Ducati Apollo

Ducati Apollo
Ducati Berliner 1260 Apollo
Ducati Apollo motorcycle
Manufacturer Ducati
Parent company Ducati Motor Holdings, SpA
Production 2
Engine OHV L-Four, 2 valves per cylinder; air-cooled
Transmission 5-speed
Wheelbase 1554.48 mm (61.2 inch)
Dimensions W Engine, 450 mm. Handlebars, 750 mm.
Seat height 749.3 mm (29.5 inch)
Weight 270 kg (596 lb) (dry)
Related Ducati 750 GT

The 1964 Ducati Berliner 1260 Apollo was a prototype 1,250 cc (76 cu in) V4 engine motorcycle producing 100 bhp (75 kW) and capable of over 120 mph (190 km/h). It was never put into production, but did influence other production Ducatis that followed. Both Ducati and their US distributor, Berliner Motor Corporation, were experiencing declining sales of existing small-capacity single-cylinder models, and sought to create a bike to compete with Harley-Davidson. Berliner Motor was keen to have a model that could win lucrative police motorcycle supply contracts, and that could also sell as a civilian touring bike.[1][2][3]



In 1959, the Berliner Motor Corporation approached Ducati about creating a rival to the Harley-Davidson to sell to police departments around the U.S. Author Greg Field, based on interviews with Mike Berliner, contends that Berliner went so far as to ship two Harley-Davidsons to Italy as examples (one was for Moto Guzzi), and that Ducati, rather than any Japanese company, was the first Harley-Davidson imitator.[4]

The Berliner brothers were enthusiastic. Ducati’s government management was not. It was only when Berliner agreed to underwrite a portion of the development costs in 1961, that the project went ahead. They decided to call it the Apollo, in honor of the moon mission series of the time.[5]

Ducati was to produce two prototypes and two extra engines as spares. Today only one survives.


Fabio Taglioni was to develop a bike that conformed to US police specifications, and was bigger than any current model Harley-Davidson. Taglioni decided on an air-cooled 1256 cc 90° two-valve head V4 using a 180-degree crankshaft with roller bearing big ends. That crankshaft fitted into a horizontally split wet sump crankcase with a center main bearing support. The bore was 84.5 mm, and the stroke 56 mm. Valve actuation was by pushrods and rocker arms.

The engine was a stressed member of the heavy duty open cradle frame with a central box section front downtube between the forward cylinders. A small car-sized starter motor and generator were fitted. It had a five-speed transmission, at a time when most motorcycles had four. Ceriani developed the suspension package, but riders today would be alarmed by the inadequate front and rear single leading shoe 8.675 in (220.3 mm) drum brakes. The stopping distance was huge, and had to be allowed for. It had a 61.2 in (1,550 mm) wheelbase, and weighed 596 lb (270 kg) dry.[6] Taglioni dismissed the Berliners’ suggestion of shaft drive, and chose chain final drive. The police specification stipulated 16-inch tyres, so there was little choice in that.


Initially it was putting out 100 bhp @ 7000 rpm, and could exceed 120 mph (190 km/h). The Harley of the time made 55 bhp. The first test rider Franco Farne came back from his first ride, and said it “handles like a truck.” Farne normally rode small racers.[7] It soon became evident that even specially made tyres were not up to the power of the engine. A tyre disintegrated at speed on the Autostrada, and the test rider rated his survival “a miracle”. The engine was detuned to give 80 bhp. Tyres continued to disintegrate. The engine was brought down to 65 bhp, and the survival rate of the tyres became acceptable. This was late 1963. (In 1958 Moto Guzzi had used a 20-inch rear tyre on the Grand Prix 500 cc V8, and they had worn rapidly with 78 bhp.)

In March 1964 a gold-painted prototype was handed over in a formal ceremony.

