Saving India's only Ducati 1199R: A full restoration project!

Now that the bike has been revived, I need to get the fairings polished, change the windshield and repaint the tank to its original colour.

BHPian no_fear recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

How I found and saved India’s only 2014 Ducati 1199R – a story of unlikely rescue, revival and restoration

Physics was my most hated subject in school. I never understood the concepts, and as time went by, I pretty much flunked every exam. Never a science guy, I promptly switched to commerce and failed there too. Let’s say academics is not my forte. However, one subject in Physics always fascinated me - Schrodinger's cat. For those who dread Physics, it was an experiment that established the duality of matter and that we can observe matter in only one state. Now let me present to you Schrodinger's motorbike; India's one and only 2014 Ducati 1199R. Why do I say this? Grab your popcorn for a story that can put a Bollywood thriller to shame. Now, this is not a motorcycle review. I am not going to review the 1199R. Au contraire, my dear forum members, I am going to describe something that has been successfully done for the first and only time in India, and probably one of the few times in the world.

A chronological sequence of events.

Beginning of Jan 2021, the dealer from whom I got my MV F4, buzzed me online asking me about the F4. After a few pleasantries, he told me there is a 2014 Ducati 1199R for sale by an owner in Bangalore. Am I interested? I perked up. It is not often that you hear about Ducati 1199Rs being sold in India. Now, what is so special about the R model.

1199R for sale

A quick backstory on Ducati R spec models

When Ducati competed in the 1990s and 2000s for WSBK, as part of the race qualifying rules, it had to make a certain number of production models (called homologation models) designated as R. These R bikes had the same specs as the race bikes and were equipped with functional lights and mirrors. Essentially they are race bikes sold to the general public. The WSBK rule was that the bike manufacturer had to make and sell 1000 homologation pieces and then they can continue to use that frame in WSBK racing until the frame was retired (I am a bit fuzzy on the rules). Ducati produced the base model, the S version with upgraded suspension and fancy exhaust, and finally the ultra-exclusive R version. Each R model had its build number etched on the clamp and you had to be very lucky, very rich and very well connected with Ducati to lay your hands on these. Ducati continued this production of race-spec R models with the 996, 998, 999, 1098 and 1198. With the launch of 1199, they continued this tradition but stopped numbering the R models and introduced a higher spec limited model (500 units only) called the Superleggera (SL). The Superleggera and the R have the same engine, except for a few sand-cast bits and more carbon fibre on the SL. While the 1199 and its successor 1299 used engines that were 1198 and 1285 cc for the base and S versions, the 1199R and later the 1299R continued to use the 1198 cc engine to comply with WSBK rules.

Ducati 1199R with Termignoni exhaust

Ducati 1199 Superleggera with Akra Titanium exhaust

Ducati never released official figures for 1199R production but from the internet, I found that roughly a total of 1000+ R models were produced from 2013 – 2015. They sold 125 of these in the first year and the rest over the next 2 years. One of these limited R models was in India, and that too at Bangalore. This is a 7-year-old bike, but probably the rarest among the Panigale R models. A lot of the 1199R bikes have been tracked and already met their demise. I am sure in the next 5 years there will only be a few pristine 1199R models left. The market price was 1199R models has been steadily going up as collectors realize the potential of the bike. I told the dealer I am interested and asked him to send the pictures. Then I jumped online to search for the 1199R. But first, a few calls to Ducati Delhi. After 20 minutes I got off the phone puzzled. Ducati sold only one 1199S model in India. The base and the R version had no buyers. After the fiasco with Precision Motors, Ducati left India and then came back as a subsidiary of VAG. It announced the launch of the 1199 but ended up bringing only the 899. Barring the 1199S, there are no other 1199 models in India at all. So where did this 1199R come from?

Surprisingly the answer came from our very own Team-BHP site. The bike was imported to India from the US.

The thread provided me with the bike VIN number and its race story at the Noida Buddh circuit where it, unfortunately, met with a low impact crash. Then the bike disappeared from the public eye and was never seen again. It popped up a few times on some Instagram posts with the usual posers and was once put up for sale on FB classifieds in 2018 for Rs 29 lacs. Other than that no info, zip, nada.

