Desmo Show

A visual history of desmodromic valve actuation.

Desmo Show: Ducati’s legendary 125 GP three cam Desmo
Desmo Show: Ducati’s legendary 125 GP three cam Desmo

Where would you expect a show about the history of desmodromic valve actuation to take place if not Bologna? But Ducati wasn’t the driving force behind this comprehensive, well-managed initiative; rather, it was put together by one man: Dr. Gigi Mengoli.

Sure, Mengoli still is in a top position at Ducati, being chief project engineer and manager of design for production engines. But he did this show on his own because he loves the desmo concept and wanted to pay homage to all who contributed to its evolution—from the men at Peugeot who built the L76 four-cylinder based on the engine that won the 1912 Indianapolis 500 to the 2.5-liter Mercedes W196 inline-Eight by Daimler-Benz Chief Project Engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut that dominated Formula One in 1954 and ’55 to the works of the great Dr. Fabio Taglioni, Mengoli’s teacher and inspiration.

Mengoli contacted every company that, at various levels, had something to do with desmodromic valve-actuation systems, and most responded enthusiastically. Not all, though: Cosworth ignored Mengoli’s call, yet I know the British outfit had desmo DFV/DFY F-1 V-Eight mules.

A big help came from Henk Cloosterman, a Dutch engineer and enthusiast who has collected 870 desmo documents, patents and models. Incredible! There were other surprises, too, such as a Ferrari V-12 cylinder head with five radial desmo valves per cylinder, and a pair of Toyota Singles, otherwise identical except one had pneumatic valves and the other had desmo valves to compare ultimate potential. The desmo won.

This history of desmodromic valve actuation is on display in a country school turned into a museum in the little village of Prunaro on the eastern outskirts of Bologna. The show will be open on weekends until early November.

BMW desmo cylinder head
Before building the S1000RR Four, BMW tried to extract more power from its Boxer Twin with this desmo cylinder head
BMW R1 Desmo Boxer
BMW supplied pictures of its desmo Boxer Twin
Cross-section drawing of the Mercedes W196
Cross-section drawing of the Mercedes W196 2.5-liter F-1 inline-Eight
Cutaway of the original Ducati 851 four-valve desmo
A cutaway of the original Ducati 851 four-valve desmo. Gigi Mengoli was able to turn a theoretical concept into working mechanical components
Detail of the BMW desmo cylinder head
Detail of the BMW desmo cylinder head
Further detail of the massive BMW desmo head
Further detail of the massive BMW desmo head
Toyota's 300cc desmo Single
Toyota's 300cc desmo Single
Dr. Taglioni developed this air-cooled desmo
Dr. Taglioni developed this air-cooled desmo 3.0-liter V-Eight for F-1 from his bevel-gear 750SS
Ducati's legendary 125 GP three-cam desmo
Ducati's legendary 125 GP three-cam desmo
Casey Stoner?s Desmosedici and the 1199 Panigale
Ducati's most successful and latest desmos. Casey Stoner's world-championship-winning Desmosedici and the 1199 Panigale
Ducati runaway Ruggero Mazza
Ducati runaway Ruggero Mazza brought desmo secrets to MV Agusta for this 1959 125 GP racer
Dutch enthusiast Henk Cloosterman contributed his collection of desmodromic devices
Dutch enthusiast Henk Cloosterman contributed his collection of desmodromic devices to the show
More from the Henk Cloosterman collection
More from the Henk Cloosterman collection
Cloosterman provided hundreds of desmo-related items
Cloosterman provided hundreds of desmo-related items
Two more examples from the Cloosterman collection
Two more examples from the Cloosterman collection
Gigi Mengoli poses with his Ducati 851, the first four-valve desmo engine
Gigi Mengoli poses with his Ducati 851, the first four-valve desmo engine
Mercedes W196 racer, the Ducati Desmosedici and the 1199 Panigale
The best in desmo history. Mercedes W196 racer, the Ducati Desmosedici and the 1199 Panigale
Toyota single-cylinder prototypes, desmo valves on the left, pneumatic on the right
Toyota single-cylinder prototypes, desmo valves on the left, pneumatic on the right. They each displaced 300cc, one-tenth of a 3.0-liter V-10