Road Warrior Torello Tacchi Lived An Adventuresome Life
The road warrior gunned the throttle on the 750cc engine of his Italian motorcycle and sped toward the Michigan Avenue Bridge near the Wrigley Building.
At the same time the bridge tender began to raise the mammoth concrete and steel span across the Chicago River, and the rider and bike catapulted across the open gap. That early 1960s movie stunt summed up how Torello Tacchi lived his adventuresome life.
Torello Fortunato Tacchi, a master mechanic, an expert motorcycle racer, airplane builder and licensed pilot, passed away July 15, 2020 in Jacksonville, Fla. after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 80 years old.
Born on January 15, 1940 in Tunis, Tunisia to the late Marie and Albert Tacchi, Torello and his family immigrated to Chicago in 1949. His life’s work encompassed running the family motorcycle business, building custom road-racer motorcycles, and competing against professional factory racing teams at tracks in the Chicago area, Indianapolis, Ind. and Daytona Beach, Fla.
“Torello held the motorcycle-lap speed record at Meadowdale International Raceway in Carpentersville, IL, for many years and he also won races at the Daytona International Speedway and other tracks,” said Page Pitts Tacchi, his wife of 52 years. “He held lap speed records at tracks in Indianola, IN, Laconia, NH, and Wentzville, MO.”
Tacchi during his professional motorcycle racing years.
A third-generation rider, Tacchi followed in the tracks of his father and grandfather, who raced in Europe and Africa. Tacchi, who started road racing in 1964, also had a brief fling as a stuntman in the motion picture industry. The spectacular Michigan Avenue Bridge jump was covered by WGN Channel 9 News.
Mr. Tacchi’s abundant collection of motorcycle-racing competition trophies was displayed in his airplane hangar and expansive estate and work shop in rural Jacksonville, Fla. He was a life-time member of the American Motorcycle Association.
A true renaissance man and mechanical wizard, Tacchi also was a licensed pilot who built and flew his own airplane, and a man who survived at least one plane crash and a half dozen high-speed motorcycle-racing accidents.
He also was an inventor who created a patented labeling system for Budweiser beer while employed as a mechanic at Anheuser Busch Brewery in Jacksonville, Fla.
“Torello Tacchi had a deep, sophisticated, professional knowledge of mechanics,” recalled close friend Don Garbarino, former Wright College News editor. “He was asked to write an article for a national aircraft magazine explaining how automobile and aircraft engines differ. I was amazed at how extensive his understanding was on how engines worked.”
Tacchi was known for his ability to size up a repair project quickly and then complete the job “with no more difficulty than constructing tinker toys,” Garbarino said.
A bright child, Tacchi spoke Italian at home, French in elementary school in Tunis and quickly learned English.
Albert, his mechanic father who was a natural-born U.S. citizen, opened Tacchi Auto Works in the 1500 block of North Halsted in the early 1950s, when the blue-collar Old Town neighborhood was a stone’s throw from the gritty Cabrini Green public housing project.
“Tacchi, my paesano, was a tough kid—aptly named, because Torello means ‘Little Bull’ in Italian—and that he was,” recalled Pilsen real estate investor Lionel Bottari, his Wright Junior College newspaper friend.
When other boys were playing baseball and sports, Torello worked long hours in his father’s shop, repairing automobiles and learning to service exotic sports cars and rare European motorcycles.
In the mid-1950s, Tacchi attended Lane Technical High School, where he excelled in the advanced Smith-Hughes auto shop classes. By age 16, Torello was such a skilled mechanic that he completed all auto shop class assignments in the first few weeks of the semester, earning a superior grade. “Then, the perplexed auto shop teacher assigned Torello the task of working on a worn out 1940 Ford V-8 motor that hadn’t been running in a decade. According to classmates, he had the engine purring like a kitten in a week.
Tacchi was graduated from Lane Tech in January of 1959, and in 1961 attended Wright Junior College, joining the Wright College News staff, mentored by legendary journalism professor Thomas Glazer.
There he learned to write newspaper copy and met and put out the paper with future professional journalists Paul McGrath (Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune), Michael Drexler (WCFL News), Chuck Baker (Las Vegas Review Journal), James Dwyer (Associated Press). Larry Graff (Sun-Times) and this writer who worked for the Chicago Daily News and Sun-Times for 27 years.
“The Wright College News staff also brought their cars to Tacchi Auto Works for affordable repairs. Baker recalled driving his beat up 1949 Plymouth to the shop, even though it was a $10 car with no floor boards.
“I fixed the floor boards and Torello repaired the engine, connected the headlights and hooked up the horn and AM radio,” Baker said. “It took him about 10 minutes. I drove it for about a year, and when I got drafted into the U.S. Army I sold it to the used-car lot down on Halsted Street for about $50.”
In 1963, after Tacchi graduated from Wright College with an Associates Arts degree, majoring in journalism, his family launched Midwest Motorcycle Imports on Halsted Street.
The showroom featured a collection of antique motorcycles, including Merkle, Indians and a rare, museum-quality Traub, a machine built in 1916. Tacchi restored the Traub and later sold it to a Hollywood investor friend of movie star Steve McQueen.
The shop’s big attraction was a 1930s Moto Guzzi which Albert Tacchi, Torello’s father, dismantled and hid in a barn hayloft in Tunis during World War II and later shipped to America in the 1950s. The vintage bike was restored and Torello added a side car and rode it in the Wright Junior College homecoming parade in 1962.
Tacchi would put in a full day selling and repairing exotic Italian, English and Japanese motorcycles—such as Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Norton, BSA, BMW and Suzuki. On weekends he would generously help his college buddies renovate their homes.
In 1968, Torello Tacchi met Page Pitts through mutual friends and took her out on a blind date. Four months later on September 28, 1968, Torello married Page, and they bought a three-flat with a coach house in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood and started a family. Daughter Elizabeth Page Tacchi was born in 1974, and son Torello Orazio Tacchi in 1978.
In 1980 the family moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where Torello took a machinist/mechanics job at Anheuser Bush. Over the past three decades, Torello developed a passion for flying, earned his pilot’s license, and built his own airplane. He flew for Angel Flight, a charitable organization that provides free flights for ill patients.
In 2011, Tacchi survived a crash of his Vans RV-10 in rural southeastern Georgia. “Torello told me he made a ‘dead stick’ landing between two trees that tore the wings off the plane, but he survived with only minor cuts,” Bottari said.
Tacchi is survived by his wife, daughter Elizabeth (James) Bailey, his son Torello Orazio Tacchi, his sisters Mirella Minnich, Rita Payne, his grandson, James Bailey, granddaughter Ari Bailey, and numerous nieces and nephews. Due to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, a Chicago memorial service will be delayed until the spring of 2021.