducati 750 Super Sport production model that incorporated the signature “green frame” design with silver-flake paint. (We consider the 750 Super Sport one of the greatest motorcycles of the last 100 years.)

A 1972 Ducati 750 Imola Desmo motorcycle.
The bike has been under the same ownership for 30 years.

A rare opportunity to acquire one of the only seven Ducati 750 Imola Desmos still in existence is coming up with Gooding & Company’s Geared Online | Motorcycles auction from May 8 through May 17. This particular example has been under the same ownership for almost 30 years, in which time it’s been entered at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the Quail Motorcycle Gathering, where it includes a best-in-class award among its accolades. The bike carries a high-end estimate of $750,000.

Click here for more photos of this 1972 Ducati 750 Imola Desmo.

A 1972 Ducati 750 Imola Desmo motorcycle.
A 1972 Ducati 750 Imola Desmo motorcycle.

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