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Hailwood's Ducati 250

(by Ian Falloon, Apr 2022)

Ducati 250
              twin Hailwood



The troubled history of Ducati's parallel twin racer

Many followers of Grand Prix racing believe the greatest rider ever was Mike Hailwood. Hailwood could ride any motorcycle to its limit, and won races on several makes, in a variety of displacements, often in the one day.


In 1959 and 1960, he won all four British titles (125, 250, 350 and 500). While best known for his nine world championships on Hondas and MVs, it was Ducati that Mike was associated with at the beginning and end of his motorcycle racing career.

Hailwood’s father Stan was a wealthy businessman, and would spare nothing to see his son succeed in motorcycle racing. He established a team, Ecurie Sportive, to further Mike’s career, and purchased a double overhead camshaft (Bialbero) 125 Ducati Grand Prix single from then British Ducati agent Fron Purslow during 1958.


In those days Mike seemed more interested in playing jazz than racing motorcycles and he suffered criticism through having a millionaire father who provided the best equipment and tuners. However, he quickly overcame this and established himself as an extraordinary talent.

Mike’s first ride on the Bialbero was at the Dutch Grand Prix in June 1958, and he finished tenth. He went on to win three races on it that year before Stan visited Italy and arranged to take over the distribution of Ducati motorcycles in England. In return, he was able to obtain a pair of factory 125 desmo singles, and the services of factory mechanic Oscar Folesani, for the 1959 Grand Prix season.


Hailwood was also provided a factory-prepared 125 desmo twin for selected events. Soon after receiving the desmo single Hailwood rode it to victory at Snetterton, the first win in England by a desmodromic Ducati. He followed this with eleven victories in England that year.

While the little desmo single provided Hailwood with his first Grand Prix victory (at Ulster), and third in the 1959 125 cc World Championship, Mike was always a little too large for these diminutive machines. Stan Hailwood believed Mike would be more suited to the larger capacity classes. At that stage, Mike’s 250 cc racer was an ageing Mondial single and Stan reckoned a Ducati twin would be the business.

By 1959, the Ducati twin had already been around a few years, both as a 125, and 175. Back in 1950, Taglioni sketched a plan for parallel twin, and he eventually found the time to produce a 175 twin during 1956. This was displayed at the Milan Show at the end of the year, and Leopoldo Tartarini raced it in the 1957 Motogiro d’Italia. He retired with ignition and generator problems during the third stage.


The 175 set the basis for all the racing parallel twins in that it featured twin overhead camshafts driven by a train of spur gears from a jackshaft between the cylinders. There was a pressed-up crankshaft consisting of two flywheel assemblies clamped by Hirth (radially serrated) couplings.


Complex and difficult to work on, the engines were beautifully constructed, with the flywheels and big-end assemblies machined from solid and all the gears drilled for lightness. There was dry clutch and exposed hairpin valve springs but still a wide 80-degree included valve angle. With an 11:1 compression ratio and 18 mm Dell’Orto carburettors, the 49 x 46.6mm 175 produced 22bhp at 11,000 rpm. By 1959, this was increased to around 25bhp but the powerband was too narrow, the 112kg machine too heavy, and it suffered in comparison to the single.

Stan Hailwood persuaded Ducati to produce an updated 175 twin early in 1959. With a new frame, rear suspension, and Amadoro brakes Mike tested this revised 175 at Brands Hatch in March. He wasn’t particularly impressed and didn’t race it. Stan Hailwood subsequently sold the 175 to Arthur Wheeler, but remained convinced a larger, desmodromic, version was worth persevering with. During 1959, Mike also had the 125 desmo twin for certain races, and while this wasn’t especially successful Stan purchased two from the factory at the end of 1959.

By this stage, Stan had persuaded Taglioni to produce a 250 cc twin, essentially two of the successful desmodromic singles doubled up. Ducati had officially withdrawn from racing by this stage and undoubtedly Stan Hailwood paid handsomely for this specially commissioned racer.


