We restored a 1981 Ducati Pantah 500 – it was a bigger job than we expected, but I jumped at the chance to restore a vintage Ducati motorcycle and make it run just a little better with some upgrades.

Purpose Built Moto hasn’t been known for our restorations. Generally, when you hear this word you think of an old bloke in his shed tinkering away and rebuilding the bike he rode in his youth. A lot of shops don’t usually get the opportunity to do this type of turn key restoration, instead maybe helping out with the engine rebuild or the paint while the owner does the other work. 

Our client Bryan wanted a different level of restoration for this classic Ducati Pantah 500 though, so he engaged us for the job. We had spoken in depth about his project while he was waiting to come in, and when it was time to meet up and hand over the bike we we’re pretty taken back by its condition. While the bike was complete, it hadn’t been started in over a decade, and when that happens the rest of the bike usually wastes away and seizes up. Between a few interstate relocations and incorrect storage we could hardly roll the bike off Bryans Ute and into the garage. 

The devil was hiding in the detail on this bike, and 80% of our work was going to be in the revival and re-finishing of small components. Standing back and taking stock of the task ahead I decided to work from the ground up. First stripping the mag wheels, and suspension for re-furb. The wheels were blasted back to bare metal and re-painted in that delicious Ducati gold used on their wheels throughout the 80’s. New bearings and seals then wrapped in some Avon Speedmaster tyres.

While this was happening the Marzocchi rear shocks and forks were send to Joe from Ride Dynamics. He had previously restored the rear shocks on our XS650 café racer to great results so we asked for the same again. Restored to better than new, re-sprayed with new chrome work and we were back in business with a rolling chassis.

I then set to work on the minor modifications and styling work we would do for this retro-mod. I love the styling on these bikes, it screams 80’s Euro bike with its Iconic shape, but the law man had gotten in the way and made the visionary Ducati designers hide their beautiful work behind some pretty lack lustre fenders and lighting. The 3 styling modifications I discussed with Bryan we’re a smoothed out tail section, recessed indicators on the front, and a lower profile hi-def yellow windscreen with a matching headlight lense. He happily agreed to let us reveal a more streamlined and up-styled Pantah 500, so I got to work. 

The tail had some recessed lighting cups machined and fibre-glassed into the tail, this allowed the removal of the long fender, bulky tail lights and plate mount. We’ve replaced the rear lights with our Orbit brake light and upcoming Omni pin lights in the rear.

The front was suffering from a similar affliction, some indicators that had looked like they were repurposed from a caravan. So we’ve gone in and made some blanking plates and fitted some small pin indicators to further smooth out the front fairing. We’ve retained the original Ducati Pantah 500 dash and gauges with some simple restoration work, and repairing the dash lights using some LEDs as the parts are no longer available to replace them. The rest of the system is run by the black box module using our 3 button switches on the handlebars that further clean up the front end.

Before we moved onto the paint and finishing the brakes and engine needed some serious attention.
The braking re-furb was pretty simple, completed with some upgraded Accosato levers on the bars the brakes feel incredible!

The engine however was a little more in-depth. We had the engine stripped and sent a bulk load of parts for polish to make sure this thing was gleaming when it was re-installed and running. 

Internally the gearbox showed some considerable wear in the higher gears, the globe was thoroughly searched to find the parts we needed so the rebuild could begin. With new rods, pistons porting work to the head and all new bearings/seals through the bottom end the Italian twin runs quieter than any other Ducati I’ve ever heard! Externally some of the most important upgrades happened for reliability. We’ve upgraded the charging system and ignition with an all new Sachse CDI and coils. Delivering strong and reliable spark to the fresh engine to make sure this Ducati Pantah delivers decades more joy to the owner. 

If you have an old engine that needs some serious attention or performance upgrades get in touch, we now have an in-house engine builder specialising in classic performance. 

Now I’ve been referring all along here to a restoration, but those with a keen eye will know that the Ducati Pantah 500 never actually looked like this from factory. When we set about restoring this bike, the intention was never to make it original spec. Instead we we’re working towards restoring the Ducati that was original to Bryans bike (but a little better). 

The paint on this bike was a custom job completed in the late 80’s, and we wanted to keep that styling. After the fairing repairs and mods Justin from Popbang classics got to work on painting the fairings in that popping Ducati red with Silver pinstripes, just as our rider remembered it. The same went for the Made in Australia Staintune exhausts that we had restored. Not an original part, but had been on the bike for longer than I’ve been alive so they were repaired, restored and re-polished to take pride of place on the bike. 

The last piece I need to mention here is the upgraded leather seat, completed by Timeless Autotrim mimicking the factory design but layering in some nice styling and an embroidered Ducati logo on the tail piece.

The test ride on this one was magic, we finished up a hard weeks work in the shop jumped on the bikes and headed for some twisty roads. Making the most of a beautiful afternoon. I could feel the brakes bedding in, the refurbished suspension operating beautifully as the engine got its first proper ride after a good few head cycles and easy local trips.

The Ducati Pantah didn’t miss a beat, with smooth delivery through the rev range and a lot more power than I expected out of a 500cc twin I was assured Bryan would have years worth of fun on this bike. 

While I enjoyed the test ride, and getting to know this bike immensely, it’s the restoration work that really piqued my interest. Not having been down this road before its definitely something I’d like to explore more. If you have a strange old bike in your shed that’s lacking attention, get in touch with us, we would love to revive your machine. 

There is so much more to see on this Ducati Pantah 500 restoration. Head over to the gallery page to see it all.

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1 comment

Your pictures are not expandable, it would be nice to do that for a more in depth look at your work. I do like what you do to motorcycles, the proportion and style are usually right on.


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