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Where are they now? Dallas Rankine – Kiwi Ducati supertuner | Columns | Gassit Garage

At the dawn of World Superbikes 30 years ago, Kiwi Ducati fanatic Dallas Rankine was tearing his hair out.

“I bought the first available 851 Superbike in association with Aussie Bob Brown for Robert Holden to race in WSBK,” he remembers. Ducati soul brothers obsessed with the air-cooled Pantah V-twins, Rankine and Brown had spent a few years building and racing their own eight-valve, DOHC racers. They thought buying Ducati’s factory-developed, liquid-cooled Superbike would take the stress off two men on opposite sides of the Tasman juggling business with racing pleasure.

“After no end of troubles with just the electronics alone, I decided to build our own NZ series F1 open-class bike using an 851 motor as a base,” Rankine says.

That resulted in the famous ‘Fast ’n’ Fragile’ 1000cc Ducati. Overshadowed by the world-famous Britten V-twin, Rankine’s racer still created its own legend. This began when it out-accelerated Aaron Slight’s factory Kawasaki Superbike at a Manfeild round of WSBK.

“The first practice session was open to all classes and our bike passed the Kawasaki like it was chained to a post,” Rankine recalls.

Everyone knows all about John Britten’s world-beating self-designed creation, but Rankine’s racer was also innovative and involved some of New Zealand’s top technicians and riders.

“A few years earlier my ace mechanic Dick Huurdeman and I figured we wanted to build our own bikes,” he says.

Their first effort, in 1985, used a modified frame from Kiwi chassis builder Steve Roberts with under-engine rear suspension. Huurdeman and Rankine slotted in their own concoction: an air-cooled, eight-valve, chain-drive overhead cam engine based on Pantah crankcases and using fuel injection.

“Very over-square 88mm bore and 49mm stroke kept it in the 600cc class limit and it revved to over 14,000rpm,” recalls Rankine. “Just as we began to get it sorted Ducati brought out its liquid-cooled eight-valve, so I got involved with a factory racer.”

So they went back to Roberts with an 851 engine.

“Steve built a monocoque, with fuel in the frame and his trademark rear shock absorber under the engine,” says Rankine. “We took a step back in time and fitted Hilborn mechanical fuel injection and also made our own cranks and cylinders, taking the capacity to 1000cc.”

Fuel was open in NZ at the time so methanol was used, allowing a sky-high compression ratio.

“The bike was seriously quick, but by pushing the boundaries so far it was also unreliable, hence the name Fast ’n’ Fragile,” he says. “I still have piles of broken crankcases from the floor to the ceiling. Fortunately we had a lot of help from Don O’Connor, the NZ Ducati importer, for spares.”

The bike was campaigned by both Holden and Paul Pavletich, another leading Kiwi rider.

For three years it was involved in many close battles with Britten’s bikes, coming frustratingly close, but never winning a NZ title. Converted to petrol, Rankine and crew took it to Europe and Daytona, with mixed success.

“We also continued to race the original TT2 600. As the F2 class then had unrestricted fuel rules, it ran methanol laced with nitromethane.”

After winning several NZ titles, Rankine found more success with standard Ducati racers, this time Supermonos.

“The first one finished second in the 1994 Isle of Man TT Singles class with Robert, and then he won in ’95,” he recalls with pride. “Robert was not only a remarkable rider but also a good friend. His positive attitude and humour abounded, even in times of adversity.”

Sadly, Robert lost his life at the 1996 TT after topping the practice leaderboard in all three classes he’d entered. His death prompted the end of both Rankine’s race team and that of Steve Wynne’s Sports Motorcycles.

Rankine had financed his racing through British Motorcycles and Spares, which he’d owned since 1979 and developed into one of the world’s top-three British parts suppliers.

At various times he has been the Wellington agent/dealer for Ducati, Kawasaki and BMW, then the NZ distributor for MV Agusta/Cagiva/Husqvarna.

Rankine is now semi-retired on an avocado orchard “with most of my old race bikes”.

By Hamish Cooper