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1981 Ducati 500SL Pantah

Community  /   /  By Derek Mau

Often we see vintage machines in museums and in private collections in either restored pristine condition or in its unrestored original form. Today Carmen showed us her 1981 Ducati 500SL Pantah that was restored from parts found on eBay.

Originally sold new back when first class postage was 18 cents and the space shuttle Columbia’s maiden voyage was launched, the silver, red and blue 500SL Pantah came onto the market with the engine using belt driven camshafts and a plane bearing crankshaft, rather than the ball-bearing crankshaft from the old bevel-drive engine.

Carmen became the Pantah’s second owner in 1984. Unfortunately, the Pantah fell over in the garage during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and suffered some cosmetic damage — the gas tank was dented and the body work was scratched.

Ducati 500SL Pantah trellis frame

Since parts were hard to find, the Pantah sat neglected in the corner of the garage for 21 years. Today it’s hard to imagine our world without Google and smartphone apps, but 24 years ago it was a challenge locating Ducati parts, let alone parts for an Italian motorcycle imported to the US in low numbers.

A couple of years ago, Carmen and her husband discovered that parts were available on eBay for the Pantah. They ordered parts from all over the world. Some of the parts found on eBay included decal sets from Australia, a tail light from Germany, side cover from Italy, and Dellorto Carburetor rebuild kits and Brembo Brake rebuild kits from the US.

Ducati 500SL Pantah

Without eBay stores, such as Eurotrash Jambalay and guzzitech, the owners could have never brought this bike back to running condition.

The 500SL Pantah is considered the grandfather of the modern Ducati as the Pantah was the first Ducati to have the new belt-driven camshafts, along with a plane bearing engine and toothed rubber timing belts to drive the Desmodromic camshafts.

It was the last engine designed by Fabio Taglioni the famous Ducati engineer. It was the first Ducati engine to use plane bearings on the crankshaft and toothed rubber timing belts to drive the Desmodromic camshafts.

Ducati 500SL Pantah

Taglioni was the chief designer at Ducati from 1954-’89. Although many “Ducatisti” would like to believe that Ducati invented the “desmo” valve system (using a second cam to close the valves, instead of valve springs) the patent was held by Daimler-Benz. Still, it was Taglioni who realized that the system would benefit fast-revving motorcycle engines which, in the 1950s, were limited by the reliability of valve springs. When he mated two Ducati 350cc singles to create the first Ducati 90-degree V-twin, he created one of motorcycling’s truly iconic designs.

Taglioni noted that when he quit building bevel-drive engines in favor of a belt-driven camshaft, he went from building complex engines to building simple ones.

Thirty years later, every Ducati motorcycle is a direct descendant of the Pantah. It brought Ducati from relative obscurity to world acclaim.

Ducati 500SL Pantah

A significant leap forward for Ducati, the Pantah’s frame also pointed the way for Ducati’s products for the next three decades. The trellis frame utilized the engine as a stressed member of the chassis, and the swingarm pivoted at the rear of the crankcase, rather than in a pivot connected to the tubular frame.

Carmen’s bike is a an early production 500SL Pantah with the Series 1 type fairing. Later production model Pantahs had a two-piece fairing.

With an MSRP that was almost $1,500 more over the Japanese middleweight motorcycles like the Kawasaki KZ 550 and Yamaha Seca 550, very few Pantahs were sold in the US. It is estimated that there were less than fifty 500SL Pantahs sold in the United States.

A huge “thank-you” to Carmen and Jeff for sharing the story about their Ducati Pantah.

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  1. rich March 29, 2013 at 1:25 am Reply

    I have a 1971 Ducati Desmo 450 r/t .There is a shop down here in the Clearwater/St pete area called Sids Cycles.These people live for Ducatis!!

    Check them out for parts and full service (727)522-3333

  2. Pedro July 28, 2013 at 5:32 pm Reply

    Great post.

  3. anthony April 29, 2014 at 3:31 am Reply

    N I C E
    great lookin bike
    ihave a 82 model that i am restoring at the moment
    hope to be finished by the end of 2014
    i CANT wiat

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