Chance meeting with a champion


In early June, I learned with sadness of the passing of Carlo Ubbiali at his home near Bergamo North Italy.

As a young man, I saw Ubbiali ride in the Ulster Grand Prix.

He won his first ‘Ulster,’ the 125cc event, on a Mondial in 1950 at the age of 21. His last UGP wins were in 1960 in the 125cc and 250cc classes, on MVs, at record speeds. Even today, he is well remembered here in Northern Ireland.

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In September 1996, along with my wife Joan and brother Eamon, we were driving through Italy to Moto Guzzi’s 95th anniversary celebrations.

In Bergamo, on our way to the shop of Angelo Tadini – who was then the only source of spares for prewar Moto Guzzis – we got lost in an industrial estate.

I told my brother to stop so I could call at a car showroom to ask directions. I found myself talking to a small, thin well-dressed gent; after a few moments I thought I had seen his face before, I asked his name: “Carlo Ubbiali” he replied!

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You can imagine how surprised I was standing beside on of my heroes. It was only then, when casting my eyes around the showroom walls, I saw the FIM World Championship framed certificates.

Carol Ubbiali, left, with Joan and David Crawford, in 1996.

I shook his hand warmly and asked if I could bring in the rest of the ‘crew.’ We took photos and while we spoke he told us that in the 1960 season the Honda had a little more power than the MVs.

He also told us of the death of his brother Maurizio that year which affected him very badly. This meant that at the age of 29 he had to give up his racing career to run the family business.

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He went to see Count Domenico Agusta to tell him of his decision. Domenico’s reply was: “Well, if you’re not riding that will be the end of the lightweight effort in 125cc and 250cc classes for MV Agusta.”

Carlo started riding in 1947 and after a three year spell with FB Mondial (1949-52, earning him the 125cc world championship in 1951) he had an eight year career with MV, winning a total of nine world championships, three Italian 125cc titles and a brace of 250cc crowns.

He was a winner over the difficult Isle of Man Clypse as well as the Mountain TT courses and on the Ulster Grand Prix Clady and Dundrod courses.

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Carlo Ubbiali remains one of the all-time greats – this might also have affected his decision to quit: ‘Better to quit at the top than wait for the inevitable decline or something even less pleasant…’

Carlo married soon after retirement and had four children.

David Crawford,
Northern Ireland.

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