Best classic motorcycles for 2024 are the Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series 

One of the best classic motorcycles for 2024 are the Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series because the writing is on the wall. The Ducati 851 SP series is incredibly rare and the Ducati 888 series has already shown signs of taking off and both are rarer than the 916 SP series as well. When you see how the 851 Kit machines have not done well at auction, but have sold for very high values off market, it’s a sign of early price pressure. This super rare Ducati 851 Lucchinelli Replica didn’t even reach its reserve of £18,500-£21,500 in spring 2017 at Bonhams, yet several sold over the last two years for over three times that. The Ducati 888 SPS has become extremely expensive, being hunted down by collectors around the globe now. Even trying to find a Ducati 851 SP3 for sale is almost impossible and these machines are usually never original thirty five years after they were new. These machines went through a very long period of being undesirable with the introduction of the iconic 916 series. 

Ducati 851 SP3 RHS low nice

Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 SP series all need work

Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 SP series all need work due to age, even more so than the Ducati 916 and 996 SP/S series as we wrote about in this article back in 2020. The Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series are up to eight years older and suffer from similar problems, if not worse. The frame paint they used on the 851 and 888 series was far worse and less durable than the 916 and 996 series and the paint wasn’t applied with much care to either series of motorcycles. The quality of paint did improve with the 916 series, which still suffered horribly from corrosion, so the 851s and 888s were even more prone to our Northern European climate. Heated garages make no difference, it’s about the amount of moisture in the air and there are only a few places on earth that are blessed with a dry climate. The frame paint on the 851 and 888 series needs to be inspected with the bodywork all fully removed. The type of frame paint used in Italy at that time, was prone to shrinking and cracking over time. Remember these machines were only built to last five years, not thirty five years.  The bodywork paint is seriously prone to fading in UV light so many with very red and shiny bodywork have been resprayed, and often quite poorly to sell the bike. The Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series also spent a long time being raced, abused and unpopular. 

Best classic motorcycles for 2024 are the Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series
Notice the fading of the original red bodywork on this Ducati 851 SP3

Period of neglect and the Ducati 916 

The Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 spent a long period of neglect and the Ducati 916 was eclipsing the Ducati 851 and Ducati 888. So many 851s and 888s rapidly became race or track tools, more so than many other classic motorcycles. Of that era The period of neglect happens once most machines are about five years old, they are superseded by something more desirable, have little value and are usually bought by owners who often can’t afford to run and service them properly. Also, if the machine was sold new in the UK, such owners never usually had garages and the bike spent many years of its new life outside in the UK weather. The Ducati 888 series became redundant very quickly indeed as the functional design of the 888 gave way to the rolling masterpiece of visual art which became iconic Ducati 916 series. When the Ducati 916 was released there were serious shortages of stock for the first three or four years, I remember it very well as I was parallel marketing Ducati 916s all over the world. Many people bought 888s because there just was not the supply of 916s, so they bought an 888 until they could lay their hands on their hearts desire. These machines were owned for a year or eighteen months and such owners weren’t too bothered about decent care of their “in between” machine as they were going to sell it soon anyway. Once they could get their hands on a new 916, they part exchanged the 888 for pittance with their dealer who struggled to move them on so they were sold off very cheap. They became the perfect track day tool and were thoroughly thrashed to within an inch of their life. New 916 owners were never going to use their new acquisition as track tools until they had little value about five years later, so many of them bought up 888s or 851s, which had an even lower value, to brutalise. This mistreatment of these machines means finding an investment grade Ducati 851 or investment grade Ducati 888 seriously rare. That rarity and race history combine and conspire to make the best classic motorcycles for 2024 are the Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series. 

