The Ducati 851 was a Ducati motorcycle, with liquid cooling and four valve heads, released to the public in 1987. Development had lagged with the continued use of two valve engines, but new funds enabled a technological move forward Ducati needed at the time.
After buying Ducati, Cagiva invested in the development of another V-twin, but with liquid cooling, and four valve desmodromic heads. Massimo Bordi, had designed a 4V Desmo in 1973 for his thesis at the University of Bologna, and with Cagiva in 1985, saw his updated ideas come into production as the Desmoquattro.
Based on the Pantah motor, but with liquid cooling, fuel injection, and desmodromic four valve heads (with an included valve angle of 40 degrees), the 851 made Ducati race competitive again.
The original Desmo Quattro was an experimental 748 cc 4 valve racer (seen at the Bol d’Or in 1986) and used 750 F1 Pantah crankcases. Bordi collaborated with Cosworth to develop the heads, but in the time they had, they were only able to reduce the included valve angle of the desmodromic engine to 40, while less than 30 was possible with valve springs. Ducati stuck with the desmodromics.
The subsequent 851 road bike had stronger crankcases, while the heads and valves remained the same; designed to fit above the 88 mm bore of a 748 cc version.
The 1987 – 1988 Ducati 851 Strada used the signature steel tube trellis frame, adorned with Marvic wheels, Brembo brakes and Marzocchi suspension. That first release was criticised for its handling, so front wheel was changed from a 16 inch to a 17 inch wheel, and even better suspension components fitted.
The 851 racing bike was the realisation of one man’s dream. Massimo Bordi originally designed the Desmodromic four-valve engine way back in 1973, and after several mules were developed, the experimental 705 F1 Pantah-engined bike was taken out to 851cc. The rest, as they say, is history.
Whether truth or myth, the story about Marco Lucchinelli and his pit crew rolling up at Donington Park for the first ever WSB meeting in a van with a race-kitted 851 Strada is an entertaining one. Just as entertaining as Lucchinelli’s determination to win, which he did om the second leg. This result set Ducati on an upward spiral to WSB domination in the year to come.
If 1988 was a learning curve for Ducati, 1989 was the year they put theory into practice. Ducati came out fighting in WSB with an improved 851 and Raymond Roche at the bars. Roche took second place in the riders’ championship.
Further improvements to the 851 saw the 1900 v-twin engine’s bore go up 2mm (to 94mm) to take capacity to 888cc, although it was still known as an 851. Honda might have won the WSB manufacturer title, but Roche won the rider’s title on the 851.
Ducati’s rout of WSB started in 1991. Still at 888cc and still tagged the 851, the Ducati was sorted in every area. Its handling outshone the Japanese bikes by a country mile. The engine delivered less horsepower than the Hondas and Yamahas, but its midrange torque made up for this by out-powering everything out of the turns.
Doug Polen secured Ducati the first of six manufacturer titles from 1991 to 1996.
This Ducati can also be attributed with sending Carl Fogarty on his way to WSB fame and fortune by taking a win on a non-works privateer 888 at 1992’s WSB opener at Donington Park. The 888 era ended when it was replaced by the equally successful 916.
Carl Fogarty said: The 851 was great to ride. It was very smooth and torquey. In a way it combined the best bits of the Yamaha and the Honda. It was fast, it handled well and when I was in a corner I didn’t lose the front. It set me up for the rest of my career with Ducati.
Getting off the four cylinders it felt different because it revved to under 11,000rpm. When I first rode it at Cadwell I thought;oh God this is so slow but when I came in the lap times were there. You never felt like you were actually going that fast.
In 1992 the bore was enlarged, thus creating the Ducati 888.
- Ducati Vyper!! – ducati.org forum the home for ducati owners and enthusiasts
- 2010 Ducati 1198S Comparison Track – Motorcycle USA
- A&R Rubbies: The Best Motorcycle Concepts of 2009
- Audi Motorrad Concept based on Ducati 848
- Ducati GA Motorcycle Insurance