This year’s Isle of Man TT will mark 40 years since Mike Hailwood’s legendary comeback victory in the 1978 TT. And to mark the milestone Vee Two Australia is producing 12 exact replicas of Mike the Bike’s victorious Ducati 900 TT F1 racer.
The firm is making just 12 of the bikes, reflecting the race number Hailwood’s machine wore on that day in 1978.
Vee Two Australia, based in Nannup, WA, has secured the original technical drawings for the Ducati’s 883cc 90-degree V-twin bevel-drive desmo engine. It also has the relevant casting moulds, chassis drawings and technical details. All of that 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 1970’s, 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 sportsbikes, but due to Ducati’s struggling financial situation, the bevel-drive format was scrapped in favour 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.”
Vee Two will make the engine, but the chassis is built in Italy. Again it’s 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 one 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 86bhp. The engine is already in production, and in racing guise has twice finished second in AHRMA’s Formula 750 class race events in the USA. It also forms the basis of the acclaimed Vee Two Imola Evo café racer.
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. 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. He’s 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. In recognition of this each of the 12 bikes 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. Vee Two Australia plans to have the first of its Replicas there to complete parade laps alongside the original TT-winning machine now owned by New Yorker Larry Auriana.
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.
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 £100,000, or US$140,000.