The reduction in power meant that the Apollo could now be outperformed by the British and BMW twins, which restricted the anticipated market to police forces. Berliner was printing advertising, demonstrating the prototype to Police Chiefs, and genuinely preparing to market the Apollo.

Berliner specification sheet

This is from a promotional flyer distributed by Berliner Motor Corporation,[8] which also included a front three quarter black and white view of the gold bike. The US$1,500 selling price would be US$10229 in 2008 dollars.

Specifications of the D/B V/4 - an exclusive project of DUCATI – BERLINER

  • SPORT ENGINE - 4 Cylinder 1260 cc, Bore x Stroke 84.5 x 56 mm
  • Carburetors 4 (SS 1 32 mm) - Compression Ratio 10:1 - Approx. 100 HP @ 7000 RPM
  • (Optional) Carburetors 2 (SS 1 24 mm) - Compression Ratio 8:1 - Approx. 80 HP @ 6000 RPM
  • Gearbox built in unit with the engine
  • Electric starter and kick starter
  • Five (5) speed, positive shift
  • Oil sump capacity 3.5 quarts
  • 12 volt electrical system, 32 amp battery
  • Alternator 200 Watt, Starter engine: 0.50 kW
  • Wheelbase 1550 mm
  • Interchangeable and quickly detachable front and rear wheel
  • Front tire: Ribbed 5.00 X 16 inch Rear tire: Block tread 5.00 x 16 inch
  • Large full hub front and rear brakes
  • Rubber cushioned rear sprocket
  • "Roll on" center stand and side stand
  • Comfortable dual seat with sturdy Chrome plated hand rail.
  • Width; Engine 450 mm Handlebar 750 mm Ground clearance 170 mm
  • Chain 5/8 x 3/8 primary chain duplex,
  • Weight approx. 240 kg
The first production series will be manufactured early in 1965 for the European and other foreign markets. Shipments scheduled for the United States are planned for the second half of 1965. The price in the USA will be approximately $1500.

Berliner Motor Corporation

Project end

The Italian government decided that the limited market did not justify the tooling costs of production, and withdrew project funding. This was a severe blow to Berliner's business plans.

It could have been a superbike before its time, but tire technology was not ready. There were other bikes developed as a result: the 1970 500 cc GP bikes and 750 cc production 90-degree V-twins.

The second prototype, a black and silver sports version with four Dell'Orto SS 1 carburettors, survived, and was on display at Ducati's factory museum in Bologna, courtesy of its owner, Hiroaki Iwashita, from 2002 to 2003, but now resides in his museum in Yufuin on the island of Kyushu.[7] Its sole public appearance in recent decades was at the 2002 Goodwood Festival of Speed. The fate of the first gold painted prototype is unknown.[5]


The Berliner brothers' quest for an offering in the police fleet and big touring cruiser market did not end with the Apollo. As the Apollo project was wrapping up, Joe Berliner saw the Moto Guzzi V7 for the first time, a prototype to be entered in a contest, set to begin in 1966, by the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs to select a replacement for their outmoded military and police fleet.[9] Berliner Motor Corporation and Moto Guzzi would find success selling the V7's production variants, the Ambassador and Eldorado, to the LAPD, CHP, and other agencies, as well as civilian touring riders.[10]


