888 Conversion. by Gavin Robertson

I have owned a Cagiva 900ie since 95 and I was more than happy with its performance and handling. Coming from a menu of weird Italian bikes including a 1975 Ducati 750 sport in a mono-shock NCR frame, the love for the Ducati engines was still there, but at fast approaching 35 years of age with pins in my ankles and a damaged shoulder, all motorcycle related, I longed for something more comfy!

I first spotted the 900 Lucky Strike in a bike shop in Brighton. mid 1995. A deal was done and the bike was a tribute to the previous owner having covered just 32000 kms in its 4 years since new. That bike took me to Assen, Bol d’or and Le Mans and never really caused any problems other than a sprag clutch and heavy oil usage. With regards to its performance; the rear shock was overhauled by Ohlins’ technicians; UK Suspension and up rated front springs were supplied by MR Holland.

After the suspension came the brakes; an oversize 350mm diameter single disc with a brembo P7 caliper was fitted with braided hose throughout.

Next, a 914 conversion was fitted and mated to a Gibson exhaust hand crafted in stainless steel. Mr. Gibson is a master craftsman and hand builds exhausts for the SBK superbike teams as well as most of the sidecar race units, his work is superb and it fits!!

Finally I had a bike which handled, stopped, went well and sounded good……………. Happiness.

All this transformation took place over the 5 years since purchase and was completed for late 2000.

Idle Mind creates Idea ?

After a 6-month lull in activity, I toyed with the idea of building another bike, ie totally back to nuts and bolts and then restarting from scratch.

I have built from scratch three bikes, namely

· A Dresda Suzuki 750 2 stoke triple

· A Dresda Suzuki GS 1000

· A Ducati Sport 750 in a one off frame a NCR mono-shock

Over the Xmas period I studied magazines and articles, I started to look at the 916 engine and the elefant frame. I had decided to build a monster dual purpose bike By Easter 2002 I had sourced a donor bike on the Dr Desmo web page; dr-desmo-ducati.co.uk the bike was a J reg 1991 Cagiva 900 elefant, bright yellow fuel injected and made into SS spec Moreover, Steve Hillary (Dr Desmo) had used the bike personally throughout the pervious summer and had toured Wales on it so it should at least be okay!!

The bike was advertised at Ј2200, but had a broken stud on the front exhaust port. A deal was done at a greatly reduced price, Ј1500, on the proviso that the engine work and any chip work required on my intended 4 valve project came down to Winchester for Steve to carry out and bill for. DR DESMO Tel 01962 877996

Next stop the engine!!

In May 2002 I sourced a 915 engine complete, through the small ads in MCN, to Tailenders of Romford, a local bike breakers. A quick phone call confirmed that all was okay and after drawing out the monies, I headed to Romford.

The breakers was an Aladdin’s cave of Ducati parts – frames, engines etc, indeed he even had the latest `Tessastreta` narrow valve engine in stock at Ј2500. The guy that ran it, I’ve forgotten his name, showed me the engine and haggling started, then when the price was agreed, he asked me what I was putting the engine into. Upon hearing that it was going into the Elefant frame, he said that he used to own one himself and really showed interest in the project.

More talks followed, but his manner grew uneasy, from the back of his memory banks he recalled a measurement “10mm” ……..“10mm”… he said out loud. He said it again …..“10mm”. He stopped dead in his tracks and made a phone call to one of his contacts. He then proceeded to inform the caller of my project, the engine and then the ……“10mm”.

After a short time he put the phone down, and explained that although he would love to sell me the 916 engine, he wouldn’t As he recalled that somewhere, somehow, the engine wouldn’t fit, either the engine bolts to swinging arm position were out or that something was wrong, and it had something to do with the magical……. 10mm.

A breaker refusing to take my money and actually caring about the outcome of a project. Sale – lost…. Faith restored!!

