Lot 40

1972 Ducati 750 Imola Desmo

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$650,000 - $750,000


Frame No. DM750S 751033


DM750 750399

Car Highlights

One of the Most Significant, Historically Important Motorcycles Ever Offered for Sale

A Technological Tour de Force and One of Just Eight Built to Win the 1972 Imola 200

One of the Most Original Examples Extant; Retains Remarkable Original Silver Metalflake Gelcoat Finish on Tank, Fenders, and Seat Cowl

In Current Ownership for the Last 29 Years with Just Two Owners Since 1976

Accompanied by 44-Page Report by Marque Expert Ian Falloon, Along with Fascinating Period Documentation and Archival Photos

Technical Specs

748 CC OHC V-Twin 4-Stroke Engine

Twin Dell’Orto PHM 40 MM Carburetors

84 BHP at 8,800 RPM

5-Speed Manual Gearbox

Front Twin, Rear Single Disc Brakes

Front Telescopic Fork Suspension

Rear Swing-Arm Suspension with Twin Hydraulic Shock Absorbers

Ducati Meccanica, Italy (retained for the Ducati Factory Racing Team)

Ducati Importer Vetsak, Johannesburg, South Africa (acquired from the above in 1973)

John D’Oliveira, South Africa (acquired from the above in 1976)

Current Owner (acquired from the family of the above in 1995)

South African TT, January 1973, James, No. 73 (5th)

Kyalami Circuit, South Africa, January 1973, James, (DNF)

Angola, South Africa, November 1973, James, (DNF)

South African F750 National Championship, 1973, James, (2nd)

Santa Barbara Classic Motorcycle Show, California, 1997 (Second in Class)

The Italian Motorcycle and Scooter Show, 2000 (First in Class)

Monterey Jet Center “Hangar Party,” California, 2000

Pukekohe Classic Festival Races, New Zealand, 2000 (First in Class, Second in Class)

Corsa Moto Classica Exhibitions, AHRMA Nationals, California, 2002–2019

Vmoto/HMSA Races, Laguna Seca, California, 2006 (Second in Class, Third in Class)

The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, 2007 (First in Class)

Avila Beach Concours d’Elegance, California, 2009 (First in Class)

Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, 2011

The Quail Motorcycle Gathering, 2014 (First in Class, FIVA Preservation Award)

Montecito Motor Classic, California, 2014 (First in Class)

Silver Shotgun Exhibition, Petersen Automotive Museum, California, 2020–2021

Founded in 1926, Ducati has become synonymous with cutting-edge technical innovation, world-class performance, and gorgeous designs. For much of its early history the company found competition success with its smaller-displacement models, but it did not compete in the premier Formula 750 class. In the early 1970s, this all changed when Ducati decided to take on Giacomo Agostini and MV Agusta, which had dominated the upper echelon of motorcycle racing for years. Led by its legendary engineer Fabio Taglioni, Ducati specially prepared eight all-new, highly advanced 750 cc racers for this task. With the announcement of the Imola 200, known as the “The Daytona of Europe,” to be held in 1972, a full-scale effort was made to produce these motorcycles to win the race outright and establish the company as a force to be reckoned with at the highest levels of competition. Making their intentions abundantly clear, the factory arrived at Imola with seven of the racers in a specially designed glass-sided transporter, causing widespread excitement among the crowd, competing teams, and the motorcycle world at large.

On race day 70,000 spectators packed into the stands to see which team and rider would win 35,000,000 lire, the largest sum ever offered for a motorcycle racing victory. On this fast, narrow old-style Grand Prix circuit under damp conditions, the crowd witnessed one of the most historic motorcycle races of all time. In a tremendous upset, Ducati riders Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari finished 1st and 2nd respectively on the new bikes, the victory ushering in a new era for Ducati and setting it on course for decades of international success. It was Smart’s birthday, the most important win of his career, and the most significant moment in Ducati history.

In 1974, recognizing the victory’s importance, Ducati produced 401 homologation specials called the 750 Super Sport, which were road-going, production versions of the Imola 200 racers. These bikes, known to collectors as the “Green Frame” Ducatis, have since become one of the most collectible, valuable, and sought-after motorcycles of all time.

The eight race bikes built for the Imola 200 featured groundbreaking technical innovations, including bevel gear-driven camshafts and desmodromic valve actuation, which allowed extreme high rpm performance, a technology previously used on the world-beating Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. This was the first application of desmodromic valve actuation on a V-twin engine and it is still used by Ducati in its highest performance models today. The motorcycles were designed with extremely strong sandcast engine cases, lightweight billet connecting rods and cranks, and were not fitted with either a flywheel or alternator for reduced rotational mass. The bikes were also fitted with two sets of coils and two spark plugs per cylinder for better combustion and increased performance at high rpm.

Showcasing an incredible attention to detail, the bikes also featured an asymmetrical exhaust setup, with the left pipe mounted far higher than the right so the bikes could be leaned further over in Imola’s predominantly left-hand corners. They also featured a specially narrowed frame and an oversized quick-fill fuel tank with transparent stripe for assessing fuel level, among countless other features discussed in fascinating detail in the accompanying report by marque expert Ian Falloon.

