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Ducati 860 GT

(by Ian Falloon, Feb 2022)

              860 GT



Sharp suit for a new era


The release of the Ducati 860 GT in 1974 was the harbinger of a change in direction for Ducati. Prior to the 860, Ducati’s design had been a result of gradual evolution, but for the 860 Ducati engaged the services of an outside stylist, Giorgetto Giugiaro.


But there was more to the 860 than a cosmetic restyle of the earlier 750 GT. More stringent noise regulations would mean the days of barking Conti exhausts were numbered, and the US Department of Transport required all motorcycles built after September 1974 to shift on the left. Besides being quieter and more environmentally friendly, Ducati also wanted the 860 GT to be cheaper to manufacture than the complex round-case 750.


To the casual observer the 860 GT looked to be a superficial styling exercise based on the 750 but there was much more to the 860 than merely an overbore. The entire machine was redesigned and restyled with the intention of making it more appealing to the US market.


The engine also underwent considerable modification, firstly to simplify manufacture, and secondly to improve reliability and minimise maintenance. There were a large number of engine updates for the 860 engine compared to the round-case 750, notably to the bevel-gear camshaft drive and lubrication system, and to maintain the already modest performance of the 750 GT the engine was enlarged to 864cc.


The most noticeable feature of the 860 engine was the redesigned outer engine covers. This included the alternator, clutch, bevel, and gearshift covers. Underneath the reshaped alternator cover was a new bevel-gear drive to the two vertical shafts and instead of the 750’s ignition points housing between the cylinders was an oil filter.


Most of the other engine internals were unchanged, but the 860 now featured electronic ignition. With a pair of Dell’Orto PHF 32mm carburettors and angular Lafranconi mufflers the 860 GT’s power was modest (no claims were made but it was around 65 horsepower) but mid-range torque was improved over the 750.


Most 860s also had an electric start, making the bike easier to live with.


The 860 GT also had a new frame, with eccentric chain adjusters at the swingarm pivot, and 18-inch wheels front and rear. The front fork was a stout 38mm Ceriani, with either a single or twin Brembo front disc brake, with Marzocchi rear shock absorbers.


Ducati went to some effort to improve many components that had come under criticism on the 750 and to meet new US standards. Only US-style high and wide handlebar was fitted to the 860 GT, with the wires through the bars, and the switches were a new blocky CEV. These CEV switches may have promised much but they were still ergonomically compromised.


The 860 GT was released in a blaze of publicity, with rave reviews from the press. But the press claims of “The Best Duke Yet” were not translated into sales.


Although the 860 did most things well enough, it wasn’t any better than the earlier 750 GT and was much heavier and less reliable. It soon became the least popular bevel-twin Ducati and remains so.


Although history has been unkind to the 860 GT, some of its misfortune was due to unfortunate timing. The 860 GT’s release coincided with a worldwide motorcycle sales slump and the more European inspired 860 GTS soon replaced it.


Finally the 860 GT’s time has possibly come. As modern motorcycles adopt a hard-edged style the 860 GT has begun to look more contemporary, something few nearly 50-year-old motorcycles can emulate.

More on stylist Giugiaro here at Unique Cars magazine


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