The 250 twin was first revealed in February 1960, but when Hailwood first flew out to Italy for testing it wasn’t ready. Later in February, both he and Franco Farnè rode it at Modena and were apparently satisfied with the machine.

The 250 shared its 55.25x52 mm dimensions with 125 single but in other respects it was a scaled up 125 desmo twin. It had a six-speed gearbox and twin Dell’Orto 30mm SS carburettors with flat float bowls similar to the 125. The power was 43bhp at 11,600rpm (at the crankshaft) and provided the 250 with a top speed of around 218km/h.


A unique feature of the twin was the ability to remove one side of the engine leaving the other intact. Unfortunately, the engine was too powerful, and too heavy, for the scaled-up 125 double cradle frame, even with Norton forks and Girling shocks. The brakes were Oldani twin leading shoe (220mm and 200mm) but the machine was considerably overweight (a claimed 112kg but plainly optimistic) and suffered from poor acceleration.

At the end of March, the 250 arrived in England and Hailwood gave it a sensational debut at the Hutchinson 100 at Silverstone on 9 April when he won the 250 race. Although Hailwood won the 250 races at Brands Hatch and Snetterton, he soon found that while the new Ducati was competitive on the faster circuits it didn’t handle well on the shorter tracks.


The machine was sent back to Italy for a new frame, and it arrived back in time for Mike to win the international race at Silverstone at the end of May. Although the new frame still didn’t solve the handling problems, after the Isle of Man, Hailwood elected to ride the 250 at the Belgian Grand Prix Spa and came fourth.


He then took the 250 to a five consecutive victories on British short circuits before Ulster Grand Prix where the 250 appeared with another new frame. Stan Hailwood commissioned this new Reynolds 531 frame from Ernie Earles in Birmingham, lengthening the wheelbase from 1314 mm to 1,72 mm, and lowering and moving the engine further forward. Hailwood came fourth at Ulster but he still wasn’t overly impressed with the handling.


Apart from Snetterton (where he won on the 250 twin), Hailwood chose his Mondial for the rest of the 1960 British season. Hailwood did ride the 250 twin early in 1961, winning again at Snetterton but was disqualified at Silverstone as he was entered on the Mondial.

When Mike received a works Honda contract Stan sold the Ducatis, and John Surtees purchased both the Hailwood 250s during 1961. Surtees recognized that the Ducatis were powerful if underdeveloped, and installed the engines in Ken Sprayson Reynolds frames with leading link forks as already built for the Hailwood 350.


Initially the Ducatis were for John’s younger brother Norman, who raced the 250 several times towards the end of 1961. Before the 1962 season a new frame without a lower right frame tube was produced but Norman had little success with it. John Hartle was set to ride the twin in 1963 but this didn’t eventuate, however Mike Hailwood gave the 250 one final victory at Mallory Park at the end of March. Hailwood’s final ride on a Ducati until 1977 was at Silverstone in early April 1963 where he rode the Surtees 250 twin to second behind Redman’s Honda.

The desmodromic twins may represent an unfulfilled era at Ducati, but the 250 (in the hands of Mike Hailwood) won enough races to ensure an important historical place in Ducati’s racing history. Considering the amazing success of the desmodromic singles, it was surprising that Taglioni decided to pursue the path of weight and complexity with the twins.


He obviously believed that more horsepower was needed to win Grands Prix but somehow lost direction by creating a design that was excessively complicated. The parallel twin experience also showed that Ducati didn’t have the resources to produce and develop one-off racing bikes to order.


Possibly these projects were accepted as the economic circumstances at the time were so difficult any commissions were welcome. Unfortunately doubling up the existing successful singles was a recipe for disaster and what was really needed was a completely fresh approach. The twins were plagued with troubles from fractured crankcases, broken gears, and electrical and ignition problems.


They may have been sophisticated designs but their complexity made them problematic, and their power taxed a chassis that was inherited from lower powered and more balanced designs. If nothing else, the parallel twin episode convinced Taglioni on the virtues of light weight, balance and simplicity, almost to the point of obsession. All his later attempts with multi-cylinder racers were half-hearted.



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