2018 FB post for the sale of the bike (subsequently sold to the second owner)

A web of deceit

Armed with newfound knowledge from Team-BHP, I told the dealer to initiate talks with the owner and to get the full-service history of the bike as it was involved in a crash before. From the Team-BHP thread, I understood that the bike had lower fairing, exhaust, right handlebar and tank damage. Ducati 1199R bikes have a red and brushed aluminium gas tank while this bike had a red tank. Was the tank changed or simply repainted? I wanted to make sure the tank structural integrity was not compromised as a Ducati 1199R gas tank is made of aluminium and quite pricey. Then things got weird. The dealer quoted an insane price. I told him his price made no sense as I can get a brand new V4S. He told me the bike was never crashed. Then the 1199R became a 1199S as the tank was red in colour. Then he told me this is a base 1199 as India has many 1199 models (I was not sure whether he confused the 899 for 1199. Most used dealers don't pay attention to the different model names). Finally, he told me he cannot get hold of the owner. So that was that. It was a lot of half-truths and beating around the bush for nothing. But this is India and this sort of storytelling is the norm. I had plenty of bogus leads from used dealers before so I let the matter rest and decided not to pursue anymore. My hands were tied with my other bikes, plus trying to run a company while WFH and a million other things. Meantime I followed other leads and went to see a red Ducati 1098, a white 848, a few R1s, and did solo rides as I enjoyed the winter weather. But deep down in my heart, I knew the bait had been set and sooner or later I will be hearing about this bike. But who was the hunter and who was being hunted?

Things get interesting again

Mid Jan, the dead horse aka the 1199R got flogged again. This time one of my agents offered the bike for sale but the asking price was still high. I told him flatly that I had to see the bike in person or through a video call before I entertain any offers. He said other buyers were lined up to buy this bike. This is the standard sales pitch in India so I told my agent to get lost. Time to play hardball. What do you know! The agent actually called Ducati Bangalore and asked one of the service techs to meet the owner, took several videos and did a VC with me to show the bike truly existed and was not some imaginative concoction. I asked the agent to check the VIN number. I corroborated the bike VIN number against the one from Team-BHP. The numbers matched. Finally, I had confirmation it was the same bike that was first featured on Team-BHP.

Bike VIN

Now that I knew the history, it was time to call in some industry favours. Over the next few days, I tracked down the entire service history of the bike, the ownership records, and the issues this bike had.

Ducati service records for the 1199R - as expected, nothing in the system since the bike was never serviced at any Ducati dealer

The bike after its maiden track run at Buddh underwent a thorough Desmo service and the damaged parts were changed. The tank was repaired and repainted as the first owner did not import a new 1199R aluminium tank. The bike then changed hands and was now sitting idle in the second owner’s garage, because the bike had developed engine trouble.

The bike was in the previous owner's Bangalore garage. The drive chain has surface rust

I wish the previous owners had taken good care of the bike and not abused it, but the past is past, and I saw this as a good opportunity to work on this bike. Engine trouble especially Ducati sends shivers down every owner’s spine, but I was quite confident, with a bit of TLC, I can fix it. As long as it’s not a blown motor it's salvageable. I had my experience working with the MV F4RR so I thought this would be a trivial matter.

Boy, was I ever so overconfident and so wrong?

I was armed and prepped with the knowledge that the bike likely has engine issues. What sort of issues; no one knew, because no one actually examined the engine. The engine ran rough and sounded hoarse. Not a whole lot to work with. Now everyone on this forum would have said “walk away”. Some would scream “run, don’t walk”. But when it comes to bikes, logic takes a back step. We buy motorbikes not as a rational purchase but as an emotional tool. Greed, desire and vanity are in full control of the rider while rationale, logic and sanity goes for a toss. My situation was the same. Here was the one and only Ducati 1199R that was imported to India, and with a bit of wrenching, can be brought back to shape. My brain didn’t have enough blood, my ego was in full swing so I told the agent, let’s bring her to Delhi.

But before forum members blast me, I told the owner and agent that I will proceed only on certain terms:

  1. Bike will be shipped to my FNG who will inspect and check for issues.
  2. All the issues will be noted and a full checklist sent to the owner.
  3. If the engine problem can be fixed I will deduct the repair cost from the final price.
  4. I will pay an initial deposit. Once the bike is in Delhi, I will put the remainder of the sum in an escrow account which will be cleared once the FNG gives the green light. That way both buyer and seller are protected.
  5. If the bike cannot be fixed, I will return it to the owner and get back my full amount minus part of the shipping costs.

