Tamburini designed both the...
Tamburini designed both the Ducati 916 and MV Agusta F4 under the direction of the late Claudio Castiglioni. The 916 saved Ducati from bankruptcy, while the original F4 was the first of the modern MV models and helped resurrect the company.
After a brief spell running his own company in Rimini, during which time he was involved with the Roberto Gallina 500cc Grand Prix team, in 1985 Tamburini was introduced to the man who would be pivotal in his future success — the late, great, Cagiva boss Claudio Castiglioni.
“Claudio requested that I design him a 125cc road bike. At the time the only bikes that would sell in Italy were enduros, but Claudio decided to create the first 125 road sports bike, the Cagiva Aletta Oro 125. It was a huge success, after the bike was launched in 1985 the sales were 50 percent enduro, 50 percent our bike. I then designed the Freccia 125 and finally the Mito 125, which was launched in 1989. It was an exact replica of the Cagiva 500cc GP bike that Randy Mamola was racing, which I also styled.”
Having purchased struggling Ducati in 1985, Castiglioni was soon looking for a way to resurrect the struggling company. He combined the genius of engineer Massimo Bordi and the creative flair of Tamburini. The result was the Ducati 916. “When we first started working with Ducati in 1985 the company was so poor. Castiglioni bought and invested in the company and I designed the 1986 Paso 750, which was the first of the new ‘Castiglioni Ducatis.’ It was the breakthrough bike, and then we made the 851 and 888 with Massimo Bordi, which showed Ducati’s potential and won many races. After this, Castiglioni asked for another breakthrough bike. He said, ‘I don’t want an old Ducati and I don’t want a Japanese bike.’ We designed the Ducati 916, which was presented at the Milan fair in 1993.”
Alongside the sculpted body, a lot of the 916’s beauty stems from its rear end and the combination of the single-sided swingarm and the underseat exhausts. While the swingarm was always in the design, it wasn’t until the unveiling of Honda’s hugely influential NR750 that the final position of the Ducati’s exhaust was decided upon. “When I saw the NR750 in Milan I thought it was going to be the future of motorcycling. I didn’t want to copy it with the 916 but I wanted the 916 to look like it with sharper lines. At that point we had been experimenting with other exhaust positions, to the side of the bike like the 888 and at different heights, but when I saw the NR I tried under the seat and it felt right. I didn’t want the back end of the bike to look refined, I wanted it to look aggressive but also classical. The two little exhaust ports exiting under the seat looked perfect, when I had done that I stepped back and knew the 916 was finished.”
The 916 went on to become a motorcycle style icon, a bike that is still regarded as one of the most beautiful ever created and the machine that put Ducati firmly on the map through not only salesroom success but also track domination. Yet despite all this success, not all was well within the Bologna company.
“When Ducati was sold to Texas Pacific Group in 1996 by Claudio Castiglioni there were big changes. Massimo Bordi left and I felt it was also time to go so I went to work with Claudio at Cagiva. After I designed the Cagiva Canyon, Claudio asked me to come up with a new MV Agusta sports bike. This time he said, ‘I don’t want anything Japanese, I don’t want a Ducati and certainly not a 916!’”
“As a complete project the F4 is my favorite,” says Tamburini of the original MV Agusta F4. “With the Ducati we already had a good base to work on, with the MV it was a blank piece of paper and we had to create everything, even the smallest of details such as the footpegs. But working on the Ducati was better as it is a cleaner bike when it comes to design; it is far easier to work on, to take apart.”
Faced with such a tough brief, Massimo gained inspiration for the F4 from an unlikely and in many ways unwelcome source. “I was taken ill and had to go into hospital. I hate hospitals and when I found out that I was going to have to have anesthetic for an operation I was very scared. I didn’t know if I was going to get out of the operating theater so I started drawing how the new MV should be. My son and wife thought I was crazy but I was so scared I would die without designing the bike. I filled books with diagrams, pictures and everything. I put notes ‘the exhaust should be one long, one shorter, to make a different sound’ everything about the bike. When I went to have the operation I handed the book to my son so I knew that if I died the bike would still be made as I had it in my mind.”
Tamburini still rides, although...
Tamburini still rides, although "I don't ride like the old days. When I get on a bike I feel twenty years old; however I know I won't heal like I did at that age! I own a 916, the second ever made, a 955 which is one of only three special ones in Europe, a Desmosedici which I think is like a beautiful painting, an MV Oro that is number 9 and an MV F41000 that I have to keep at the office as it won't fit in the garage."
Thankfully Massimo Tamburini didn’t die and in 1997 lightning struck twice as the MV Agusta F4 750 was launched in Milan. Looking back on the two projects, did Tamburini have an inkling of the success that either bike would bring? “When you start a project you don’t think it could change the course of motorcycle design. I had a lot of luck with the 916, the motor was strong, the company had a good name and the race track success was sensational. But with the F4 it was harder. Right after the launch the company had a crisis, they were unsure if they could make the F4, then the motor had problems as it wasn’t powerful enough but in the end it turned out OK.”
OK is something of an understatement. The F4 drew huge amounts of praise and it, along with Tamburini’s next bike for MV, the Brutale, continues to form the design basis of the current crop of MV Agustas. Having handed over the reins at MV to British designer Adrian Morton, what is left now for the man who formed Bimota and created bikes that will be revered well after he has gone? Is he looking at hanging up his pen and retiring? “I have a binding contract with MV that meant I could not design a bike until December 31, 2011. On the 1st of January I will do what I have always done — project my images of motorcycles.” SR