A young Massimo Bordi proudly...
A young Massimo Bordi proudly displaying the then-new 916 desmoquattro engine in 1994 that went on to win numerous World Superbike Championships for Ducati.
Luckily for Bordi — as well as Ducati — the decision to create a desmoquattro engine was made and soon the university thesis of a 23-year-old student started to become more than just paper.
“We began work on the four-valve project in April as a 748cc engine and we were racing at the Bol d’Or in September, but the power was not so strong, less than 100 horsepower. I decided that as the European superbike championship rules allowed a V-twin to be 1000cc, I should start growing the four-valve engine from 748 to 851cc using the same stroke with a bigger bore. As the combustion chamber was much better on the 851 we increased the power to 115 horsepower and started doing very well in superbike racing. When the WSBK championship started in 1988 we were very competitive and although Honda won the title, our rider Marco Lucchinelli won two races and finished fifth in the championship. It showed everybody that we could be successful. Then, as the rules allowed us to grow further in capacity, it became 888, 916, 950 and 996 and we won ten championships with Raymond Roche, Doug Polen, Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and of course Carl Fogarty.”
As well as being heavily involved in the racing side, Bordi was also developing Ducati’s road-bike range using the established two-valve motor. It was his concept, inspired by an old movie poster, that lead to the development of the bike that Ducati’s very foundations were built on.
“I was talking to Miguel Galluzzi and asked him to design something like the bike in the famous picture of Marlon Brando in The Wild One. It was an iconic image of a bike with a large single headlight and I asked Galluzzi to make a bike in this style — aggressive and sporty but also naked. That’s where the Monster came from.”
It is impossible to understate just how important the Monster was to Ducati in the 1990s. Without its success, there was a very real possibility that Ducati itself would have folded. Over 50 percent of the company’s sales through the 1990s were Monsters, and it allowed Ducati to grow from producing around 1000 to nearly 25,000 by 1995 and more than 40,000 in 2001. There was one other bike though, that also helped raise the company’s profile and catapulted its designer into the world’s spotlight.
Although the iconic 916 is...
Although the iconic 916 is usually associated with designer Massimo Tamburini, the basic chassis structure and engine layout was Bordi’s work.
With the four-valve head proving its worth, Ducati needed a new superbike to replace the outdated 888 and spearhead its assault on the WSBK championship. In 1994, the iconic 916 was launched, the brainchild of the creative genius of Massimo Tamburini and the technical knowledge of Bordi.
“Tamburini is more than just a designer, he also understands frames,” says Bordi. “The trellis design of the 851 was my idea and it used the engine more as a structural component than on the Pantah, but Tamburini introduced full-floating suspension and altered the frame’s design. He is more than just a stylist, he is a very competent engineer and understands geometry.”
Having masterminded Ducati’s resurgence and with his passion for the brand, it could be expected the marriage between the Bologna manufacturer and Bordi would last forever. The 22-year relationship abruptly ended in 2001 however, when Castiglioni was forced to sell Ducati to the investment firm Texas Pacific Group (TPG).
“I wasn’t totally in line with TPG and (then-Ducati CEO) Federico Minoli’s strategy for the future,” Bordi says diplomatically. “After several opportunities, I was made CEO of Same Deutz-Fahr, one of the five biggest tractor and agriculture producing companies in the world with €1 billion revenue — much bigger than Ducati.”
However there is another twist to the Ducati story around this period. While he had left the company, Bordi actually tried to orchestrate a separate takeover of Ducati, something that has remained a closely guarded secret until now.
“In 2001 and 2002 I tried twice to buy Ducati with two private equity firms, but they were not successful,” reveals Bordi. “I also made a trip to Milwaukee and met the CEO of Harley-Davidson. It was very secret and I gave a presentation to about 20 people. Eventually they told me they didn’t want to dilute the Harley brand, which was very strongly American, with the Italian Ducati. I believe in 2007 Harley actually tried to buy Ducati, but they said no and instead they purchased MV.” Bordi also let slip that in 2004, Ducati asked him to return but he turned the company down, feeling his work wasn’t finished at Same Deutz-Fahr. Yet just six years later we find him back in the motorcycling world, heading up MV with his old friend Claudio Castiglioni and son Giovanni. What brought about the change of heart?