The chang­ing of the guard

Motorcycle News (UK) - - FEATURE -

The in­tro­duc­tion of the 851 marked a water­shed moment for Ducati as it sig­ni­fied the move from the old to a new gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers.

True, the 851 won the 1990 WSB ti­tle and also in 888 guise the 1991 and 1992 cham­pi­onships, but if it hadn’t been for the brav­ery of Ducati’s new owner Clau­dio Castiglioni to shun tra­di­tion, the 851 would never have hap­pened. And this fact, more than its track suc­cess, makes it such a sig­nif­i­cant ma­chine.

Hav­ing taken over a fi­nan­cially strug­gling Ducati in 1985, Castiglioni re­alised that Ducati was in dire straits. In 1984 the firm pro­duced just 1765 bikes and had a gen­er­ally out­dated range. There were a few high­lights, and the new head of de­sign Mas­simo Tam­burini’s Paso 750 was rad­i­cal in style if not tech­nol­ogy, but there was a need for ex­cite­ment and de­vel­op­ment. Tam­burini even de­scribed it as “so old and an­ti­quated it would give me stom­ach ache.” A change was needed, but this meant that Castiglioni was forced to make a tough choice – stick with a Ducati leg­end or trust a rel­a­tively un­proven new de­signer.

Quite rightly, Fabio Taglioni was treated with near god-like sta­tus within Ducati. De­spite be­ing in his 60s at this point, the in­ven­tor of the firm’s desmod­romic val­ve­train as well as their V-twin en­gine re­mained a ma­jor force

to be reck­oned with within the firm. But the prob­lem was Taglioni was fiercely op­posed to a new de­signer tak­ing over his role and he most cer­tainly didn’t want to see Ducati’s new head of R&D, Mas­simo Bordi, get his rad­i­cal idea for a four-valve wa­ter-cooled V-twin into pro­duc­tion.

Bordi had ac­tu­ally come up with the con­cept of a four-valve wa­ter-cooled desmo V-twin while he was at univer­sity in Bologna in 1978 and had shown his plans to the firm. Ducati were so im­pressed they hired him as soon as

‘The en­gine is wrong and you’ll be fired soon’ DUCATI’S FABIO TAGLIONI

he fin­ished his de­gree, but un­der the pre­vi­ous man­age­ment, and Taglioni, he was never al­lowed to de­velop it – in­stead ini­tially put to work de­sign­ing diesel en­gines. Castiglioni, how­ever, saw the po­ten­tial in Bordi’s en­gine but that put him on a col­li­sion course with Taglioni. So in­censed was Taglioni with the fact that a wa­ter-cooled V-twin was be­ing con­sid­ered that ac­cord­ing to Bordi he told him “this en­gine is wrong, you will be fired next year and then I will tell you why it is wrong”.

Taglioni ac­tu­ally de­signed a desmo two-valve air-cooled in­line four to op­pose Bordi’s new motor, but it was re­jected by Castiglioni in favour of Bordi’s V-twin. Ducati’s new owner had put his faith in a new breed of de­sign­ers. In 1989 Taglioni re­tired from Ducati.

In April 1986, 10 years af­ter he first pro­posed the Des­mo­quat­tro, Bordi’s motor was given the green light. Just five months later, a 748cc pro­to­type was used in Ducati’s Bol d’or racer and with his eye on the new World Su­per­bike se­ries, Bordi ex­panded it to 851cc later that year for use in the firm’s next gen­er­a­tion su­per­bike.

The first wa­ter-cooled four-valve fuel-in­jected Des­mo­quat­tro motor was re­leased in 1987 when the Ducati 851 Strada hit the streets

This en­gine went on to form the ba­sis for the 916, 996, 998, 999 and 1098 mod­els as well as var­i­ous off­shoots such as the Mon­ster S4 mod­els, ST4 and you could see its in­flu­ence up un­til the in­tro­duc­tion of the Pani­gale. As de­ci­sions go, you have to say Castiglioni backed the right horse… Con­tin­ued over

It also formed the ba­sis of the 916, 999 and 1098

Fabio Taglioni, god­fa­ther of the Ducati L-twin was against the 851’s four-valve motor

Looks stun­ning, but it’s what’s un­der­neath the plastic that’s revo­lu­tion­ary

851 motor is a race and road mas­ter­piece

1991 and Doug Polen and Ray­mond Roche fin­ished first and sec­ond in WSB

1992 and Carl Fog­a­rty gets his first WSB win – and on his own bike, too...

Early 1993 and Foggy lined up with Gian­carlo Falappa in the fac­tory team

Mas­simo Bordi’s motor changed it all

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