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MOTO GUZZI - A TRUE SURVIVOR

BIKE OF THE WEEK

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Ahh Moto Guzzi it's just so Italian, great engineering, beautiful design, effortlessly cool and so popular, with notable ups and downs, that they've been in continuous production since 1921 a true survivor.

It all started as a concept dreamed up by three Italian fellows who were serving together in the Italian Air Corps in the First World War, two as pilots and one as their mechanic. It's always interesting that however terrible wars are and no one could deny the horror of the first world war, they always seem to push innovation forward. In this case the war put three unlikely companions from vastly different backgrounds together, thus creating a crucible from which a great concept was born - the Moto Guzzi motorcycle.

These three innovators were Carlo Guzzi an engineer, Giorgio Parodi, son of a rich ship owner and Giovanni Ravelli a famous pilot and motorcycle racer. They had all the ingredients to make a great team to work on the project, Guzzi was the engineer, Parodi would bankroll it and Ravelli would use his kudos to promote it. Tragically though Ravelli was killed in an aircraft crash just after the war ended but is forever remembered on Moto Guzzis with the soaring eagle symbol on the tank. Angelo, Giorgio Parodi's brother then joined the team and together they formed Moto Guzzi in 1921 in Mandello del Lario in Italy.

Carlo Guzzi was the engine designer and his first engine was a horizontal single cylinder engine which really was the engine blueprint - with some variations - for the next 45 years of the company's production. As well as innovative design Moto Guzzi was committed to quality which helped them to sell themselves.

The company did briefly dip its toes into the scooter market but Lambretta, guarding their section of the market, then retaliated by bringing out a motorcycle so Moto Guzzi backed off and from then on Lambretta and Moto Guzzi both stuck to their own section of the market.

In the early years, the brand was true to the original plan and used racing prowess to sell itself. Moto Guzzis appeared at the 1935 Isle Of Man TT with factory rider Stanley Woods bringing in wins in the Lightweight TT and the Senior TT adding kudos to the brand.

Up until the 1940s the 500cc single cylinder four stroke engines had one overhead valve for exhaust and one side valve for induction which was an unusual way round. These were the bikes sold to the general public, the race machines had higher performance engines with different configurations designed to gain maximum speed.  Eventually Moto Guzzi would be noted for their air-cooled 90° V-twin engines sporting a longitudinal crankshaft orientation with the engines' transverse cylinder heads sticking out on each side of the motorcycle. It was a creative company, constantly innovating and was the first to invent many things including the first centre stand and the eight cylinder engine, to name but a few ideas.

In the 1950s, Moto Guzzi, following its original game plan of racing to success, was really ahead of the game in Motorcycle Grand Prix racing. During that period the brand was producing tough lightweight motorcycles and leading the middle weight class in Grand Prix. Between 1953 and 1957 the brand won five 350cc World Championships. Then Giulio Carcano the designer at that time moved on to produce the V8 500cc race bike. However although it was successful and often posting the fastest lap time, the engine was incredibly complicated which led to mechanical problems which often scuppered its chance of winning. After this in 1957 Moto Guzzi finally backed off from its original remit of racing due to cost and diminishing sales.

By 1964, the company was in trouble with the original team in disarray, and eventually in 1967 the state receivers were called in. Under SEIMM (Società Esercizio Industrie Moto Meccaniche) the brand diversified into mopeds but in that period developed the air cooled 90° V-twin engine which became the iconic engine of the MotoGuzzi.

In 1973 SEIMM was bought out by De Tomaso Industries so they became the owners of Moto Guzzi and managed to resurrect it and bring it back to profitability. In 1976, Guzzi produced the truly iconic  Le Mans 850 a triumph of style and engineering which has been a considered a masterpiece ever since.

2000 saw the brand bought by Aprilia but it was a short lived relationship and since 2004 Moto Guzzi has been owned by Unico Azionista, a subsidiary of Piaggio Despite a bumpy ride which is to be expected from a company which has survived for so many years in such a changeable evolving market, Moto Guzzi has been in continuous production since 1921- pretty impressive!

Obviously being around for that long it has gone through many different incarnations under different business arrangements but throughout it has preserved its style and desirability. Who knows what will happen next but Moto Guzzi has proved it resilience and adaptability surviving, despite all the odds, through an ever changing market, so our bet is it will be around for a fair few years more.

Have you owned or ridden a Moto Guzzi? Let us know at news@wemoto.com.

Posted by Lucy England
for Wemoto News on 24 April 2020 in Features

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