Moto Guzzi: 90 years young
DEFINING ENGINE: Big V-twins have been the hallmark of Moto Guzzis for a number of years. The brand is celebrating its 90th birthday.
Author: DAVE FALL
Happy 90th birthday wishes to Moto Guzzi - the great Italian marque has been manufacturing and designing some of the greatest motorcycles ever to have come out of Europe, and that’s a fact!
Societa` Anonima Moto Guzzi was created 90 years ago to the month (March 15, 1921) in the small Italian town of Mandello del Lario where former Italian Air Force comrades-in-arms Giorgio Parodi and Carlo Guzzi* decided to build the type of motorcycles that people might really want to buy: well-made, reliable, tough - and with some real performance when needed.
That particular 493cc, horizontal single-cylinder bike was known as the Normale and featured, among other things, a centre-stand - the world’s first. Factor in a four-valve head and outstanding economy of 30km/litre and it was soon obvious that Guzzi was on to a winning formula!
There was no such thing as a PR company to promote their wares so they did the next best thing: they entered motorcycle races by the hatful… and they usually won. Only six months after the company was formed they won the famous Sicilian road race the Targo Florio, with specialist rider of the day Gino Finzi the man in the hot seat.
MUSCLE FOR AN EXTRA PASSENGER: Early Moto Guzzis made excellent sidecar machines with their load-lugging capabilities.
Racing success came easily to the Guzzi marque between the Roaring ‘Twenties and the mid-1950’s with 14 World championship titles and 11 TT wins so the scene was set for their biggest gamble yet - a V8 motorcycle, nogal!
Guzzi was the first manufacturer - car or motorcycle - to have its own wind tunnel, something desperately needed to ensure that streamlined fairings really worked and didn’t just look the part. Design chief Giulio Carcano, renowned for his radical ideas in the mid-1950’s, had cleverly shoehorned a 500cc V8 into a standard Guzzi frame to create the potential for a 285km/h top speed and the bike actually did win races the first couples of times out but then the company’s withdrawal from motorcycle racing - a tripartite deal struck with Gilera and Mondial - was based on the sheer financial costs involved in their quest for more silverware.
Times proved tough and, perhaps due to the onslaught of Japanese bikes fast gaining momentum around the world, the mighty Guzzi empire was sold… but not before the 703cc V7 Standard, Special and Sport configurations were globally announced in 1967. This model was a winner wherever it was sold. (I well remember the traffic cops in Pietermaritzburg having a batch of them for a number of years. I wonder what happened to them!)
IN SHAPE: The V8 Moto Guzzi Streamliner looked like it was doing a
hundred standing still and beat just about any race bike in the
Moto Guzzi happily continue producing forward-looking and exciting motorcycles into its 92nd year though under the Piaggio umbrella along with Aprilia, Gilera, Vespa and Derbi - and there’s nothing wrong with that!
*If you wondered how the Moto Guzzi “outspread eagle” tank badge came into being, let me explain: It was created in memory of Guzzi’ and Parodi’s flying pal, one Giovanni Ravelli, who’s common interest was also motorcycles. He perished while flying in the last few days of the First World War.