19 May 2011 by Harné Heuvelman
If there is one man to thank for our all the Ducati motorcycles we love, it is Fabio Taglioni. This brilliant engineer and former Technical Director has invented and created many technical novelties putting Ducati at the forefront in many occasions on the race track and on the road. He was fresh in his thinking, often miles ahead of his time, and was able to be successful in the midst of financial difficulties and political games.
Born on September 10th 1920 in Lugo di Romagna, Fabio Taglioni came from an engineering family. His father, Biagio, was an airplane pilot and mechanic in World War One, serving with the famous fighter ace Count Francesco Baracca. This Baracca fellow flew his airplane with a prancing horse on the side, a symbol later adopted by Enzo Ferrari. The ‘cavallino rampante’ also features on some of the early racers by Fabio Taglioni.
After World War Two, Taglioni went to Bologna University to study engineering. Graduating in 1948 after just three years, instead of the usual five, he started teaching at the Imola technical college. His first motorcycle design was a 75cc overhead camshaft racing engine he sold to the small Ceccato factory in Bologna. It was clear already at this point in his career that Taglioni was very much focused on the retrieving the maximum power output out of the smallest engine displacement.
The 75cc OHC design caught the attention of the Mondial motorcycle factory in 1952, offering Taglioni a job an assistant to the technical director Alfonso Drusiani. Mondial at that time was among the most successful racing companies with many wins in the 125cc series in Italy and across Europe. When Taglioni had some words with the Mondial management, Ducati director Giuseppe Montano swiftly stepped forward to hire Taglioni. Montano wanted victories in the Milano-Taranto and Motogiro d’Italia as this would greatly improve sales of Ducati motorcycles in Italy. He offered Fabio Taglioni almost a ‘carte blanche’ for designing and developing a wining racer, with possibilities to further develop many motorcycles to come. Taglioni started working for Ducati in 1954 and immediately went to develop the 100 Gran Sport or ’Marianna’ as became its nickname. This was the first Ducati to have a bevel driven overhead camshaft engine and was to form the basis for all Ducati singles to follow. The ’Marianna’ proved an immediate success dominating the 1955 Motogiro and Milano-Tarranto races.
Already in 1954 Taglioni started experimenting with desmodromic valve actuation. A system using opening and closing rockers for the valves instead of the usual opening rocker and valve springs for closing. The advantages of a desmodromic system over a conventional spring system is the precision in valve timing at high revs and the prevention of valve float; an adverse condition where the valve does not stay in contact with the camshaft lobe during closing.Although others (like Mercedes-Benz) had developed desmodromic valves decades before, it was Taglioni that saw the major advantages in racing and developed it further. Even in 2007, the Ducati Desmosedici engine in the MotoGP can rev higher and develop more power because of the desmo system. It was Taglioni’s sixth sense for motorcycle engineering. On several occasions he just seemed to follow a hunch to get it right the first time he tried. This was the case with the 100 Gran Sport, with the 750 Super Sport at Imola and with the Armaroli 500 Twin later forming the basic ideas for the belt driven Pantah engine.
After the racing successes of the 1950’s, the 1960’s proved to be a difficult age for the Italian motorcycle industry. People were shifting to (cheap) cars for transportation and motorcycle demand was falling. Even though, Taglioni remained loyal to Ducati rejecting offers from his friend Enzo Ferrari and others. At the end of the 60’s market conditions were improving. The motorcycle had transformed from a mean of transportation to a recreational vehicle, but this age also saw many larger displacement motorcycles, especially in the international market. Ducati’s US importer, Berliner, played a big role in getting Ducati to develop larger bikes.
Probably the most ambitious project was the 1964 Ducati 1200 Apollo, developed to get a large American Police Force order. Taglioni developed a 1200 cc 90 degrees V-four, producing over 100 bhp. The mighty machine proved to be too powerful and too heavy for the tires of 1964. Although the 1200 Apollo never brought the success Berliner and Ducati were hoping for, the idea for a large V-twin soon became a subject of interest for Taglioni and others at Ducati. Under pressure of Ducati managers Fredmano Spairani and Arnoldo Milvio orders were given to design a new revolutionary engine concept that would lead Ducati into the heavier class. The result was both simple and brilliant.
Taglioni combined two bevel drive single cylinders on a common crank-shaft that led to the first, nowadays so characteristic, Ducati trademark, the L-twin. When in spring 1970 the drawing-tables were cleared for other designs and ideas, the first prototype was tested in July. And with success, because only sixty days later the first 750 GT struck the Italian press like thunder. Racing success was luring with such a mighty 750cc engine coming of the production line and so it was decided to enter the Imola 200 miles race in 1972. Taglioni immediately went to work, taking the stock 750 GT as a basis. On race day, April 23rd 1972, the 750 V-twin proved to be a great success. With Paul Smart finishing first and team mate Bruno Spaggiari second, it was the racing success Ducati was hoping for. It made the racing world take Ducati serious in producing large displacement racing bikes and provided a way to produce and sell many large sporting machines for the road in the decades following this event. It meant pivoting success for Ducati.
In 1979 Fabio Taglioni once again proved to be a genius with the development of the Pantah. Already in 1973 he had envisioned the use of toothed rubber belts for driving the camshafts with the Armaroli 500 Twin, not usual at all in the seventies. Belt-driven camshafts would be cheaper to produce and would prove to make engines run a lot quieter. The advanced design of the Pantah engine has proven its importance over the years as Ducati’s of today still use the same basic belt drive principles.
With the development of the Desmoquattro engine starting in 1986, Taglioni took a more passive role for the first time in his career at Ducati. But even after his official retirement in 1989 until his death in 2001, Taglioni remained involved in the Ducati activities. Fabio Taglioni was without a doubt the most important men for Ducati, creating the bikes that proved to be winners in the hands of racing drivers. His legacy lives on in the classic Ducati’s but also in the Ducati’s produced today as the basic technical layout as well as many of his technical novelties are still featured.