Well as expected, the owner initially refused my terms. He said someone else put a deposit on the bike and was finalizing loan terms. I laughed at his ludicrous statement and told him to stop playing games. No NBFI or bank in their right mind is going to provide a loan on a bike that is not sold in India. If he wants to deal these are my terms. Take it or leave it. I knew the dance that was going on and was confident the owner would come to my terms sooner or later. A week later my agent called me again. He told me the owner had a change of heart and agreed to my terms.

The game is afoot.

End Jan my agent had some work to attend in Bangalore so he flew down and personally inspected the bike. From the pictures and videos he sent, I saw the bike had some dings and scratches, the engine sounded hoarse, the chain was rusting, and the bike was not kept in a good condition. The engine oil was not changed and the bike barely moved from its parking spot in over 2 years. But the 1199R is a sexy machine dripping with some jaw-dropping goodies, including the electronic adjustable Ohlins shocks and all the glorious carbon fibre. The bike has more carbon fibre than the new V4R. The front and rear tire guards, exhaust heat shield, exhaust tips, suspension covers, single side swing arm cover, key ignition cover and the inner side panels are all carbon fibre. That is some serious bling. They were covered in a layer of dirt and needed to be cleaned and lightly polished. Ducati put a lot of effort into the 1199R before they diluted the R nomenclature in 2018. Now the new V4 generation has R, Speciale, SP and Superleggera. After seeing all the pictures, I realized that I had seen bikes in much worse condition and knowing what work was cut out for me, I agreed to buy the bike. With the agreement in place, we sourced a shipper. The bike was wrapped up, shipping insurance tacked on, and took 6 days to reach Delhi. I told the truck driver to drive at a sedate 60 km/h and not rush. The bike is too valuable to meet with any shipping accident.

Bike inspection pictures

Front of the bike. The windshield is scratched and dirty. I ordered a replacement.

The rear profile of the bike. Factory rear fender and turn signals were kept unattached. I will re-install them and get a fender eliminator. I got the original Ducati factory mirrors. They fold and I will install them

Bike mirrors - dusty but in good condition

Carbon fibre exhaust and rear wheel guards

The Ohlins electronic rear suspension

Instrument panel and odometer reading. Note that when the bike was sold in 2018, the FB ad claimed mileage was 5,300 km. The current odo is 5,800 km. The second owner rode the bike for only 500 km. The low miles corroborated with my fact-finding that the bike was sitting in the garage for 2 years and not ridden much.

The rear seat panel has some marks and scuffs. Paint peeled out near the seat. All those to be fixed

The repainted gas tank. The paint needs to be stripped and redone in original factory finish

Ohlins forks and carbon fibre front guard

Carbon fibre clutch cover

Akrapovic full system race exhaust with carbon fibre tips. These babies were ordered originally with the bike as an additional accessory. The same ones are installed on the Superleggera. I kept them rather than the Termis as my V4S has Akra. Plus I like their look and sound

Akra full system titanium exhaust. Needs some TLC for the lettering to be more prominent.

Bike ready for its move from Bangalore to Delhi

Bike loaded on the truck

Disaster strikes

One week later, the bike reached Delhi. My FNG called me to come down and do the usual oil, filter and coolant change before it’s ready to be ridden home. I was elated and got the service parts ready.

Then all hell broke loose.

After my FNG started up the bike and examined it, we noticed that the bike was losing compression power. The engine was not revving at the levels it should. It felt very off. We removed the fairings and started to investigate. Once the engine oil cap was loosened, outpoured engine oil that was white chocolate. On top, the coolant box was half empty.

Distilled water had mixed with engine oil. Let me repeat that; distilled water had mixed with engine oil.

All the choco milk removed

Inspection of the bike continues after the debacle is found

Why is this very serious?

Water has a nasty habit of corroding metal. Distilled water sitting in an engine will induce corrosion in the inner engine body, cylinders, piston heads, and cam shaft. Due to corrosion parts break when the engine tries to turn over and then you have to source a new engine altogether.

So why is this a Schrodinger’s cat type of bike?

Because the engine inside may be damaged due to water corrosion, anytime the bike is turned on, its probably the last time the engine will work. To know for certain means to dismantle the entire engine, which no one has done. And to the best of my knowledge, no one knows how to work on a Ducati 1199R in India. The bike was never sold in India in the first place. Even service techs in western countries do not dismantle and rebuild these engines as the cost is prohibitively high and it is a very technically challenging job. They source a new engine and plonk it on the bike. One gentleman in California rebuilt a 1199R for 20k USD after it caught fire at the track. He rebuilt the bike only, not the engine as it was in working condition. Original price of the 1199R was 30k USD. The math doesn’t make sense to rebuild.

