While Bordi is most known...
While Bordi is most known for the desmoquattro cylinder head, he is also revered among Ducatisti for the sensational Supermono, a limited production (only 65 units were built) single-cylinder racebike produced from 1993-1995 utilizing a dummy connecting rod as a counterbalancer that allowed the engine to rev to 11,000 rpm and produce more power than any previous single-cylinder engine.
“I went to university in Bologna and at the end of my course I wanted to do a thesis on a four-valve water-cooled Desmodromic engine. At the time Ducati only made a two-valve engine, so I contacted the factory and asked if I could have some drawings of the motor for my project. They agreed and I created the idea which became the 851 engine.”
Within Ducati circles, Massimo Bordi is quite simply a living legend. Not only did his revolutionary engine transform the company, it went on to dominate racetracks the world over and provide the heart that still beats within every modern Ducati. Without Bordi there wouldn’t be a 916, Monster, Supermono…or quite possibly, Ducati.
“Before I was a student I was already crazy for engines, I used to spend most of my time in a workshop playing cars with my friends. My girlfriend was always complaining about the oil on my hands, they were never clean,” laughs Bordi when asked about his early years. “When I was 14, I bought a Lambretta scooter and restored it, that was my first project and then I bought a Ducati. That was when my love for Ducatis started,” recalls Bordi. “I also completely rebuilt a Triumph TR4 car, it was beautiful.” In fact, it was Bordi’s desire to look at ways of improving the Ducati V-twin engine using the latest car technology that inspired his final thesis at the University of Bologna.
“At that time Ducati was only making a two-valve Desmo and it had a very open valve angle. It was a pretty typical two-valve engine and combustion chamber. I was an enthusiast of cars as well as bikes, and at that time Cosworth was winning in F1 thanks to the four-valve head design with the spark plug in the middle, allowing a very narrow design of valve angle. The problem with a two-valve engine is that the piston cannot be flat, it has to allow for the valves and as a result the combustion isn’t very good. A four-valve design is much more efficient as you can increase compression with a flat piston. Knowing all these things and being an enthusiast of Ducati I tried to put together a Desmo solution with a four-valve Cosworth head design, which is what I made my thesis on.”
Somewhat unsurprisingly, having effectively designed Ducati’s future engine while still a student, the doors to the Bologna factory were opened to Bordi once his course finished. Yet the dream job wasn’t exactly as he expected.
“I was hired by Ducati on the basis of the thesis, but from 1978 to 1980 I was only involved with diesel engine development. At that time Ducati was making small industrial diesel engines as well as motorbikes. I learned a lot, but it wasn’t much fun.
“Then, after two years, I became head of Ducati’s engine R&D for both diesel and motorbikes and so I started to develop the Pantah engine which went from 600 to 750cc. And then I evolved the conical-geared engine into 1000cc with a dry clutch and made several limited edition Ducatis. I kept developing motorbike engines until 1985, which is when Ducati became part of the Cagiva Group under Claudio Castiglioni. He told me, ‘Make some proposals to implement new Ducati technology,’ and I showed him the designs for the four-valve Desmo, nine or ten years after I had first drawn them.”
But not everyone shared Bordi’s vision of the future. The brilliant young engineer soon found himself at loggerheads with a man revered within Ducati: Fabio Taglioni. Despite being well into his 60s at this point, the man who created Ducati’s Desmo valve system as well as the L-twin engine design was a fierce opponent of Bordi’s concept.
“When I made the first drawing, Mr. Taglioni told me, ‘This engine is wrong, you will be fired next year and then I will tell you why it is wrong.’ He was very negative and I think he was jealous. But Claudio Castiglioni made the choice. In 1986 he was talking with me, Taglioni, and an engine designer from Ferrari. Both of them said my project was wrong, but Claudio was confident in me and stood on my side. I think that because Mr. Taglioni knew that the four-valve head was my thesis, my idea, he was jealous. He wanted to propose a four-cylinder engine to fight with me. It was crazy…he even made a drawing of a Desmo two-valve four-cylinder engine to fight against me.”