I can’t remember his name but I want to thank him. Tailenders of Romford 01708 something something. He then went on to point out that the pre 916 that is the 851 or 888 engines would definitely fit as they all shared a common crankcase. That meant that it would line up with all of the same holes in the ‘fant frame…….the dream was getting closer.

He took my phone number and promised to call if one came into his possession.

Over the next four weeks I searched for an 851 or 888 engine but with no avail. Then I came up with the idea of converting the 900ss engine in the fant into a 888 4 valve. A quick phone call to Dr.

Desmo confirmed that it could be done, and that he could and would do it, however he needed the weekend to price the project as it was not an easy conversion. After the weekend I duly called Steve and he informed me Ј1600 complete with new components, and machined to the 888 spec as requested.

As always the case, just as I am considering this conversion a 888 engine appears in the MCN small ads. A phone call to SS Tuning of Langley Mill.01773 530022, confirms that they “ave one” and that there’s “nowt wrong with it”

Now I had the engine and I had the donor bike therefore the project could start in earnest, all I needed now was the time and space……………

By May bank holiday 2002 the Malaysian imported bright yellow 900 elefant had started to be dismantled, and the final dealings were done on the 888 engine from SS Tuning. The guys at SS Tuning did a really good job, and in the end I bought the engine, exhaust manifolds, the air box including all sensors and the water radiator complete with hoses and fan unit, as well as the 888 engine which had done only “10,000 miles”.

All the pricing will be shown at the end of the project, but suffice to say the above list was spread and purchased between June and December 2002.

Throughout all of my conversations with people, there was a common theme to all of their concerns, namely:

1. Airbox, and how is it going to breathe?

2. Fuel injection, chips and space: ie is there enough?

3. Swinging arm and the engine in the frame: no space!!

4. Cooling, oil and water or just water!!

Without a doubt the biggest concerns were always raised over fuelling, cooling and air intake. Everybody, but everybody commented on: the 888 airbox being twice the size of a Fants box, the radiator hitting the front wheel, nowhere for air to get into the engine and the air intake, and then nowhere for the air to go.

But, this is what building a project is like…. most of the time; its 2 steps forward and 2 steps back, then something else makes sense and you follow that road. But I was adamant that the spirit and style of the fant should be the same.

I tried to imagine what the engineers at Cagiva would have done if they had the 4-valve engine available to them rather than being cash strapped, and this is the thinking that moulded the project into what is documented here. I decided to list out my aims and specifications and try to refer them whenever faced with a problem.


i. The engine and frame must be of the same vintage; this makes wiring and chips easier, no point putting a 2000 engine in a 1990 frame, more 888 than 998.

ii. The frame must be a fant albeit modified and must look like a fant.

iii. The wheels must be wired and carry the intended size tyres ie 110/90 x 19 and140/80 x 17or slightly bigger. No sticky 190 x 17 on this bike, they were not available in 1992 unless you were Randy Mamola.

iv. The bike must look like a Cagiva Elefant with all of the panels being ‘fant based or modified from ‘fant panels. It had to be from the family!!

v. The spirit must be ELEFANT not supermoto …….“I don’t look right on a supermoto!!

vi. It must stop, go and turn like a ‘fant, only better, not worse. The 900 ‘fant would be its base point from which all comparisons would be made: 900 v 888.

To this end I would use my Lucky 900 as a base model to compare as aspects and to experiment with, on items headed “areas for concern”. These were the cooling, and air intake problems as previously mentioned.

I remember reading an article; many moons ago, that the beak fitted to the Suzuki DR range did two things. Firstly, it keeps pressure on the front wheel to eliminate vagueness and secondly it fed air into and onto the engine for cooling and for air intake. Armed with this information and approximately Ј65.00 later, I owned a beak from a DR 750. This was then put on the “test bed” 900 and driven around for over 1500kms to ensure that no cracking of body or mounting problems incurred.

See photo. Beak 1 2

Strangely enough it did what it said on the packet. You could now release the handlebars at virtually any speed and the bike “tracked” better than before, it seemed more surefooted than before. So much so, that the test bike can now be `backed` into corners and roundabouts better than ever before.

