Massimo Bordi Interview

Mr. Desmodromic


If motorcycling was a mythology then Massimo Bordi, 62, would be one of its most prominent gods. He is the architect of the 4-valve Desmo engine found even today in all liquid-cooled Ducatis. The late Fabio Taglioni was the man behind the first modern Ducati Desmodromic 2-valve engines, and his Pantah is where Bordi’s story begins.

Bordi designed and engineered the Ducati 851, which is the father of all Ducati Superbikes. Bordi also founded Ducati Corse which is the racing arm and a subsidiary under Ducati S.p.A. He stayed in Ducati’s service until 2000 as General Director. The Testastretta engine was his last project at Ducati.

Signore Bordi now serves as MV Agusta’s General Manager after a nine-year motorcycle hiatus as CEO at Same Deutz-Fahr, a firm producing tractors and owner of Lamborghini Trattore. We can only presume that working on the future MV Agusta F4 superbikes and F3s tempted more than the next tractor. The truth is that he is at MV Agusta because he wanted to help an old friend, the late Claudio Castiglioni. Bordi’s story is filled with names such as Ferrari, Ducati, MV Agusta, Lamborghini, Cagiva and MV Agusta, and I’m not simply dropping names here. Read on and find out more about a very important man for motorcycling in his own words.


Massimo Bordi

As a student I was at the end of my degree and for my thesis I made the decision to make a project on this idea, a Desmo 4-valve. I went to Ducati and got some information on the Desmo and I got some drawings from Mr. Taglioni and I made a air-cooled 4-valve cylinder head with a double rocker arm with the spark plug in the middle, and the rest of the history you probably know. This was in 1973, start of ’74.

I will tell you the reason why I developed the Desmo 4-valve whilst working for Ducati in 1986. When I was young I was strongly interested in engines and I also enjoyed doing things with my hands.. I was strongly interested in two technical solutions; The Cosworth 4-valve, because at that time Cosworth with an 8-cylinder engine could fight with the Ferrari 12-cylinder mostly because of the efficiency and performance of the engine. The performance of the Cosworth was mostly down to the flat pistons, very narrow angle between the valves, very straight inlet manifold and in Formula 1 the engine in the past was 2-valve and then 3- valve. In a 2-valve or 3-valve engine the spark plug is usually not in the right position while in the 4-valve it is exactly in the center so the combustion is in the best condition to give performance faster. So my dream was to have 4-valves but connected with the Desmo control, but in the meantime I was strongly attracted by the 2-valve Desmo solution of Taglioni. At the time my idea was that a combination of these two solutions would be very successful.

When I started my career in Ducati in 1978 I was mostly focused on the diesel engine at the beginning, so from 1978 to 1985 the company was part of a diesel group so I could not do so much in the motorbike engines parts – we did something but not very crucial. But when Castiglioni in 1985 bought Ducati he asked me to do something to recapture the technological leadership of Ducati engines. My idea was to start the production of an engine based on the same architecture of the Pantah, so V90-degree with many common components but with a totally new terminal part let me say and a totally new concept. And so I could introduce at the time the 4-valve Desmo 40-degree angle between the valves, very straight angle water-cooled injection system, and this was one of the first engines ever with such an advanced injection system. BMW introduced the K100 bike with injection that was totally different; this was an injection system I got from the F40 Ferrari, so it was a very interesting system and the right one for racing. The first engine that I made was based on the same crankcase from the Pantah that I could modify to stand a much higher load. And the first race we did was at Bol d’Or in September 1986. So in a very short time we could develop the 4-valve Desmo injection water-cooled 748cc engine. We went to Bol d’Or and we had a problem with a con rod, but the story was still very successful. In a few months after this I improved the performance because in the first test of the engine we got only something like 100 hp and that was not enough. But in the same time I thought that I could improve the performance with a higher displacement, a higher bore, and we grew the engine from 748cc to 851cc and the performance increased incredibly. We went up to 115-120 hp.

