Ducati Motorcycle Museum - Inside the Bird's Nest

From Cucciolo to Desmosedici, Hailwood to Stoner, the Ducati Museum is home to the collective racing history of the famous marque.

Despite the racing success that the company has endured through the years, it wasn't until June 12, 1998 that the Museo Ducati, or Ducati museum officially opened its doors during the inaugural World Ducati Week. Occupying nearly 11,000 square-feet, the museum's aim is to preserve Ducati's racing heritage - even from before the Ducati brothers started making motorcycles. An interesting thing to note is that the museum makes no excuses for the lack of road-going production machines within its walls. The company built its name on racing and race victories and it's this pedigree that deserves to be preserved.

The brothers Bruno, Marcello and Adriano Cavalieri Ducati founded the company in 1926, originally making radio components. By 1935 they were able to erect a new factory in Borgo Panigale, but during World War II the area was struck by Allied bombs (the remains of the original war-torn building still exist today beside the new factory). Turning its attention away from radios and toward inexpensive transportation for the masses post-war, the Cucciolo, or puppy, is credited as being Ducati's first motorcycle. And thus started the foundation for the company's future legacy.

The Big Red Helmet
Since the company made its name on the track, that influence was carried over to the museum. It's arranged as a giant illuminated racetrack (which is more oval than road course) that houses nearly all historic models spanning five decades. Adjacent to the track are seven rooms - each providing a more detailed look into that decade. In the middle of the track (the infield, if you will) sits a giant helmet with theater seating that serves as a spectator area.

A Look At The Rooms
The obvious place to start when looking at a company's history is the beginning. In this case, 1946 and the Cucciolo mentioned earlier. While little more than a bicycle with a two-horsepower engine attached, the enormous success of this machine kept the company afloat after the war. Not only was it a popular commuting tool, but it also won numerous races like the 18,000 kilometer Paris-Tokyo ride in 1949 and the Six Day International off-road competition in 1951. This to go along with speed records set throughout the '50s. Other notables in this room are simple engine sketches, what appears to be a bicycle frame, but what is in fact a Cucciolo frame, as evidenced by the one on display.

While the Cucciolo won its share of races in its time, it wasn't until the 100 and 125 Gran Sport, more affectionately called The Marianna, that Ducati planted its name in racing circles. And this is the focus of room two. Fabio Taglioni joined the company in 1954 as an engineer, but his aesthetic sense and mechanical prowess built a machine that not only looked timeless, but cleaned house at the racetrack as well. Originally 100cc, the Gran Sport family would eventually grow 25 more cubic centimeters and be the first motorcycle to incorporate Ducati's now signature Desmodromic valve actuation.

As the '60s and '70s rolled around Ducati decided to build larger engines, showcased in room three. Road-going units were still single-cylinders, but displacement grew steadily: 250cc and 350cc units eventually grew to 450cc. Racing success came with the Mark 3D, which became the first production motorcycle with Desmodromic valves. In the Grand Prix scene, twin-cylinder engines were starting to make their mark, as evidenced by the centerpiece of the room: the 250GP machine raced by a young Mike Hailwood.

Room four, or, "The Bevel Room," is where Ducati's modern racing history starts to take shape. The early '70s saw many firsts, most notable of which is the first engine above 450cc and the first time the company produced a 90-degree V-twin layout. Both of these were achieved with the 750SS and racing victories were soon to follow - Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari took a historic one-two finish in its debut at the Imola 200. The 750SS would later become the 900SS and it was again Mike Hailwood who gave the SS its most famous victory, coming out of retirement in 1978 to race - and win - the Isle of Man TT. Hailwood's 900SS is the centerpiece of this room.

Many features from room five, The Pantah Family, are still recognizable in today's machines. A departure from the bevel drives, the 500cc two-valve Pantah engine used belts to drive the camshafts, making the machines more reliable and more suited toward competition. The engine would grow throughout the years, eventually becoming the 750 F1, and be housed in many different chassis - the trellis frame being the most successful. Toward the end of its life, the Pantah spawned the Monster, ST2 and Supersport families of Ducati's road-going models.

The sixth room really needs no introduction. Here lies the machines that brought Ducati World Superbike fame and glory, starting with the 851 on through to the 1198 of today. As one of only two European manufacturers to compete in the inaugural World Superbike championship in 1988, it was the only one to use a twin-cylinder engine housed in a trellis frame. The venerable 888 won the title in '90, '91 and '92, but in '94 the timeless 916 was introduced and utterly dominated the championship for the rest of the decade in the hands of Carl Fogarty and Troy Corser.

A fitting end to the museum, room seven was opened in 2004 to honor the Desmosedici and the company's return to Grand Prix racing the year prior. On display are trophies and plaques, with Loris Capirossi's and Casey Stoner's Grand Prix machines taking center stage in the room.

A Lasting Legacy
Without a doubt the Ducati museum gives a comprehensive look at the company's racing history, and yet from the main lobby of the factory the museum is easy to miss. Fortunately, there are signs strewn across the main thoroughfare just outside the factory. If you ever find yourself in Italy on the A13 Autostrada near Bologna, follow the signs toward Borgo Panigale and experience the collection for yourself.