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Ducati 900SS – Better Than Bologna

Three hundred hours went into the customization of Cameron’s 1980 Ducati 900SS. And that was just for the wheels!

1980 ducati 900ss right side beauty shot

Cameron  took more than five years to restore his Ducati 900SS to its present immaculate condition, and used about every waking minute outside his day job—supervising the installation of hydro-electric generation sets. Jones estimates that cleaning and re-painting the FPS wheels alone took 100 hours, and the Brembo brake discs and calipers a further 200 hours!

The starting point was a neglected 1980 Ducati 900SS that had covered 40,000 hard miles and been sitting in an underground parking lot for nine years. The Brembo discs “looked like an old frying pan,” says Cameron, noting that the shocks and forks were blown and leaking, the tires had hardened, the alloy wheels were oxidized, the carbs were a mess and the electrical system was “ready for a meltdown.” The swingarm had “about three millimetres of side-to-side slop,” he says.

After completely stripping the bike, Cameron hand-sanded the frame, removed any weld spatter, then primed and finished the frame in gloss black using spray cans of Duracoat truck paint. Next came the wheels and brakes: “I had to cut the tires to pieces to get them off,” says Jones. “The inside of the rims were in horrible condition.”

Cameron set to with a flap wheel to get the worst of the corrosion off the wheels, then hand sanded casting flash from between the spokes, finishing off with fine emery paper. He then repeated the sanding process with the cast iron brake discs, and also had to re-drill the vent holes to remove 40,000 miles of brake pad material. The Brembo calipers and master cylinders were dismantled, cleaned and rebuilt with new seals and dust caps, and titanium bleed nipples. The master cylinders got billet aluminum caps and new stainless bracketry. Brake lines are braided Teflon.

The rims and brake discs were masked off, and together with the calipers, sprayed with Duracoat engine enamel and oven cured. Then the wheels were reassembled with new cadmium plated fasteners and a new rear sprocket. The cush drive hub got new rubbers and was reassembled with grade eight cap screws Loctited into place. (Unwinding stock screws is a known issue.) The finishing touch—new Pirelli Phantom/Sport Demon tires.

Next Cameron tackled the steering and suspension. The Marzocchi fork got a full overhaul with new Works Performance springs: the triple clamps were refinished and new bearings fitted. At the rear, the swingarm pivot shaft had worn badly through lack of lubrication, so it was hard chrome plated and ground back to spec diameter. New stock-size bushings went in the swingarm, and a grease nipple added for easier maintenance. Works Performance billet gas shocks with progressive springs replaced the worn out Marzocchi units. Cameron also fitted a magnesium brake caliper carrier, billet swingarm chain tension adjuster clamps from German Ducati specialists Kämna (the stock Bologna parts are known to break), and a “case saver” chain roller from Bevel Heaven.

1980 ducati 900ss tailight close up

Cameron either plated, polished or replaced the non-engine OEM components, while adding detail touches like chrome-moly clip-ons, Vox-Bell chrome horn and Tommaselli quarter-turn throttle.

Next Cameron focused on the electrics, deciding that the original harness could be used with some tidying. The electrical makeover included a Porsche fuse box, Dynatek coils, a new regulator-rectifier, and a Ballistic lithium-ion battery—which also saved eight pounds in weight. The original black molded dashboard was in bad shape, and pretty poor quality anyway; so, with OEM items heading toward four figures, Cameron sourced a repro dash from Bevel Heaven for a quarter of that. Into the dash went a Veglia speedometer and white-faced Veglia tach. Cameronalso added two smaller gauges to monitor oil temperature and battery charge/condition. 

1980 ducati 900ss gauges close up

Engine work came next. Fortunately, Cameron knew some of this particular Ducati 900SS example’s history, so he was aware the bottom end had been rebuilt and a quick check showed no signs of wear. He also knew that the previous owner had fitted new stock-size liners and Borgo pistons. The bores showed no wear, so Cameron merely had them honed and fitted new piston rings.

Maple Ridge, BC’s Hayward Performance refurbished the cylinder heads. This included fitting harder valve collets from Martin Brickwood Performance in Pointe Claire, Quebec. Some mild porting and smoothing of the intake ports, together with revised jetting in the 40mm Dell’Ortos and a set of Barnett Kevlar clutch plates concluded the engine work. 

The cases were cleaned, polished and treated to stainless bevel shaft tubes; billet filter cover, breather cap and oil filler cap; and a “gear gazer” glass cam box cover for the rear cylinder. A NOS kickstart lever from the later 900S2 replaced the broken-and-repaired original—but at a cost of $640! And spun aluminum velocity stacks dressed up the Dell’Ortos. New petcocks were installed, and fuel lines replaced with period “green” clear vinyl with quick-disconnects to allow the gas tank to be removed easily.

Cameron chose a new left-side header pipe from the later 900S2, because it tucked in tighter to the frame, increasing ground clearance. Deciding against new Conti mufflers or Bub replicas, Cameron settled instead for a set of lookalike Conti-style pipes from UK supplier Classic Bike Shops for $300.

Although Cameron painted many of the bodywork parts himself—including the fender and side covers—he decided on professional paint for the gas tank, seat and fairing. With instructions that the paintwork should be “…good, but not too good, in trying to keep with the originality of the bikes delivered from Bologna.” With new tank decals from UK supplier Cut-Graphics, Cameron entrusted the paint to Azzkikr Customs in Surrey.

So now the Ducati 900SS was back together and ready to ride. After our photoshoot, I follow Cameron through the back streets near his home. The Ducati’s gold paint positively glows in the morning sunshine, and the bark from the new pipes is authoritative—and loud—with a distinct crackle added to the boom. But it wouldn’t please Ducati bevelhead purists: Cameron’s creation glitters with stainless, titanium and billet aluminum parts. No 900SS ever left Bologna looking as shiny as this! The 1979-80 edition of the Super Sport is perhaps the most glamorous anyway: the gold Speedline (later FPS) wheels perfectly complement the black/gold finish. 

Cameron thinks being divorced allows him the time and money he puts into his project bikes: “…instead of finding a new wife, I’m married to the three Ducatis in my garage,” he says. “Maybe a second wife would have been cheaper in the long run…too late now I guess!” 

By Robert Smith Canadian Biker Issue #321

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