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.”
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?
With its far more modern facilities,...
With its far more modern facilities, the Schiranna plant has become the main factor in MV’s growth, both now and in the future.
“Since I left Ducati I met with Claudio just once, two years ago for fun. When he sold Ducati to TPG he was very sorry, and our relationship stopped as he didn’t want to think about Ducati. He didn’t want to sell but was forced to because the Cagiva Group needed restructuring; it was like letting go of a child. In 2008 we had dinner together and it was like being friends again. Then he called me and asked if I thought he should buy the company (MV Agusta) back when Harley decided to sell. I told him, ‘Don’t do it, keep your money and go to the beach.’ In my opinion MV was too small, it would need a huge investment to grow to a size of 20,000 bikes a year, the minimum to get enough cash flow to go forward and invest in future products. MV only made 4 or 5000 bikes a year, so in my view it would be a nightmare. But as soon as Claudio knew I left Same Deutz-Fahr he called and said, ‘Why don’t you come and work with me?’ I told him again not to do it! But that is the difference between us — he is an entrepreneur, I am a manager, and he saw the potential even if I didn’t. Somehow like a fish he caught me and now I am Vice President! I am very happy, I have my passion for bikes back again.”
But now that he is back with MV, does he see the company under Castiglioni succeeding where both Harley and Proton before failed?
While MV Agusta will make...
While MV Agusta will make about 4000 bikes this year, Bordi is projecting that the company will be producing about 20,000 units in three or four years.
“After Harley’s investment (estimated to be around €250 million) the company has strong assets. Claudio has put his own money in but Harley left us with no debts and most importantly two fresh engines, the heavily updated F4 and the new F3. A new lifecycle has started and with the F4 and F3 we will create sportsbikes and also a range of Brutale naked bikes. This year we will make 4000 bikes, which is about €50 million revenue, but 2012 I think we can go up to €80 million and 7000 bikes, which is when we break even and start earning money. I think in three or four years maximum we will be at 20,000 bikes — I have no doubt, 100 percent sure.”
Considering the current economic climate, is this really an achievable target? Especially considering MVs are premium-priced products?
“We are not a mass producer, we are a niche market manufacturer, but we have one of the strongest brands in the world, such a history. It is an easy brand to develop. You need heritage to revamp a brand, which is why Aprilia are struggling. You can revamp Jaguar or Norton but starting from zero is not as easy. We have a premium price but we are shifting our place in the market. We are reducing the prices of the bikes so they are still premium but in a larger market area. Even if the market is down, a small percentage of a large pie is more than a big percentage of a small pie. We will do this with the 675 and a new 800 Brutale in the future as well, placing it in a premium product place, but not too much more expensive. Considering the price, brand and the fact the bike is very beautiful I think the Brutale 675 and 800 will sell a lot of bikes, it could be like Ducati’s Monster range and appeal to young people, women and those who want to go into the city and want the power but also show — a lifestyle bike.”
Having designed some of the most iconic bikes in the world, what can be found in Mr Bordi’s garage? “I don’t own any bikes, I have three horses! Three horse power. I don’t like to wear a helmet, you can’t talk to anyone and I think I am too old to ride. I don’t even have a 916 in a cabinet, which is very wrong I suppose. The bike I would like to have in my personal museum is a Ducati 888, the last one before the 916. This is the best Ducati, the 916 is elegant but the 888 is the best.” SR