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Ducati Silver Shotgun

(by Ian Falloon, Feb 2022)

Ducati 450 desmo



Falloon brings us the lowdown on the legendary 450 Desmo


Single cylinder motorcycles were once the mainstay of the British motorcycle industry but Edward Turner’s Triumph Speed Twin ended that reign. By the 1960s most British singles were consigned to the scrap heap but in Italy the single cylinder still dominated.


The reason for this was Italian motorcycle industry grew out of small capacity motorcycles initially created to provide mass transportation in a country devastated by war.


Ducati began in 1946 with the 50cc Cucciolo and over the next decade their single gradually expanded to 100, 125, 175, 200, and 250cc. By the mid-1960s it was at its limit at 350cc and a new wide-case Ducati single was displayed at the Cologne Show in September 1967. This revised engine allowed for the capacity to be eventually increased to 436cc and also allow Ing. Fabio Taglioni to make his dream a reality. To create the first production engine with desmodromic valve gear.


In 1969 the 450 (actually 435.7cc) became available, and featured a new crankcase, cylinder, and cylinder head castings to accommodate the 86 x 75mm dimensions. Shortly afterwards a desmo 450 appeared, at the time the spearhead of Ducati’s line-up alongside the cosmetically identical 250 and 350.


To aid starting the 450 desmo had a slightly lower 9.3:1 compression ratio and new Dell’Orto VHB 29 square-slide carburettor, and while it was more powerful than the 250 there wasn’t much difference between it and the 350 in outright performance.


Until 1970 the desmo and regular valve spring Mark 3 were virtually indistinguishable, but in 1971 the desmo single was given a makeover to become one of the first factory café racers.


A gaudy metalflake silver paint scheme was provided for the fibreglass petrol tank, side covers and solo seat, and rear-set footpegs to complement the clip-on handlebars. Later the little desmo acquired the nickname “The Silver Shotgun”, this actually coined by “Two Wheels” in a 1974 owners’ report.


More improvement was evident with the running gear. Borrani 18 inch alloy wheel rims replaced the previous steel type, and the front brake became a Grimeca double-sided single leading shoe instead of the rather weak single leading shoe that had been fitted from 1957. The forks were considerably uprated from the previous spindly 31.5mm units, with a new type of 35mm Marzocchi fork with exposed staunchions.


Only the barest concession was made for street legality, with a large white Veglia tachometer dominating the instrument layout.


But the 450 desmo was still a single. Although it was incredibly light at around 130kg it was no powerhouse. On a good day you might see 160km/h but the vibration ensured you didn’t hold it for long. And this was not a bike to be riding after dark as the 6 Volt Aprilia headlight provided illumination similar to a candle.


But get one on a smooth twisty road and these can be one of the most satisfying vintage sports motorcycles to ride. The 750s and 900s with their long wheelbase and slow steering are renowned for their stability and heavy handling, especially on tighter roads. Not so a desmo single.


Compared to a Ducati bevel twin these were light, short and agile. They were not particularly stable on bumpy roads either as I found out to my detriment about 25 years ago.


So what is the appeal of the Ducati single? For years they lived in the shadow of the 750 and 900 but now a good desmo single is worth significantly more than some of the lesser twins. The desmo single, particularly the 1971-72 “Silver Shotgun” represented the end of an era for sporting Italian motorcycles.


These bikes were expensive to manufacture so they were not built after 1974. With their loud exhaust and open carb they made no concession to noise and emission controls or civility and there was nothing unnecessary on the little desmos. This was minimalist motorcycling and the 450 desmo represents an era that will never return.




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