The new Superbike championship started thanks to Steve McLaughlin (winner of the first AMA Superbike race on a BMW in 1976 and founder of the World Superbike series in 1988). At the time the superbike championship in the USA was based on the rules of; 2 cylinders 1000cc and 4 cylinders 750cc. McLaughlin introduced the World Superbike championship based on similar rules to the American championship. In 1988 he started the World Superbike championship and we didn’t win the first time around, but after that we started winning with our engine. And the story is great – we won 10 times evolving the engine to 888 then 916 then 956 then 996. We could increase the power up to 160 hp which at the time I remember was something incredible. And what I think is interesting is that this engine created a new idea of the high-performance twin-cylinder, and nobody before us made a twin-cylinder so strong. Then also Honda made something similar and Suzuki also (Honda VTR1000 and RC51; Suzuki TL1000S/R).

At the end of 1998 or ’99, we in Ducati started working on developing the Testastretta with the support of Ferrari, and once again we improved the performance in making the valve angles narrower with a straighter inlet manifold, and we could improve again and this is still the engine of Ducati today. That was the last engine I made for Ducati. At the end of 2000 I left Ducati where I was General Director at the time and TPG was the main shareholder. I joined a new company as CEO, Same Deutz-Fahr group a German/Italian company and I had been there for nine years, it has been very successful. And now I am here.

Q: Did Claudio Castiglioni call you and say we need you here at MV Agusta?

Giovanni Castiglione

Yes, in July/August 2010 he told me that if you come to MV Agusta I am ready to do it again. I was a little bit reluctant to start this project because I was a little worried about the size of the company and the opportunity to invest enough in new products and so on. But he was very brave and he did it and I joined him and made the decision to help him.  But then looking at the figures and the numbers and the financial situation, I realized that it’s a challenge that we can win as probably Giovanni already told you.

(Read our interview with Giovanni Castiglione here.)

In a few months we have improved a lot of the financial performance and we are very solid and we will be successful. At one end we take care of the product, the market and the customer, and on the other end the financial and cash flow are the key issues, but we have already succeeded in bringing the company in the right direction.

Now back to the product and the four-cylinder and possible improvements we could also consider to make a Desmo. There is no limit in terms of patents and so on. The first good Desmo was developed by Mercedes in 1954. They used a Desmo solution in its Formula 1 car (Mercedes-Benz W196). And also Norton made something, and Taglioni made the 2-valve Desmo, and I made the 4-valve Desmo and I made a patent for the 4-valve Desmo so nobody could complain if we do it now.

But we have to consider two issues: the technical issue if it would make sense and, secondly, the marketing point of view, we would have to think about it and we would have to better understand if it is the right choice because of overlap with Ducati. We have to think about this so we could have some alternatives, but in any way we will develop the four-cylinders. There is a big room to improve it, the thermo dynamics, the frictions and the power that you lose in the crankcase. You can improve also with electronic devices that are available today. So we can do a lot. The question mark is what we can do in terms of distribution, we are thinking about it.

Q:  I have understood from speaking to Giovanni Castiglioni that you now want to go World Superbike racing because you can develop faster. Is this correct?

I think that, from the sponsor point of view, MotoGP is more important. But from our point of view, from the company and the customer point of view, superbike is crucial. I think without superbike Ducati would not be doing what they are doing today. Because the racing department that I created at Ducati (Ducati Corse) started with Superbike and we started from, you cannot imagine, we were five crazy people with a very old test bench and poor facilities and we won 10 times in the World Superbike championship. But during this time the organisation grew, the competence grew and we could improve at the same time products for customers and for racing. This is again our idea. Some are pushing us to go GP, but this doesn’t make sense for MV to do. MV has to be like Porsche, you know, that is a niche product that doesn’t change every day, growing step by step, slowly with technical improvements more than changing the style every day. I think that there is big room to do many things if we keep this link between superbike and product, and we’ll be closer to the customer. And you know in Italy GP is very popular, but in GB, in Northern Europe, in Australia and in many countries, World Superbike is still very popular. I think it will be very interesting because of all the strong brands, I think we can do something interesting.

Q: How about the 675cc engine and the F3?

