From radio components to a range of some of the most beautiful motorcycles in the world. There’s no wonder that Ducati owners are some of the most loyal motorcyclists there are.
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.
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 Unfortunately, the public didn’t embrace the idea as Ducati had hoped, and the model was withdrawn the following year with sales barely reaching the 2,000 mark.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 the States.
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.
by Alan Liptrot