• Originally a works endurance racer
• Purchased directly from Sports Motorcycles
• Present ownership since 1982
• Rebuilt in 2010
Mike Hailwood's 1978 Isle of Man TT comeback ride is the stuff of legend. Out of top-flight bike racing for seven years and away from the Island for eleven, he took on and beat the might of the Honda works team to win the Formula 1 TT at record speed.
Hailwood's machine was entered by Manchester-based Ducati dealership, Sports Motor Cycles Ltd, which had come tantalisingly close to victory in the previous year's inaugural Formula 1 race with the machine offered here. It was ridden by Roger Nicholls (Mike's team-mate in '78) and led Phil Read's works Honda on the penultimate lap by 20 seconds. With weather conditions worsening, Honda gambled that the race would be stopped and waved Read through after seeing Nicholls stop to refuel. Shortly afterwards the race was indeed stopped, so Read won despite his Honda being destined to run out of fuel! Thus the first TT F1 World Championship went to Read and Honda.
The Hailwood and Nicholls bikes were part of a small batch of around 25 such machines built by the legendary NCR race shop in Italy for TT Formula 1 and FIM Coupe d'Endurance racing. 'NCR' stood for the names of its founders, ex-factory race mechanics Giorgio Nepoti, Rino Caracchi and Luigi Rizzi, although after Rizzi's early departure the 'R' stood for Racing. NCR was founded in 1967 in the small town of Borgo Panigale on the outskirts of Ducati's hometown of Bologna. Situated a stone's throw from the Ducati factory, NCR functioned as the semi-official race team from the early 1970s, there being no direct works involvement at that time, although factory engineers and mechanics routinely assisted favoured privateers. The Nepoti/Caracchi philosophy was that everything could be improved, lightened or made more powerful, and like all truly great tuners they paid attention to the smallest detail in the knowledge that racing would inevitably expose any weaknesses. Their emblem, a speeding cartoon dog wearing a helmet, is known the world over.
Nicholls' 1977 TT F1 Ducati - '014', the machine offered here - was collected from the Ducati factory in the spring of that year by Sports Motor Cycles' co-director, Pat Slinn, who at that time was working from the UK importer, Coburn & Hughes. It was originally built as an endurance racer and has a special frame incorporating eccentric chain adjusters at the swinging arm ends and similar mounts for the footrests. These arrangements are quite unlike those of the production frame and were intended to speed up pit-stops, the adjustable footrests making it easier to accommodate riders of different heights.
In 1973 Benjamin Grau and Salvador Canellas had scored an emphatic victory at the Barcelona 24 Hours race riding a works bike entered by Ducati's Spanish offshoot, Mototrans. Contemporary photographs of the Grau/Canellas machine show a frame identical to the Nicholls one and also the same cats bevel towers that mate specifically to the 60-degree cylinder heads. Pat Slinn, a frequent visitor to both the Ducati factory and NCR, tells us that he never saw these on another machine. Sadly, the Ducati factory no longer retains any records relating to the 1970s endurance-racing programme.
Before the Ducati was loaded into the van to bring it back to the UK, factory tester/engineer Franco Farné fired it up and rode up and down outside the race shop to show that it worked! The machine had not been touched since its last endurance race and the Sports Motor Cycles team had plenty of work to do to prepare it for the TT. As collected in 1977, the ex-endurance racer was fitted with Scarab callipers (soon replaced by Brembo), Campagnolo alloy wheels, contact-points ignition, a high-level exhaust system, separate seat and tank, and a Ducati fairing complete with quick filler. The fairing and seat/tank unit currently fitted are Sports Motor Cycles' copies of the works items fitted to Hailwood's 1978 TT-winning Ducati, and were on this machine when the current vendor purchased it from Sports Motor Cycles' proprietor, Steve Wynne, in 1982. The accompanying bill of sale, dated 20th October 1982, lists Mike Hailwood, Phil Read, Tom Heron, Alex George, Tony Rutter, Roger Marshall, Steve Tonkin, Steve Manship and Eddie Roberts as having ridden the ex-Nicholls Ducati, though by no means all of them raced it.
As received, the Ducati came with Brembo Goldline brake callipers, Dymag alloy wheels and a different exhaust system. When raced by Roger Nicholls, the bike wore the earlier black Brembo 'shaved' callipers and Campagnolo wheels, and had longer silencers. When campaigned by the factory it would have had Scarab callipers, matching black Marzocchi forks and different bodywork.
The engine is particularly worthy of note. There are no crankcase numbers but superficially it looks like a normal 750cc 'round case' (i.e. no spin-on oil filter or narrowed oil reservoir). NCR preparation included the crankshaft being lightened and polished, and the cylinders bored out to take larger liners. We are advised that the latter have an 88mm bore which, combined with the stock 74.4mm stroke, results in a capacity of 905cc. Thicker-than-standard cylinder studs were fitted by Sports Motorcycles.
The cylinder heads have a narrower-than-standard valve angle of 60 degrees while several parts are magnesium (i.e. the clutch cover, camshaft end-support bearing covers, upper bevel bearing housings, tappet covers and supports for the lower bevels). The oil breather is made entirely from aluminium – normally there is a plastic cover and plastic internal 'gallery'. It has the stock oil feed to an oil cooler taken from behind the points. The points housing itself has had the condenser clamps machined off (presumably to make it easier and quicker to change). In addition, the alternator cover and gear selector cover have been lightened by removing the 'DUCATI' lettering, and the location of the kick-start shaft has an aluminium plug.
The gearbox is a close-ratio, three-dog unit with hollow layshaft and split bushes for 2nd and 5th gears. A sintered bronze dry clutch is housed in the early-style magnesium clutch cover. Primary/secondary drives are by straight-cut gears, radically lightened by NCR. Front suspension is by Marzocchi and uses the early fork leg that has only two mounting studs per side.
During 1982/83 the Ducati was ridden by Gordon Farmer at Mallory Park, Donington Park, Brands Hatch and the Isle of Man, but has not been run since. Because of the high compression ratio, Avgas was used and special (quieter) exhausts made to satisfy the scrutineers. The Ducati was then stripped and the crankshaft rebuilt with new con-rods/big-ends in approximately 1984/85 by Alec McFazden. It was at this time that new Asso pistons were obtained (see bill on file) and new cylinder liners made and fitted. The frame was checked by Brian Capper/Anthony Ainslie and then it and the swinging arm were re-coated as the paint was particularly poor.
From 1985 to 2002 the vendor was working overseas and the dismantled Ducati was kept in boxes at his house. The rebuild commenced in July/August 2010 and was finished by September, including refitting the previous exhaust system. The vendor advises us that he started the machine a few months ago and that it sounded wonderful! Included in the sale is a spare Solec ignition pack that needs repair; it only fires one spark plug and needs a set of new NiCad batteries.
Works or ex-works Ducati v-twins with Isle of Man TT history are exceptionally rare and only infrequently offered for sale. '014' represents a possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the discerning collector to own one of these legendary racing motorcycles.
Bonhams would like to thank Pat Slinn, Steve Wynne, and Livio Lodi, Museum Curator at Ducati Motor SpA, for their assistance in preparing this description.