This is a very advanced engine and I think they did a great job. I think that the key issue of this engine is the geometry, the layout, because you move the gearbox up and the engine is very short, and this allows you to have the right weight distribution between the front and rear. Then the crankcase is gravity cast not prezzo fosso . The geometry and layout is very important, and the crankcase is very strong with the cylinder that is part of the crankcase, so it’s a very strong structure that will allow us to get very high performance from that engine. Also the thermo-dynamics part is very advanced and there is lots of room to improve this engine for strong performance. We would also like to race with this engine, with this bike. My idea is to create a product that will allow private riders to race with this bike but go with an official factory team to World Superbike with the F4. This is my idea. The 675 can improve a lot.

Q: The 675 is said to produce 140 hp, right?

We are working on it, close to it. Now we are not yet at that target, we can do it and we are improving the friction, the fluid dynamics, etc. The structure and geometry is there to reach a very high target.

Q: What’s your main future project apart from superbike? What’s your child for the future?

We have the 4 and 3 cylinder and they are both new. They are starting their lifecycle and I think what we need to do is to improve performance because we need to show that we’re leaders in performance and technology. And so we’re going to need to modify totally the engines, what we could do as I mentioned before: fluid-dynamics optimisation, and now there are systems available to improve it. Now we are in connection with an engineering company that belongs to Piero Ferrari, H.P.E. (High Performance Engineering), and we are working on both engines to improve fluid-dynamic efficiency, thermo-dynamics efficiency and injection system. We are evaluating different positions of the injectors and so on. There are many losses in the crankcase due to the oil that is going around, and we are working on friction at the bottom of the engine. Lastly we are working on the electronics linked to the engine where you have a lot of room to improve, you have ride by wire and you have the opportunity to also improve the gearbox control, quick-shifter. Then also the electronics, we have the opportunity to do many things, this is very interesting.

Bordi and Castiglioni

Then in the 4-cylinder we have two families, naked and sport, and also in the 3-cylinder family. The 3-cylinder platform also allows us to develop something more in term of product positioning in the market. We are thinking about it, but it’s too early to talk. (See Giovanni Castiglioni interview for the 675 Motard project)

We used to say that the combination Castiglioni-Bordi-Castiglioni is a great team, we are perfectly integrated. We have a clear strategy about the company that is a very close link to the, I used to say Porsche model, Porsche business model. That we all like a lot. And I have no doubt that the company can easily grow from 5-10-15-20K bikes per year. I think in a short time, with these two platforms, 3-cyl and 4-cyl, it is easy to achieve 20k bikes per year. So the company can be profitable and we can create the right cash flow for new investment in the future and to look forward with great optimism.

Q: Financing and racing – how are you getting on with sponsors?

First of all I don’t think the WSB championship is very expensive. Secondly, you have the same budget where you improve your product and for racing, so there are lots of synergies. And in any case we should have R&D expenses and so somehow you are not increasing the expenses so much. In the meantime, I think that the brand is very strong so we can reach many sponsors. I think it will be very easy, so I think we can do it at zero cost and racing will not have any negative effect the financial situation.

Q: When do you think you can enter the championship?

It takes two or three years, but I think we can start. Now we are going to meet some possible sponsors and possible teams that can be interested to do it, but we are already in the process to do it.

Q: Back to the Desmodromic, I’m sure you are proud of how well it has done.

First race in ’86, then ’87 Battle of the Twins, then the Italian superbike championship, and in 1988 the first World Superbike race. So what I did is still the base of Ducati products, the 2-valve was the evolution of Taglioni’s scheme let me say, and the 4-valve Desmo is my project and Ducati are still living with these projects; one started in 1970 and the other in 1986, but they are doing well and I think Ducati did something incredible winning the MotoGP with the 4-valve Desmosedic,i but now it’s not so easy as Honda is investing a lot and also Yamaha.

Q: Tell us more about you and Tamburini?

In 1985 Castiglioni bought Ducati. First we made two bikes at the beginning together with Castiglioni. One was the Cagiva Alazzura, it was a Ducati Pantah with similar components but for Cagiva. For Ducati together with Tamburini we introduced the Paso 750 that was not a very successful bike because the engine was too small and the carburettor was not the right one for the bike. It was not performing very well and the body was very complicated because everything was connected by all the components. All the components were connected between them, the body fairing and tank was all connected and this is not very easy to assemble and not very easy to make with the right quality.

