Remembering The 1979 Ducati 500 Pantah
When going over the specifications of the 1979 Ducati 500 Pantah, New Zealand’s Motorcycle Specs first points out this bike’s engineered design. This was a four-stroke engine with a two-cylinder design that each had two valves. It had a capacity of 499 cubic centimeters and a bore-by-stroke of 74 x 48 millimeters.
The compression ratio was 9.5:1 and had an electric starting motor. Its horsepower output was 45 @ 9,050 revs-per-minute. The chain final drive had a ratio of 2.533:1 at first before it became 2.786:1 in 1981. The front suspension was a thirty-five-millimeter Marzocchi or Paiolli fork and the rear used brand-related dual shock absorbers with three-way adjustable coil springs.
For the frame, the Pantah used a tubular steel trellis with a seat height of 29.9 inches from the ground. At dry weight, this bike was 397 pounds and had a fuel capacity of 4.8 US gallons. At top speed, the 1979 Ducati 500 Pantah reached 121.8 miles per hour. This was Ducati’s answer to get back in the game as a world-class producer of race-quality motorcycles.
500 Pantah Legacy
The Italian-based company, Ducati needed to come up with a performant motorcycle in order to at least keep pace with its competitors as one of the elite brands in the industry. One of the first brilliant moves this company did was the decision to come up with a mid-weight motorcycle as a specialized class distinction.
This was out of necessity as the Japanese-based manufacturers were always at least one step ahead of the competition as lightweight superbikes that could outperform anything in that class. Yet, even as a mid-weight class, this bike’s ability to hit what was at first 117 miles per hour, proved its might where it counted most.
The first of this lineup appeared in 1979 at a bike show in Milan, Italy. Introduced as a 1979 Ducati 500 Pantah, in the UK these bikes didn’t start making an appearance until 1980. Like all the other Ducatti models, it came with a SOHC 90-degree V-twin with desmodromic valve gear. Unlike its brand-related companions, this model had belt-driven cams.
The previous models were using a bevel-gear OHC design. In the beginning, these models came with the Marzocchi fork. Later, some bikes had the Paiolli fork. The 500 Pantah models remained in the production line until 1983. The last of the line, a 650SL, was sold in 1986.
This was a significant improvement since the 1976 disappointment when Ducati’s 350 ccs and 50 ccs parallel twins turned out to be a marketing failure. The company’s engineer at the time, Fabio Taglioni, rose to the occasion to develop what was the last of the GP500 racers of 1973. First shown as a prototype, the Pantah the bike’s trellis frame with the suspended motor acted as a stressed member while the swingarm pivoted on the rear of the crankcase.
The toothed rubber belt is what drove the single overhead camshaft with its Morse chain transmission. The drone disc brake was a Campagnolo Hydroconico design. The wheelbase of this bike was 1,450 millimeters and was less bulky than the disappointing 1976 models that were introduced. In looks and performance, the 1979 Ducati 500 Pantah was a significant improvement.
The True Beauty
According to Rider Magazine, the beauty behind the 1979 Ducati 500 Pantah was the blunt statement of not allowing the bureaucracy to dictate how a motorcycle company should do business, at least in Italy. Even as this Italian-based company faced financial adversity, it managed to stay competitive, thanks to the involvement of the Italian government.
Since then, Pantah and its successors continue to demonstrate it still has what it takes to compete in the world of world-class motorcycle production. In 1980, when the Pantah 500SL came out, it featured a plain bearing crankshaft. At the end of the day, the original Pantah 500 still outperformed the 500SL until Ducati went to work to make all the necessary improvements.
This is what later brought about the Pantah 600, then the Pantah 650. When Cagiva bought Ducati as a company in 1985, it still kept the brand’s design and logo as it was the better-recognized brand in Italy. Like Ducati, Cagiva is an Italian-founded and operated company. In addition to purchasing Ducati, Cagiva continued to expand its company portfolio through the 1985 acquisition of Moto Morini and the 1987 purchase of Husqvarna.
In 1991, it bought the trademark of the MV Augusta brand. Ducati remained in the control of Cagiva until 1996 when Texas Pacific Group acquired it, along with Moto Morini.
Ducati was founded in 1926 by Antonio Cavalieri Ducati and his three sons, Adriano, Marcello, and Bruno. Originally, the company produced vacuum tubes, condensers, and radio components.
In 1935, the family-run business constructed a new factory in the company’s founding city, Bologna, Italy. After enduring two World Wars, Ducati earned its place as a world-class manufacturer of motorcycles that performed beautifully on the racetrack and on the road. That legacy continued until the competition from Japan’s motorcycle industries threw a new challenge before Ducati it needed to take drastic measures to keep up.
After the 1996 Texas Pacific Group acquisition of Ducati, it became an Italian-owned company again in 2005 to the investment fund of Carlo and Andrea Bonomi from Investindustrial Holdings. In 2012, Volkswagen Group’s chairman Ferdinand Piech purchased Ducati and the brand has been a subsidiary of the German-based automobile production company ever since. Piech, a longtime fan of Ducati, did have the opportunity to purchase the brand from the Italian government when it was available in 1984 but passed on it.
He quoted he was not about to make the same mistake again. Currently, Ducati is under the direct control of AUDI AG, via Audi’s Automobil Lamborghini subsidiary.
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