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Ducati 450 RT 1971

22119

Make: 

  • Ducati

Model: 

  • 450 RT

Year: 

  • 1971

Category: 

Cross / motocross
1971 was a huge year: NASA launched their follow up to the disastrous Apollo 13 mission; the floppy disk-drive was invented; and Sean Connery returned to the helm as James Bond in the quite bloody awful Diamonds are Forever, proving once and for all that some things shouldn't be re-visited. But in the spirit of exploration, in 1971 Ducati embarked on a foray into the motocross world with a 450cc engine. Released only in the USA and only for one year, the RT was the Italian superbike makers’ attempt to breach the bigger-scale motocross market, where in the late 60’s BSA dominated with the 441 Victor. It didn’t work. One can imagine that the American-partner, Berliner Motors, that had recommended the venture as a good market in the first place, subsequently received a colossal clip around the ear for their efforts. But this does leave us enthusiasts with a lovely conundrum almost fifty years later: the one of a kind Ducati 450 RT.
 
In a ballsy, outrageous feat of ‘outside-of-the-box’ engineering, the plan was to build an excellent engine, then mount it very, very poorly – too far forward – to be likeable, let alone usable. The 450 was notoriously difficult to turn, which as far as motocross goes, is a bit of a must-have. The bodywork was also made of fibreglass instead of plastic, which is fine if your aim was to make a brittle toy, or a canoe. The 450 RT though have one thing going for it: the implementation of the desmodromic valve system into a single cylinder beast.
Nicknamed the ‘desmo’ (must have been an Australian in the engineering crew somewhere), the valves aimed at preventing float by using dual rocker arms on each valve – one for opening, another for closing. The 450 RT was the only motocross bike ever fitted with the desmo valves and in theory was meant to help the motorcycle maintain higher sustained engine speeds. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to sway the consumers. In fairness, the RT actually stood for Road/Trail, which may explain why it was considerably more portly than it’s motocross competitors at 134kg, but also more powerful as it churned out 38 horsepower to the BSA’s 30, and it was much quicker since it came in electric yellow – the only colour option available.

The 450 could never repeat the same success that the 250cc and 350cc Ducati’s achieved, with the latter winning the Baja 500 in 1969. However, the bike is a rarity, with only a few hundred were ever built, and subsequently they’re worth a little bit of cash but not as much as one would imagine – motorcycles that are great to ride and scarce (and in your garage) are a match made in heaven. Motorcycles with steering made of cheese are less so.
And yet despite the obvious failure of the motocross venture, there are clearly those that have fond memories of floppies, thrusters and many a Bond double-entendre, and thus rumours continually surface on the google-machine of potentially another 450cc Ducati in the pipeline. Never go back?
 

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