Feline agility, jet fighter volume whilst thrilling the eye faster than a bikini clad super model; the Ducati 900SSD like the tiger (Darmah) it was named after it remains a rare and sought after breed.
The late seventies onslaught from the big four Japanese bike manufactures forced one Italian marque to build not only one of the best looking machines ever but also to give it the longest title possible. The Ducati 900 Super Sport Darmah was the last in the line of equally ‘long named’ 70s Italian machines that many consider to be visually superior to anything available at the time and rare, with around 1000 having been lovingly assembled. This era of Duke appealed to a certain type of biker, whilst not marque specific clientele they certainly enjoyed the more bespoke; an individual who paid little heed to BHP but revelled in the engineering.
The booming exhausts combined with the superb handling of the SSD makes every journey an experience. Movement for the masses? No, considered more of a voyage for the ‘A’ road aviator. Surely the old adage ‘you should always have 3 Ducati’s, one for riding and two for the shop’ is just a great excuse to gather in as many examples as funds will allow and often beyond. One guilty collector and complete Ducatisti is Gary Keen, his ‘Bellow Yellow’ 750 Sport was received with great acclaim on completion so he built this Darmah alongside his best mate Martin Solomon; one rider that couldn’t be happier with his steed. Gary had already completed a 1977 900 Sport Desmo Darmah for Martin and had other projects either on route or mid build when this Super Sport Darmah arrived from Denmark. Originally it wasn’t destined to be sold on and Gary had been scavenging parts from across the globe to assist with the restoration but space and time meant Martin would get the prize; after he paid the bill obviously.
From the beginning this restoration was going to be a full ground up, nut and bolt, as near original as practically possible and therefore no budget was put in place, there was little point. The SSD began life with a French registration plate and has the specific ID plates to confirm, via Switzerland to Denmark where it was transported to Sussex to face a perfection chasing transformation over the following year.
Over the first month the bike was stripped down, detail checked and catalogued. Gary inspected every part for wear and projected life expectancy and Martin remembers ‘parts were photographed and contemplated with a decision replace, re use or refurbish; there was to be no compromise and the cost would be the cost’. The frame was fitted with sacrificial bolts to protect the threads then entrusted to Vulcan Engineering’s Dave Murphy, powder-coater of great standing in the classic world down south; also Dave received the centre stand, swing arm, rear light bracket, chain guard, footrest mounts and instrument console. Martin remembers ‘I got the forks and was told they need polishing mate, I often got parts to polish rather than allowing me anywhere near the bike with tools’.
Dave also took the wheels and although their appearance was poor they were free of damage, originally made by FPS; Gary prefers them to the magnesium versions made by Speedline or Campagnolo and their tendency to crack. Dave advised that the polished edge of the wheels prevented powder coating but there was another option; once shot blasted they enjoyed a specialist polish and returned to Dave who painted the inserts in the correct gold then lacquered, enabling Martin to re polish the rims whenever the mood takes him.
The blue on blue finish sits amazingly well with the 900 however the original colour may not be a consideration if you started with a blank canvas. Quite daring in fact, suggesting dark and light blue with white decals and gold wheels all competing with lashings of polished alloy and chrome; an attack on the eyes yes but it works so well as long as it is perfect. The original fairing bracket had been modified and therefore useless but Gary was able to source the correct item and courtesy of Tony Brancato an original nose cone with screen. This is specific to the SSD as Martin suggests people often utilise the SS version which is a different shape. GVR bodywork was tasked with the finish due in no small part to Martin’s suggestion they are as fussy as Gary. This is backed up by their refusal to fit the new graphics supplied for the nose cone, claiming they just wouldn’t sit correctly; their painter Tony followed manufacturer photographs to paint the graphics before lacquer coats sealed in his art.
Super Sport Sculpture
The out sourced parts began to return; first to arrive was the frame, centre stand and swing arm from Vulcan and the finish was perfect. Martin tells of the tag team wrestling match refitting the polished motor into position followed by fresh steering head bearings and yokes, at this point in time things were moving along at pace. The Brembo PO8 twin nipple calipers had required new seals plus Teflon coated pistons and new pads and then attached to the refurbished forks with stainless bolts. Shortly after the wheels arrived and with new bearings installed plus the original two part discs (now refurbished), the swing arm was fitted with all new fixings and the bike stood back on its rubber courtesy of a pair of BT45’s from Bridgestone. Martin described this as a ‘milestone moment’ when the ‘Duke’ was flying towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
Spurred on, the rebuilt front brake master cylinder was reunited with the original clip-ons and new lines then bled through. The rear caliper also required new seals as did the rear master cylinder but the rear sprocket was new, saving a few ‘shekel’s’ but was treated to new bolts and locking washers. Delivery drivers were beating a path to Gary’s door on a daily basis and no doubt Martin’s credit card was starting to wilt but sticking to the original plan seemed imperative to avoid any disappointment later. One of the few non-standard items was the choice of Fournales rear shocks an upgrade installed by the previous owner, these were refitted. Period correct and popular at the time the ‘Oleo-pneumatic’ dispenses with the traditional exterior spring; just air and oil offer the unique ability of never ‘bottoming out’.
A French manufacturer most popular with the custom set Jean-Pierre Fournales first designs were aimed at the motor cross arena, still available today these units are not cheap at around three times your basic shock price.
