Ducati authentication: how to tell if your collectable Ducati is real or fake
THE REAL DEAL
Collecting is endemic in the US, and big business. The combination of increased affluence and higher disposable income has seen the prices of rare machinery skyrocket in recent years. But with many high-end collector cars now out of reach for all but the wealthiest, certain motorcycles are now attracting attention from serious investors. Motorcycle collecting may still be on the periphery but there are plenty of seriously cashed-up collectors fuelling the phenomenon.
Motorcycle collecting mirrors car collecting, but on a much smaller scale. Just as American car collectors favour Detroit muscle cars, the motorcycle collecting business focuses on Harley-Davidsons and Indians. But also, as in car collecting, there is a smaller, but extremely high end, market for rare Italian products. And while certain Ferraris are now among the most coveted of all classic cars, on a lesser scale some Ducatis have become the two-wheeled equivalent.
As many American collectors don’t ride motorcycles these have moved beyond even leisure products and into the realm of works of art.
In the world of Ducati collecting, the Holy Grail is the 1974 model 750 Super Sport Green Frame. Built for one year only as a replica of Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola 200 winning racer, the 750 SS has all the credentials that make something desirable for a collector: it has rarity (401 made) and the mystique of being a hand-built factory production racer.
As collectors become more aware of their rarity and status in the Ducati world these bikes have been gradually increasing in value over the past decade.
At a Las Vegas motorcycle auction in 2013 a 1974 model Ducati 750 SS Green Frame sold for a healthy $US130,000 ($A167,000). The figure wasn’t unexpected, this was pretty much ball park, but soon afterwards the authenticity of the sold bike came into question when the owner of another 750 SS with identical engine and frame numbers came forward.
As two bikes with identical numbers – especially engine and frame – was near impossible, the only conclusion was that one of them was a fake.
Ducati 750 Super Sports are really heavily modified 750 GTs and recreating them has been going on for years. No one really cared too much when an SS cost $10,000 and a 750 GT $5000. With the prices now at stratospheric levels this obvious fabrication is making some collectors nervous.
Some are asking whether their expensive SS is genuine or a fake.
One serious collector is Eric Kurtev, a 33-year-old restaurateur and businessman from Fond du Lac in Wisconsin, a stone’s throw from Harley-Davidson headquarters in Milwaukee.
Eric likes to be different. Eschewing the ubiquitous Harley-Davidsons that populate the Wisconsin roads he rides a Ducati Diavel daily, at least for the six months of the year when the roads aren’t covered in snow. But Eric is new to the collecting game.
“I grew up dreaming of the 916 when I was a kid, and had no idea what a bevel Ducati was,” he says. Like any collector he started buying the bikes he dreamed of as a teenager, first a 916 and Honda RC30. Eric initially concentrated on the motorcycles of his era, expanding to a racing Ducati 916 Corsa, Supermono, and the limited-production series Mike Hailwood 900 Evoluzione and Paul Smart 1000.
“Then I got talking to some collectors and learnt about the older bikes. I saw a yellow Ducati 750 Sport and thought it was so beautiful.” As with most collectors in the US, his collection is fluid, always on the lookout for something new and constantly trading. As the emphasis moved towards Italian bikes the Honda went and he learnt about the 750 SS Green Frame. “Every collector I talked to had one and I knew this was also for me. But it isn’t easy to find. You cannot simply walk into a dealer and buy one.”
The easiest way to buy classic bikes in the US is through a broker. A lot of collectors like to remain anonymous and as collections are fluid many bikes are never advertised. If you’re not in the loop it can be almost impossible to find rare and collectable items. These brokers have connections and the ability to ferret out bikes that normally nobody would know about. So when Eric wanted a Green Frame he contacted a broker who found him what he wanted.
But these brokers are not experts and neither is Eric. “I am new to this business, I don’t even know what bevel gears are or what a desmo is. I just like the way these bikes look,” he says.
Eric subsequently paid a lot of money for a 750 SS and wanted to make sure it was the real deal. After several conversations with me, he said, “I want you to come over and look at this bike and write an authentication report on it. I don’t want any problems with it if I have to sell it again. And if you’re coming all this way you may as well write reports on my 916 Corsa and Laverda 750 SFC.”
Authentication reports are common in the car world, especially for vintage Bentleys and Ferraris where dubious re-creations are rife, but this concept is relatively new for motorcycles.
And that’s what happened. I went to Wisconsin and assessed Eric’s Ducati 750 SS Green Frame, Laverda 750 SFC and Ducati 916 Corsa.
The Laverda 750 SFC is a similar style of motorcycle to the Ducati 750 SS Green Frame, but is not as rare and as susceptible to faking. Eric’s SFC is a 1974 US specification and wasn’t an issue with matching engine and frame numbers authentication. There were some non-original features but nothing seriously amiss.
Ducati 916 Corsas can be a minefield for authenticity. Although 60 of these customer bikes were built in 1995 they seem to have multiplied over the years.
This is due to the customer Corsas sharing the same frame and engine number sequence as the production 916. Fortunately Eric’s Corsa came with documented history so, again, there was no issue.
As for the 750 Super Sport Green Frame Eric definitely wasn’t done on authenticity. The engine and frame numbers were correct but it was missing some vital correct parts that weren’t pointed out at the time of sale. Nothing too serious that can’t be rectified, but these parts should have been included as the bike was sold as 100 per cent authentic.
Eric was slightly disappointed, “I feel duped but at least the bike is genuine.” All he has to do now is find the rare, correct Aprilia headlight and have the bike repainted.
“It’s back to eBay searching I guess,” he mused. But despite a few issues that need to be resolved Eric feels the business was worthwhile. He knows his rare bikes are not fakes and has authoritative documents to support it. And Eric made the trip more worthwhile by flying me down to the annual Barber Vintage Festival in Birmingham, Alabama. But that’s another story.