ON THE 23RD of April 1972 I was 10 years old, Amazing Grace was at number one and I had just got back from Sunday School praying my folks would buy me that orange Raleigh Chopper in Halfords' window. On that same day in Italy something far more significant was taking place. One Paul Smart was celebrating his 29th birthday by winning the most lucrative motorcycle race on the European calendar, the Imola 200.
Paul was presented with a helmet full of money plus his race-winning 750 Ducati for his efforts, but never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined what would take place 33 years down the road. That cloudy day was unforgettable for Ducati so, in celebration of that victory, and after several years of planning, they have finally launched the first two machines in their unique Sportclassic range.
The Sport and the Paul Smart LE - the LE stands for Limited Edition - both use the air-cooled 1000cc Desmodronic twin power unit found in some other Ducati models. The two chassis differ slightly, the Sport having a steeper head angle and using Sachs suspension, while the Paul Smart LE is painted in the '72 original's sea green colour, with …hlins front and rear. Both bikes have a single seat, USD forks and a single rear shock mounted on the left.
Ducati have excelled with the attention to detail, from the polished fork yokes all the way down to the tapered spokes on the specially made 17-inch wheels. Seeing these bikes in the flesh is crucial; only then can you examine and appreciate the hard work that has taken place in Bologna. Everything about these bikes has a well engineered look and feel, which hopefully means a long, trouble free life. The Sportclassics are also fitted with a brand new tyre from Pirelli. The 'Phantom' is a tyre I had a lot of success with back in the '80s on LC Yamahas but we now have the Phantom Sportscomp which has feel and grip in abundance in the dry. The Paul Smart LE was my first choice for the Tuscan test route near Florence, so once I had settled into the old school CafŽ Racer riding position I was ready to rock. Only 2000 of the Paul Smart LEs will ever be made so you'll need to be very hasty indeed if one is to grace your garage (or front room) by Christmas. Apart from the fairing, the most obvious differences between this and the slightly lower-spec Sport model is the higher quality, fully-adjustable …hlins suspension, the sea green chassis and the polished aluminium steering damper.
The free-revving, big twin power unit, familiar from the Multistrada and SS1000 machines, works well in the Sport 1000, making its 92bhp at 8000rpm before stopping dead on the rev limiter 1000rpm further on. That may not sound like a flexible engine, but I found on fast stretches gear shifts were fine at that 8000rpm peak and, because the motor pulls strongly from zero, being in the right gear is never a real problem. I had the confidence to push the envelope a little on the LE without any dramas, thanks due no doubt to the combination of stiff chassis, those fully adjustable …hlins forks and rear shock, and the Phantom Sportscomps.
The fairing offers some protection and comfort, plus it helps things along when speeds increase. The polished top fairing bracket is a nice touch, enhancing the simple, classically styled dash. Since the LEs are already collectable I'm not sure how many of these you'll see on the road, which is a shame because they will make a cracking road or track day bike. The Sport is just as much fun, though (see over the page), or you could wait for the GT1000 (due this spring), which has a more upright riding position. Either way you're going to stand out from the crowd.
This launch was a new and unique biking experience for me. Incredibly, the Sportclassic range exists today because of a solitary date in racing history. The bikes truly reflect the passion and pride that was present at Imola on that day. Riding them I'm sure is much more civilized than it was back then. However, Ducati's racing spirit lives on.
PAUL SMART - THE MAN, THE LEGEND
PAUL SMART IS an interesting character. Born in 1943, he grew up in the shadows of Brands Hatch, spending most of his youth in the family run transport cafŽ. Paul started racing in 1963 and went on to ride professionally for Triumph, Kawasaki, Ducati and Suzuki. Described as a 'fair but hard' rider, no major titles came his way, although he had many successes at home and abroad, including five GP podiums finishes.
After meeting Mags Sheene (sister of Barry Sheene) at Assen in '70, the pair married a year later and went on to have two children, top BSB runner Scott and Paula, girlfriend of Tim Reeves, the 2005 sidecar world champion.
Paul's 750 Ducati ride at Imola came after a chance phone call while he was racing in America. After he broke the lap record while testing at Modena, Ducati were convinced they had a winning combination. They were right, as Paul won and his team-mate Bruno Spaggiari came second. Soon after, Paul went on to pip Phil Read at the Hutchinson 100, the reverse-direction race run at Brands Hatch, which he considered a greater achievement. After a season on TZ Yamahas in '78, Paul finally hung up his leathers to look after his motorcycle business in Maidstone.
Although Paul has been aware of the Sportclassics for the last five years or so, he seems totally overwhelmed with all the fuss. Despite this, he has managed to nab two LEs for his own collection. A great racer indeed, but I have to question his taste in music considering some of the best bands ever came from his era. Never mind the Beatles, he rates the 1963 hit Hey Hey Paula by Paul and Paula as one of his favourite songs.
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