The changing of the guard
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 In 1984 the firm produced just 1765 bikes and had a generally outdated range.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