Ducati’s rise to a global brand and racing success began when Ducati Meccanica’s first director, Dr Giuseppe Montano, persuaded the legendary Fabio Taglioni to join the factory in May 1954. Taglioni had worked for two companies before joining Ducati, showing a flair for designing lightweight engines that could win the important “Gran Fondo” (large fund, i.e. big prize money) races. The most important before the Second World War had been the Milano Taranto, a near thousand-mile dash from Milan down Italy’s east coast.
But throughout the 1950s it was a revitalised Motogiro d’Italia that captured the public imagination. This race was run over several daily stages to gain the maximum publicity, with entries restricted to motorcycles closely related to ones the public could buy. Nothing larger than 175cc was allowed, again reflecting what was selling.
Taglioni’s first design for a Gran Fondo racer had been a 75cc single manufactured and raced under the Ceccato name. His next was with Mondial, working on desmodromics and 175s that won both the Milano Taranto and Moto Giro in 1954, the only time a manufacturer was victorious in both races in the same year. When Taglioni wasn’t invited to Mondial’s celebrations he quietly cleared his desk and left. He could have had a steady salary at anywhere from Ford to Ferrari, but chose Ducati simply because he was promised the autonomy necessary to build world class racing motorcycles.
Success in the Motogiro quickly came to mean success in the showrooms, so Ducati’s failure to achieve a single in the 1953 and 1954 events had weighed heavily on Montana’s mind. Unsurprisingly Taglioni’s initial focus was on the urgent need for a new motorcycle that could survive, and ideally win, the gruelling road race.
Taglioni’s first offering was the Gran Sport, a 99.66cc single with what would become Ducati’s trademark bevel and shaft driven overhead camshaft. Laverda immediately protested that the Gran Sport wasn’t a true production bike, but rather a dedicated, hand-built, racer that the competitions’ pushrod overhead valve models would have no chance against.
In truth Laverda had a point. Even though the Gran Sport did eventually go into production, it was in limited numbers, and at a price that reflected its complexity and the expertise required during assembly. Nonetheless the 1955 Motogiro made Montana a very happy man when the new Gran Sport took every place bar one in the 100cc class. One even managed fifth overall, beating a great many 175cc machines.
Engine no. E-1003-F3
• Amadori brakes (200mm front, 160mm rear)
• 1963 wins at Cookstown and Tandragee
• Same ownership for 55 years