Updated: Aug 20, 2021

By Guest Writer, John Nutting

Famous designer of so many iconic Ducati road and racing machines, *Dr.Ing.Fabio Taglioni regarded the TT2 as his best design. Before his retirement in 1982, he told Motorcycle Files principal Alan Cathcart: “It’s the epitome of everything I’ve always aimed for in motorcycle engineering. It has light weight, a wide power band, a slim profile and good fuel consumption. It’s also fast without employing an engine big enough to power an automobile.”

*Note: The title Dottore Ingeniere (Dr.Ing.) is Italian for Doctor of Engineering.

Some of the more popular classic Ducatis are replicas of Taglioni’s TT2 vee-twin that won the World Formula 2 title four times in the 1980s but John Nutting tested the original works bikes raced by Tony Rutter in 1984 and writes:

A special day at Brands Hatch

Life as a motorcycle journalist didn’t get much better for me than when I was invited to try the works Ducatis that had been raced to consecutive world road-racing championships in the early 1980s.

Tony Rutter at left, Pat Slinn working on the bike and John Nutting on right.

It was towards the end of the 1984 season and Tony Rutter, who had already clinched his fourth TT Formula 2 title to make it almost his own, was testing the bikes at Brands Hatch. The invitation had come from Dave Burr, manager of Tony Rutter Racing and UK importer of genuine parts from the factory, who was planning the following year to offer for sale Ducatis that would be replicas of Rutter’s title-winning bikes. He was joined by Pat Slinn, the fabled technician who had been building and preparing Rutter’s bikes since 1981 and I’d known from his days as the UK Ducati importer’s service manager. His greatest claim to fame before his involvement with the Rutter TT2 had been that he’d helped build the TT Formula 1 World Championship-winning Ducati 900 on which Mike Hailwood had made his famous Isle of Man TT-winning comeback with Steve Wynne’s Sports Motorcycles dealership in 1978. His role in building a road-going Ducati Pantah into Tony Rutter’s 1981 Isle of Man TT winner for Sports Motorcycles was perhaps less glamorous than the involvement with Mike Hailwood’s 1978 but was still a mightily significant contribution to motorcycle racing history.

At the Brands Hatch test, I’d be riding the 600 TT2 and the more-recently developed 750cc version as they were being prepared for the following weekend’s Powerbike International meeting. I’d have the whole afternoon with the bikes, enabling an insight into what had created such a successful partnership. So, with the works Ducatis required to be in peak condition, the pressure was on me not to damage a pair of priceless thoroughbreds.

Rutter’s bikes were examples of what many in classic circles regard as the last ‘pure’ racing bikes to come out of the Bologna factory. Designed as complete machines by fabled engineer Dr Ing Fabio Taglioni, who soon after retired, they carried a blood line that dried up when the factory turned to liquid-cooled four-valve big bikes for Superbike racing. The swan song of a career that had spanned the previous three decades, Taglioni’s TT2 encapsulated everything that had made his racers so potent despite having to work with limited budgets.

The Ducati Pantah

The TT2 was the racing version of the 583cc Pantah vee-twin that was first revealed as a 497cc prototype in 1977. It is estimated – the factory records have been lost, says Slinn – that around 40 of the TT2 machines were produced by Ducati, making original examples very rare machines. No wonder then that over the intervening 40 years a cottage industry has grown to satisfy the need for replica versions.

Taglioni designed the Pantah engine with Ducati’s familiar 90-degree V-twin layout (which he called an L-twin) but it was right up to the minute. Unlike the big 750 and 900cc vee-twins which used a pressed-up crankshaft with roller and ball bearings and a camshaft driven by a vertical shaft with spiral bevel gears, the Pantah used a future-proof engine architecture that would make manufacture and assembly much easier.

This involved the use of a one-piece single-throw crankshaft with plain shell-type main and big-end bearings fed by a high-pressure lubrication system incorporating a replaceable cartridge filter. As well as being less costly and more reliable over higher mileages, this reduced mechanical noise. For the same reasons, the overhead camshafts were driven by toothed belts from a half-speed countershaft between the cylinders.

The engine was remarkably compact despite its air cooling, notably because the cylinders – with a hard Gilnasil coating for the bores, allowing tighter clearances – were deeply spigoted into the vertically-split aluminium-alloy crankcases, and used oversquare bore and stroke dimensions of 74 x 57.8mm. There were two valves in each head, 37.5mm for the inlet and 33.5mm for the exhaust, opened by a single camshaft, and more importantly also closed by it too, because desmodromic operation was used rather than power-sapping springs, minimising the risk of valve float and enabling, in theory, quicker opening speeds. Enabling the combustion chamber to be more compact, the valve stems had an included angle of 60 degrees - narrower than the bevel twins. With a compression ratio of 9.5 to 1, the first road-going 500cc Pantahs were rated at a modest 52bhp at just over 9,000rpm, at the crankshaft.

