Fabio Taglioni, engineer

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Fabio Taglioni proudly sitting on the 750 GT prototipe, 1969

Taglioni, dead.
The drop of oil on the garage floor,
A tear of sorrow from my Ducati
(haiku, 2001, unknown author)

Engineers seldom reach great fame. Those who did, built gravity-defying skyscrapers or cut canals that join two oceans. Fabio Taglioni designed motorbikes, fine motorbikes, but hardly something that will grant a man lasting fame, even in the restricted world of motorcyclists. Actually, in a lifetime devoted to motorcycle design, Fabio Taglioni designed three outstanding engines and five excellent frames – all the rest being “variations on the theme” – plus an unknown number of stationary motors, industrial diesels, outboard motors and other mechanical contraptions. Hardly the best path towards everlasting fame.

Fabio Taglioni poses with the early 500 cc GP bike with the Ducati-designed frame

After a short period as a young engineer at Mondial, Fabio Taglioni remained faithful until retirement to one brand, Ducati, with which, for more than thirty years, he shared highs and lows, joys and sorrows and the stress of being an employee of a State-owned company, which was not allowed to surf on the waves of market economy but had to swim in the direction that the politician of the moment pointed.

Fabio Taglioni never became really rich. He was paid the wage of an employee of the Italian State. A good wage, he was a high level employee, but hardly anything that made a man rich. He was often denied the money to follow his bikes, pilots and mechanics at the races. Sometimes his team was denied the money to race at all and often the whole “racing team” had to sneak out of the factory with the racing bikes on trailers attached to their own cars, paying all expenses of their own pocket and hoping that the direction knew nothing.

I guess he could have quit Ducati any day and gone to Japan, or Germany, or even to some other factory in Italy, maybe not far from his native Bologna, and do his work for ten times the money he got at Ducati, but for some reason he never did it. Clearly big money was not his main aim, and neither was fame, which he always escaped. After retirement he devoted himself to his orchids and to the cares of his wife Norina, although he never refused to participate to events organized by Ducati or simply by the fans of the brand, who always greeted and cheered him heartily.

Fabio Taglioni and the 500 cc GP bike with the later Seeley frame, Sanremo road circuit, 1971

Taglioni was not an easy character to work with. He did not accept discussion easily. His decisions were decisions, not opinions. He was a heavy smoker and a very temperamental man and, according to those who witnessed, his fits of anger were not something to be forgotten easily. But he was also a man with a passion. Devoted to his work and his creations. And he loved racing.

If Ducati never truly separated racing from production, differently from what most other Italian motorcycle makers did, much is to be credited on engineer Taglioni. Even when the factory managment saw racing as a futile waste of time and resources, he continued to follow the competition with a bunch of faithful and a home-made racing team, sometimes even clandestine. Fabio Taglioni lead this small team and its few bikes in the paddocks, always wearing jacket and tie and with a cigarette in his mouth, while Franco Farné greased his hands and overalls on the bikes. Things changed a lot when Ducati was sold by the Italian State to the Castiglioni brothers, who liked racing as much as Taglioni and Farné did. But by then, Fabio Taglioni was near retirement and he was “handing the club” to his younger successor, Massimo Bordi.

Clearly, Taglioni strongly influenced the personality of the Ducati production and the characteristics of the production models up to this day. Each Ducati, in fact, for tranquil and sedate that it can be, holds a kinship with some racing bike which is often not  very remote, and more often than not, it was a production bike that was transformed into to a successful racing bike, than the opposite.

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Fabio Taglioni, and Ducati motorcycles with him, always remained faithful to a very distinctive philosophy. Even when the whole motorcycle world was going in the direction of bigger-heavier-wider-more-cylinders-more-power, following the economical boom of the 70s, his bikes remained light, thin, simple, efficient. They had one or two cylinders and did […]