Motorcycling Australia Museum

Mike Hailwood’s 1977 Ducati 750SS

The comeback machine

The Ducati 750SS itself is an icon of Italian design flair; now among the most collectible of the modern classics. This one however, known as the Moreparts Ducati, is even more significant in that it re-launched the career of 9-times World Champion Mike Hailwood, when he contested the Castrol Six Hour and the Adelaide Three Hour Production Races in 1977-78.

After a glittering career that netted him nine motorcycle world championships, Hailwood switched to cars and was in his 50th Formula One start when he crashed his McLaren in the German Grand Prix in 1974. The serious injuries to his right leg and foot seemed to have ended his career, but after moving to New Zealand, Mike was tempted back into the saddle for a series of Historic Machine Races at Amaroo Park, Bathurst and Winton. Riding the ex-Kel Carruthers Manx Norton owned by Barry Ryan, he enjoyed himself so much that he accepted an offer to ride the Ducati in the 1977 Castrol Six Hour Race at Amaroo Park. Teamed with Jim Scaysbrook, he finished sixth outright and third in the 750 class. Mike also raced the Duke at the 1978 Adelaide Three Hour and the Castrol Six Hour - the same year he made his historic return to the Isle of Man where he won the Formula One TT on a works NCR Ducati. In one of the sport’s greatest ironies, the man who had survived one of the most dangerous motor sport eras on both two and four wheels, died with his young daughter in a motorway accident in England in 1981.

The Ducati was purchased new from the Australian importers by the Newcastle motorcycle salvage firm Moreparts, owned by former car racer Malcolm Bailey. With little in the way of outside sponsorship, Bailey, mechanic Neil Cummins and a happy band of local enthusiasts comprised the team that ran the Ducati in the endurance races against major efforts from most manufacturers. Hailwood’s only stipulation in agreeing to ride was that it all had to be ‘a bit of fun’. The team’s achievement of sixth outright in the race was an incredible effort considering their meagre resources – the bike practiced, qualified and raced on the same set of tyres.

At Easter 1978, Scaysbrook rode the Ducati to a win and a new lap record in the 750 Production Race at Mount Panorama.

The Ducati’s final appearance in 1978 was destined to be the opposite of its famous and fun debut. Hailwood crashed it in Thursday’s pre-practice, bending the forks and steering crown. Parts were difficult to find and time was short, but the rebuilt Ducati was back on the track the following day, only for reserve rider Stu Avant to decked the model, necessitating another all-night rebuild. On the first lap of Saturday’s Official Qualifying with Hailwood aboard the bike ran a big end – meaning another all-nighter for the exhausted crew. The Ducati made the10am start with just minutes to spare, placed on the rear of the grid after technically non-qualifying. Despite having to kick-start (the only bike in the race without a button), Mike had it into 15th outright and the lead of the 750 class when he handed it over to Scaysbrook at the first refuelling stop. Ten laps into his stint, Scaysbrook dropped the Ducati when the gearbox seized.

A little worse for wear, the Ducati went back to Newcastle for a lengthy rebuild and, as it turned out, a quiet retirement. It was unseen again in public for over 20 years. Finished in the yellow and blue colours of the South Australian clothing firm Golden Breed, the Ducati is presented exactly as it last raced. Even the smaller sponsors’ stickers have been faithfully reproduced and it is still fitted with original-pattern Avon Roadrunner tyres.

The Moreparts Ducati has played a truly significant role in not only the history of Australian motorcycle racing, but the career of one of the sport’s greatest exponents. In 2004, the Moreparts Ducati was acquired by Motorcycling Australia as the foundation exhibit in its new museum.

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