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Massimo Tamburini - the Greatest Motorcycle Designer, Ever!!

Massimo Tamburini - the Greatest Motorcycle Designer, Ever!!

Snapshot: Story of the Man who designed the Iconic Ducati 916!!!

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Ideas, Ideologies, Icons, Legends and of legacies. In a brief history of roughly around 125 years, the world of Automobile (we will refrain ourselves to call it an Industry, because it is much more than that), has given us, innumerable, uncountable stories of great significance. There have been stories of impossible ideas proving their worth, there have been stories of unshakable willingness to make a difference and then there have been stories of Men and their undeniable foresight and of their talent, which changed the way we perceive automobiles in this present day and time.

The History of the Automotive world dazzles with its superstar hero's. Each man and woman, an icon in his/her own right and all have left an undeniable mark on the psyche and the soul of the passion automobile's thrive on. Our ancestors, and our successors will talk about these individuals in the same breath, as we talk about them today. We all have loved and dreamt about the designs, the iconic cars and motorcycles, and we have paid our respect to these great men who made these a reality, they gave us dreams to look forward to, they kindled the flames of motivation inside our hearts.

Whenever the world will talk about design and motorcycles, the discussion will always come to a single man, no matter how you start your discussion regarding the topic of Motorcycle Design, Massimo Tamburini is the name that will always be the point of reference. Such is the legend of that man, and the legacy he has left behind.

Massimo Tamburini was born on November 28, 1943 in Rimini, where his family were farmers. Although he aspired to attend university, for financial reasons he instead attended the Istituto Tecnico Industriale di Rimini, a technical school in Rimini. He did not finish his technical education for health reasons, and began working at age 18 on heating ductwork. Tamburini's designs are iconic in their field, with one critic calling him the "Michelangelo of motorbike design". His Ducati 916 and MV Agusta F4 were included in the Guggenheim Museum's The Art of the Motorcycle exhibit of 1998–1999. 

In one of his interviews Tamburini had said, "I have always had a huge passion for motorcycles—my mother used to complain about it when I was a little boy, calling it my obsession! I have never had any desire to design anything else." His exposure to the motorcycle industry began when he attended the world championship race at Monza in 1961. Captivated by the sound of the MV Agusta's four stroke engine ridden by Provini, and entirely self-taught in design, Tamburini eventually devoted his life to the making of motorcycles.

While Tamburini owned a heating business in his home town of Rimini, he was becoming known for his race tuning, improving motorcycles' power and handling, as well as making them lighter. Rimini was a motorcycling enthusiast's town, being near a Benelli motorcycle factory, and the site of many road races following World War II. The MV Agusta 600 four was Tamburini's particular specialty, for which he was known "throughout Italy", according to Mick Walker, who said, "the transformation of what had been an ugly and slow touring bike into a sleek and fast sportster was truly sensational." 

Tamburini created his first motorcycle design in 1971, customizing an MV Agusta 750 Sport by welding the frame himself. Then moving forward from that point, in 1973, Tamburini, Valerio Bianchi, and Giuseppe Morri founded Bimota. The company name was a portmanteau of the first letters of their last names, Bi, Mo, Ta. Speaking of motorcycles of the future, Tamburini summed up his design philosophy by saying, "The ideal one would be a 750 with the power of a 1000 and the weight of a 500. You don't need a huge amount of power on a road bike, but it's important to have light weight as well." Tamburini criticized the Ducati ST2, saying, "I think the ST2 is an attempt to follow a Japanese concept, and this shouldn't be done by Italians."

After 11 years at Bimota, Tamburini left and for a short time joined Roberto Gallina's 500 cc Grand Prix world championship team. Then, in February 1985, he joined Claudio Castiglioni's Cagiva Group. Cagiva had acquired Ducati that year, and Tamburini worked designing both Ducati and Cagiva brand motorcycles.

