Mario, when did you start working for Ducati?
I began in March of 1946. I was a mechanic and dealt with vehicle maintenance.
How old were you when you came to Bologna?
Twenty years old. The factory was still under repair from bombing during the war.
What was your first assignment in Bologna?
I made Cucciolos; I assembled ten of those "Puppies". Then the team was created and the races started.
So you were at the prototype department for the Cucciolo.
Yes, I worked on the pre-production series.
When did you start racing?
I think it was in 1947, with the Cucciolo, on the Via Emilia. And I won that race.
Later you became regional champion in Emilia.
Yes, in 1951. Then Ducati didn't even know what races were; they started racing seriously with the arrival of Taglioni. Then came Farné, about 1952; I called him "Mickey Mouse" since he looked a bit like a mouse.
You, with Ducati, also raced the Marianna in the Motogiros of 1955, 1956 and 1957.
I had my engine, it was fast and it did exactly as I wanted. But when Tartarini was in a race I had orders to wait for him and, if he stopped, I had to help him. Once he ended up in a ditch, and I surely couldn't follow him there. On another occasion, I even helped him reach Trieste.
You used to build your own engines. Did every rider manage his own?
No, not everyone. I made mines and I also repaired everyone else's, like
Spaggiari's, Villa's and Gandolfi's. Poor Gandolfi was a great racer but he used to destroy every engine. So I was forced to build them more sturdily.
Did you consider yourself a true rider?
Not really, since I always let others in the team pass me.
So you were something of a "sidekick".
Yes, but once I was given free reign in the Bolzano-Verbania race, and I won it. I knew the road well, since I used to test machines there. But my true calling is as a mechanic.
You also worked on the Torpedo, and for Hailwood's bike at the Isle of Man.
Mike HailwoodTM was a rider like few others. He was always happy, always answering "It's OK" to everything. He was a very modest man. And he used to win constantly.
Which departments did you work in at Ducati?
The racing department, the testing department and then, for six years, at the automobile department, where they used to assemble the Triumph cars. In the end I was promoted foreman of the engine-assembly department.
How was your relationship with Taglioni?
He was a very good man, but sometimes we had to ask him for some bit of money, because the funds were never enough. I'm talking about the period between 1965 and 1970.
Now you collaborate with NCR.
Yes, but I do it mostly for pleasure. Luckily, I have my pension now and my sons take care of me, so I don't have to work out of necessity; I go there just to help them, since I still have Ducati in my heart.
What do you remember about Farné?
The "mouse" was able to fine-tune an engine like no one else. I used to give him the parts and he was able to do anything he wanted with them. He had a perfect pitch when it came carburetors.
Tell us something about the history of the Cruiser: not many know about the problems it created.
I worked on it with Pedrini, the engine's designer. They wanted to add automatic gear at all costs, and that ate up all the engine's power. That bike really couldn't run. I proposed mechanical gear, but they told me it wasn't feasible. And you could keep up with a Cruiser on foot. When we were testing it in Turin, I could easily outrun it with a simple Lambretta scooter. I kept saying: "It doesn't run, we need to work on it". It was a beautiful bike, with automatic starter, direction lights and so on, but it couldn't run: automatic transmission was a real problem. Eventually, the Cruiser's failure resulted in 920 people being fired from Ducati. That bike was an unfortunate choice. But Ducati went on.
In Ducati they still talk about the time you were racing with the Cucciolo and you lost a bearing.
I was on the Milano-Taranto road; I filled the tank in Florence and I bought some fruit to eat on the road. In Siena the engine broke; I leaned the bike on a milestone and changed some parts, but the bearings had expanded because of the heat. I didn't have oil with me, so I lubricated the parts with a banana. And I managed to reach the finishing line.