I realise most of this is down to the T66’s but I swear the beak helps!!

The beak also allows for a direct air intake, to be fitted running from the airbox (as was) to the underside front section of the beak. In addition, if you view the side elevation as in picture 3 you can see two moulded cut outs which my have to be machined out for more air intake if the 888 needs it.

The testing continues!!

Most people remember where they were when Kennedy died. I don’t, but I do remember going to meet a client on the A1/M25 intersection when I received a phone call: “Have you seen this weeks MCN. Asked one of my biking friends. “There’s an elephant with a 916 Ducati engine in it. “He’s done a real good job” “Lots of trick bits!!

The feeling felt really pissed me off. It was like dumping a girlfriend only to realise that, not two weeks later, she turned into a thing of beauty, could hump for Britain after realising she had a trick pelvis and was loaded. PISSED I WAS.

The bike in question did look good; moreover it looked the part. It had been made right and seemed to match the criteria until ……………

I studied those photo’s, like a jealous girlfriend looking for implant scars on your latest moment of fancy. I studied, magnified, swore at and tried every which way to condemn the facts in question. SOMEONE BEAT ME TO MY DREAM.

I was now like some sad old git, who realised that the girl was not what she said she was, and that, I never had or was going to have a new bike! SOD IT.

There’s nothing left to do, other than what we Brits do best. SLAG THE BLOODY THING TO DEATH. I had now become the typical bar room special builder, slagging off everything else whilst not finishing my own project.

For 2 weeks and more, I bad mouthed that bike, left, right and centre, and to this day I still feel envy for the Italsport creation.

However, there was one phrase which didn’t ring true in the article and having come this far I decided that there was no going back. So with the theme tune to Dambusters ringing in my ears, I set about building what I wanted, the way that I wanted. STICK TO THE CRITERIA, make it a Superfant not a superdream.

Make it happen……….

Over the course of this project, I will document all the points of interest and frustration. As I write this piece – 27 th February 2003. the bike is waiting on an air filter, the radiator, its third! and it’s final exhaust. The engine is in, the frame fits, all of it including the front loop, and it looks like an elefant, even the standard tank fits – although that is a whole separate chapter.

Cagiva Elefant 900 IE

Dismantling is quite easily done and as long as you document the proposed order and photograph the disassembly you’ll be amazed how easy it is. You see, there is no workshop manual for a 851 or 888, so the photographing is imperative as it builds a catalogue of what go’s where!!

Bodywork – off – no real problems, however noticed that only one headlamp is on during low beam. Is the bulb knackered or is this a Malaysian malaise. Also wrong size battery fitted to bike.

Engine – 900 spec – as sold to me, therefore I’m selling as one in the MCN. The exhaust ,a Remus ; and Engine, go for Ј550 complete. and I still have the oil coolers and injection system to play with.

The Ј500 from the Ј550 goes straight to Dr Desmo in Winchester, in order that he can lay his healing hands and prescribe his private potions on my 888 engine. Valve rebuild, Head build, New belts, Bearing checks, Compression tests and general going over means my 888 is diagnosed as `good one` and credit goes to S.S. Tuning for supplying what they said they had, ie a low mileage 888 engine.

In the world of Bullshit, it is nice to know that someone is totally telling the truth.

SS Tuning 01773 530022…. they supply good stuff!!

Now we are able to compare the 888 engine to the 900 engine. Why is it, that “something thats smaller” can be considerably bigger than the thing “its” smaller than!!

There is no way that this engine is going anywhere near that frame. No way; it’s taller, it’s wider, it’s deeper; No way! There is no way that this thing is ever going to fit.

It can not, I repeat, cannot be done, and just to prove the point, I took the cam belt cover off of the 888 and fitted it to the 900 engine as it sat in the fant frame. The magnitude of this task is just beginning to hit home. The `new` engine would take out the rear frame tube, the top frame tube and the middle engine support mounting bolts.

