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The First Ducati Superbike

✍️ Andrew Kissell 

Paul Smart laying it over on the ‘72 Imola 200 winning 750 Ducati📸

Paul Smart laying it over on the ‘72 Imola 200 winning 750 Ducati


Paul Smart's victory at the 1972 Imola 200 mile race on the new 750 ‘bevel’ v-twin was the start of Ducati's superbike success, and the beginning of a new era for the factory, which continues to this day.

The ’72 Imola 200 race was a Ducati 1-2, with Paul narrowly winning the race from team mate Bruno Spaggiari, who had lead but ran low on fuel on the final lap.  

Paul was married Barry Shene’s sister Maggie, and was racing the fearsome 750 two-stroke Kawasaki triples when approached by Ducati.   Here’s his wonderful story; 

"I was riding for Team Hansen Kawasaki in America and to be honest, the pay was not good. I got a basic wage of $12,000 a year and this was just not enough to live on. 

"My wife Maggie phoned me and said that she'd got this ride for me on a Ducati at Imola. All that I knew about Ducati was that they made out of date singles, and I didn't even know where Imola was, but Ducati paid my airfare and there was £500 wages, win or lose, so I was up for it. 

"I flew from Atlanta, where I had been racing, to London and then straight on to Milan. By the time I arrived, I was dead on my feet. The only thing I wanted Ducati to give me was some food and a bed

"I got straight off the plane and was taken to Modena circuit which is in the centre of the old town of Modena, near to Ferrari's factory. I got the sense that something big was happening because there was a load of Ducati staff and designer Ingenere Fabio Taglioni himself. The first thing which struck me was that bike looked awfully long. It was clearly a road machine and didn't look too exciting. The lug for the road bike's centre stand was still in place. In the paddock, they put a bolt through this and used the centre stand normally. I'd never, ever seen this done on a race bike! 

"The bike looked much too long and too big to be a serious race machine but I was immediately impressed by Taglioni who reminded me very much of Doug Hele at Triumph - a good listener, very enthusiastic with a big smile and carrying a very clear picture of the complete race bike in his head. Like Hele, he knew what was needed to make the whole bike work and this encouraged me no end. 

"Having just got off the vicious two-stroke Kawasaki H2TR, the Ducati felt really slow because it It didn't rev very much - only to 8250rpm. 

"The handling was very slow too. It took an age to turn and ground clearance was limited but it was very stable at speed. I liked it a lot. 

"The Ducati race team manager, Franco Farné, asked me what I wanted changing and I told him that the TT100 road tyres had to go. They were worried that race tyres would wear out in the 200 mile race but there was no way I could ride fast and safely on road tyres. 

"I also needed a much faster reaction throttle because I had damaged my wrist in the North-West 200 and it was really weak and didn't have much movement in it. 

"After the last session, I was completely exhausted and just wanted to go to bed. I brought the bike back to the pits and all the Ducati mechanics were jumping up and down. I had just broken Ago's outright lap record - and he had been riding his 500c Grand Prix bike. 

"When we arrived at Imola I could see that this was a huge event from the size of the crowd. I saw Ago and he said not to worry about him because the MV was certain to blow up and in any case, it was shaft drive and didn't handle. 

"I never took anything for granted but Bruno Spaggiari, my team mate, and me were both setting very fast times in qualifying so I felt confident that we would be in with a chance. 

"My big worry was the bike. It's not like today when race bikes run forever. There was always something dropping off these old things so they need to be constantly nursed. In particular, I thought that the big v-twin engine would knock heck out of the clutch and I didn't want to destroy it before the first corner. 

"I got away well but Ago was leading. As he had predicted, after a few laps the MV blew up and that put me in the lead. Then I lost first gear. This wasn't much of a problem, since the engine pulled so well, but what worried me was that there might be a piece of broken metal floating around inside the gearbox waiting to lock everything up and kill me. 

"This put me off for a few laps and then I got my confidence back, passed Bruno and the job was done

"During the last few laps of the race you could hear the screaming voices of the fans above the sound of the engines. I was used to enthusiastic crowds in England but this was something different.  

Dicing Desmos; #9 Bruno Spaggiari with #16 Paul Smart 📸

Dicing Desmos; #9 Bruno Spaggiari with #16 Paul Smart


"Bruno and I crossed the finish line first and second and I relaxed for the first time since boarding the plane in Atlanta. I remember riding the bike back into the pit lane and seeing the faces of the entire race team, especially Taglioni and Ducati's Managing Director, Fredmano Spairani. Total elation. This was a big deal for Ducati.

 "Before the race, the Ducati team manager Franco Farné was so confident that Bruno and me were going to be first and second that he got us to agree to pool the prize money and split it 50/50 regardless of who won. I was pleased to do this and I think I took home about £5,000 - which was a lot of money. 

 "Ducati had also promised me the bike if I won and, with my past experience of manufacturers' promises, I didn't believe them. But I was wrong and sure enough they did give me the bike and I've still got it today and it's now on display in the Ducati museum in Bologna." 

The Imola wining bike on display at Museo Ducati 📸 Ducati

The Imola wining bike on display at Museo Ducati

📸 Ducati

"They really made a big fuss about Bruno, me and Ducati in Italy. They put our bikes in this big glass-sided truck and us on the top and that evening we had a grand tour around Bologna in a long procession of cars honking their horns and waving flags.

All seven Imola bikes lined up in the Bologna Party Bus📸

All seven Imola bikes lined up in the Bologna Party Bus


“We stopped for what was to be minute outside the railway station, but thousands and thousands of people surrounded us and we just joined in the party. I was still in my leathers and so tired and jet lagged, but there was no way you were going to get any sleep at this party.  It seemed an entire city came out to celebrate this glory for Ducati, Bologna and Italy.:     

 “ The day was also notable for me in another way … it was also my birthday April 23 … a really good birthday.”  ( Ref #2)

Paul racing the gifted  ‘Imola Ducati  again at Silverstone later in 1972, in his Team Kawasaki Leathers.

Paul racing the gifted ‘Imola Ducati again at Silverstone later in 1972, in his Team Kawasaki Leathers.

Paul’s Imola win was honoured by Ducati in 2006,  with the release of the sought after limited edition Paul Smart Classic

2006 Ducati Paul Smart 1000 Limited 📸

2006 Ducati Paul Smart 1000 Limited


Serious lean angle for 1972 spec rubber!

Serious lean angle for 1972 spec rubber!

One of the early pioneers of the off-the-saddle, knee-dragging style of riding, Paul sadly passed away in a road accident 2021, still riding at age 78.


🕵️ key reference source


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