March 2, 2021

Claudio Castiglioni, Motorbike Executive, Dies at 64

MV Agusta, the company he acquired in 1991, announced his death. The cause was not given, but Mr. Castiglioni had been ill with cancer.

An executive with Cagiva, his family’s metalworking company, Mr. Castiglioni had a passion for fast, beautiful bikes that he expressed in a frenzy of acquisitions, beginning in the late 1970s. One by one he bought prestigious but struggling brands like Ducati, Husqvarna and Moto Morini, transforming Cagiva into the world’s fifth-largest manufacturer of motorcycles by the late 1980s.

In 1991, Cagiva acquired the MV Agusta trademark. The company, an offshoot of the aviation company founded in 1923 by Count Giovanni Agusta, carried enormous prestige as the winner of dozens of world racing titles, including 17 straight GP (500 cc) titles, but it had dropped out of racing and stopped manufacturing motorcycles by the 1980s.

Once in possession of his new companies, Mr. Castiglioni challenged some of Italy’s foremost designers to develop stylish motorcycles that could win the hearts of consumers by proving themselves on the international racing circuit.

Cagiva’s 650 cc Elefant won the Paris-Dakar rally twice, in 1990 and 1994. After acquiring Ducati from the Italian government in 1985, Mr. Castiglioni oversaw the development of the 851 and 916 models, which dominated the World Superbike Championships for years.

The motorcycles caught the public’s fancy with their styling as well as their performance. The Ducati 916 and the MV Agusta F4 were both included in “The Art of the Motorcycle,” an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998.

Claudio Castiglioni was born in Varese, where his father, Giovanni, founded Cagiva, a metalworking company whose name fused the first two letters of Castiglioni, Giovanni and Varese. The company produced a wide variety of small metal parts and fittings.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Castiglioni and his older brother, Gianfranco, began producing and racing motorcycles, a diversification that picked up speed when the company acquired a Harley-Davidson plant in Schiranna, near Varese, and began manufacturing street motorcycles with two-stroke engines between 125 cc and 350 cc. In 1983, using Ducati engines, it began producing motorcycles with four-stroke engines between 350 cc and 1,000 cc.

Besides the Elefant, named after the Cagiva logo of an elephant with upraised trunk, the company also produced the Mito, a 125 cc sports bike that was extremely popular in the 1990s.

In 1985, with Ducati on the verge of collapse, it acquired the company and its manufacturing plant in Bologna.

Mr. Castiglioni concentrated on updating the style and performance of Ducati’s motorcycles. The Monster, designed by Miguel Angel Galluzzi and introduced in 1993, became the first in a series of “naked” motorcycles with exposed engine and frame.

At Mr. Castiglioni’s behest, Ducati’s chief engineer, Massimo Bordi, developed a high-performance, ultra-efficient four-valve desmodromic cylinder head, the Desmoquattro, that propelled Ducati motorcycles to the lead in international races. Designed by Massimo Tamburini and Sergio Robbiano, and introduced in 1994, the 916 gave Ducati a new, modern face.

Poor performance by Cagiva’s nonmotorcycle divisions forced Mr. Castiglioni to sell Ducati and Moto Morini to the Texas Pacific Group, an American private equity firm, in 1996.

Turning his attention to MV Agusta, Mr. Castiglioni put Mr. Tamburini to work on the F4, a 750 cc bike introduced in 1997. Equipped with an engine designed in collaboration with Ferrari, it reached a top speed of 175 m.p.h. A deluxe 200 horsepower version, the F4CC — the CC stands for Claudio Castiglioni — was introduced in 2008 with a price tag of $120,000 and a top speed of 195 m.p.h.

The company also produced the Brutale, a naked bike.

Once again, Mr. Castiglioni ran into difficulties. In 2004 he sold MV Agusta to Proton Holdings, a Malaysian company run by a motorcycle enthusiast, for 70 million euros, or $54 million. Husqvarna, a leading manufacturer of dirt bikes, struggled after being acquired in 1986 by Cagiva from the vacuum cleaner company Electrolux, and in 2007 Mr. Castiglioni sold it to BMW.

MV Agusta, in the meantime, was finding its way back to Mr. Castiglioni. After being sold to an Italian investment holding company for one euro, it was acquired by Harley-Davidson, which sold it in 2010 to Mr. Castiglioni, whose son Giovanni now runs it.

At his death, the company was developing the F3, a three-cylinder 675 cc successor to the F4, and a deluxe version, the F3 Serie Oro.

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