The rolling chassis required a new wiring loom, the old one in Martin’s words had been ‘butchered’ and locating a complete, untouched version could have been a challenge. Gary contacted Ducati Paddy who actually had just the item and apart from a couple of earthing issues with the new powder coat power would be available to every bulb and switch. Gary’s ability to track down new old stock parts is legendary and the tail light plus indicators, all CEV units and a stainless steel rear mudguard are part examples of his locating talents.
The idiot lights are unobtainable so Gary refurbished those and the console himself, this would repeat the similar task he performed on his previous restoration of the 750 Sport. The original Bosch headlight just required some time to perfect but the Nippon Denso clocks needed specialist treatment. Once overhauled a bespoke crimping tool was utilised sealing the two halves together they then sat in freshly chromed bases that cannot even be admired tucked behind the fairing. Other items sent for chrome included the front down and crossover pipes, linkages for gears and brakes and the centre stand lifting handle. Another small change from stock was the fitting of K&N filters to the 40mm Dellorto’s, the rear carb required an ‘in house’ sleeve to mount the filter and still fit neatly behind the side panel, twin Verlicchi throttle and choke cables were then routed to operate. By this time the bodywork had returned from Tony at GVA and the nose fairing fitted straight into place confirming the logic of test fitting before sending off for paint.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the seat unit taken from their SD900, the fit was in Martin’s words ‘not even close’ with incorrect gaps to both the tank and the side panels. The original unit was sourced and found its way to Tony who had to repeat the process of hand painting the darker blue stripe over the base lighter blue; an expensive oversight but one of very few the guys would make. Both agreed the original seamed Lafranconi exhausts just didn’t ‘cut the mustard’ so stainless replicas of the exulted Conti silencers were supplied by Andrew Jones at Mdina Italia; much to his credit when one arrived damaged a replacement was instantly sent out no questions asked.
Cavis Benz fuel pipes and clips were connected to the tank and with a new battery fully charged the moment had arrived. Martin recounts the excitement; ‘the taps were on, as were the chokes… we waited for the bowls to fill…ignition on and 2-3 sharp twists of the throttle to get the pumpers working on the carbs…turn over, it wants to go! 2nd press and she fired up with a bark to weaken the knees of most grown men, no smoke no drama. It was emotional, relief obviously and joy definitely but mostly excitement as the open road beckoned.
Everyone knows of Alf’s Motorcycles but not everyone knows the man is a guru of the Bevel motor, so after checking the valve clearances Alf let the SSD tear up his rolling road and as Martin says he soon had it purring; not so much a kitten, more of a lion with its knackers in a vice. MOT passed and the ride home was a thought provoking time running through all of the trials and tribulations of the build mixed with the pride of having one of the finest Super Sport Darmah’s available.
Thanks to Martin and Gary for their contributions and bringing the SSD back to perfection plus the kind folk at Tangmere Aviation Museum who allowed us to play with their fantastic display.
Ducati Twin Timeline
1963: Fabio Taglioni, the man behind Ducati engine designs for decade’s pens his and Ducati’s first twin. US official importer for the marque Joe Berliner looked to the factory for a machine to take on the Harley dominance of the big cruiser market. Taglioni produced a 1257cc L twin engine of 100bhp for the bike named Apollo of which two prototypes were built, the project preceded no further.
1970: First sketched in March and at prototype stage by the autumn Taglioni’s next twin was a 90 degree L formation for the 750GT
1972: Taglioni produced the 750 Imola Desmo named after the famous 200 mile in 1972 won by Paul Smart and launches Ducati twin’s into the big leagues.
1973: The 750 Super Sport Desmo first caught the public eye at the Milan show in November, the first production Desmodromic a tribute to the Imola win the 750 SS goes on sale to the public in 1974.
1975: 900 SS presents a natural evolution for the L twin and the marques range with its new 860cc motor which is also offered in a variety of machines
1976: Ex Ducati works rider Leopoldo Tartarini was involved in the development of the first Darmah, the 900SD
1977: The introduction of the Sport Desmo Darmah updated and improved, over the year the SD Darmah began to be successful, so much so the management looked at a Super Sport version for 1978. With very few changes over its production life, main ones being FPS wheels replacing the Speedlines in 79 and revised foot rests in 1980. The SS Darmah production finished in 1981
1978 Mike Hailwood takes his 900SS to victory in the F1 IOM Tourist Trophy and a race replica for the road is produced to honour the achievement the following year.
The rest is just modern history….
1980 Ducati 900 Super Sport Darmah Specification
- Engine: Four stroke Longitudinal 90 degree V twin light alloy heads and cylinders with cast iron liners. Bore & stroke 86 x 74.4mm. 864cc 64bhp. Desmodromic single OHC Bevel Helical gears, 2 Valves per cylinder
- Carburettors: 2 x 40mm Dellorto PHM
- Transmission: 5 speed driven Wet multi plate clutch
- Frame: Tubular double-cradle space frame
- Front Suspension: Marzocchi tele hydraulic
- Rear Suspension: Swing arm with Fournales Ole-pneumatic shock absorbers
- Front Brakes: Twin 280mm disc with Brembo calipers
- Rear Brake: 229mm disc with Brembo caliper
- Front tyre: 3.50 x 18
- Rear tyre: 4.60 x 18
- Fuel Tank: 19 litres
- Seat Height: 770mm
- Weight; 196kg