It's hard to believe that the iconic Ducati brand, one of best known names in the motorcycling world, was an electronics company which contracted to build a 48cc clip-on engine for bicycles back in the '40s. Italy was shaking off the dust and destruction of the World War II, times were really hard, and people needed transport. A little motorcycle that would get papa to work more easily was a relief from the depression.
The 48cc Ducati clip-on engine was designed by Aldo Leoni, who came up with a four-stroke featuring pullrods where the rest of the world used pushrods, with a tow-speed transmission and could give close to 140 kilometers to every precious liter of fuel if you weren't in a hurry. Because it has a fair old exhaust bark – well, it was Italian – they called it 'Cucciolo', or 'Little Pup'. Forget the Fiat, mama, this was affordable transport. Ducati Electronica, urgently looking for work, was contracted to produce the power unit when it was launched in 1946, and after a slow start production grew to about 250,000 a year. As the 48cc Ducati clip-on engine became more popular it was also imported into other European countries where it was sold for around 2,000 THB, You could at the time buy a complete French built Velosolex moped for 2,400 THB, so the Italian build 48cc clip-on engine had to be good. It was. With enough space it could be wound up to 65km/h to leave the 40km/h competition gasping, but if you'd strapped it on to your old bicycle, stopping might be a problem. When 50cc racing staggered into being in the early '50s the 48cc Ducati engine was powering the Hurricane with a full alloy fairing, and they had three of them parade at the weekly Motor Cycling's Silverstone Saterday. On the vastness of that old airfield fast they were not.
The cyclemotor market died after European governments looked at the accident rate of tired dads who wouldn't do more than 20 or 25km/h and were suddenly moving along at 50km/h, on the same old tires and iffy brakes. In many European countries the authorities came up with a point formula for economical little motorcycles, the industry ignored the idea, until NSU introduced the Quickly which complied with most of the set rules in its specs and a good build quality.
Ducati was bright enough to move on, the 50cc unit produced as a complete moped and later spawning a range of lightweights up to 65cc before moving on to jump up to 125cc and ever upward. A trend Ducati follows upon today...