Retrospective: Ducati Paso 750: 1986-1988
(This Retrospective article appeared in the May 2008 issue of Rider Magazine.)
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CLEMENT SALVADORI
You just bought a famous motorcycle company, and you want to make a splash, a big to-do at the annual motorcycle show.
No time to do anything really new technically, but maybe a stylish set of clothes over some new foundation garments would do the trick. Dress up the previous hotshot like never before. Ergo, the Paso 750.
Essentially this new model took the engine out of the successful F1 racebike, and with a couple of major modifications it was bolted into a new chassis with a full-enclosure fairing. The Ducati brand was presenting a brand-new face to the world, moving away from the hard-edged race replicas for which it had become famous. This was intended to be a mass-produced sporting mount for the rider who wanted a certain measure of comfort, with excellent handling and performance as well.
In the early 1980s Ducati had such financial woes that a government-run outfit was called in to oversee the entire operation, but the bureaucratic approach lacked efficiency. Then the Cagiva motorcycle company struck a deal to buy Ducati motors to power several of its models, soon followed by Cagiva’s buying the whole Ducati concern, lock, stock and desmodromic cylinder heads, taking it out of government hands. This was in 1985, and Ducati already had a brilliant engineer on staff, Massimo Bordi, who was working on developing the L-twin’s potential. Cagiva also hired Massimo Tamburini, one of the founders of the rather exotic Bimota motorcycle company, and the two Massimos put their two heads together and came up with a design that would startle the masses.
Bordi had worked hard to bring the 1979 Pantah 500cc engine, with belt-driven, SOHC desmo two-valve heads, to a competitive edge, and the 748.1cc 1985 F1 750 was the final result, a very serious racer with lights. And turn signals. Its drawbacks were that it was an absolute misery to ride anywhere but on a smooth track, as it had an extremely stiff frame and very hard suspension.
The triple order was to improve the ride, decrease the cost and give it a new look. And a new name: “Paso” was the nickname of famed Italian racer Renzo Pasolini, who died at Monza in 1973 racing an Aermacchi 250 GP. The purchase of the Aermacchi company from Harley-Davidson in 1978 was what gave Cagiva its real start, so Paso was a fitting tribute.
The round-tube trellis frame on the F1 looked absolutely spiff, with much of it being revealed behind the partial fairing. It felt great at 130 mph, but was a bit tweaky on the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Italian hill towns. And the single Marzocchi Cantilever shock absorber, as well as the 40mm Marzocchi fork, had very stiff springing. The new double-cradle frame was of rather unattractive rectangular-tubed chrome-moly steel, but since it was all going to be covered up, who cared? To simplify maintenance, and engine removal, several of the cradle tubes unbolted. This was the first Ducati design that allowed the rear cylinder to be fully serviced without removing the engine…what a joy. The aluminum swingarm, extended by more than 2 inches, had eccentric chain adjusters that simplified the proper tensioning of the chain.
The Marzocchi fork was fattened up to 42mm and was air adjustable, with an adjustable damping device on the right side; the left tube was focused on the compression stroke. This came with 25 degrees of rake, 4 inches of trail. At the back the Marzocchi shock was tossed in favor of an Öhlins Soft Damp, with the latest rising-rate technology, giving 5.4 inches of travel. Italian-made Oscam wheels were 16-inch front and rear, with Pirelli rubber. The F1 had a 16 front, 18 rear, and this new smaller rear on the Paso made for very quick steering. It also required off-setting the engine a smidge so that the chain could clear the fat, low-profile 160/60 tire. Brembo supplied the brakes, with a pair of 280mm discs on the front, single 270mm disc on the back, squeezed by double-action calipers. The distance between axles was 56.5 inches.
Engine dimensions were kept the same, 88mm bore, 61.5mm stroke, but a radical change was made by twisting the rear head 180 degrees, as had already been done on the Ducati engine in Cagiva’s Elephant enduro model, and using one Weber dual-throat (36mm Venturis) carburetor. The F1 had a pair of Dell’Orto 36mm pumper carbs, optional 40mm if you wanted to go really fast. A complicated siamesed exhaust system ran into very silent Silentium mufflers; of course there were aftermarket options (For Closed Course Use Only).
Other engine changes were a Kokusan electronic ignition and a stronger 14-plate dry clutch. The camshafts and timing were a bit changed from the F1, giving more low-rev power, and at 7,500 rpm the engine was making about 73 crankshaft horsepower, so in fifth gear the speedometer needle was nudging 130 mph. Two small oil radiators were helpful in keeping the engine cool. Shrouding all this were half a dozen pieces of ABS, comprised of a nose section with painted windscreen, big wraparound body, two lowers, oil radiator covers and a tail piece.
The Ducati reputation for demanding unconditional love for the machines held true on the Paso since the fuel pump—required because a portion of the gas tank was below the carburetor—had a tendency to flood the Weber and create problems with low-speed running. Under full honk everything was fine, but urban dallying could make the rider unhappy. Eventually a pressure valve was fitted between the pump and the carb which cured the problem.
The first Pasos came into this country in 1986, with a hefty $7,000 price tag—cost reduction hadn’t been so successful. That year the Japanese 750 in-line fours were making more horsepower for less money; for $4,500 Suzuki would sell anyone a GSX-R750. You had to be a true Ducatista to spend the extra money.
In 1989 the bored and stroked (92 x 68mm), liquid-cooled, Paso 906 appeared, with Ducati hoping that the 15 percent increase in power and sixth gear would humble the in-line fours. Not so. Then came the ’91 907 i.e., which dropped the Paso name when the Weber/Marelli fuel injection was added. End of the line.