Alan Cathcart road tests the Ducati Apollo - a failed Italian attempt at a Harley-style cruiser for the American market
Claimed power: 100hp @ 7,000rpm
Top speed: 120mph (approx.)
Engine: 1,256cc, air-cooled OHV V4
Weight (dry): 271kg (596lbs)
Fuel capacity / MPG: 16ltr (4.23gal) / NA
Few motorcycles ever built have enjoyed as mythical a reputation as the Ducati Apollo, a failed Italian attempt at a Harley-style cruiser for the American market.
Back in the late 1950s, Ducati was one of dozens of small Italian manufacturers struggling to overcome the success of the Fiat 500 minicar, which stopped the postwar boom in Italian biking. This collapse in sales forced Ducati to focus even more on their export markets, particularly the U.S. This meant even greater dependence on its U.S. importer, New Jersey-based Berliner Motor Corporation, which was selling roughly 85 percent of Ducati’s total production; brothers Joe and Mike Berliner effectively called the shots at recession-hit Ducati.
Joe Berliner was convinced of the potential of the U.S. police market, especially since U.S. anti-trust legislation required police departments consider bikes other than Harley-Davidsons. Official police department specifications were increasingly standardized across the U.S., favoring the large-capacity Harleys. Requirements included an engine capacity of at least 1,200cc, a minimum 60-inch wheelbase, and the use of 5 x 16-inch tires. In 1959, Berliner contacted Ducati chief Giuseppe Montano to see if the firm was interested in producing a machine for this market. Montano and Ducati engineer Fabio Taglioni agreed, certain they could produce a more efficient and modern design that Berliner could sell at a reasonable cost.
But Montano encountered skepticism from the government bureaucrats in Rome who controlled Ducati’s finances, and negotiations dragged on. A deal was finally struck in 1961, resulting in a joint
venture with Berliner underwriting the development costs of the new model. In return, Berliner would dictate its specifications. Apart from meeting the standardized U.S. police regulations, the brothers’ only stipulation was that the bike have an engine bigger than anything in Harley’s range, then topped by the 74ci/1,215cc FL-series Duo Glide models. MC
Order the May/June 2009 issue of Motorcycle Classics to read more about the Ducati Apollo, including a road test by Alan Cathcart. Contact Customer Service at (800) 880-7567 or contact us by email.