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Jack's Pack: Riding the Ducati dream garage

We head to West Sussex to test Jack Gratton's collection of Ducati's. How did we get on?

Meet Jack Gratton. Entrepreneur, businessman and petrol-head of epic proportions, he has a penchant for a certain Italian marque. And not just the usual old knackers, either – Jack likes SP and R-models only. We joined him for the mother of all Breakfast Club runs…

If you can't wait, click to see Jack Gratton's dream Ducati Collection.

    Jack Gratton’s involvement was typical of him; in for a penny, in for a pound. He’s always loved motorcycles, horsepower, speed and cars (in that order). One of my favourite Jack moments was taking a pair of Mitsubishi Evos to a test-track, driving around completely sideways at impossible speeds, until Jack slammed into a concrete kerb and smashed both wheels clean off his car.

    “Bugger!” he leapt out, laughing. “How the devil am I going to get home now?” He’s a huge man, both in stature and character, with the attention span of an 8 year-old who cannot tolerate anything remotely boring and laughs long and hard. Think Rubeus Hagrid in beaten-up leathers losing the front at 150mph while riding round the outside of everyone down Craner Curves; that’s Mr Gratton.

    Some of his bikes came from Wales, one from Scotland, while the Ducati SP3 is the most special of the lot. “I found it in Italy,” grins Jack. “Brand new and never ridden, it’s got 7km on the clock and cost 20,000 Euros.” It’s the only non-runner of the lot. The bikes live in Jack’s house next to the potted plants and, bizarrely, stacks of expensive china plates. Manoeuvring 200 kilo motorcycles around such delicate surroundings is not easy in leathers.

    Getting 10 people to ride 10 rare motorcycles owned by a person who’s much bigger and stronger than you is a considered process. All £145,000-worth of bikes were covered under our insurance, but our insurance had no idea what I’d planned and making a claim was not a situation I was keen to entertain. So, with the exception of our 23 year-old intern Ian who didn’t know what a Ducati 888 was, our Breakfast Clubbers consisted of older people who were unlikely to launch one of Jack’s Ducatis into a tree.

    There was Jez ‘Bomber Command’ Holmes, a Tornado GR4 pilot who brought his Ducati 996 SPS along; Mark Durbridge, a spannerman at Vines of Guildford and owns a mint Ducati 888 SP5; Motocross Rob, our resident surly Northerner who often helps out on shoots; Jules Brooks works as a team-leader on Global Enduro events who had never ridden a Ducati before in his life but found himself on a Ducati 1098R within 10 minutes.

    And we were joined by ex-Endurance World Champion and 1990s superbike legend Terry Rymer, who raced an Old Spice Ducati in BSB in 1996 and has always loved Ducatis.

    We’d ride all the bikes down to Goodwood racetrack on Bank Holiday Sunday morning, who were holding a ‘Thoroughbreds & Classics’ Breakfast Club morning. How perfect. Being Italian, of course, two of the Ducatis dropped out with electrical gremlins.

    This was entirely to be expected, and so as engines were gradually warmed, the Ducati Foggy Rep and Ducati SP4 were wheeled back into the house. The sound of nine Ducatis being revved in the confines of Jack’s courtyard was music to everyone listening; even Jack’s new wife Paula was hopping up and down with excitement.

    The dog was barking, the baby was shouting, it was like the start of the hunting season. And then, vicious and flat above it all, came the staccato bark of the Ducati Desmosedici. Bwap! Bwap! Terry Rymer grinning in a way that is slightly unnerving at 8am in the morning.

    “This thing sounds incredible, more like a racebike than some of the racebikes I used to ride,” he shouts over the din, his face instantly recognisable from inside his Shoei. And with that, 10 thundering Ducatis head out onto the road.

    Five minutes later we’re pulled over in a garage. The garage isn’t actually open, but half the bikes have no air in the tyres and no fuel in the tank. Jack adores his Ducatis but has got far better things to do than fawn over them all the time. A sleepy-headed attendant is roused by the bedlam outside and pumps gas while we pump air into the tyres. “God, there’s soul in these bikes,” says Jez, taking it all in.

    “I’ve owned plenty of plastic Japanese stuff in my time, but it’s the way the V-twin engines make their power, the sweet handling of the trellis frame, the small and compact package; all just leagues apart from the Gixxer brigade.”

    Rymer is still making whooping noises about the Desmo, Jack’s on his beloved Ducati SP2, I hop on the Ducati 999R and we thunder off in unison. Our route takes us down the A3, then across the A272 towards Midhurst, and from here we duck south towards Goodwood.

    The 999R is completely different to ride to all the others, like it was made by someone else entirely. Jack’s is a late-model 2006 bike and it’s wonderful to ride, properly fast with a savage bark to the exhaust note and plenty of room to tuck in behind the screen. The looks are still contentious but it’s a fascinating departure from the 888/996/1098 species.

    We re-group in Midhurst and everyone changes bikes again. “As someone who’s never ridden a Ducati before,” says Jules, looking aghast, “when you sit on a 1098R for the first time ever and open it up there’s a mixture of fear and exhilaration plastered across your face. The brakes are terrifying, the engine is terrifying, a fascinating experience.” Indeed.

    Jumping from the SP2 onto the 1098R, separated by 20 years of Ducati racing know-how, is very revealing. Amazingly, despite the fact the 1098R motor makes nearly twice the power, the characteristics of the engines are all the same. Punchy low-end power, midrange shove that starts at 5,000rpm, then a rush of power above 9,000. The lineage of the engines is clear to feel.

