Ducati could be working on a mystery model equipped with a brand-new 659cc single-cylinder, four-valve engine, according to documents listed in the United States.
The surprise evidence has emerged buried within VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) files submitted to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as unearthed by those super-sleuths over at Motorcycle.com
There isn’t too much detail to go on from the easy-to-miss entry within the document - which was filed on 22nd September - other than the fact it is grouped within Ducati’s current engine line-up of twins, V2s and V4s. Even so, the fact it appears here suggests Ducati is perhaps further down the line of development than we might have realised.
While bland documents intended to be seen by few people inputting data can often throw a red herring - such as manufacturers trademarking potential names for motorcycles it ‘might’, not definitely, produce - it seems unlikely Ducati would register a VIN for a model that didn’t exist.
Which begs the question as to which motorcycle this 659cc engine will be powering. Of the current range, the Scrambler is perhaps only one suitable model for this particular engine.
Now, this could align neatly with the fact a new generation Ducati Scrambler is just around the corner, with one of the remaining five World Premiere webisodes unveiling additions/replacements to the marque’s 2023 model range rolling out over the next couple of months set to be dedicated to the Italian firm’s sub(ish)-brand.
Currently, the Scrambler is available with 803cc and 1100cc engines, though Ducati did offer the 399cc Scrambler Sixty2 until fairly recently. All three engines feature on the same document, so there is a good argument to be had that this engine could either nestle into an obvious gap or replace the 399cc as Ducati’s more ‘novice friendly’ Scrambler option.
In fact, we’d be satisfied with that educated guess were the 659cc engine not a single-cylinder.
Indeed, while large capacity one-pot engines had been going out of fashion, skilled engineers will still tout the benefits of a characterful, raspy single-cylinder engine compared with similarly sized twins. The downside? Difficult to package without losing performance or the essence of using one in the first place.
Difficult doesn’t mean impossible though, as the newly revived BSA has shown with its decision to fit the new Gold Star with a 650cc single-cylinder engine.
BSA justified its move to do it the hard way by both attempting to give the Gold Star 650 a unique selling point and evoke the spirit of its spiritual predecessor from the 1930s-1950s.
This ‘nostalgia’ factor - both in terms of design and engineering - still carries a lot of marketing clout in this industry, which makes us wonder whether Ducati is mulling a brand-new entry into the Modern Classic segment to capitalise on soaring sales of models like the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650, Kawasaki Z650RS and Yamaha XSR700.
Of course, we have been here before with the Ducati SportClassic, a rare flop for the Italian firm in terms of popularity but one that has gone on to endure as a cult favourite and topic of numerous petitions to revive it.
Indeed, while the Scrambler remains an option, going one-pot would be something of a philosophy change for that model. After all, would Ducati go to the expense of developing a single-cylinder engine as a unique choice only to then mingle it into an existing range where an 803cc version is already available.
We’d also hazard a guess that a single-pot won’t form the basis for a ‘baby’ Panigale or DesertX (or should that be Ducati XS…?), so our money is going on a posh BSA Gold Star 650 rival…
Whatever the application, the notion of a 659cc single-cylinder engine is a big deal, albeit symptomatic of a revised approach from Ducati to meet the needs of its customers and penny counters.
Indeed, with consumers feeling the pinch from soaring costs - both transport and living - there is a good case for Ducati to swerve into a more ‘affordable’ market space in a manner similar to Italian rivals MV Agusta, which is about to launch the mid-sized Lucky Explorer 5.5, and Triumph, which is working on a range of lower capacity models with Bajaj.
It also comes as Ducati experiments with electric power for the first time with the Ducati MotoE sportsbike, an all-new, Panigale-inspired prototype that will form the basis for the 2023 MotoE World Cup.
Yes, it has. Between 1950 and 1974, Ducati’s motorcycles were single-cylinder as was all the rage at the time, but the most exotic example is surely the Ducati Supermono, which revived the configuration for a short time between 1993 and 1995.
Indeed, given Ducati’s famed association with engines like the large capacity twin and the newer V4, it is the ultra exclusive, limited run Ducati Supermono that still ranks as one of its very best creations, period.
Built primarily as a racing bike to compete in the Supermono division, the roadgoing sportsbike of the same name featured a peppy four-stroke 550cc single-cylinder and looked like a shrunken Ducati 916.
Quick enough to win the 1994 Isle of Man TT, the Supermono - of which only 67 were sold - would go on to be the testbed for Ducati’s WorldSBK racers, while it was even designed to be fed with aviation fuel, as was the standard for racing teams during the mid-90s.