In 1985, Bimota was under "controlled administration", similar to US Chapter 11 reorganization and Tamburini had officially left the company, Giuseppe Morri having purchased Tamburini's Bimota stock. Tamburini's successor as chief designer at Bimota was Federico Martini. Even though Tamburini was in his new position as head of Cagiva's design studio, he continued work back at Bimota, in spite of the falling out with his partners that led to his departure, working on the Bimota DB1 prototype, a bike that used the engine of the Ducati Pantah 750, which was to be presented at EICMA, the Milan motorcycle show. Martini was responsible for the engineering of the DB1, Tamburini, as a consultant to Cagiva, handled the styling. The first Ducati he designed was the Paso 750, a bike that helped move fully enclosing bodywork into the mainstream.

Tamburini’s bikes are considered among the most graceful ever produced. But aesthetics did not come at the cost of speed. Tamburini, a dedicated biker himself, was always determined that his machines should be fast, in 1980 describing his perfect bike of the future as “a 750cc with the power of 1000cc and the weight of a 500cc”. 

It was Castiglioni who had brought Tamburini to Ducati and also who paired Tamburini with the engineer Massimo Bordi. Not that Tamburini was ignorant of engineering processes. “When the designer doesn’t have a good understanding of the mechanical side of things,” he said, “he can never design a good product.” With the Paso 750, then the 851 and the 888, the pair turned Ducati’s fortunes around. Then in 1993 they unveiled the 916. Not only was it a smash hit with the Press, it also proved hugely successful in the World Superbike Championship, notably under Carl Fogarty. 

He was perhaps best known for the Ducati 916, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever built. Released on general sale in 1994, it encased a 916cc engine in feminine curved bodywork and was capable of rocketing down the track (or autobahn) at 160mph, all the while handling better than Japanese competitors. Glorying in the same shade of red that made Ferraris famous, it moved some observers to see in it that most quixotic of qualities: “soul”. Hugely successful on the track, it also proved a hit with consumers on the road, who loved it for its cat’s-eye headlights and under-seat exhaust, features which influenced a generation of so-called “sports bikes”. One eye-catching feature was its single-sided rear fork, or “swingarm”, which dramatically exposed the whole of the rear tyre. 

Having designed one standout motorcycle, Tamburini immediately repeated the feat for the venerable MV Agusta marquee, which had fallen on hard times but was being re-launched by Claudio Castiglioni. Such was Castiglioni's estimation of Tamburini’s talents that, though MV Agusta was based at Varese, he allowed his designer to base himself at a research centre in San Marino, near his home. There Tamburini developed the MV Augusta 750 F4, which was released in 1998 in red-and-silver livery with four exhausts emerging under the seat in an “organ-pipe” array. Critics quickly hailed it one of the world’s most beautiful bikes, and MV’s reputation was firmly re-established, the Motorcycle Art has found its glory back.  

But it was the MV Agusta 750 F4 that was Tamburini’s favourite. “With the Ducati we already had a good base to work on,” he said in 2012. “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.” Such was his passion for the project that, when he fell ill while designing the bike, he filled notebooks with diagrams and pictures. “I was so scared I would die without designing the bike.” Tamburini continued to work at MV Agusta until the end of 2008, when he eventually handed over to the British designer, Adrian Morton. 

Tamburini was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2013 and underwent chemotherapy near his residence in San Marino. His health continued to decline, and he died on April 6, 2014 at age 70. 

Massimo Tamburini's death was a great loss to the motorcycle world. The writer remembers the times in Mid 90's when he had first laid his eyes on a shiny red Ducati 916 in a rare for those time, international automotive magazine. It was the time where my never ending love affair with motorcycles began. I cannot count the number of days I have woken up in the morning and the first thing I saw was a Ducati 916 cornering on a hilly route, that poster was the most prized possession of my childhood.

Thank you Massimo Tamburini, for giving children like me dreams to look forward to making a reality one day. Thank you, for being the legend you were. 


Adrian Morton - the Man who is considered to be the Spiritual succesor of Massimo Tamburini!!!

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