  1. ^ Falloon, Ian (2006), The Ducati Story: Racing and Production Models from 1945 to the Present Day (4th ed.), Haynes, p. 42, ISBN 9781844253227, "At the instigation of Joe Berliner, Ducati was commissioned to build a police bike that could compete with Harley-Davidson." 
  2. ^ Cathcart, Alan (May/June 2009), "Ducati’s amazing 1,260cc V4 Apollo", Motorcycle Classics, http://www.motorcycleclassics.com/motorcycle-reviews/ducati-v4-apollo.aspx?page=1, "Few motorcycles ever built have enjoyed as mythical a reputation as the Ducati Apollo, a failed Italian attempt at a Harley-style cruiser for the American market. [...] Joe Berliner was convinced of the potential of the U.S. police market, especially since U.S. anti-trust legislation required police departments consider bikes other than Harley-Davidsons. Official police department specifications were increasingly standardized across the U.S., favoring the large-capacity Harleys. [...] the brothers’ only stipulation was that the bike have an engine bigger than anything in Harley’s range." 
  3. ^ Thompson, Jon F.; Bonnello, Joe (1998), Ducati, MotorBooks/MBI Publishing Company, p. 46, ISBN 0760303894, 9780760303894, "...an 80-horsepower, 1,260-cc contraption called the Apollo. It was done as a prototype police motorcycle for the Berliners, who were looking to attract police business away from Harley-Davidson." 
  4. ^ Field, Greg (1998), Moto Guzzi Big Twins, MBI Pub., p. 17, ISBN 0760303630, 9780760303634, "...according to Mike Berliner: 'What was selling at the time in the United States: Harley Davidson! So in order to show them what we wanted, we sent two Harley-Davidsons to Italy -- one to Ducati, and one to Moto Guzzi.' (Note none of the Moto Guzzi personnel interviewed for this book recalls ever getting a Harley during this era, but Michele Bianchi recalls getting one from Berliner in 1969 to give to a friend of his in Italy.) [...] Joe Berliner commissioned Ducati to design and build this interesting machine, the Ducati-Berliner Apollo. Powered by a 1,260-cc V-4 engine, the Apollo was meant to compete for police and touring customers with the Harley-Davidson big twins. According to the Berliner spec sheet, two versions were to be offered, the 100-horsepower four-carb version (shown) and the 80-horsepower two-carb version. Only one prototype and one spare were built. Note the square section downtube, ram-air scoops under the tank, distributors (one on each side), and the overall Harley mimicry. The Japanese didn't fire the first shot in that war; Ducati did." 
  5. ^ a b Cathcart on the Apollo, Motorcyclist Magazine, http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/flashback/122_0313_ducati_apollo/, retrieved 25 September 2006 
  6. ^ An Outline of the Apollo's History, Ducati, http://www.ducati.com/heritage/news/articolotheapolloisback3, retrieved 2009-02-21 
  7. ^ a b Heritage - Apollo, Ducati, http://www.ducati.com/heritage/anni60/apollo/apollo.jhtml, retrieved 2009-02-21 
  8. ^ , DucatiMeccanica.com, http://www.ducatimeccanica.com/Apollo_back.jpg, retrieved January 2 2007 
  9. ^ Falloon, Ian (1999), Moto Guzzi Story: Racing and Production Models from 1921 to the Present, Haynes Publishing, p. 83, ISBN 1859604145, "The prototype was produced during 1964 and testing began over the winter of 1964 and 1965. In the meantime, a civilian version was also developed, the first model being displayed at the Milan Show in November 1965 where it was the star of the show. Testing by the Italian police and military began in 1966, the V7 initially only completing 31,000 kilometers before Guzzi's own testers rode a further 55,000. With minimal engine wear, the V7 won the contest ahead of offerings from Benelli, Gilera and Laverda." 
  10. ^ Field, Greg (1998), Moto Guzzi Big Twins, MBI Pub., p. 18, ISBN 0760303630, 9780760303634, "About the same time as the Apollo production deal fell through, Joe Berliner first set eyes on an interesting new project from his other Italian affiliate. On a visit to the Moto Guzzi factory, Berliner was shown a prototype of the new V700 and realized immediately the possibilities. Before him was a motorcycle that struck an almost perfect balance between the too-massive Harley and the reliable but anemic BMW. To Berliner, it must have seemed that Guzzi engineers had read his mind. He is reputed to have exclaimed, 'Build it for us. Now! ' While Moto Guzzi had no doubt been considering the possibilities of a civilian version of its new military/police prototype, this was just the push the nearly bankrupt company needed to make the civilian V700 a reality." 

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