A question for all you Ducati fans and owners out there, or even for those who just like to watch Sete Gibernau and Loris Capirossi race in the world motorcycle championship.
Have you any idea what ancient electronics, Second World War allied bombings and two Italian brothers by the name of ‘Ducati’ had in common with your favourite motorcycle brand?
If your answer is ‘yes’ then you’ve probably done your history homework right. If the answer is no, pay careful attention to the upcoming part of this article.
It all began in 1926, when two Italian brothers, Adriano and Marcello founded an electronics company in Bologna. Back then this was something quite revolutionary, and they probably saw great future in the electronics industry. Oh yeah, and guess what? I forgot to mention their family name: Ducati.
The company called Societa Scientifica Tadiobrevetti Ducati produced tubes and other electronic components for the army and because of this was subjected to heavy allied bombardments during the Second World War as it was considered a strategic target.
The company’s first motorcycle was born out of the cauldron of these war-torn times. Aldo Farinelli, who first thought of and then manufactured a small engine that could be fitted on a bike (a startling similarity to how Harley Davidson got their start), had to keep his plans a secret up until the end of the war as diverting any resources from the war effort was considered a capital crime by the fascists - then ruling Italy. As soon as the war came to an end though, the small engine (nicknamed Cuccioli- Italian for ‘puppy’) was offered to the public as a cheap means of transportation. (it could squeeze 100kms out of a liter of fuel) Soon Ducati started bulding a frame to the engine and thus the first official Ducati motorcycle was born. It was a 60cc bike with a top speed of 40 mph and was officially named ”50M”
The year 1952 marked a cornerstone in Ducati history. It was the year it introduced its 65TS model at the Milan Show, together with the first 4 stroke scooter, the Cruiser.
In 1953, the company was split into two separate entities, Ducati Meccanica SpA which went on to produce motorbikes, and Ducati Elettronica SpA which continued the company’s tradition in electronics under separate leadership. It was also the year when the government appointed Giuseppe Montano as manager for Ducati Meccanica. Montano was a true biker at heart, plus he had a keen sense of commerce. He realized that in order to be competitive with other motorcycle companies of the era ( like Guzzi) Ducati needed to score race wins in two of the most prestigious races in Italy at the time: Milan-Taranto and Giro d’Italia.
Ducati got a racing edge over the competition - as far as engine power was concerned - an edge it seems to possess to this very day in the motoGP, by adopting positive valve control, also known as Desmodromics. This allowed its engines to reach rpms far superior to what the competition was capable of, and thus secure those extra few horse-powers it took to best the rest.
The company had its ups and downs in racing (winning the 1956 Swedish G.P, only to have the victorious rider die in an accident in Monza just before the following race) but its 125 Desmo was probably the first bike that would take them on the road to world-wide recognition.
The next successful racing model was the first 250cc model Ducati designed, winning almost all of its races and becoming a production model in 1961.
The model sold in the U.S., the Diana Mark 3 Super Sport went on to become the fastest 250cc production motorcycle in the world.
The 1970s brought the beginnings of hard times for the Bologna-based company. The invasion of Japanese-made superior quality motorcycles spelled doom for every European small-capacity engine manufacturer.
Ducati was one of the few who could hold off the “Japanese invaders” thanks to its engines which were beginning to be regarded by then as “marvels of modern engineering”
The company however, was not able to recover from the shock of dropping the small-to-medium capacity motorcycle-line, and by 1983 it was nearing collapse.
It was saved by Cagiva. The two companies agreed that Ducati would provide the engines for Cagiva’s Elefant and Alazzurra, the former racing successfully in the world-famous Paris-Dakar rally.
1985 was probably the year that shaped the manufacturer of the “Rosso”s into what we all know today. With the help of Cagiva, a new research facility was founded in Rimini.
The first ever “modern” Ducati to be born as a result of research in Rimini was the famous Paso. The company even tried its hand at creating a cruiser, the Indiana. The motorcycle to start winning races again for Ducati, and to mark the company’s exit from under the shadow of hard times, was the 851, built in 1985,.
This successful motorcycle later evolved into the 888 and then the 916 which established Ducati as a World Superbike superpower.
Getting into the World Motorcycle Championship was the last jewel on the Ducati crown. Here, despite the strong opposition and initial hardships Ducati is regularly scoring race victories to this very day.
As the bikes continue to be produced at the Borgo Paigale plant, the craftsmanship and exceptional company pedigree make sure no one has to look twice at a Ducati motorbike to know what they’re feasting their eyes on.