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Column: 'Tiger' with two tanks

2010-08-20 07:08

Dave Fall

FOCUS OF LUST: A Mike Hailwood Replica (MHR) Ducati in the metal.

The other day I struck up a casual conversation with a biker in Simonstown who was also enjoying an early morning Sunday breakfast. His elderly BMW R100 looked a little neglected and when we went to leave the bike was hard to start.

Two heads are always better than one at such times and we were soon reminiscing about “all things two wheels”.

I told Reg, who was looking far happier now his bike was running evenly again on both cylinders: “If there’s been one motorcycle that I’ve lusted after in my 40-odd years of two-wheel ownership it has to be a Mike Hailwood Replica (MHR) machine.”

The first time I came across an MHR in the metal was while spectating the annual Durban-Johannesburg Regularity Trial in the Natal Midlands some years ago. I was so mesmerised by the bike that I missed seeing the favourite win the event, a Scott Squirrel, pass by in a glorious swirl of blue two-stroke mist.

Back in 1979 the Ducati factory in Italy decided to celebrate yet another Isle of Man TT victory for the brand - this time in the hands of arguably the greatest rider ever to have visited the island, Mike Hailwood. He’d been absent from the island for a dozen years or so but was enticed back by Ducati and his old sparring partner Phil Read who, with some justification and with a gentle hint of modesty, felt he alone was the best rider in the world.

I didn’t manage to attend TT fortnight in 1978; such a pity because it must have been quite a spectacle seeing the peoples’ favourite “Mike the Bike” hurtling around the 61km circuit in his quest for glory and destroying all opposition despite being down 40bhp on other riders - including Read - mounted on Japanese machines.


The genuine and very rare Hailwood Replica is basically a customised 900SS Darmah* model with a three-piece, racing-style fairing. Huge 40mm carburettors fed the machine good-quality petrol and no sissy air cleaners were fitted - just wire mesh to keep the larger pebbles from entering the cylinder bores as the bike flashed along the mountain circuit!

The wheels were cast alloy, the brakes triple Brembos on cast-iron discs: two up front, one behind.

If memory serves me right these export models had either a 24-litre glass-fibre petrol tank or an 18-litre steel one albeit fibreglass encased. The seat seemed to be for one person but part of the rear hump could be detached to carry a passenger. Perhaps the forerunners of this kind of seating arrangement, Ducati even provided for the tail of the seat to house some basic tools to fix wayward electrical maladies for which Italian machinery was (perhaps a little unfairly) renowned!

Coachwork for the MHR was always red - including the frame - with green for the lower fairing and flashes, as on the original Hailwood racer. The wheels were gold and the name on the tank was picked out in large, white, shadow writing.


The reverse megaphone-type silencers were from the Silentium Company and the larger fuel tank became a standard feature on all machines but the biggest changes for 1980 saw the introduction of an-easy-to-dismantle, three-piece fairing to make engine repairs quicker.

Ducati had been state-controlled for a few years with government-appointed managers and little or no financial success. By 1983 the factory and plant were idle despite an outstanding reputation worldwide for building bikes that really were special.

Soldier on they did, only to be taken over in 1986 by another Italian motorcycle manufacturer, Cagiva, which decided to cease production of the bevel-drive twin in favour of their its own products.

*Darmah was a fabled man-eating tiger from the Indian North-West Frontier, and, as such, was deemed a suitable name at Ducati HQ to “gobble up” the opposition - mainly Japanese “fours!”


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