1987 DUCATI 851S SUPERBIKE: The dawn of dominance

Few new bikes have ever been as eagerly awaited as the production versions of the eight-valve, liquid-cooled Ducati 851 Desmoquattro. The prototype, clad in Tricolore livery, took Marco Lucchinelli to a debut victory in the American Daytona BoTT (Battle of The Twins) race exactly 30 years ago, then spent the 1987 racing season developing, before the new bike’s launch at the Milan Show late that November. Two versions would be available, the 851 Strada road model that was scheduled for production in 1988 – when just 304 were in fact made and a more powerful version suitable for privateer Superbike and BoTT racing, known as the 851S Kit. A total of 206 examples of this were made in 1988, 54 of them destined for the USA, and 152 for the rest of the world.

Though nominally road legal, inasmuch as it had lights and electric start, the 851S Kit came with no speedo, just a rev counter and water temp gauge, had only nominal silencing of its twin exhausts via largely ineffective internal baffles, and came already fitted with Michelin Radial slicks. But despite its slightly schizophrenic identity crisis, the Kit seemed to be the modern equivalent of what most ‘Ducatisti’ consider to be the ultimate Ducati customer V-twin of all time, the raw-edged, green-frame 750SS, that was a slightly sanitised version of Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola 200 winner. But at least the 401 of us who bought one of those could ride it on the street, as I did mine before taking it racing….

Read more in the October issue of Classic Bike Guide – on sale now

Cathcart rides the pre-productions 851S on a visit to the Bologna factory in 1988 – but was underwhelmed

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