This stunningly restored Ducati 900 SS is a Show Bike level job, with owner John Zirn seeking an all-original end result. Words: BikeReview Photography: John Zirn
The Ducati 900 SS was perhaps first introduced to Australia in the hands of Kenny Blake, when Australian Importer Ron Angel entered the Ducati ‘860 SS’ into the Easter Bathurst races in 1975. It has since become an icon worth mega-bucks. Check out this resto…
In the Unlimited Production category the bike went on to win, defeating the then ascendant Kawasaki Z1 900, and creating a furore over the bike’s eligibility. The matter was laid to rest for a time by a letter from the Ducati factory claiming that Ducati ‘860 SuperSport’ were being manufactured at the time. As it turns out the bike had in fact been built by Ducati for Ron Angel, including Imola cams, a close ratio gearbox, the 860 camshaft bearing mounts on the heads and with the inboard flywheel removed. The race organisers would later disqualify the bike for not being a legitimate production bike, but the impression had been made.
The production model that was to arrive later was the Ducati 900SS, with a square case 864cc four-stroke 90° V-twin engine, producing 64 horsepower, while the bike weighed in at 225kg, with a top speed of 213km/h.
For John, the owner of this stunning 900SS, the wish to own a Bevel twin was long in the making – particularly one of the stunning silver and blue early models, and when the opportunity to acquire one from California in the US presented itself, he couldn’t say no, particularly with the asking price being just $16,000. In fact John could remember that the 900SS was $4500 back in the day, when the family station wagon including air-conditioning was only $4200 – making it a pricey set of wheels, even new.
Having previously imported bikes, organising to have the bike sent to Australia wasn’t an issue and John soon had the bike in hand for a proper inspection.
With just 3200 miles on the clock the bike turned out to be one of the mid-900 produced models, while the bike’s dilapidated state was obviously due to a drop, after which the bike had been left to sit – damaged, for the better part of 30 years. As you’ll see from the pictures the bike was in a pretty sad state, with rust on pretty much every metal surface while the headlight and indicators were missing.
While the bike turned over, it was given a thorough going over, revealing a water mark inside the front barrel where water had obviously creeped in during its long rest, while the crank had rusted as a result of sitting in the same position for such a period.
Enlisting the aid of Ian Gowanloch – an avid collector of Ducati parts, big name in the Ducati community and owner of ItalSparesDucati on eBay, David had the engine rebuilt by Ian and Mike Berry, with a new crank, the cylinders re-sleeved and the original pistons returned with new rings. Racing connecting rods were also added and were sourced from Italy by Ian, while all bearings and seals were replaced.
Prior to the rebuild however the engine was sent off to Colin Campbell of Campbells Classic Motorcycles, where it was hydrablasted to bring it back to an as new shine.
The benefits of hydrablasting over sandblasting or other methods include avoiding damage to the parts being treated, not needing to protect threads, seal surfaces and similar and a finish which is easier to keep clean. As you’ll no doubt note – it looks amazing and as good as new.
Thankfully both the gearbox and clutch were in perfect condition unlike the rest of the engine and were also rebuilt by Ian and Mike.
With the engine away being worked on John took the opportunity to take the Dell’Orto 40mm carbs apart, giving them a good clean and reassembling them, before passing them onto Mike Berry for fitment and set up.
Meanwhile the frame was carefully measured up by John, with pictures taken at every step of the process to assist with returning the bike to an absolutely original condition, before being sent for sandblasting in preparation for repainting.
All the bodywork was likewise measured up with photos taken to record the exact location of all decals and special paint features like the blue striping, with the bike being returned to an as new condition being a major consideration in the disassembly and restoration process. Once this was complete both the bodywork and frame were sent away for repainting.
The frame was sent off to Redi-Strip in Blacktown for sandblasting, along with the tank, which needed to have the rust removed, externally and internally, while all the bodywork was also stripped to be ready for new paint.
Once Redi-Strip worked their magic the frame, tank and bodywork all went to Peter Graham Smash Repairs. Peter is a British Bike enthusiast with an eye for detail and was responsible for respraying the frame, tank and all the bodywork.
The frame was painted, as this was how the bike originally came, despite the less durable finish than some other methods offer.
The end results speak for themselves with Peter doing an outstanding job of not only the paint, but also keeping the various pinstripes and logos in the correct positions – an absolutely imperative aim for John, while pursuing a showbike finish. The fuel tank even has the ‘Made in Italy’ sticker!
With the frame ready to go it was time to assembled the rolling chassis, with a fair bit of work required on the various components.
Sean O’Sullivan of SOS Suspension in Penrith was sent the forks and shocks, which are both Marzocchi offerings, with the front forks rebuilt with new valves for better than new performance. With the rear shocks Sean tried to convince John to upgrade, but he was steadfast in keeping everything original.
“Sean rebuilt the rear shocks, which he tried to get me to upgrade to something newer, but I kept them, as having the originals is the most important part of this rebuild and they are fantastic… so no regrets.” John explained.
With the suspension sorted John also needed the braking components fixed as well, with the calipers and master-cylinders requiring an overhaul, including one caliper with a broken bleed nipple.
