The Ducati 851 was a Ducati motorcycle, with
liquid cooling and four valve heads, released
to the public in 1987. Development had lagged
with the continued use of two valve engines,
but new funds enabled a technological move forward
Ducati needed at the time.
After buying Ducati, Cagiva invested in the
development of another V-twin, but with liquid
cooling, and four valve desmodromic heads. Massimo
Bordi, had designed a 4V Desmo in 1973 for his
thesis at the University of Bologna, and with
Cagiva in 1985, saw his updated ideas come into
production as the Desmoquattro.
Based on the Pantah motor, but with liquid
cooling, fuel injection, and desmodromic four
valve heads (with an included valve angle of
40 degrees), the 851 made Ducati race competitive
The original Desmo Quattro was an experimental
748 cc 4 valve racer (seen at the Bol d'Or in
1986) and used 750 F1 Pantah crankcases. Bordi
collaborated with Cosworth to develop the heads,
but in the time they had, they were only able
to reduce the included valve angle of the desmodromic
engine to 40°, while less than 30° was
possible with valve springs. Ducati stuck with
The subsequent 851 road bike had stronger crankcases,
while the heads and valves remained the same;
designed to fit above the 88 mm bore of a 748
The 1987 - 1988 Ducati 851 Strada used the
signature steel tube trellis frame, adorned
with Marvic wheels, Brembo brakes and Marzocchi
suspension. That first release was criticised
for its handling, so front wheel was changed
from a 16 inch to a 17 inch wheel, and even
better suspension components fitted.
The 851 racing bike was the realisation of
one man's dream. Massimo Bordi originally designed
the Desmodromic four-valve engine way back in
1973, and after several mules were developed,
the experimental 705 F1 Pantah-engined bike
was taken out to 851cc. The rest, as they say,
Whether truth or myth, the story about Marco
Lucchinelli and his pit crew rolling up at Donington
Park for the first ever WSB meeting in a van
with a race-kitted 851 Strada is an entertaining
one. Just as entertaining as Lucchinelli's
determination to win, which he did om the second
leg. This result set Ducati on an upward spiral
to WSB domination in the year to come.
If 1988 was a learning curve for Ducati, 1989
was the year they put theory into practice.
Ducati came out fighting in WSB with an improved
851 and Raymond Roche at the bars. Roche took
second place in the riders’ championship.
Further improvements to the 851 saw the 1900
v-twin engine's bore go up 2mm (to 94mm) to
take capacity to 888cc, although it was still
known as an 851. Honda might have won the WSB
manufacturer title, but Roche won the rider's
title on the 851.
Ducati's rout of WSB started in 1991. Still
at 888cc and still tagged the 851, the Ducati
was sorted in every area. Its handling outshone
the Japanese bikes by a country mile. The engine
delivered less horsepower than the Hondas and
Yamahas, but its midrange torque made up for
this by out-powering everything out of the turns.
Doug Polen secured Ducati the first of six manufacturer
titles from 1991 to 1996.
This Ducati can also be attributed with sending
Carl Fogarty on his way to WSB fame and fortune
by taking a win on a non-works privateer 888
at 1992's WSB opener at Donington Park. The
888 era ended when it was replaced by the equally
Carl Fogarty said: The 851 was great to ride.
It was very smooth and torquey. In a way it
combined the best bits of the Yamaha and the
Honda. It was fast, it handled well and when
I was in a corner I didn't lose the front. It
set me up for the rest of my career with Ducati.
Getting off the four cylinders it felt different
because it revved to under 11,000rpm. When I
first rode it at Cadwell I thought;oh God this
is so slow but when I came in the lap times
were there. You never felt like you were actually
going that fast.
In 1992 the bore was enlarged, thus creating
the Ducati 888.