Regrettable choices lead to a happy ending when a high-bred Ducati with a rare pedigree swaps hands.
Striking Silver in Fritz’s basement
Fritz leads me through his basement, past his Alfa Romeo car flanked by a pair of “matching” orange Ducatis (1973 750 Sport and 350 Desmo); a pack of Parillas; more Ducati singles; and finally a room full of racing bicycles. In the workshop, though, is the bike I’ve come to see: the penultimate version of the Mk3D Desmo with its unique fibreglass bodywork in silver metalflake. It’s the motorcycle one Australian magazine nicknamed the “Silver Shotgun.”
Even in this dim basement light, the paint is eye-popping. Chips of aluminum in the heavy clearcoat gleam like diamonds, and when we push the bike out into the daylight, the coarse metalflake sparkles like the spinning mirror globe in a seventies’ disco. Built for just two seasons (until a bodywork overhaul by Leopoldo Tartarini of Italjet in 1973), the Silver Shotgun has become one of the rarest of the Desmo singles.
Though Ducati launched its range of “narrow case” road-going singles for the 1957 season, all used a single overhead camshaft with valve operation by rockers and enclosed hairpin springs. The engine grew from 100cc to 125, 160, 200, 250 and finally 350cc variants, strengthened along the way, but all similar in design. The most successful of these was the 250 Mach 1.
By 1967, Ducati’s legendary chief designer, Fabio Taglioni, had demonstrated the reliability of his desmodromic valve gear in the company’s race bikes (especially the DOHC “bialbero”), and the company thought it safe to use it on sporting versions of its revamped “wide case” production singles. First came the 350 Scrambler, followed by 250 and 450 versions. Pure street 250, 350 and 450s followed in Mk.3 (valve spring) and Mk.3D Desmo versions. The 450 established the effective capacity limit of the wide case engine with a 75mm stroke (longer would have required a redesign to move the gearbox pinions further away) and 86mm bore for 436cc.
The Mk.3 range came in a dizzying variety of finishes, trim levels and cycle parts depending on the year and market. In the US, the Mk.3 was typically offered with steel wheel rims, lower compression and a softer cam profile, while the Desmos featured alloy rims, sporting camshaft, tachometer, and in 1968, a twin-filler gas tank.
For 1971, two further variants appeared: the off-road styled R/T (better equipped for dirt than the Scrambler); and a new street bike with bodywork in glass fibre, nicknamed the Ducati Silver Shotgun.
The desmo engine (in 250, 350 and 450 sizes) remained unchanged apart from a stronger main bearing, but the styling was strictly café racer: rearset foot controls, clip-on handlebars, fibreglass monoposto seat with bum stop, fibreglass gas tank, and cut-off front fender. Cycle upgrades included Borrani 18-inch alloy rims, Grimeca double-sided SLS front brake with air scoops, and 35mm Marzocchi forks (replacing 31.5mm Ducati items). Concerns about the integrity of fibreglass tanks (not without a touch of protectionism) led to an eventual ban in the US. The final Tartarini styled Desmos appeared in 1973 with a steel gas tank, 35mm Ceriani forks and a 280mm Brembo disc brake, paired Smith’s clocks and a CEV headlight. Tartarini’s makeover also included a new orange-and-black colour scheme to match the 1973 750 Sport.
THE SILVER SHOTGUN CAME INTO Fritz’s’s life by a pair ofmistakes. In the late 1980s, he acquired a Ducati Paso, the fully-faired, first generation belt-drive-cam sportbike. “I didn’t like the Paso much,” he says. It wasn’t my kind of bike. I want to see the engine.” A local friend had also made a purchase he regretted: the Silver Shotgun. It wasn’t his kind of bike either. “He wanted the Paso,” says Fritz, “so we made a trade. I found out about the significance of it later on.”
Very few Ducati Silver Shotguns were built. Though intended for the US market, few were imported before the ban on fibreglass gas tanks. A dealer dispute at about the same time also restricted distribution, though some found their way to Canada. Fritz’s’s bike was sold through then Edmonton dealer Carters.
Fritz says his Silver Shotgun is essentially stock, though as a former machinist he’s improved on some parts, making new engine plates and brake torque arms. He’s also repainted the frame in the same sea green used on the 750SS, with the effect that his Shotgun looks like a mini-Imola bike.
More used to the mellow boom of a British single of the same size, I’m surprised at how restrained the 450 sounds when it fires up: there’s little mechanical noise, and the exhaust note is a polite brap-p-p-p-p-p. The owner motors up and down the street for my snaps making little more noise than a power mower—though a far sweeter sound.
There’s much to be said for the then-Italian philosophy of making a small motorcycle then stretching and tuning the engine for more power. The result is a 450 that could run with much bigger bikes at the time: One Italian magazine recorded a top speed over 98 mph in a 1972 test. Slender, compact and lightweight, the 450cc Ducati Silver Shotgun may speak softly, but it packs pretty big performance.
Fritz developed his love of Italian machinery at an early age after going with his father to a race meet in his native Salzburg in 1948. He was unimpressed with German and Austrian bikes, preferring the dashing style of Italian café racers. “It had to be a sportbike,” he says, “to look and sound like a race bike.” Fritz acquired his first Ducati single, a 200cc Elite, after moving to Houston, Texas. “We went everywhere on that bike, pretty much wore it out,” he says.He now owns examples of both narrow- and and wide-case singles, including a 250 Mach 1.
“It’s really nice,” says Fritz of its ride quality. “The better chassis and stronger forks make a big difference over the earlier bikes. The 450cc engine is nice too.”
by Robert Smith