Leopoldo Tartarini was born in Bologna on 10th August 1932 into a family in which motorcycles had always played a special role. His father had raced on various makes of bike such as Frera and Guzzi, for whom he had also been a dealer for several years before switching, together with his son, to Ducati.
As a boy Leopoldo started racing in the minor categories, giving him the opportunity to gain his international federation license. He was so successful that he was soon signed up by top Italian motorcycle manufacturers as a professional rider. Although his speciality was the ‘long-distance tour', he competed in many other kinds of race too. His greatest successes can be summed up as follows:
1952 - First overall in the "Milan-Taranto" on a bike of his own design:
the frame was self-built and the power was provided by a twin-cylinder
650 cc BSA engine.
1953 - First overall in the "Motogiro" (organised by Bologna's daily newspaper, the Stadio) on an official Benelli; first in his category and second overall in the "Milan-Taranto", on a Benelli of course.
1954 - First overall in the "Motogiro", again on an official Benelli. At the end of the season he moved to Ducati.
1955 - Riding a Ducati, he was lying first in his category in the "Motogiro" when, close to Perugia and with a massive 24-minute lead over his closest rival, he had a terrible accident that ended his career. The crash was so severe that he risked being permanently paralysed from the waist down.
The violent impact against the road surface had severely compressed his spine. For three long months he lost all feeling in his lower limbs. Every day (from April to September) he would stick pins in his legs to see if any sensation had returned, but the outcome was always negative. At last, though, improvement began to be noticed and as the months went by he gradually reacquired the ability to walk. This in itself was a huge success, as only months beforehand the doctors had predicted that he would never walk again.
His recovery, though, was only partial and he was unable to pass the compulsory
medical that the Italian Motorcycling Federation required of each rider at the end of the season. His professional career was effectively finished as he was expressly forbidden from taking part in any competition. Because the medicals were held only once a year, in December, and because he had no intention of waiting idly until the next one, he decided to fill up his free time by organising a long-distance motorcycle trip.
His career was also blocked in another sense: the big, long-distance
road races in which Ducati had been so successful had had their day: now
they were a thing of the past. Tartarini, in fact, had joined Ducati to
take the 175 cc, designed by famed engineer Fabio Taglioni, to re-take
the Motogiro title.
Once well enough, he dedicated his energies to the Ducati dealership - which catered to customers in Bologna and its province - he'd opened with his father at the end of 1954, when he'd become an official Ducati rider.
Oddly, he was still under contract and the money was extremely good: he
pocketed 1 million, 600 thousand Italian lire per season (a princely sum back in 1956). For this reason, and in keeping with his own ethics (he felt uncomfortable about taking a salary without actually working for Ducati and the contract was valid until the end of 1957), he was forced to undertake a ‘publicity road trip', an extraordinary, pioneering journey across the world that lasted over a year. Initially he was supposed to go no further than Turkey, then the trip was extended all the way to Cape Town and then it metamorphosed to become a round-the-world journey. He'd hoped to complete it in as little time as possible: going to Turkey would only have taken a few weeks. In the end it took a whole year to complete the endless miles.
After his World Tour his riding days were effectively over. Tartarini
became more sedentary and his final adventures were almost all
technological in nature.
He continued to run the Ducati dealership until 1960, when he decided that the time had come to make the leap from Ducati dealer to motorcycle maker. Hence the arrival of the Italjet brand, which enjoyed considerable success, also on the racing front.
In the end he passed the running of the business on to his son Massimo and focussed on the design and construction of new motorcycles, the concept and line of which always featured a considerable dose of originality. Models that were subsequently produced under other brand names.