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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.