After that I made the 851 and the body was not very beautiful, the frame was great because the frame is the frame they are still using now. Traliccio (trellis) frame, but the body was not very beautiful. I did it personally and I’m not an expert at it (body design). But after that we improved the 851 when it became 888, and (Pierre) Terblanche made it a very beautiful bike, based still on the 851 but with some very interesting improvements.

After that, in the beginning of the ’90s, Tamburini was appointed to develop the new 888 which became the 916. He created one of the best bikes ever in the market and this was crucial to make Ducati grow and to make a very strong brand, so I started to work with Tamburini in 1986-87 to make the Paso and then again in ’90 to make the new 916.

Q: Two forces came together and the product was perfect?

Considering also Claudio (Castiglioni) that was crucial in any of these projects. And after this also a very interesting story, the Monster.

My idea as General Director of Ducati was that we were selling the hypersport, the 916, and we were selling the SuperSport which was the sport classico. To improve volume we should also have a less expensive bike with a different positioning, much easier for young riders and so on. That’s why I asked (Miguel) Galluzzi to think about something naked similar to, if you remember the Triumph in the famous movie with Marlon Brando, “The Wild One.” There is a famous picture with Brando in a leather jacket and a cap and a Triumph with a very big lamp, so I told him to try to make a Ducati like that with the big lamp. You see the big lamp and the shape of the bike and he did something incredible, and the Monster was another key product to develop the brand. It became a brand inside the brand. It has been very successful really.

We introduced the Monster in 1993 and at the beginning the price was a little bit high and we couldn’t be very aggressive. I also considered making the Monster Dark, the one with the matt black paint. I am the one that invented the matt black because now also the cars are like this. I didn’t want to reduce the price because the people that bought the normal one, we didn’t want to upset them. It would be something like 8K euro today so to go down to 7K euro we put one brake disc instead of two and I used one colour instead of the standard one. Then we removed the rear seat cover so cutting the cost as low as possible, the positioning was also 10% less and the success was incredible, we could fight the Japanese.

Q: Which is the same that you’ve done with the Brutale 920?

Same, identical, same strategy, this is exactly the same strategy as the Monster Dark at the time. What we should do is to let the people realise that MV Agusta is a niche product is positioned at the top but it’s also affordable, not just for rich people but for people that love MV.

Ducati Monster was much easier because it had an air-cooled engine with carburettor, very easy. But the Brutale, Claudio (Castiglioni) made something incredible because a naked with 4-cylinders, water-cooled and injection system really isn’t an easy game. They did something incredible. It’s beautiful. I can say that the F4 is beautiful, but the Brutale it’s… Both bikes, Claudio with Tamburini’s support did something that is incredible. I think these two bikes (the F4 and Brutale) are the best bikes ever in the world, this is my idea. Everything is perfect; everything has been designed in a perfect way.

And you know the Brutale lamp; this was Claudio’s idea from a Porsche headlamp. He was going to San Marino to Tamburini to develop the Brutale, and in the mirror he saw a Porsche. Because he was thinking which could be the headlamp of this bike and they thought about this crazy lamp which has been copied since by everybody. Everybody tried to make the same, but the Brutale is the first. And now today it’s much better and more beautiful than the Monster. And now when the 675 Brutale, the Brutale three-pistons come out, people will be impressed because it will have the same shape and same family feeling of Brutale and so will be amazing.

Q: Adrian Morton from CRC is now the man to look out for?

Paolo Bianchi is the General Director, and Morton is the key designer and he is very good because the F3 is also incredible, no? We are happy that Morton did it, and with the F3, he did something incredible, F4 before and now F3 and B3. The F3 is also really a star.

Q: What are your hopes for the future of MV Agusta?

My hope for the future of MV is that we reach at least 20K bikes a year and that we win the World Superbike championship. I think that’s enough, yes?

Related Reading
Giovanni Castiglioni Interview

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