The bike partly stripped

One of the technicians took a video of the bike revs when we first started the checks to see if there are other issues

How and why did this happen and what are the repercussions?

Let me revisit this later. Only when we opened the engine and started work, did we understand what truly happened? I have covered this in greater detail in the rebuild section.

My first reaction was to return the bike, walk away with my cash and call it a day. I think anyone else would have done the same. I asked my FNG, what will happen to the bike if I return it. He said there will be someone else who will buy the bike, see the engine issues, keep quiet about it, and then pass it on or return the bike to the owner. The bike will keep changing hands until one day the engine will seize or the owner throws it out as scrap. Then it will be consigned to the pages of history. No one is going to fix the engine because no one has the skills to do it. So after inspecting the bike, I sat down and thought long and hard for two days. It was probably the most thinking I ever did. I made several calls to local and international dealers, bike experts, consulted Ducati forums, posted on Facebook group pages and watched Youtube videos. I got a wide range of advice, which I summarized into 4 action plans. It was something like this.

  • Action plan 1 (easy): Return the bike back to the seller, call it a day. The bike ends up with kabbadiwala’s collection.
  • Action plan 2 (normal): Fix water pump, fill up coolant, flush engine with oil a few times, say copious prayers to all gods/goddesses across all religions and hope the bike lives. Ride bike a few km a year and become an Instagram poser.
  • Action plan 3 (hard): Import a used 1199R engine to India, hook it to a bike and enjoy.
  • Action plan 4 (impossible): Strip bike and engine, inspect thoroughly, replace damaged parts, rebuild the engine, run compression tests, flush engine oil several times to wash out any traces of water.

Roll out the heavy artillery – time to go to war

I told my agent before I decide to return the bike to the owner, I will figure out the issues, see if it's salvageable and then get to work. I checked with my customs and clearing guy about importing an engine to India. He said it’s very difficult but doable, however, the chai-pani will be a lot. Then I called Ducati. Their answer was “bad news, we do not have any 1199R engines in stock”. Did I ask how about the 1299 engine? “Sorry, no more. We have phased out the L twin engines. Now it's V4 only.” So I looked for used 1199 engines. The ones I found didn’t inspire confidence. There was one that could do the job, but the engine price + import duty + chai pani added up to 15 lacs. Not worth it.

How about rebuilding the engine? In theory, if you are a gear head, yes you can. However, you need several specialized tools, a full-fledged service bay, tons of replacement parts and some very qualified mechanics for assistance. Then there was the cost. Engine rebuild quote was Rs 10 lacs, as per Delhi Ducati since they need assistance from Ducati Italy. That won’t fly as the seller will refuse to give up the majority of his asking price for the repair costs.

So I was stuck before I even got into 1st gear. The war looked like it was already over.

An ally steps in

As many of you know, from my previous MV F4 review, I have an older brother who is a bit of a motorcycle geek and understands machines very well. I explained to him the situation and the massive headache. This is a war that seems unlikely to be won. He studied the 1199R engine, talked to some bike folks he knew and then had a conversation with me that went like this:

My brother: So, the peeps I spoke with mentioned that quite a few owners damaged their 1199 engine by revving too hard or just wringing the life out of it. This happened a lot for the 2012-13 built models. Youtuber 650ib is one of the culprits. His 1199 engine blew up 3 times and he replaced it with 1299. Ducati took the feedback and made the 2014 engine better. Turns out the 2014 engine was the best build in the 1199 series. They used the same engine for the 1299R.

Me: Ok, so this is the 2014 model. Go on.

My brother: The first clue will be in the engine headers. Those are magnesium. The connecting rods are titanium, so should be sturdy. Lift the headers and see if they are ok. If you don’t see any corrosion on the headers, it’s safe to assume the rest of the engine won’t be affected. The engine is one sealed unit, so as long as the bike has not been submerged in water, the engine should be ok. Does it start?

Me: Yes, it starts, revs, blows flames through the exhaust.

My brother: Take a step back and apply Occam’s razor; the simplest answer is the best answer.

Me: Say what? The simplest answer is to send back the bike?

