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Gian Luigi Capellino

Gian Luigi Capellino could be defined as the first Ducati’s frame expert designer.

Capellino got his first patent for a spring frame.

Ad for a Cucciolo engine fitted to one of the frames designed by Capellino.

A peculiar Capellino’s product obtained by attaching a trailer to a frame designed by him.

Capellino is man responsible for the first real Ducati motorcycle.

The simple and economic scooter that Capellino designed for Ducati.

 
 

Immediately after the Second World War Ducati's owners took over a project that was originally created by the Turin based company, Siata: the Cucciolo. The project was a "mini-motorcycle" commonly known as the Cucciolo (Puppy in Italian).The Cucciolo was one of the first mini-motorcycles sold in Italy and the only small cc four-stroke engine on its own, to be attached to a regular bicycle.

The Cucciolo is a totally different product than what the Società Scientifica Radio Brevetti (alias Ducati) was used to making. Up until the Cucciolo, this Borgo Panigale company made radio-electronic-optical-mechanical products, many of which were used in wartime. After the Second World War, the company worked to salvage what they could of their factory and to figure out what direction they should move in. The Cucciolo came at just the right moment, giving Ducati its first experience with motorcycles and the reason to move away from war-related products. The mini-motorcycle was a great idea in post-war Italy; with the country undergoing major reconstruction, the Cucciolo provided many Italians a simple, efficient, economic and versatile means of transportation.

Few details are known about Ducati in the post-war years because of the many changes and the lack of written documentation. One of the famous names and faces of Ducati in that period was defenitely Gian Luigi Capellino, the man from Genoa who invented the innovative frame and suspension.

Gian Luigi Capellino is responsible for the creation of the first real Ducati motorcycle. Between the two World Wars he worked as an accountant for Shell in its Genoa based offices. Seeing his passion for and familiarity with machines, Capellino soon moved up in the company and became the Technical Director. In order to become the Technical Director it was necessary to have passion; in addition to passion, for Capellino, it was a real calling. The experienced gained in this position at Shell brought him towards his first patents. At the beginning of WWII, it was no longer safe for Capellino's family to remain in Genoa because the city was constantly being bombed.

Capellino sent his family to the small town of Ormea (Cn), located in the mountains, 200 kilometres from Genoa. Since he couldn't leave his job at Shell, Capellino stayed in Genoa and went to see his family as often as possible. The trip to Ormea was much more difficult than it is today and Capellino's only means of transportation was an old-fashioned bicycle! This was not a very comfortable situation for 200 km of mountain roads (some weren't even paved!). Capellino didn't have to think twice to improve his situation; he began developing a spring frame to ease the trip. In the meantime, Shell was forced to close. To make ends meet, Capellino decided to produce and sell his spring frame bicycle. He made a great profit from the bikes, (he made and sold 11 bikes) and continued working to create an updated version that he then patented.

In 1945, Capellino got his hands on one of the first versions of the Siata Cucciolo and began working on combining the Cucciolo engine with his spring frame. The combination made it both easy and fast to climb up steep mountain roads. With it's centrally located engine, Capellino's bicycle was beginning to look like a real motorcycle! In the fall of 1945, Capellino was riding a complete and functioning prototype that he completed on his own. He took his prototype to Siata in Turin where he met directly with Farinelli. As legend has it, Farinelli took Capellino's bike out for a test ride; an hour later, his colleagues back at Siata were worried that something horrible had happened to him... Farinelli came back with a big smile and confessed that he was just having too much fun to come back! Capellino opened a small workshop where he continued to study, build and patent new spring bicycle frames. In the summer of 1946, one of Capellino's innovative frames entered into production at Aero Caproni (an airplane factory near Trento that began producing motorcycles after WWII through 1964) with a modern telescopic fork. The Capellino-Caproni spring frame was also used on the Borgo Panigale factory line. Thanks to Capellino, the Cucciolo found the perfect frame and it became a real mini-motorcycle, well known in Italy as a Cucciolo CCC (Cicli Capellino Caproni).

After his death, Capellino left his relatives with many designs, documents and letters from his years of inventing. One of these was a letter of intent from Ducati sent in October 1949 in which Ducati was trying to learn about the relationship between Capellino and Caproni, with the idea to eventually produce Capellino frames from within the Borgo Panigale factory... In the late 1940s, Capellino, always a volcanic inventor, continued to come up with new ingenious projects based on the Ducati 60 cc. Some of these ideas included a number of 3-wheelers (some even with a removable trailer) and a great scooter with a tubular frame and rear shock absorber installed under the foot-rest.

It was this very scooter that Ducati was interested in. They even sent a couple of engineers to Genoa to check out and test the prototype of Capellino's new scooter. The above-mentioned letter was dated October 11, 1949, and it approved production of Capellino's scooter. Unfortunately, things didn't go exactly as planned. Instead, in 1952, the Ducati Cruiser 175 was released. The Cruiser was incredibly modern for its time but, it was also complex and expensive and the market wasn't interested. The Cruiser was the first real fiasco in Ducati's motorcycling history. Perhaps if Ducati had produced Capellino's 60 cc scooter, both simple and economical, things would have come out differently. The world will never know.

From here, Ducati and the clever man from Genoa each followed their own separate paths. Ducati continued to produce the Ducati 60 with the Capellino's frame. In May 1950, Ducati also stopped collaborating with Aero Caproni. Although no longer with Ducati, Capellino continued to design motorcycles on his own, now designing the engine too! This was one of the most daring and ambitious ideas of his career and resulted in the Baio, a motorcycle whose engine and frame were covered by Capellino's patents. For two years, the IMN (Industrie Meccaniche Napoletane) built the Baio. Like Ducati, IMN had also been bought out by the IRI (Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale). When the IMN factory closed, the Baio disappeared prematurely. Capellino went on to design a new frame for Siata that was used on the popular light-motorcycle Dinghy. Capellino continued studying, designing and building until he was 79 years old. In fact, his last patent came out in 1991.

Without a doubt, Capellino's ingenious creations have made him a fundamental part of the beginning of Ducati's motorcycle history.

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