After Imola, the factory sent these eight motorcycles around the world to promote the company’s victory and Ducati’s new status as a manufacturer capable of winning at the highest level of international competition. This particular bike was sent to South Africa in 1973 for the Formula 750 championship, where it was campaigned by Errol James to a 5th place finish in the South African TT at the Roy Hesketh Circuit, after leading Giacomo Agostini in the early laps. Beautiful archival photos on file document this race. The bike was next campaigned at the Kyalami Circuit. Its final race was in Angola, where it bent a connecting rod, retired, and was placed in static storage at Vetsak, the official Ducati importer in Johannesburg. It was there that motorcycle enthusiast and political correspondent John D’Oliveira discovered it, purchasing it on May 4, 1976. The original South African registration papers on file confirm his ownership and the bike’s engine and frame numbers, the same numbers on the Ducati today.

In March 1995, the D’Oliveira family shipped the motorcycle from Durban, South Africa to Los Angeles with the intention of selling it. The consignor, John L. Stein, a car and motorcycle journalist for numerous top publications, recently recalled that, in September of that year, he received a call from John D’Oliveira’s son, who had received his name from Phil Schilling, a famous Ducati expert who attended the 1972 Imola race. Mr. D’Oliveira said he was selling his father’s Ducati, one of the 1972 Imola factory racers. A Ducati owner and enthusiast since the age of 17, Mr. Stein promptly went to visit the motorcycle and when he confirmed it had the hard-chrome desmodromic valvetrain and other details specific to the eight race bikes, he purchased it on the spot. He then drove to Phil Schilling’s house and Mr. Schilling immediately identified it as authentic. A copy of a letter from Mr. Schilling stating that the machine is a genuine 1972 750 Imola Desmo racer remains on file, as does a letter from Paul Smart.

In 1999, Mr. Stein, a longtime racer, air freighted the bike to McIntosh Racing in New Zealand, one of the foremost specialists in bevel-drive motorcycles, to prepare it for historic racing. Various modifications were made to the Ducati in the interest of durability and safety. These included installing a Ducati 750 Super Sport crankshaft with a stepped pin for increased bearing area, in lieu of repairing the fragile original lightweight crank. The original factory crank accompanies the sale, as do other items that were replaced for safety reasons, including the original chain, lower bevel-drive gears, carburetors, wheel spokes, hydraulic steering damper, and brake lines.

In 2000, Mr. Stein participated in the Pukekohe Classic Festival in New Zealand, taking an impressive First in Class victory on the historic machine. After the race, the Ducati was air freighted back to Mr. Stein in California and he then campaigned it in the Vmoto/HMSA races at Laguna Seca where he achieved a Second in Class finish in the open class. Since then, the bike has been carefully maintained by the consignor and run periodically.

The Ducati has been featured in numerous articles and was the subject of a beautifully produced short film, which can be viewed on our website and captures the experience of riding it at speed at Willow Springs Raceway. The bike has also been exhibited at some of the most prestigious events in the world, including at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, and The Quail Motorcycle Gathering, where it won First in Class and received a FIVA Preservation Award for its remarkable original condition. It was also displayed at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles where it headlined the Silver Shotgun exhibit.

Prospective bidders are encouraged to closely read Ian Falloon’s 44-page report on this incredible Ducati, which contains his opinions on the role of this bike in the Imola campaign and the differences between the eight examples, along with their histories. Due to the historic importance of these motorcycles, they have been the subject of much research since their debut in 1972, including work by Mr. Falloon, Phil Schilling, and the consignor. As with many works racing operations from this period, records make it difficult to ascertain the exact early histories of each example, but Mr. Falloon believes that this bike may have remained safely at the factory as a spare, instead of being sent to Imola on race day.

Among the seven known to survive, Mr. Falloon notes that this example has a well-documented history dating back to January 21, 1973, when it was raced in the South African TT. He further opines that the “condition and originality is of such a high standard that this is one of the finest known examples.” Rare for a racing bike from this era, Falloon also notes that the Ducati remains in substantially original condition with its original frame and sandcast crankcases and original silver metallic flake gelcoat finish, except its fairing, which was replaced and repainted, as the original was loaned by Ducati in period for use on a 900 Super Sport race bike.

Prospective bidders are also encouraged to peruse the bike’s documentation on file, which includes an April 26, 1973 Telex from the Ducati factory detailing the exact valve timing. Remarkable archival photos are also on file, some of which, courtesy of Cycle World and the Cycle World Archive, reportedly had never been seen by anyone outside of that publication until Mr. Stein was able to view them last month in preparation for the sale. These images document Ducati’s eight special racers on the factory workbenches before the race as well in front of the team’s glass-sided transporter prior to its now-famous appearance at Imola. Additionally, the motorcycle is accompanied by a report by marque specialist Peter Boggia of Moto Borgotaro in Brooklyn, New York, a color photograph of the machine personally autographed by Fabio Taglioni, a photograph of Paul Smart sitting on the bike, as well as an early Bell Star helmet similar to the one Paul Smart wore to victory at Imola. The helmet was signed by Smart in January 2007 when he tested this bike at Willow Springs.

For knowledgeable collectors of historic motorcycles or important competition machines of any kind, the sale of this 750 Imola Desmo is an opportunity to acquire a truly significant Ducati, one of rarest, most exciting pieces in the history of motorcycling, and an integral part of the greatest moment in Ducati’s history. With only six other examples accounted for, the chance to purchase one of these remarkable bikes may never appear again. This example would be the centerpiece of any motorcycle collection, instantly elevating it to world-class status, and would also make a fantastic addition to any of the world’s greatest museums or car collections. Prospective bidders will be highly rewarded by a close inspection of this incredible Ducati, and Gooding & Company is honored to be involved in the sale of this fascinating, beautiful piece of history.


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