Damien Birch of Bevel Rubber in Victoria was sent the calipers and master-cylinders, with the broken bleed nipple replaced with an original 6mm item, while the front 15mm master-cylinder had to be resleeved, with everything else kept stock. Needless to say when everything arrived back in the post it looked better than new!
With the old rotors not in the best condition, John left it to Ian Gowanloch to source suitable replacement items, which he did without hassle, to complete the necessary braking components.
Next came the wheels, which again John wanted as original as possible, and as such he sent them to Doug Chivas who relaced the wheels using the original spokes, which John assured me are definitely not stainless items! The rims had already been blasted and polished with the rest of the components by Redi-Strip.
The only new items, were a set of bearings to keep the wheels spinning freely, while John still has the original OEM Dunlop TT tyres that were fitted, with a newer set of the same tyres currently fitted for safety reasons. Needless to say John didn’t want the original 40-year-old set on the bike when he goes for an early morning squirt up the Old Pacific Highway!
One of the other large jobs, particularly for this kind of restoration was the chroming of all the original parts that were in various states of disrepair when John received the bike, with the indicator brackets, tail light mount, fuel cap, headers and mufflers, kick start lever, gear pedal and clip-ons all needing attention. The lot were sent to Albi, who set about polishing and chroming them, with stunning results, particularly for the mufflers.
Albi also got the task of zinc-plating the multitude of nuts, bolts and various knick-knacks that hold the bike together and perform various important roles, but are normally overlooked until they go missing!
Such was John’s attention to detail that he even sourced yellow nyloc nuts to match the original fitment, from a fellow called Marty in Western Australia, as they are no longer normally available. Plus he has the original fuel line set aside – after 40 years they don’t last long so aren’t fitted, but he still has it on hand!
With the vast majority of parts fully restored and ready to go the bike was returned to Ian Gowanloch and Mike Berry, who started off assembling the rolling chassis, then adding the controls, indicators and brake light before fitting the engine.
With the engine in place the headers, mirror and battery were all also fitted while one final piece of the puzzle was completed.
The instruments hadn’t been in the best condition when John purchased the bike and he enlisted the aid of Jason from Manly Auto Instrument Repairs to bring them back to new.
This included rebuilding the original gauges, cleaning up the dash and also repairing the white writing on the dash.
He even fixed up the ‘idiot lights’ as John dubbed them and left the odometer at the original reading for authenticity at John’s request.
“Jason’s a genius with gauges,” added John, “They came up looking brand new, and he’s a Ducati guy as well!
“He also put the wiring harness back into the bike, ensuring the dash and gauges were all set up and working correctly, so the bike could go back to Mike.
“And the best part is that the electrical system is all genuine and hasn’t been touched.” John adds.
With the bike back with Mike a final time the final bodywork, headlight and tank were all fitted and it was fired up for the first time since it first arrived, requiring only a bit of tuning and leaving John an extremely happy motorcyclist.
Since then the bike won the Best Sporting Bevel at the Ducati Owners Club NSW Concours, and while John is in no rush to pile the kilometres on is providing plenty of joy.
“The bike had 3200 miles on it when I got it and that was original miles before it was crashed and I’m probably only up to about 3800 miles now,” explains John.
“I have no problem riding it but I only just finished restoring the bike and I’m still wary about taking it too far.
“I always get back and find something that needs a little bit of attention – you just don’t realise until you ride though.
“I do take the bike out occasionally of a Sunday, early in the mornings up the Old Pacific Highway – it’s a beautiful ride up that way and I just enjoy the look and sound of the bike… I don’t push too hard, because if I was to throw it down the road it would cost me quite a lot!”
At the end of the day John is obviously extremely happy with his Ducati 900SS and added, “If you show the bike to anyone, even people who aren’t enthusiasts, they’ll agree the bike is just incredible to look at and just hits the spot… This model, when it was released had all the aspects of a new bike, while maintaining the looks of an old bike. After the red and black 900SS with the alloy mags it was just all over….
He also added, “I could have done some of the work myself cheaper but, it just depends on how you want to do your resto. If you want it to look great and be better than it was, never having a problem again, then it needs to be done properly…
“Now every time I take the bike for a ride I pull out the plugs and adjust the mixture to get the nice tan colour. I’ve got it to the point where I can get it started first kick every time, which makes it enjoyable!”
- Ian Gowanloch
- Mike Berry from Desmo Clinic
- Campbells Classic Motorcycles
- Sean O’Sullivan of SOS Suspension, Penrith
- Redi-Strip, Blacktown
- Peter of Peter Graham Smash Repairs
- Damien Birch of Bevel Rubber, Victoria
- Doug Chivas for the wheel lacing
- Albi for the chroming and zinc plating
- Marty in Western Australia for the nylocs
- Jason from Manly Auto Instrument Repairs
- Ian Faloon for his vast knowledge and expertise on the US Ducati 900SS
The Verdict | Throwback Thursday: All Original Restoration – Ducati 900 SS
The Ducati 900SS was perhaps first introduced to Australia in the hands of Kenny Blake, when Australian Importer Ron Angel entered the Ducati ‘860 SS’ into the Easter Bathurst races in 1975. It has since become an icon worth mega-bucks. Check out this resto…