Ducati Soul Mate Franco Farne Passes at 80

Franco Farnè, Ducati 125, 1958
Franco Farnè, Ducati 125, 1958
Franco Farnè, Ducati 125, 1958
Franco Farnè, Ducati 125, 1958

With racers always making the headlines, we sometimes forget about the people off the track – the engineers, technicians, mechanics and test riders.

These are the folks that can ultimately make or break a team, and many times success arrives due to positive thinking from behind the scenes.

Known for its close-knit family, Ducati recently lost one of its most valuable behind-the-scenes asset – Franco Farne. The 80-year-old passed away the first week of March in Bologna.

Farne played a major role in some of Ducati’s most infamous wins; working closely with the iconic Fabio Taglioni of Desmodromic fame, Farne was instrumental in Mike Hailwood’s victory at the 1978 Isle of man TT, and Paul Smart’s win at the 1972 Imola 200.

Following his death, Ducati released this touching remembrance, loaded with Farne’s history with the Ducati brand (a photo gallery follows, courtesy of Ducati):

Franco Farnè, 1966
Franco Farnè, 1966

The world of motorcycling and everyone linked to Ducati is grieving a sad loss. Franco Farnè (15 October 1934) has died at the age of 80; he was one of the most important personalities of the Italian motorcycle company; with passion, skill and courage, he contributed to the sporting and technical successes of Ducati.

To many fans, mechanics and riders at Ducati, Franco Farnè was known simply as Franco, a shy man who wasn’t very fond of being in the public eye but who never held back when it came to taking Ducati to another victory.

Franco Farnè was also a race rider and even more importantly the head mechanic of the Ducati Racing Team as well as the right-hand man of Fabio Taglioni.

He started at Ducati in 1951 (his mother gave up her job there so that he could take her place) and straight away showed a natural talent as a mechanic, starting off as a young test rider for the Cucciolo. When Fabio Taglioni joined Ducati in 1954, Franco was immediately taken on by the engineer from Lugo, right from the launch of the Gran Sport Marianna.

Franco raced for Ducati at the Motogiro d’Italia, the Milano-Taranto and at the first events on city circuits; he shone as a valuable rider and mechanic, going on to win the Italian Junior Championships in 1956 and 1957 with the Ducati 100 and in 1958 with the Ducati 125 Desmo. Farnè was the first Italian to win at Daytona, on 5 March 1959 with his Ducati 250, and he won a Coppa Oro Shell event at Imola in the 125cc category in 1961.

Farnè was also behind the physical development of the first Desmodromic system together with the mechanics Mazza, Recchia and Armaroli, in 1956.

During the first half of the 1960s, his career as a rider was sacrificed to become a test rider and head mechanic for Ducati in the United States (the 350 displacement was actually developed by Franco himself in the USA) and for the Spanish Mototrans branch. He became the reference man in the company on prototypes and race bikes preparation. Among other things, Franco ran a private team for Ducati called the “Speedy Gonzales” team, owing to the long periods he had spent in Spain, his diminutive size and his ability to speak Spanish, while at that time the Ducati staff had affectionately given him the nickname of “il topo” (the mouse).

Farnè was also behind the development of the first twin-cylinder race models, the successes at Imola, the collaboration with the NCR racing team (during the period from 1975 to 1980) and Ducati’s participation in the 1978 Tourist Trophy as well as the development of the Pantah engine, the Trellis frame, the victories at the Paris-Dakar all the way to Superbike World Championship glory. Even though Franco retired in 1999, he never left the world of Ducati and the races, where he was always accompanied by his wife Vanna.

The list of riders who had the pleasure and good fortune to work with him is impressive: first of all Bruno Spaggiari, with whom he shared a brotherly friendship and also Mike Hailwood, Ricardo Fargas, Paul Smart, Franco Uncini, Victor Palomo, Benjamin Grau, Salvador Canellas, Virginio Ferrari, Mario Lega, Tony Rutter, Davide Tardozzi, Marco Lucchinelli, Raymond Roche, Giancarlo Falappa, Doug Polen, Carl Fogarty, Troy Corser and Pier Francesco Chili.

Ducati 101, 1995 Franco Farnè, Claudio Domenicali, Gianluigi Mengoli
Ducati 101, 1995
Franco Farnè, Claudio Domenicali, Gianluigi Mengoli

From 1986 to 1999 Franco Farnè covered the position of technician and head mechanic for the “Scuderia Ducati” (the racing division), developing the 4 valve water-cooled engine project right from its beginning. From the first Ducati 748 launched in 1986 to the 851, 888, 916 and 996, Farnè’s experience was a determining factor in the lead up to the team’s first legendary victories in the World Superbike championships with Lucchinelli, Roche, Falappa, Polen, Fogarty, Corser and Chili.

Farnè was a precious colleague not only for Taglioni but also for other important names in the Ducati world – such as Massimo Bordi, Gianluigi Mengoli, Giorgio Nepoti and Rino Caracchi of the NCR team, the brothers Claudio and Gianfranco Castiglioni and Massimo Tamburini, right up to Filippo Preziosi and Claudio Domenicali.

Ducati mourns the loss of one of the company’s most iconic men, one of the true pillars of Ducati history from the first racing division to Ducati Corse, as well as a dear friend for the whole company and for all Ducatisti. Few people in the company have managed to do so much and to give so much.

The thoughts of Ducati’s CEO, Claudio Domenicali, and the whole company go out to his family.

“I first met Franco Farnè when I joined Ducati in 1991. He was head of the racing division, a legendary figure who already won our first Superbike World title,” recalls the CEO OF Ducati Motor Holding, Claudio Domenicali, “His tenacity, determination and belief in the company have been a great example and an incentive for me. I will always remember him with the greatest esteem.”

Franco Farne Photo Gallery