You remember the Ducati 851 don’t you? You know, the first proper Ducati with modern Superbike performance that blew the world away when it debuted. How does it stack up against its great, great, great grandchild the Ducati 1199 Panigale?
In 1986 Cagiva was running Ducati and the Castiglionis wanted to develop a more modern engine. Ing. Massimo Bordi was given the assignment. He seemed such an obvious choice since his mechanical engineering thesis was on 4-valve cylinder heads with desmodromic valve activation. It is true that Cosworth were consulted but they wanted nothing to do with desmo valves and so Bordi himself had to do much of the development work.
The Ducati 851 came along just at the right time. The brand new World Superbike Championship was due to kick off in 1988. Ducati needed to build 200 road bikes for the model to be homologated to compete with 750cc, 4 cylinder machines in the series. A prototype was shown in 1987 and it looked like a racer with lights because it mostly was!
Fast forward to 2012 and Ducati has abandoned most of what defined the 851 as a modern Ducati Superbike. The trellis frame, cam belt drive, L twin configuration are all gone. The engine is all new severing all connections with its desmoquattro predecessor. The classic mid-range ladened power delivery has gone. In its place much, much more top end.
Motorcycle Sport & Leisure magazine decided to test the old and the new back to back and the result wasn’t just out with the old and in with the new. Even though the 1199 was obviously in a whole different performance segment the 851 was far from a nail.
“After riding both of them, it was the 851 that left the strongest impression. Where the 1199 feels overwhelmingly fast and verging on out of control pretty much the whole time on the road, the 851 is a manageable challenge.
There is something special about the older engines that just because they aren’t anywhere near as smooth and sophisticated have a special appeal all of their own.
“The older engine feels much more mechanical, like it has cannonballs in the cylinders instead of the oversized tennis balls of the 1199. “
One area where motorcycle performance has improved out of this world is braking and its here that the older bike is sorely lacking.
“Only the brakes gave its age away. If you think bike engines have advanced in the last 25 years, it’s nothing compared to braking performance.”
So although the Ducati 851 was totally outperformed by the modern Panigale, the older statesman of liquid cooled, 4-valve Ducatis remains a desirable and a enjoyable ride even 25 years later. I know which one I’d rather have in the garage today and in 10 years time.
Source: Faster and Faster