My brother: No, the simplest answer is the engine fires up. This means the engine components are still functioning. If it was the base or an older model, it's likely that the engine would blow up, but the R engine has higher-end spec components that won’t corrode easily so it can be repaired. If we act fast and act now, we can fix the bike. The engine needs to be disassembled, cleaned out, and put back together with new headers, gaskets, screws, spacers and sealants. Then the engine needs a compression test. The bike will be alive again.

Me: Schrodinger will disagree. We are testing the duality of matter and we can only observe one state.

My brother: Big words from someone who gave up on high school Physics. Fix the bike.

Me: Ok, that’s fine in theory, where do we get parts from and who in India can even do all this heavy lifting. Remember, the bike was never sold in India.

My brother: Not one person. We need a team. An A team, or motorcycle equivalent of Avengers – Movengers

Me: You kidding right?

My brother: I never kid when it comes to motorbikes.

Well, we put our heads together and really assembled a team. We decided to do the rebuild ourselves with the help of my FNG, and the head of Ducati Hyderabad service

For parts, we contacted and sourced them from Ducati Italy, Ducati Thailand, Ducati Ahmedabad, Ducati Mumbai, Ducati Delhi, Ducati Bangalore, and Ducati Hyderabad. We left out Kolkata. (It’s like Deadpool, he never was part of the Avengers).

For technical services, coordination, consumables and final check – my Delhi FNG for the frontal assault with me as the wingman.

For the real tear down and build back – the head of Ducati service at Hyderabad. We tracked him down through a chain of referrals and my FNG guidance. Out of a population of 1.4 billion Indians, he is the only one who is qualified and certified by Ducati to work on and repair the 1199 and 1299 series. Let me repeat that – just one person out of 1.4 billion people. Ducati sold only six of the 1299 bikes in India, so they just trained one guy for the servicing. A lot hinged on him, especially during Covid. This was the hail Mary of all hail Marys.

For compression testing – Ducati Hyderabad is the only dealer in India with a compression testing machine. We have to physically ship the bike to Hyderabad to get the teardown and compression testing is done. The bike travelled from Bangalore to Delhi, Delhi to Hyderabad, and back from Hyderabad to Delhi. All on the back of tow trucks. If anyone wants a travelogue of travelling on the back of a tow truck pan India, that can be my next thread

Finally, there was the cost to be dealt with. After some serious haggling and pleading and in the name of motorcycling love and the uniqueness of our project, Ducati dealers all agreed to charge us their cost price or with a small markup for the parts and services. I have good relations with most of these dealers, through my line of work, so I used those favours gratuitously. An initial estimate for the entire service was drawn up. The tentative cost was Rs 3.5 lacs - parts were Rs 2 lacs, labour was the remaining Rs 1.5 lacs. I let my agent know about the final service cost, deducted that amount from the escrow account, and paid off the balance to the owner. The bike was ours. It was a very bold call to buy something, that may well turn out to be India’s most expensive paperweight. I had a good mind just to overcharge on the repairs and make the owner pay as punishment, but I believe in karma. He may or may not have known about the issue and kept quiet about it, but I also knew what I was getting into. Live and let live, as Gandhi preached.

Action stations everyone, we are now ready to rock and roll

We spent the rest of Feb 21, meticulously following an entire checklist of parts that were needed, who was shipping it, where it was coming from, and the part to be returned if not needed. All the parts were OEM and sourced through the Ducati dealer network and forwarded to Ducati Hyderabad. At the same time, we were racing towards a new Covid wave. Judging by the numbers, we knew another lockdown was inevitable. We managed to find a transporter who agreed to ship the bike from Delhi to Hyderabad. It took him 5 days to reach.

Bike gets towed from Delhi to Hyderabad

A sliver of good news came out from Hyderabad. The Ducati service tech performed the first tear down. He lifted the headers, saw they were in good shape, and then proceeded to slowly take apart the engine. There was no corrosion. Hallelujah. But the game has just started.

Headers coated with the oil coolant mix but no signs of corrosion

He told me that while the parts looked ok, water sat inside the engine, so he needed to tear down and rebuild the engine, check parts, replace a bunch of gaskets, adjust the timing chain, make sure the valves work in sync, undo the mess the previous mechanic created, replace the water pump and do a full engine tune-up until it returns to the factory specs. By his estimates, a minimum of 1 month is needed. I told him, no sweat, let’s work slowly and carefully.

The oil coolant mixture that is inside the engine. It has turned to sludge

Continue reading no_fear's restoration of the Ducati 1199R and BHPian comments, insights and information.

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