    We arrive at Goodwood and I wave my hand over my head like Toecutter in Mad Max, a signal for everyone to rev their engines in unison. I’ve always wanted to do this. Nobody sees me, nobody revs, so I quickly put my hand down in an embarrassed fluster and switch off.

    Jack’s Ducatis look amazing all parked in a line, Oli the photographer is frothing like a paparazzi with Kerry Katona and a coke dealer caught in his lens, leaping from bike to bike. “Ey mate, what are you lot? Ducati owner’s club or something?” asks an onlooker. I explain that no, these are all owned by one fellow and they’re rather unique. “I can see that, they’re all Ducatis,” says the bloke. No, look, actually, never mind. In the face of £145,000-worth of Sport Production specials, if you don’t know your Ducatis it’s just too hard to explain.

    We dive headfirst into breakfast. “Ducatis are still very special, they really are,” says Terry Rymer in between mouthfuls of piglet. “If you sat on a Ducati blindfolded and rode it – if you could do that – you’d know what it was straight away. The first time I rode the 916 racebike, I was a second quicker than Chris Walker who’d been riding it all year. That’s how sweet it was to ride, and I never crashed that year. You ride them smooth, they don’t like to slide, you feel like you’re a million miles off the pace, but then you look down and you’re just a half-second off the pace.”

    Jack is at pains to point out his favourites: “The SP3 is the classic Ducati shape, although the prettiest Ducati of all is the 1991 Corsa, which was based on the SP3. And then the SP5.” Why not the 916? “Well the Foggy Rep was the best of the 916s, but the Ducati 998R was the best of that shape, they gave it a fat tail unit and I like big arses!”

    The conversation turns to the subject of 1098R versus Desmo, and which is better: “The Desmo, which is clearly a V-four, actually sounds like a V-twin,” says Jack. “It could only be a Ducati. But for me it’s the most disappointing bike of them all, the Desmo. Way too stiff for anything other than track-use, while the 1098R is quicker and much better everywhere.

    Actually the 1098R is too quick for the road – when I bought the Foggy Rep, I rode up on the 1098R and came back on the 916. And I pulled over because I thought one of the plug caps had come off – it just felt broken after the power of the 1098R!”

    We head back out onto the roads around West Sussex and Surrey, causing traffic to come to a halt in Petworth. My main concern now is keeping Jack busy – we’re pulled over to do pictures and he’s getting twitchy. “I’m bored,” he announces.

    This from the man who got to fly in a two-seater Supermarine Spitfire years ago; how was it? I asked him at the time. “Bit boring, actually,” said Jack. Ah. I can see him pacing, so send him out to do action pics. Keeping 10 bikes in check, with countless junctions and turns, naturally means running a slow pace at the front.

    But Jack doesn’t do slow, and now is the time to cut loose. I grab the SP5 and he, Terry and myself go for a proper flat-stick blast along the A272, followed by the whole damn pack. What a feeling. Nothing beats the sensation of a Ducati SP flat-out on the road, and 10 of them is exponentially better.

    Jack’s legendary grin is back. “He doesn’t like standing still” laughs his brother-in-law Rob. “He’s a motorhead, always has been. He adores his machines, but knows they’re there to be used and not to be parked up and admired.” We nose the fleet of Ducatis north and make for home.

    Desmosedici: hit or miss?

    The chaps debate Ducati’s latest creation...

    Terry: It’s so exotic, but for real-world riding it’s hopeless!
    Jack: The front looks odd, too bulbous
    Jez: It looks like a fish
    Jack: You think? It’s definitely more CBR600 at the back
    JC: Hondas make V4s, Ducati make V-twins, it’s wrong for two simple reasons
    Mark: Yes, but Hondas don’t sound like that, do they?
    Terry: Value for money it’s dreadful, we’re only looking at it because it’s £40,000
    Jack: It’s expensive to produce because it’s all hand-made and sand-cast
    Glynn: Surely when you get past £20k for a bike, the price ceases to make any odds
    Jack: I don’t particularly like it, but if you collect Ducatis you’ve got to have one
    Terry: I’d have to have an awful lot of money to own one of these, though
    Mark: Yes, but it would be an investment
    Jack: Doubt it. They’ve made 1,500 of these, but they only made 200 SP2s. Desmos aren’t very rare...

    Click to see Jack Gratton's Ducati Collection.

    Jack's Pack

    “I just love Ducatis,” says Jack. “Always have. They’re proper machines, full of soul, Italian in every way. I got a 888 SP2 on eBay for £10,000 years ago. Then I thought it’d be nice to get a few more, so I got the other SP models. Then I got a 1098R for trackdays, and then I just thought it’d be great to get the whole series.” Jack is not a lad to do things by halves.

    BIKES            PRICE NEW     VALUE NOW

    1990 888 SP2     £15,000          £12,000
    1991 888 SP3     £15,600          £17,000
    1992 888 SP4     £16,650          £10,000
    1993 888 SP5     £16,650          £12,000
    1996 996 R        £18,940          £11,000
    1997 996
    Foggy Rep          £20,150          £12,000           
    2000 998 R        £17,700          £10,000
    2006 999 R        £19,995          £12,000
    2008 1098 R      £25,000          £18,000
    2009 Desmo      £48,000          £35,000