The first racing versions of the Pantah were produced a year after the road bike had been launched in 1979, primarily for domestic Italian championship racing. Two bikes based on the bigger 600SL, launched for 1980, were prepared by racing mechanic Franco Farne using the original frame, and special Marzocchi suspension. Clothed in bodywork similar to that used on the semi-works NCR900 it looked bulky but power was a healthy 70bhp at 9,800rpm.

The emergence of TT Formula racing – actually more than just a ploy to maintain interest in the Isle of Man as an international racing event – was growing in Europe. The idea of the class was to promote the use of production-based machines, of which 1,000 units had to be made in the year before homologation.Taglioni saw this as an opportunity to put the Bologna factory back on the world’s racing map, and he designed the TT2 based around the 583cc Pantah engine but with a more compact tubular-steel trellis frame that would become as much a hallmark of future Ducatis as the 90-degree vee-twin engine.

With triangulated construction in 25mm-tubing the frame made by Ducati’s contractor Verlicchi could be light – just 16 pounds – and with four butted mounting points used the engine cases as part of the structure, thus making it more stiff. Rear suspension retained the swing-arm’s pivot point on the back of the gearbox casting, but with a single Paoli shock. Up front a fork with 35mm legs and magnesium sliders was supplied by Marzocchi. Wheels were 18-inch cast-alloy items from Campagnolo with 2.15 and 3.00 rims. With a wheelbase of just 55 inches (1,397mm) the bike was tiny.

Power was increased by the use of bigger 81mm pistons giving a capacity of 597cc, a higher 10 to 1 compression, larger-diameter inlet and exhaust valves and higher-lift camshafts with longer opening duration. For the TT2 world championship races the standard 36mm Dellorto carbs were retained. The Italian championships called for the retention of the starter motor and the 200w generator. Nonetheless the engine turned out a claimed 76bhp at 10,750rpm and, with extensive lightening of engine parts, all-up weight was a featherweight 270 pounds (123kg).

As Ducati’s service manager for the UK market during the early 1970s, Pat Slinn says his visits to the factory had revealed these developments and his move to join Steve Wynne at Sports Motor Cycles full time in 1979 enabled him to get involved with racing. Knowing that the Formula 2 regulations – which had favoured the use of TZ350-powered Yamahas – were likely to be changed in 1981 to limit carburettors to those used on the road bikes, Slinn argued that they should race a F2-based Ducati.

Building a TT Winner

“The new technical specifications would suit the road-based Pantah, and my imagination went into overdrive,” says Slinn. “I persuaded Steve that we should build and enter a bike in the Formula 2 class of the Isle of Man TT. Steve enthusiastically agreed, but we both knew that if we were to be competitive we needed the help of the factory.”

But that help would be limited. A meeting during the Cologne Show with Ducati’s commercial director Cosimo Calcagnile and Franco Farne resulted in the factory supplying only a very-well-used and abused 500cc Pantah engine, some high compression pistons, special camshafts and a racing exhaust system.

“I had asked Ducati if they could supply us with one of the special TT2 frames and suspension that they had been developing and racing in the Italian championships, and the answer was an emphatic no,” says Slinn. “They explained that they were making a batch of these special purpose-built racers and they were to be used in Italy and Spain.”

So, Slinn still needed a frame, suspension and wheels. By a coincidence there was a written-off a 500SL in the Sports Motor Cycles workshop, so the frame and swing arm were sent to racing chassis specialist Ron Williams of Maxton (who had been working with the Honda works team on the NR500). “His brief was to convert the frame in whatever way he felt necessary, and to supply or modify the suspension and brakes,” says Slinn.

Things looked up when Fabio Taglioni invited Slinn to Bologna to learn about turning the clapped-out test-bed mule he’d been supplied with into a race-winning 600 TT2 engine. Back in the UK, dozens of hours were spent preparing the additional high-performance components and fettling the unit.

By April 1981, Ron Williams had completed the rolling chassis, which Slinn describes as a “masterpiece” when he saw it.

“He had modified the frame, supplied Dymag wheels, Lockheed brake discs and calipers,” says Slinn. “He had modified the Marzocchi front forks, and supplied Koni rear suspension units, which had been had been brought well forward of the standard position, and were almost upright. He had modified the exhaust system for the best possible ground clearance.

“Ron had supplied everything the chassis needed, including the clip-on handlebars, footrests, brake and clutch levers, brake master cylinders, and even fitted Aeroquip brake hoses and bled the brakes. He even had the frame and swinging arm powder coated in a very subtle grey/silver colour that certainly gave the appearance of lightness.”

Tony Rutter and Ducati

The Pantah SL/TT machine was assembled and following tests at Oulton Park the fork leg offset was adjusted and when Tony Rutter tried the bike at Aintree he was completely satisfied. In practice for the Isle of Man TT, Rutter broke the TT Formula 2 lap record, despite afterwards joking: “A bloody double-decker bus overtook me at Kirk Michael.”

“We knew then that he was a happy TT rider,” says Slinn. Rutter won the TT Formula 2 race with a record 103.5mph lap and was so dominant he was almost two minutes ahead of the second-placed rider Phil Odlin on a Honda.

