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Fabio Taglioni: Motorcycle Engine Designer
By Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times

July 28 2001 - - Fabio Taglioni, the Italian designer whose revolutionary valve system helped to establish Ducati as the world's greatest manufacturer of performance motorcycles, has died. He was 80.

Known as "Dr. T," Taglioni died of a heart attack July 18 at his home in Bologna, Italy.

Taglioni was Ducati's design soul. His innovative engine is, in large part, the reason for the company's renown in the world of premier race bikes. Ducati has won more World Superbike races than all other motorcycle manufacturers combined, despite sales that account for only 1% of the market. The roots of Taglioni's legacy were planted in 1957, when he created the system that would come to define both Ducati and his career: the desmodromic valve, which eliminated conventional valve springs and allowed engines to rev higher and produce greater power.

Taglioni did not invent desmodromics; the concept had been around since the earliest days of the internal combustion engine. But he was the first to successfully apply it to motorcycles.

The 1957 debut of his 125 Desmo single revolutionized the industry. The desmo drive was initially used in Ducati's race models only, but it was incorporated into the company's street bikes in 1968 and has been used in every model built since 1980.

Taglioni made other advances in motorcycle mechanics in his Mach 250, which in the 1960s broke distance and speed records. In the early 1970s, he designed a 90-degree L-twin engine that contributed to two legendary racing victories: Paul Smart's win at the 1972 Imola race and Mike Hailwood's comeback victory in 1978 on the Isle of Man in Britain.

In 1989, Taglioni resigned from Ducati for health reasons, capping a 35-year-run of engineering and design innovation.

"His name was synonymous with Ducati," said motorcycle analyst Don Brown. "He came out of an era when there were only a handful of really talented designers in the motorcycle world--an era when individuals tended to make a bigger mark than in today's environment, where they get lost in the corporate staff and huge R&D budgets and you don't tend to know who designed the machine."

Taglioni was born Sept. 20, 1920, in Lugo, Italy. His father was an engineer who ran an agricultural machine repair business.

At 21, during World War II, Taglioni was drafted into the military and worked as an airplane and motorcycle mechanic. He received his industrial engineering degree from Bologna University in 1948 and began his career two years later as a design consultant with Ceccato, a motorcycle manufacturer that specialized in 75 cubic centimeter and 100cc sport bikes.

Two years later, he left to join the design team at the larger and better-known FB Mondial. Taglioni worked alongside the company's esteemed design chief, Alfonso Drusiani, developing plans for a twin-cylinder engine, but he left before it went into production. Believing that he would have more independence and also be able to design complete machines, not just individual components, he joined then-unknown Ducati to head its technical, planning and experimental departments in 1954.

In less than a year, Taglioni had his first success with his design for a single-cylinder 100cc engine. Known as the Marianna, the motorcycle won three successive titles, from 1955 to 1957, at the Motogiro road race and two others in the Milan-Taranto race.

Taglioni was not a racer himself. In his spare time he liked to relax by tending to his garden. He was especially fond of orchids. He was also a painter, whose favorite subject was ancient Middle Eastern architecture.

Taglioni is survived by his wife, Norina, and daughter, Piera.

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