If all of this was not enough, the crank cases needed 20mm machined off of the right hand side and approx 10mm off of the left-hand side at the swinging arm pivots.

N.B. Ducati provided crankcases and engines for Cagiva to make their enduro range, but the crankcases were supplied minus some bearing blocks. This did not matter to Cagiva as their swinging arms carried the bearings and their frames carried the swinging arms, where as Ducati, Ducati engines carried their swinging arm bushes and the swinging arms had no frame to swing from!!

All Ducati, Ducati engines have needle rollers bushes and their housings machined and cast into the crankcases. In order for a Ducati, Ducati engine to fit a Cagiva frame the needle rollers have to be machined out and down approx 20mm and 10mm respectively.

This thing was never, repeat never, just going to “slip straight in”. Major rethinks had to take place, and I was deeply worried about machining the crankcases.

All I had was a reasonably equipped garage and even then I used to borrow a 4.5 inch grinder from Shaun down the road.

Just looking at the engine on the bench, even without the injectors fitted, looked menacing enough and just trying to visualise the frame modifications was taking some mental hurdles. Time to call in some help, from the friends who weld!!

Over the August Bank holiday and just one week prior to the purchaser of the stock 900 engine coming to collect his engine, we set about cutting and shutting the frame. The front section of the frame was to remain with the wheel and forks, whilst the mid section would be held in place with the engine. Both the swinging arms and sub frames, had to be re-moved.

Whilst the frame was intact, new square box sections were welded in place, then and only then, after the new box sections had been welded to the old jigged box sections could we cut through the original frame. We continued this process and with the aid of vernier callipers and G-clamps using machined spacers, were we able to effectively, move the rear frame tube “back” 30mm and the top frame tube “up” 28mm. All welding was done with the engine in place and bolted tight.

Numerous strengthening gussets had to be welded in place, only to be cut out again after the proper section had been achieved. If you look at the,

Photo Frame 1

you will see that the “new” rear tube follows the same path as the original for the first 50/60mm. The second

Photo frame (2)

although taken at a bad angle shows the “new” tube behind the original prior to “running” into the original tube at the top section. The new tube was welded over a 75mm section to the old tube, before an additional strengthening plate 4mm thick was welded over the join and ground into the butted box sections.

This plate was shaped to mimic the outline of the frame, there was no need for a similar plate on the inside of the frame, as this weld could be much stronger and less prone to inspection. All box sections were mild steel 30 x 30 x 3mm wall thickness and was marginally thicker than the original 2.2mm as used by Cagiva.

We also decided to leave all ` end caps` off, of the hollow section until the new engine, was in place, as there was no point `finishing` the frames final touches until the new engine was in. This later proved an invaluable decision, as until now all we had for comparisons were a cardboard cut out of an engine,……. I kid you not,… and the rocker cover/cam belt cover from the 888.

The frame was left to cool down over night and the following morning allowed a final inspection prior to the engine coming out.

Thankfully the engine came out without any problems and the frame did not “ping all over the place” .With the frame and engine separated, we could at last try the 888 engine in the `new` frame, and as long as the swinging arms was not fitted we could tighten up all the bolts as required.

The engine was placed into the frame and without the swinging arm, although the spindle was fitted, all bolts were then tightened. The photographs shown are from a later part ie after the frame has had its end caps welded in place and after the plates have been welded over the old cut frame tubes but you can still get an idea as to the lack of room in the engine/frame areas as in

Photos 1 2.

The most frustrating aspect was over the fouling at the rear head inspection plate as in

Photo No 3.

The top left hand M6 bolt hit the left hand down tube to such an extent that the tube had to be ground away to almost half its box section and a gusset plate welded in over a 50mm section. The frame is now 30 x 30 box section transferring to 30 x 30 triangular then back to box after the inspection plate. Other than this problem there were no other issues to raise their ugly heads or at least that is what we thought.

So here and now I want to thank “Bones” for all the welding and state it would not have been possible without him

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