1978 Ducati 500GTL for Sale
The famous Ducati “L” twin engine is a classic motorcycle motivator: it’s got a distinctive valvetrain clatter, a snarling exhaust note, makes good power and looks like nothing else. And the bikes it powered were winning races and stealing hearts.
So what do you do when the time comes to develop a new middle-weight bike? If you’re Ducati, you throw the whole thing out the window.
The Ducati twin may be an icon, but a dream to package it is not. Aside from its narrow width between the knees and smooth powerband, it’s a serious pain to design a bike around: move it too far forward for good weight distribution and a long swingarm, and the front wheel hits it. Move it back a bit so the front wheel doesn’t compress into your Desmodromic cylinder head, you end up with a very long chassis that’s stable, but not very nimble.
In the 70’s, Ducati’s management decided that the way forward in the middleweight class was with a parallel twin. It’s great for packaging, but the costs for developing an entirely new engine were high and famed designer Fabio Taglioni wanted nothing to do with it.
It being his baby that was thrown out with the bathwater, after all.
The new 500cc engine had its valves actuated by springs instead of Ducati’s famous Desmodromic valvetrain and a single overhead camshaft. It made about 35hp, which might have been fine if the bike was a real looker. The styling of the bike was similar to the contemporary 860 GT. While that bike is slowly being accepted as a classic now, at the time the design was not popular, and the 500 suffered as a result. A later restyle into the Sport Desmo 500 saw an uptick in interest, but the bike never sold very well, even after Taglioni was convinced to develop a Desmo head for it..
Even worse, the bikes developed a reputation for abysmal reliability, with crankshaft failures distressingly common.
Luckily, Fabio Taglioni had continued to develop the belt-drive L-twin he’d wanted to build all along. The Pantah and its descendants have been in continual development since then and still power air-cooled Ducatis today.
I used to see one of the Sport Desmo’s at the Garage Company in LA and always thought it was a classy little bike, sort of a mini Darmah. Of course, I’ve no idea if it ran. And that’s the real issue with these: can you find parts? Can you keep it running? If it tries to fire bits of crankshaft out of the cases, will the AutoZone have enough JB Weld in stock to patch up the perforated, impossible to replace crankcase?
In this bike’s case, that may not be an issue: with such impossibly low mileage, it really belongs in a museum somewhere, not in pieces in a garage while the owner tries to get some piston rings from a Suzuki to fit and points from a Chrysler to get it to fire…
Bidding is up to $7,200 as of this writing, so someone’s building a 500GTL-sized glass case or is seriously brave…