In 1926, Adriano and Marcello Ducati founded a
company that specialised not in motorcycles, but the production of
radio components. During the war years, they turned their attention
toward electronic military equipment. This move made their factory a
target for allied bombing, but despite frequent, serious damage, they
managed to remain in production. In 1950, Ducati launched their first
motorcycle, which was based on the already well established Cucciolo
engine. This power unit, designed by Aldo Farinelli, was originally
created as a strap on motor for push bikes. By the time Ducati adopted
it, 200,000 units had been produced. This first creation by Ducati was
capable of 40mph and 200 mpg and weighed in at 98 pounds. These bikes
were badged as 55M or 65TL.
|The brothers Bruno, Adriano and Marcello Cavalieri Ducati, founders of the Borgo Panigale company.|
Post-war economic growth put more money in Italians' pockets and
with it the need for something more sophisticated, so at the Milan Show
of 1952, the company introduced the 65TS and the cruiser, which was the
first four-stroke scooter in the world. Unfortunately, the public
didn't embrace the idea as Ducati had hoped, and the model was
withdrawn the following year with sales barely reaching the 2,000 mark.
At this time, Ducati were still making electronic equipment, so the
decision was made to split the company and Ducati Elettronica SpA was
created under separate management.
Ducati Meccanica SpA, led by Dr Guiseppe Montano, became the motorcycle
manufacturing company that we know today, and by 1954 were turning out
120 units per day as the factory was modernized with government aid.
Although Montano was appointed by the government, he was a genuine
motorcycle lover and realised the potential of racing to induce
customers to buy his machines. By 1956, the Desmo Ducati 125 won its
first race in Sweden. The Grand Prix at Hedemora saw the Ducati lap
every other motorcycle. Sadly, the man who achieved this feat, Gianni
Degli Antoni, died during practice for the following race. This
unfortunate accident hit Ducati hard, and it wasn't until 1958 that
they could once again challenge MV Agusta.
As the 50's drew to a close, the Berliner Brothers picked up the
American franchise and pushed Ducati to the forefront in the USA. With
no little flair, they began punching above their weight and mounted a
serious challenge to the wave of Japanese machines that were coming
into the country. At this time, the company was also enjoying success
in other export markets as well as at home. In the mid sixties, Ducati
became the Italian outlet of Standard-Triumph cars and Leyland vans and
trucks. It seemed as if they could do no wrong, but the American market
was about to give them a reminder of the fragility of success. Ducati
insisted on pushing their 50cc two-strokes on the American public.
Although these machines had accrued many sales in Italy, the contrary
was true of the USA, as the nation snubbed what were in fact very good
machines. Rather than heed the warning, the company pressed ahead and
created a 100cc two-stroke, when they really should have been
developing their much loved sporting four-strokes. Berliner suffered to
such an extent, that they refused one shipment of bikes because they
didn't have the money to pay them, even if they could have sold them in
As Ducati struggled to compete with the mass produced Japanese
motorcycles, the future looked gloomy, but once again they turned to
their racing roots, creating 750's which took first and second places
at Imola in 1972. A major coup for the company was the securing of the
services of rider, Paul Smart, who was at that time racing for
Kawasaki. The story goes that he wasn't at home when the call came, but
the financial lure was so strong that his wife accepted the offer on
his behalf. Success at Imola sparked the beginning of the love affair
between big racing bikes and Ducati.
Today, Ducati riders are some of the most loyal when it comes to
brand allegiance. Their reward is to be the owner of one of one most
strikingly beautiful machines available. The company has achieved
success by following its racing roots. At the company's headquarters,
you can visit the museum and re-live over 50 years of racing history.
Alan Liptrot is the founder of Motorbike-Tours.co.uk The Company offers guided motorcycle tours in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.