1994 Ducati 916 SP1 for sale
The 1994 Ducati 916 SP is the pinnacle of Ducati 916 SP investment.

More brutal than the Ducati 916 series

These Ducati 851 and Ducati 888s were far more brutal than the Ducati 916 series and far less forgiving. The 916 series are very forgiving machines and much more refined than these earlier series bikes. The Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 are as close to a race bike with lights as you could get at that time, far more scary than Honda’s RC30 which was silky smooth by comparison. These 8 series Ducatis tend to drift wide coming out of corners, a trait which was chased out by the 916s. Although the Ducati 916 was more powerful, the delivery of the power was more smooth and removed the threat of the back end breaking away, even if you are taking absolute liberties. The Ducati 916 motor was derived from the 888 and the 851 and 888 were derived from the 750 F1 motor. The 750 F1 motor came directly from the Ducati 600 Pantah engine. Once the air cooled 750 F1 motor was delivered, it was a serious racing motor with unforgiving power delivery. The 851 motor was basically a beefed up 750 F1 motor with a water jacket, four valve heads and fuel injection. This was the very early days of motorcycle fuel injection which came with its glitches but it did get some extra horses out of the brutish machine. Power delivery was very harsh and the back wheel was always delighted to break away while drifting wide on a corner, although these machines were still very taught handling motorcycles. The 851 and 888 series are the last of the Ducatis that haunted the rider with the knowledge that there was no forgiveness at all from the motorcycle if the rider becomes over zealous. This dynamic really does add an appeal when compared to modern homogenised motorcycles when riding the 851 and 888 Ducatis. This is why the best classic motorcycles for 2024 are the Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series. They are extremely rare to find in any condition, but an investment grade Ducati 851 or an investment grade Ducati 888 are becoming like unicorns. 

Ducati 851 Lucchinelli Replica for sale
The Ducati 851 Lucchinelli Replica is one of the rarest Ducatis ever built with only 20 ever being built.

Original parts

Original parts have often long since been removed and these machines are usually wearing replica bodywork and it’s very rare to find them with the correct original exhausts. Even finding Termignoni silencers has become an expensive and painstaking past time for this series of Ducatis. Great care is also needed to check cranks, crank cases and oil delivery on all of these machines, especially if they’ve had a hard life. Thinking that a machine that looks really tidy is clearly going to be mechanically sound is a foolish assumption. So many were raced or tracked by owners and have had a visually good bodge up to fool unsuspecting buyers, so buyer please be aware. Also service history counts for nothing unless it was done by only a handful of Ducati dealers or specialists, as so many dealers charged for parts and service work that was just simply never done. What matters is how the bike is handled mechanically today. These engines are good for high mileages if they have been properly looked after and they are fairly straight forward to sort out today. 

Ducati 851 SP3 silencer LHS
Finding Ducati 815 and 888s with the original parts is beyond challenging now.

No record of Ducati SP series

There is no record of the Ducati SP series with the factory, as you can see in the copy of the factory’s email to me about an SP3 we bought. No one knows which engines went with which bike and this didn’t change with the 916 series, so Ducati are only going by invoices that still exist on their system. If machines were sold by the factory through the parallel market, then Ducati will say they have no record of the engine number and the bike isn’t an SP when it clearly is. We have also, conversely, seen them identify the odd machine as an SP when it clearly wasn’t. It is best to go to specialists who have details of other machines in the series and who know what they’re looking for mechanically on the bike. All of this makes these beautiful Ducatis super rare. 

Ducati 888 SP4 RHS WHEBBIE

Ducati 999 collectability

Ducati 999 collectability has kicked off now and this is a symptom that classic motorcycle collectors are searching for more Ducatis to invest in. They’re looking at the Ducati 999 series because it comes after the iconic 916 series which are really starting to take off in value now, as we predicted back in 2019 when we wrote about Investing in a Ducati 916 or 996 SP/SPS. The same is true now of the Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series, but they will all need a lot of work now. It won’t take long for collectors to understand the relevance, history and desirability of the Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series. The symptoms are already there, along with the desire for the rarest of these series with the 851 Lucchinelli Replica and the Ducati 888 SPS being singled out for high number sales prices. These two machines have always carried a premium, but nothing like today where prices have very discretely, quietly rocketed over the past two years. This gives an indication of where prices are headed for the rest of the series.  

Ducati 851 SP3 LHS front above
The 8 series Ducatis do look incredibly serious on reflection thirty five years on.

Buying an investment grade Ducati 851 or Ducati 888

Buying an investment grade Ducati 851 or Ducati 888 is beyond a challenge today. You can scour the auctions, eBay and the dealerships, taking your chances in the lottery of life. A sure fire way of acquiring a genuine investment grade Ducati 851 or Ducati 888 is to contact The Motorcycle Broker via the normal channels, or by filling out the form below. That way you can buy an investment grade example of the machine in one of the four ways we are happy to sell to you at differing price points. Clearly, the best classic motorcycles for 2024 are the Ducati 851 and Ducati 888 series. 

    Paul Jayson

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