Massimo Tamburini 1943-2014

Revered Italian designer of sportbike icons like the Ducati 916 and one of Bimota's founding members succumbs to lung cancer

Jon Urry photo

Italian media are reporting that revered Italian motorcycle designer Massimo Tamburini passed away last night at the age of 70. It has been rumored for months that Tamburini had been diagnosed with lung cancer (ironically the same illness that befell his boss at Ducati and MV Agusta, Claudio Castiglioni—both were heavy smokers) and had been hospitalized.

Although Tamburini is most known for his most famous design work on Ducati's iconic 916, Tamburini's first mark in motorcycling was when he formed a small company in 1966 specializing in air conditioning units alongside his friends Valerio Bianchi and Giuseppe Morri. With the first two letters of their surnames accounting for the company's name—BiMoTa—the company took a turn to the motorcycle side when Tamburini crashed his modified Honda CB750 at Misano and broke three ribs. The crash angered his colleagues, with Bianchi leaving the company, and finances forcing Morri and Tamburini to move the company to another area. But after thinking about why he crashed his Honda, Tamburini came up with a novel concept that would change the sportbike landscape. "At that time I said to Morri, 'Wouldn't it be nice to open a company that would take the Japanese bikes — which had a good motor but very bad chassis — and make them good?' He also had a passion for bikes and had seen what I had done to the MV and said, 'OK, let's try it,'" recalled Tamburini. Bimota Meccanica was formed in late 1972.

In 1985, Tamburini was introduced to Castiglioni, who had founded Cagiva from his family's metal-working company and built it up enough to purchase the struggling Ducati marque. In looking to create a motorcycle that would help resurrect the company, Castiglioni combined the engineering genius of Massimo Bordi (who now is part of MV Agusta) and the creative flair of Tamburini. The result—the iconic Ducati 916—would forever change how sportbikes were styled and even designed. For an in-depth biography of Tamburini, check out Jon Urry's revealing story on the designer here.

Although Castiglioni would help Tamburini achieve continued fame by continuing his tenure at the CRC (Centre Researche Cagiva, since renamed the Castiglioni Research Center after his death in 2011) where he designed motorcycles for the newly resurrected MV Agusta brand that Castiglioni had purchased, the two had a falling out when MV Agusta was purchased back by Castiglioni from Harley-Davidson in 2010 (after H-D had purchased MV two years earlier). Tamburini had a binding no-compete contract with MV that expired on December 31, 2011, but unfortunately he was not able to continue his work.