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Bike Review - Posted 19th July 2013
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Ducati Elite 200

In 1960, Ducati built a single-cylinder four-stroke 200 which was capable of 85mph, and which still turns heads today...

Richard Jones says he's a sucker for anything that is red and Italian and when he visited the CBG Winter Classic at the start of the year, he found plenty to fascinate him on the Italian Motorcycle Owners' Club stand. Among the scarlet darlings, Richard discovered this 1960 Ducati Super Sports Elite, looking every bit the show-stopper with its scalloped petrol tank and copper-coloured chassis (although we're not entirely sure that the front suspension units would have been quite so colour matched originally!)

Only an Italian bike could get away with that tank...

The Elite is one of half a dozen narrow-case, overhead cam singles which Ducati built at the start of the 1960s. All stemmed from the Gran Sport 100, designed by Fabio Taglioni and which first appeared in 1954. The Gran Sport was stunningly successful in the two years that followed in the Moto Giro d'Italia and Milano-Taranto races, and a 175cc roadster soon followed. The sporting 'Silverstone', as it was known in the UK, could exceed 80mph which caused something of a stir and certainly helped to establish Ducati's reputation for building mighty mites which punched way beyond their weight. It was a very timely lifeline for the firm who were suffering along with the rest of the Italian industry as motorcycle sales slumped at home and exports became rather more important.

The Elite was then introduced for 1959 by boring the 175cc single out to 67mm to give 204c. Fuel was delivered by a Dell'Orto UB24 while the piston ran 7.8:1 compression which equated to 18bhp at 7500rpm. The Elite weighed a nifty little 111kg, less than 250lb. This meant that the tiny 200 was genuinely capable of reaching 85mph - or, if you took it steady, could return over 80mpg.

Sold at Bonhams recently. Classic slim profile...

The all-alloy, unit construction, air-cooled engine was one of the first production Ducatis to feature the firm's iconic bevel drive to the overhead cams. The customer bikes differed from the racers by having their hairpin valve springs fully enclosed, and utilised a flywheel alternator, distributor and rectifier for their electrics. The Elite employed a four-speed constant mesh gearbox with preselector gear engagement and multiplate wet clutch, all of which provided 'first class' cog swapping 'with positive, foolproof changes.'

The open cradle, single downtube frame was made of 'highly resistant steel tubing' and 'built on smart lines' (hard to argue!) but while the rear shocks were adjustable, the front forks were not. Braking came courtesy of two drums; 180mm at the front and 160mm at the back.

Click to embiggen...
Classic Ducatis on

The 204cc engine also appeared in other, less successful guises, such as the Motocross and the rather remarkable Turismo / Americano with cow horn handlebars and a chrome studded saddle. A more successful styling device - which seems to be missing from the example Richard found at the Show - is the stacked twin-pipe silencer, another example of how the Italians neatly converted a practical necessity into fashionable talking point.

One of these, or a Tiger Cub? An easy choice...

Few Ducatis of this kind ever come up for sale these days and they are extremely sought after. In the USA, prices of Elite and other OHC singles from this era regularly reached $20,000. Inevitably the quest for greater reliability to match peak performance pushed up engine capacities, and the 200 Elite was eventually overshadowed by the 250 Monza and Diana (aka the Daytona in the UK). However, these machines were only marginally more powerful with a real world increase of maybe 2bhp matched by a corresponding weight gain of around 10kg, so the 200 Elite remained a favourite and stayed in production until 1965.

THANKS TO Richard Jones for the photos and information. Additional photos from


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