“Ducati were over the moon and started to promise all kinds of help for the future,” says Slinn. Having realised that they could win the Formula 2 world title, for the following race at the Ulster Grand Prix Ducati shipped over a factory TT2, which was accompanied by Franco Farne and sales director Franco Valentini.

Conditions in the race were appalling and with heavy rain making visibility so poor that he couldn’t see the pit board markings, Rutter hadn’t realised that Phil Mellor was ahead on his Yamaha. But second was enough to secure his first world championship, and Ducati’s second (the first being Mike Hailwood’s TTF1 title in 1978).

That Ducati was one of the first of the factory’s TT2 machines and after the race was returned to Bologna. According to Slinn it came with one of five very special engines featuring lighter magnesium crankcases and a dry clutch. Changes from the original TT2 engine of 1980 included larger 42mm inlet and 37mm exhaust valves, a camshaft with even longer valve timing (66-96/100-60) and a 10.36 to 1 compression ratio. Peak power – again about 76bhp – was at 10,800rpm

A TT2 with a similar engine was loaned to Tony Rutter for the following two seasons with the same overwhelming world title success. The victory in the Isle of Man F2 race in 1982 was even more emphatic with the winning margin at an average 108.05mph increasing to four minutes over Steve Moynihan’s Yamaha. In 1983, Rutter beat Graeme McGregor’s similar Ducati by 70 seconds to win the TT F2 race. Two second places at Ulster and Assen secured the third title for Rutter.

By 1984, and to face the increasing competitive Yamahas, Ducati provided a new TT2, along with a new 750cc version for TT F1 racing, along with spare engines, enabling Rutter to race in wider range of racing classes such as the Battle of the Twins, just as well because the 350cc F2 Yamahas were becoming increasingly competitive.

Despite coming second to Yamaha-mounted McGregor in the Isle of Man TT F2 race, Rutter won in Portugal, took another second in the Ulster and came fifth in Czechoslovakia with fuelling problems. So, he still won the TT F2 championship, for a fourth time.

An afternoon with the works Ducatis

Although I’d done a bit of club racing in the previous two seasons, even winning a 250cc championship, there’s nothing like being on track with a world champion to bring any rider back to earth.

Above is the World Champion 600cc TT2, The TT1 is identical apart from the 750cc motor

Both the works bikes were available, so Rutter suggested I take the 750 out while he scrubbed in a new rear tyre on the 600. Apart from its engine, the 750 machine was otherwise identical to the 600 and felt tiny, almost like my 250cc racer. Both retain their starter motors but the 750 had a faulty relay, so Slinn gave me a push and I roared after Rutter and out onto the track. The beauty and lasting appeal of the TT2 chassis is that it’s so small and slim and even though you need to fold into its curves it still suits a range of rider sizes. While Rutter was four inches shorter then me, and the bikes were tailored for him, I didn’t feel in any way cramped.

Rutter ambled into the right-hand drop of Paddock and I tucked into his slipstream thinking that if he was taking it easy I’d at least be able get a good view of how such a stylish rider wins races. No such luck. While I thought that the 750 would have the legs of the TT2, Rutter started to ease off into the distance on the smaller bike. Then I realised how he did it, by being naturally fast!

So I contented myself with getting accustomed to the 750 (above). Talk about sublime: the combination of light weight, secure roadholding and flexibility won me over immediately. Booming from the single megaphone, it pulled keenly from 4,000 and really started to fly as the needle on the white-faced Veglia rev meter hit 10,000. Rutter said he revved it to 10,500 and was pulling 150mph at the Ulster GP in top gear.

Then I started to worry. Powering out of Clearways, the back end would start to weave and I had to knock it off. Was it me? Luckily Rutter pulled in and trying not to sound too cheeky I asked him what was going on. It turned out that the bike was set up with s softer rear spring for the more bumpy Oulton Park, which was too soft for Brands, and especially with my extra weight.

We switched machines, and although being visually identical the 600 felt like a completely different bike. On the intermediate patterned tyres – a Dunlop front and Michelin rear – the 600 TT2 was much more taut and the engine more crisp: indeed it felt more like the world championship winning bike I’d expected. It was still remarkably flexible, pulling this time from 6,000.

I could use just three of the five ratios: down from top for Paddock, down again for Druids up one for South Bank (now called Graham Hill Bend), and down again for Clearways where I’d hook up two for the start-finish straight. Rutter, however, said he used four, buzzing the engine harder with a lower gear at Druids to get harder acceleration out of the exit.

Then it got better. Pat Slinn fitted slick tyres to both bikes, and they were again transformed. Suddenly the TT2 felt like I was on a dry road where I felt like I’d been on wet before.

Soon I could dive into Paddock’s ripples with more confidence and find a smoother line without fear that the back end would let go.

Cranked over and powering out of Clearways I could just feel the back tyre on the edge of a drift. Lovely! Until Rutter then came breezing past (above), looking totally relaxed…!