Giuliano Maoggi is the man with determination and a cigarette between his teeth on a Ducati Marianna 125cc in one of the most famous images of the Gran Fondo races. This picture was taken in 1956 when Maoggi won overall 1st place in the "Motogiro d'Italia", a victory that played a large part in saving Ducati from possible closure. As a result of his look, personality and riding style, Maoggi was nicknamed "il duca italiano" (the Italian duke).
The notoriety of the Italian resistance races was one of the main reasons motorcycling was so popular in Italy in the 1950s. The most famous races were the "Motogiro d'Italia" and the "Milano-Taranto", two races that crossed the Italian peninsula, allowing people across the country to learn about the people and the motorcycles involved. A triumph in the "Motogiro d'Italia" meant fame for the pilot and increased sales for the motorcycle company. In the mid 1950s, when the Managing Director of Ducati, Giuseppe Montano, hired the now famous engineer, Fabio Taglioni, it was specifically to make a bike that would win the Motogiro
and save the company from closure.
Taglioni's first goal was to create a motorcycle that could be produced quickly and at a limited cost for the company. Just a couple months later in February 1955, the prototype of the 100cc Gran Sport, commonly known as Marianna, had its first trial run on the track in Modena where its high speed pleasantly surprised the mechanics and the pilots. After a number of other trials, the bike was officially presented on March 5, 1955.
There were 37 100cc Gran Sport motorcycles competing in the Motogiro d'Italia, April 17-25, 1955. Out of the 200 pilots that contacted Ducati to participate in the race, 25 were chosen for the official Ducati team (while independent pilots rode the remaining 12 Ducatis). The Bolognese company presented a strong team including now well-known names such as Gianni Degli Antoni, Leopoldo Tartarini, Francesco Villa, Antonio Graziano, Ettore Scafandri, Franco Farnè e Giuliano Maoggi. Degli Antoni was the overall winner, followed by Villa,
Fantuzzi, Spaggiari, Maoggi and Scafandri.
The success in this race guaranteed the future for Taglioni and Ducati, and led to the creation of a prestigious limited series of Mariannas that were appreciated by the public and gave the company the finances to continue operation. The Borgo Panigale factory was instilled with a passion and optimism about the future.
A couple of weeks later Taglioni decided to create a slightly more powerful version of the Gran Sport, a 125cc, that Maoggi was to use in the Milano-Taranto race. Despite Maoggi's added power, Degli Antoni and his 100cc Marianna won the race again, while Maoggi finished in 21st place. Taglioni took this loss as a motive to throw himself into a new model: an overhead double camshaft. The new 125cc was ready for action in 1956, just in time for Giuliano Maoggi e Maranghi to participate in the 125cc category of the Motogiro, while Gandossi and Villa stayed on the 100 cc.
Having achieved such excellent results in 1955, Eugenio Lolli led the team again. This time, on the 125cc, Giuliano Maoggi had a spectacular ride, coming in ahead of all of his competitors (even those with a larger engine capacity) and winning the Motogiro. Even the pilot himself was pleasantly surprised by his results:
"I don't even remember how many laps I won; I just remember that I had a fantastic time in the Motogiro! When I was named the overall winner, I didn't even get go keep the best prize; I held the gold cup for a brief instant before I gave it to Cardinal Lercaro, a high-level prelate from Bologna at the time. I also remember that during that Motogiro someone played a dirty trick on me... There I was in Montacatini at the start of the last lap when I realized that my rear wheel was completely flat. Fortunately I realized in time and was able to fix it, enter the race, and even catch up with my competitor, Maranghi, who could have stolen my glory. Later, a Ducati mechanic told me that it was one of Maranghi's so called private mechanics that had sabotaged my bike."
Maoggi's successful finish gave Ducati the necessary fame and prestige to pull the Bolognese company out of crisis. From then on, Ducati was only indirectly involved in competitions; instead of an official Ducati team, they put together separate racing services made up of mechanics and technicians that travel in a Volkswagen van designed with the Ducati colours.
Originally published in Passione Ducati encyclopedia by Altaya/De Agostini and reprinted with permission of the original publisher.