Friday, July 04, 2008

Ducati Berliner Apollo: The 1960s V-Max

Berliner Apollo: A Ducati with a 100bhp V4, in the 1960s!

The current-model Yamaha V-Max, with its near-200bhp 1700cc V4, is pretty wild all right. But it certainly isn’t the first of its type. Ducati made their 'V-Max' back in the 1960s. Only, theirs was called the Apollo…

Back in the early 1960s, Ducati importers in the US, the Berliner brothers asked Ducati to make a machine that would rival the best that Harley-Davidson had to offer at the time – something that could be used by the American police. Berliner were so gung-ho about this, they even agreed to share part of the development costs for the new bike.

Thus, designed for the American market, the Ducati Berliner Apollo was born in 1964. The bike’s engine – a 1257cc, OHV, 8-valve, 90-degree V4 that churned out 100 horsepower at 7000rpm – was designed by Ducati’s legendary Fabio Taglioni. The air-cooled V4 was fed by a quartet of Dellorto TT 24 carburetors, the gearbox was a five-speed unit, and final drive was by chain.

This is the one and only Ducati Apollo that survives today. Nobody knows what happened to the first, gold-painted prototype (pics at the top of the page)
The Apollo’s chassis was made of steel – a mix of tubular and box-section parts – and used the engine as a stressed member. The bike rode on 16-inch wheels, suspension – developed by Ceriani – was a regular telescopic fork at front and twin shocks at the rear, and 220mm drum brakes were used at both ends. The Apollo weighed in 270 kilos dry.

The problem was, the tyres of that era were not able to cope with a 100bhp bike that weighed 270kg – the Apollo simply shredded its tyres to bits. Ducati tried reducing the power output to 80 and then 65bhp, and Pirelli tried making special tyres for the bike, but the Apollo never really worked. Ducati test rider of that time, Franco Farne said the bike handled like a truck.

Ducati and Berliner had hoped to sell the Apollo in the US for $1,500 to $1,800 but the bike never got to the market at all. The Italian government decided that the very limited market for the bike would not justify the costs of tooling and production, and withdrew funding for the project, effectively killing it off. Only two prototypes of the Berliner Apollo were ever made, of which one survives today.

The only surviving Ducati Berliner Apollo belongs to one Hiroaki Iwashita, who bought the bike for $17,000 in 1986 from DomiRacer, a vintage bike parts specialist based in Cincinnati, in the US. Bob Schanz, the man who owns DomiRacer, had purchased the bike from Berliner when the company shut down in 1984.

Bike journalist Alan Cathcart got to ride the Apollo some time back...
Pics: Motorcyclist
Bike journalist Alan Cathcart got to ride the Ducati Berliner Apollo some time ago, for Motorcyclist magazine. ‘Once astride the Apollo, you're immediately surprised at how low slung and slim it feels. The high, pullback handlebar is very ’60s, and combined with the well-placed footpegs, delivers surprisingly comfy ergos. Just chill out and cruise,’ says Cathcart.

‘The engine sounds like an American V8 rather than an Italian four, and the Apollo’s exhaust note is quite loud and very unlike that of any Honda V4,’ says Cathcart. ‘I was impressed with how smoothly the Apollo took off from rest, even with the clutch slipping slightly, though upshifting through the gears brought the Apollo's age to light. Once securely in gear, the Apollo thrusts forward eagerly with a long-legged feel, especially in the intermediate gears.’

'Compared with a pre-Isoelastic British twin or any Harley ever made, the Apollo is a sewing machine to a concrete mixer in terms of vibration and riding comfort, with only a BMW Boxer of the era delivering anything close to the same smoothness. Out of respect for the bike's rarity, and the lack of any spares, I didn't rev it out. But even at a higher rpm the same unruffled, lazy-feeling response we came to take for granted a decade later on any V-twin bearing the Ducati badge is evident on the Apollo.'
'At a time when there were no four-cylinder motorcycles of any type on the market, the Apollo would have established a standard of performance and rider comfort that, even a decade later, would set the benchmark for the Japanese. Truly, this was a bike ahead of its time,’ concludes Cathcart.
Also see:
1952: When Ducati made scooters...!
1948 Vintage: The Ducati Cucciolo
Memorable: The mighty M√ľnch Mammut TTS-E
The mid-1950s Moto Guzzi V8 racer...
NSU 500 Kompressor: 320km/h in 1956!
The 1970s Laverda V6 Bol d'Or racer...
Britten V1000: The greatest motorcycle ever made?
NRV 588: The Norton Rotary lives again...

Get fitter, rider better. Stretch, with Susana Spears...

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