Barn Find to Bologna Beauty: 1969 Ducati 450 Mk3 Desmo

Ducati 450 Desmo

Anthony Pagani spends two decades resurrected a 450 Desmo… 

In 1969, Ducati launched the 450 MkIII Desmo, the largest, most powerful of their OHC single series. The 436cc machine benefited from the legendary desmodromic system developed by engineer Fablio Taglioni, who’d joined the company in 1954:

“Taglioni’s big idea was to control valve float by having the valves positively opened and closed without using conventional springs. In the case of the 125 GP bikes, two camshafts were employed — one to open the valve and the other to close it. This allowed the little racer to run reliably to over 14,000 rpm. In various forms, this is the immortal desmodromic system still in use by Ducati even in the present day.” –Motorcycles USA

Ducati 450 Desmo

The Desmo system allowed Ducati to create short-stroke engines capable of sustained high RPMs, perfect for GP racing. Meanwhile, the company’s OHC street singles had developed a reputation for superb handling thanks to the work of development rider Franco Farne, who tested the bikes in the Marche Mountains outside Ducati’s Bologna factory, intent on creating the best steering street bike in the world.

Ducati 450 Desmo

This combination of Desmo engine and tight-handling chassis made the MkIII Desmo a dream to ride:

“The crackle of the lightly silenced desmo engine bouncing off the hedgerows as the 450 slices through bends with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel is still one of the great experiences of motorcycling.” –Motorcycles USA

Ducati 450 Desmo

At this year’s One Moto Show, we came across this gorgeously restored ’69 450 Desmo, and soon learned that the story behind the bike is equally charming. The bike is the work of Anthony Pagani — a true barn find!

“I found her in a barn in the small town of Braintree, Vermont covered in dust and pigeon shit. All the chrome was pitted with rust and the aluminum parts were majorly f’d up.”

Ducati 450 Desmo

With the help of several Ducati specialists, he spent the next 20 years restoring the Ducati single to its former glory, going as far as to learn enough Italian to write emails to parts suppliers in the bike’s home country!

“Just about every aspect for me anyways was a puzzle, and it took me over two decades and a thousand books to finally finish it up!”

Ducati 450 Desmo

Though the bike was originally a 350, the previous owner had swapped in the 450 engine, which Anthony to keep for performance and nostalgia purposes. Below, he gives us the full story on the build.

Ducati 450 Desmo: In the Builder’s Words…

I found her in a barn in the small town of Braintree, Vermont covered in dust and pigeon shit. All the chrome was pitted with rust and the aluminum parts were majorly f’d up. Just about the only thing that wasn’t totally messed up by some act of God was the seat, all original with no rips or damage — that to me was some sort of sign!

Barn Find!

I packed it up and brought it home — this was in 2002, 20 years ago! The 450 Desmo engine was in decent shape and I only had to change out the points and oil to get it started. The first time I kicked it over, it popped back the kick lever with some attitude and flung the lever pedal 20 feet in the air! The old C clip holding it on was done for now.

Ducati 450 Desmo

Anyways after running it and realizing I didn’t have to tear the engine down, I dismantled the entire bike and started figuring out what I needed to do. It had a few frankensteined parts here and there from other bikes, and I ended up working with Syd’s Cycles in Florida, Road and Race in Australia, Lacey Ducati in UK, and Paul from Moto Guzzino, plus a place in Italy. I felt compelled to start learning Italian just so I could order parts; I wrote a few emails in Italian trying to explain what I needed, it was pretty comical!

Ducati 450 Desmo

Just about every aspect for me anyways was a puzzle, and it took me over two decades and a thousand books to finally finish it up! It’s taken me so long in fact that the tires are beginning to get cracks :0

Ducati 450 Desmo

So also a little more about this model: It was originally a 350 with a spring valve engine and I have that original engine as well. You see back in the 70’s everyone with this bike wanted to stick in the 450 DESMO R/T engine, which was a pretty hot motor and put out the most horses.

I decided to leave this in it for racer nostalgia purposes, and also because it vibrates more than a broken helicopter, LOL. But really I love to think about the story behind it all, and well, also because it’s a Desmo 😉 1969 450 MKIII Desmo as it is now — maybe someday the 350 will go back in for some vintage racing, who knows?

Other little facts, the tach is original, the foot pegs are original, most all parts were rechromed in Rhode Island. Paint by a great vintage racer in New Hampshire, Steven D’Angelo. Rear rim is from the R/T that the previous owner had, and that’s where the engine came from, too. Hagon rear shocks, blah blah blah.

It’s fun as hell to ride, a thrill every time, and keeps me smiling from ear to ear until it craps out from a sooted up plug, haha!

450 Desmo: Builder Interview

• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.

I’m a photographer now, started out in industrial design and have loved motorcycles since before escaping the bars of my crib, my mom says I was born with the ability to make the sound of any engine with my lips! Haha ????

• What do you call the bike? Does it have a nickname?

Yeah, I watched way too much Gilligan’s Island ???? and think of Ginger when I see a beautiful red head and so she’s my Ginger, how dorky is that??

• Have you got a new project going?

I own and plan to make vintage style tool kits with a really nice pouch. The domain is not active but plan on making a site soon!

Follow the Builder

Instagram: @anthonypagani


  1. Steve Matz

    The 450 Mark 3 Desmo is like any other Mark 3 Variant going back to the Original 1964 250cc OHC Mark 3. In order to achieve Maximum HP/RPM Performance, you need to install the Long Black RR Style Reverse Cone Megaphone that is shipped along with the Bike in it’s Shipping Crate. Like Every Mark 3 from Day 1, They were shipped from the Bologna Factory with a Muffler. Like any High Performance Race Profile Cam whether in an Automotive or MC Engine They don’t Perform Well with any type of Restrictive Exhaust. I remember the 1st 250cc Mark 3 that we got at our Dealership in 1965. I took it up the Road in front of our Shop and came back shaking my head,saying to the Boss; This is a Dog, I think the Little 125cc Bronco could hang with this. Quite a Different Story when we installed the Black Megaphone from the Crate. Long Story Short, The Bike went from a Tortoise to a Rocket. It had high Road Race Gearing and the Engine didn’t come on the Cam until just over 3,000+ rpm but when it did you better be hanging on; what an Experience! The Cam Profile in all of the Desmo Mark 3 (250/350/450) Engines is quite Radical. If this Owner put that Black Megaphone on this Bike and went through the Gears, He would Think he had Died and Gone to Heaven…

  2. Nice ,, interesting concept I have never heard about before ,, “Desmodromic Cam / Valve”

    Regards !!

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