Vee Two Hailwood Ducati | Remembering Mike the Bike
One Australian concern is going to ensure one of the all-time great motorcycle comebacks is never forgotten.
This year’s Isle of Man TT will mark 40 years since Mike Hailwood’s legendary comeback victory in the 1978 TT, following an 11-year break from racing there while he pursued a car racing career in Formula One.
And to mark the milestone, West Australian-based Vee Two Australia, the world’s leading specialist in bevel-drive Ducati engines, is producing 12 exact replicas of Mike the Bike’s victorious Ducati 900 TT F1 race motorcycle, the production run quantity commemorating Hailwood’s victorious #12 TT racing number.
By Alan Cathcart
Photography AC Archives
Vee Two Australia has secured the original technical drawings for the Ducati’s 883cc 90-degree V-twin bevel-drive desmo engine, as well the relevant casting moulds, chassis drawings and technical details—all of which will ensure the bike is an exact replica of the one that powered Hailwood to his historic win.
“The engine used in Mike’s 900 F1 race-winning bike was a prototype motor designed by the Ducati factory in the mid-to-late 1970s, of which only around eight units were ever made,” Andrew Cathcart, General Manager of Vee Two explains: “When Mike won the TT in ’78 the factory had plans for the engine to power the next series of desmo V-twin sportbikes, but due to Ducati’s struggling financial situation, the bevel-drive format was scrapped in favor of the Pantah-type belt-drive V-Twin, which was less costly to manufacture. This meant that this ultimate bevel-drive engine never reached production, and therefore never made it into the hands of the public. Picking up from where the factory left off, Vee Two Australia is now in a position to offer the engine that powered Hailwood to his legendary victory.”
While the engine will be produced in-house by Vee Two, the chassis is being built in Italy, again using the original drawings for the race-winning bike’s tubular steel frame. The bodywork will also be an exact replica of Hailwood’s TT-winning machine, right down to the famous Castrol and Sports Motorcycles stickers on the red and green paintwork. John Keogh, the British designer behind a number of other Vee Two creations, is responsible for the accurate clay modelling that will form the basis of the bodywork.
Externally, Vee Two’s Ritorno (meaning ‘comeback’ in Italian) engine is an exact copy of the 883cc 90-degree bevel-drive desmo V-twin that carried Hailwood to his historic 1978 race victory. Internally, though, the motor will host a full complement of Vee Two’s evolutionary upgrades, meaning power output will be much higher than the original engine’s 86 peak horsepower, delivered at 9000 rpm. The engine is already in production, and in racing guise has twice finished second in AHRMA’s Formula 750 class race events here in America, as well as forming the basis of the acclaimed Vee Two Imola Evo café racer street bike.
While agreeing on the appearance and technical specifications of a Hailwood Replica may at first seem straightforward, the original bike was altered numerous times during the two-week period of the 1978 TT, and any number of combinations could be considered ‘the real thing.
“So many changes to the chassis, engine and exhaust system were made during the event that photographs from the day reveal numerous variations practically from one day to another.” says Brook Henry, Vee Two’s CEO. “We aim to produce an exact replica of the bike as it crossed the finishing line.”
To help achieve this, Henry also reveals that Vee Two will draw on the expertise of Steve Wynne, the man responsible for sourcing the original 900 F1 from the factory, and preparing it for the race under the Sports Motorcycles banner.
“Being able to ask Steve about things we spot in photographs, and have him separate myth from fact, is very exciting,” says Henry. “It’s very good to have him on board to ensure that each bike we build can legitimately be termed a genuine replica.” Furthermore, Mike Hailwood’s widow Pauline and son David have both granted approval to use his famous name, and in recognition of this each of the 12 bikes to be built will bear Pauline Hailwood’s signature. The bike will be on show at the Isle of Man Classic TT in August, where the Isle of Man authorities have decided to stage their celebrations of Mike Hailwood’s TT victory, rather than at the TT proper in June, the 40th anniversary of his feat. Vee Two Australia plans to have the first of its Replicas there, and to have it complete parade laps alongside the original TT-winning machine now owned by New Yorker Larry Auriana, and ridden by David Hailwood. CN
The Famous Win
Following a seven-year break from top-line motorcycle racing, in 1977 Hailwood was approached by Steve Wynne who suggested he should come out of retirement for the ’78 TT and race a Ducati. To Wynne’s surprise, Hailwood agreed. In practice, the then 38-year-old Hailwood set a new lap record of 111 mph, then went on to claim what is surely one of the greatest comeback victories in sporting history. This will be commemorated by the creation by Vee Two Australia of the 12 as-yet-unnamed identical copies of his race-winning bike. Although Vee Two has already bestowed the Ritorno moniker upon the engine, Andrew Cathcart says the Vee Two-built Replica TT racer hasn’t yet been officially named.
“Mike Hailwood Replica is something of an over-used title,” he admits. “Internally we’re just calling it “The Hailwood,” though we’ll settle on a name soon. But it’s important to stress that Vee Two Australia is making a replica of Mike Hailwood’s TT-winning 900 F1 racer, not a copy of the Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica streetbike, which was essentially merely a production 900SS fitted with red-and-green bodywork. Ducati’s original plans were to produce just 200 units, but in fact they ended up manufacturing more than 7,000 examples of the so-called Hailwood replica look-a-likes. Ours will be identical copies of the genuine race-winner which is now owned by Larry Auriana in the USA, and which Steve Wynne maintains for him.” The as-yet undisclosed price of such exclusivity is understood to be in the region of $140,000.
Jay Leno’s Garage | VIDEO
A few months back, Jay Leno featured Brook Henry, Andrew Cathcart and the Vee Two Ducati Imola Evo on his show, Jay Leno’s Garage. It makes for interesting viewing and gives you an idea as to the work that goes into such an exquisite, hand-build machine.