1979 Ducati 900 Mike Hailwood Replica
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When legendary rider Mike Hailwood, aka “Mike the Bike”, returned to the Isle of Man TT in 1978 after an absence of 11 years, it was on Steve Wynne’s NCR Ducati 900 Super Sport. Wynne had almost won the TT in 1976 with Roger Nicholls, and asked Hailwood if he’d “like a go.” Hailwood had retired after a Formula One crash driving a Yardley-sponsored McLaren at the Nurburgring in 1974, and was living in New Zealand, but when TT fans heard Hailwood would be returning to two-wheeled competition, 60,000 crammed the Manx island.
1978 wasn’t the best of times for Ducati. The company had sold only 4,436 bikes that year, and Ducati’s NCR race bikes weren’t even built by the factory but instead were an outside job by chief mechanic Franco Farne with Grigorio Nepoti and Rino Carrachi of NCR. The bikes were based on the previous round-case 750 SS engines, and Wynne tweaked Hailwood’s engine with a Lucas Rita ignition, 11:1 pistons and a new gearbox. The bike weighed 375 lbs and developed 87 bhp.
Hailwood immediately set an Isle of Man lap record of 111 mph in practice, and miraculously won the TT F1 race after his engine quit at the finish line. Ducati sent a factory bike next year, but it was only good enough for Hailwood to finish fifth. He never rode it again.
Hailwood’s victory owed little to the production 900 SS of 1978, but his epic win was an irresistible promotional opportunity and that bike was the basis of the Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica. First shown at the London bike show in September, the first 200 examples had a one-piece fairing, fiberglass gas tank with clear fill-level stripe, and single seat. They lacked side panels and were painted in Hailwood’s red-white-green colors.
The second series of 1979 featured a kick-start as well as a styled fiberglass cover over a steel gas tank. The seat had a removable cowl for a passenger and the front exhaust was so close to the engine that the header had to come off to check the oil. Mike Hailwood Replicas had 40 mm Dell’Orto carburetors, Conti pipes and minor brake and suspension changes. There were 747 examples built in 1979-80.
Detail alterations from 1980-1982, saw the Replica with side panels and a two-piece fairing, and the fragile Speedline or Campagnolo magnesium wheels were replaced with aluminum FPS or other Campagnolo items. By 1982, the Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica was pretty much a 900 SS with a bigger gas tank, extra bodywork and 40 mm carbs. There was no denying it looked great, though, and access was much improved.
In 1983, the bike gained an electric-start engine, though kick-start was available. The MHR gained a taller, narrower fairing, and a heavy new frame based on the S2 . The engine was no more powerful, so performance was down a bit. The last chapter of the story was the 973 cc Mille of 1984, which used a big-bore version of the 900 cc engine with bigger 90 mm nickel/silicone-plated bores, a plain-bearing crank and a spin-on filter. An improved dry clutch was also fitted.
The final Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica Mille weighed in at 529 pounds (against 444 pounds for the 1979 example), and with 76 hp on tap it was outclassed. Production of bevel-drive twins ended when Cagiva took over Ducati in 1985, and the last examples were built in early 1986. In all Ducati built 6,085 Mike Hailwood Replicas. 4,601 of them were kick-start models, and 1,282 were Milles.
The Mike Hailwood Replica upheld the Ducati name for seven years, far longer than intended. Earlier models are lighter and faster, but more difficult to maintain. Many remain as static displays in collections and are seldom ridden. It’s best to keep that in mind when shopping for one. For those who plan to ride their MHR, it’s best to buy one from someone who’s had the same idea and kept theirs maintained and running.