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Ducati Apollo – mythical beast

(Dec 2023, by Guy 'Guido' Allen)

Ducati apollo

Hugely ambitious, the Ducati Apollo, aka the Berliner, never made it into the showrooms

It's 1964 and Ducati had shown its out-there 1260cc V-four prototype at the Earls Court motor show. Across the Atlantic the company's American distributor, Berliner Motor Corporation, has optimistically prepared brochures for the behemoth.

Berliner clearly saw a market in the USA for the machine, particularly with police services which would have given it immediate volume and credibility.

The project was started in earnest as far back as 1959.

Fabio Taglioni designed the engine, with electric starter and horizontally-split crankcases, wet sump, plus a five-speed transmission – features then at the cutting edge for motorcycles.

With chain drive, it had 16-inch wheels (a common USA police requirement at the time) and drum brakes. The latter were a potential weak spot.

Indian was out of business, leaving the cop market largely to Harley-Davidson. At the time it was building Panheads.

ducati apollo

One teething trouble for the ambitious Ducati was the combination of the machine's weight (240kg dry), power (100hp/75kW or double a Panhead) and speed potential (190km/h) meant the prototypes shredded rubber. It's said that eventually an acceptable tyre life was arrived at with the engine pulled back to 65hp (49kW). That however killed off one of its biggest selling points.

Given that high-performance tyres were very much in existence for heavier vehicles such as cars, this issue should not have been insurmountable but may have taken time.

Perhaps a bigger problem was the company was then under the management eye of the Italian government (via the Istituto per la Riconstruzione Industriale) and it remained unconvinced the Apollo would be commercially viable.

As a result, the project was shelved.

Berliner meanwhile had gone as far as talking about two different specs for the machine – a 100hp Sport with four carburetors and an 80hp version with two – and suggesting the price would be around US$1500. What might have been...


The name Apollo hails from Greek and Roman mythology. Among other qualities, he is regarded among the most beautiful of gods and as a deity of sun and light. More at Wikipedia.


An example of the bike was on show for a time at the Ducati Museum and is now believed to be back in the private collection of its owner, in Japan.

(Pic by Steffen Wolf via Wikimedia)

Meanwhile the Berliner brothers did eventually get to sell Italian-made police bikes to forces in the USA during the sixties, namely Moto Guzzi Ambassador and Eldorado-based machines.

earls court
                      motor chow 1964

1964 Earls Court Motor Show short film by British Pathe at YouTube


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