Historic Motorcycle Brands
Moto Guzzi was established in 1921 and is noted for its air-cooled 90-degree, V-twin engines; its prominence worldwide in motorcycle racing, and for industry innovations, including the first motorcycle centre stand and eight-cylinder engine.
On March 15, 1921, the company Società Anonima Moto Guzzi was constituted in Genoa, for: ‘The fabrication and sale of motorcycles, and all other activities pertinent or correlated to the metalworking and mechanical engineering industries’.
The partners in the company were Genoese ship owner, Emanuele Vittorio Parodi, his son Giorgio and his friend Carlo Guzzi. Carlo’s and Giorgio’s friend, Giovanni Ravelli, an aviator and motorcycle racer, died in 1919 during a test flight.
Ravelli was one of the originators of the motorcycle manufacturing idea, so It was in memory of this friend that the spread-winged eagle motif in the Moto Guzzi badge was chosen.
The earliest motorcycles bore the brand GP (Guzzi-Parodi), but the marque quickly changed to Moto Guzzi.
Carlo Guzzi’s first design was a horizontal, single-cylinder engine that dominated the first 45 years of the company’s history in various configurations and, until 1935, each engine bore the signature of the mechanic who built it.
Moto Guzzi GT500 Norge – Sergio
This 8hp Normale was followed by successful models, including the 1928 Guzzi GT, dubbed Norge to commemorate the expedition to the Polar Arctic Circle and the Airone 250, which remained Italy’s best selling medium capacity motorcycle for more than 15 years.
Moto Guzzi also notched up numerous pre-War racing successes, with the first major being the prestigious Targa Florio in 1921, which marked the beginning of an impressive succession of victories.
As originally envisioned, the company used racing to promote the brand. In the 1935 Isle of Man TT, Moto Guzzi factory rider Stanley Woods scored an impressive double victory with wins in the Lightweight TT as well as the Senior TT.
Moto Guzzi von Don Camillo BK – Luis
Until the mid-1940s, the traditional, horizontal, four-stroke, single-cylinder 500cc engines featured one overhead- and one side-valve, but contrary to the usual practice of having inlet over exhaust (IOE), the Moto Guzzi design used the side-valve for induction and the overhead-valve for exhaust.
Also unusual was the adoption of a hair-spring to close the exhaust valve.
This was the engine configuration Moto Guzzi sold to the general public, but higher-performance racing machines had various overhead-cam and multi-valve layouts and cylinder designs. These racing bikes were used by the official racing team and by private racers.
1949 Moto Guzzi Airone Sport – Stahlkocher
In 1946 Moto Guzzi formally incorporated as Moto Guzzi S.p.A. with Giorgio Parodi as chairman.
The period after World War II was as difficult for Moto Guzzi as it was elsewhere in post-War Europe and the company’s solution was production of inexpensive, lighter cycles.
The 1946 Motoleggera, 65cc, lightweight motorcycle became very popular in post-war Italy and a four-stroke, 175cc scooter known as the Galletto also sold well. Though modest cycles for the company, the lighter cycles continued to feature Guzzi’s innovation and commitment to quality.
Moto Guzzi ‘large-wheeled’ Scooter S11 – WyrdLight
The 160cc, step-through Galletto initially featured a manual, foot-shift, three-speed gearbox, followed by a 175cc, four-speed powertrain by the end of 1952. The displacement was increased to 192cc in 1954 and electric start was added in 1961.
By innovating the first large-wheeled scooter, Moto Guzzi competed less directly with manufacturers of small-wheeled scooters such as Piaggio (Vespa) and Lambretta.
Interestingly, the powertrain that Lambretta employed in its 1953 motorcycle prototype resembled the V-twin and drive shaft arrangement that Moto Guzzi developed more than 10 years later, ultimately to become the company’s hallmark design.
1950s racer – Moto Guzzi Museo
In 1950, Moto Guzzi installed a state of the art wind tunnel, making it the first constructor worldwide to do so. The company’s racing division was a team of brilliant minds, with engineers such as Umberto Todero, Enrico Cantoni and the Milanese Giulio Cesare Carcano, who achieved legendary status for creating the 285km/h Guzzi ‘Otto Cilindri’.
In the 1950s, Moto Guzzi, Gilera and Mondial led the world of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. With durable and lightweight 250cc and 350cc bikes designed by Giulio Carcano, the firm dominated the middleweight classes.
The factory won five consecutive 350cc world championships between 1953 and 1957.
Moto Guzzi V8 – Sergio
Carcano’s V8, 500cc GP race bike had one of the most complex engines of its time. Despite leading many races and frequently posting the fastest lap, it often failed to complete races because of mechanical problems.
Ultimately, the V8 was not developed further as Moto Guzzi, Gilera and Mondial retired from racing after the 1957 season, citing escalating costs and diminishing motorcycle sales.
Moto Guzzi V8 – Mandello Museo – Moto Gundy
By the time of its pull out from Grand Prix racing, Moto Guzzi had won 3329 races, eight World Championships, six Constructor’s Championships and 11 Isle of Man TT victories.
By 1964, the company was in full financial crisis. Emanuele Parodi and his son Giorgio had died; Carlo Guzzi had retired and the company’s direction passed to Enrico Parodi, Giorgio’s brother.
In February 1967, SEIMM (Società Esercizio Industrie Moto Meccaniche), a state-controlled receiver, took ownership of Moto Guzzi.
1970 Moto Guzzi Falcone – Palauenc 05
The SEIMM oversight saw Moto Guzzi focused on popular lightweight mopeds including the Dingo and Trotter, and the 125cc Stornello motorcycle. Also during the SEIMM years, Guzzi developed the 90-degree, V-twin engine, designed by Giulio Cesare Carcano that became synonymous with the Moto Guzzi brand.
This air-cooled V-twin, with longitudinal crankshaft orientation, shaft-drive and the engine’s transverse cylinder heads projecting prominently on either side of the bike is the engine most people associate with the marque.
1970 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
The original air-cooled, pushrod V-twin had 700cc displacement and developed 45bhp. Its rationale was to win a competition sponsored by the Italian government for a new police bike. The sturdy V-twin won, giving Moto Guzzi renewed competitiveness.
The 1967 Moto Guzzi V7 with the original Carcano engine has been progressively developed into a 1200cc, 80bhp version. The V-twin was also produced as smaller-capacity V35 and V50 variants
Lino Tonti redesigned the motor for the 1971 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport and that was the basis of the 750cc, 1100cc and 1200cc Moto Guzzi engines.
Moto Guzzi V7 750 Speciale – Choices11
The Moto Guzzi California had 850cc engine capacity.
De Tomaso Industries Inc, manufacturer of the De Tomaso sports and luxury cars, owned by Argentinian industrialist Alejandro de Tomaso, purchased SEIMM, including Moto Guzzi, along with Benelli and Maserati in 1973.
In November 1975 Moto Guzzi first showed the 850 Le Mans at the Milan Show and the early versions, the Series I especially, are among the most iconic and collectible of all Guzzis. It spawned four later models, from Mark II to its culmination in the 1990s, the Mark V.
Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans – Brian Snelson
The 850 Le Mans had two production runs with slight modifications. Although it is often stated that fewer than 2000 of these were made, Ian Falloon claims 219 were made in 1975 and a further 2532 in 1976, although it is possible some of these were Series 2 bikes built at the end of the year.
The Series 2 run totalled 2548 in 1977 and 1737 in 1978.
Moto Guzzi – Guareschi
As Moto Guzzi continued to develop the V-twin, power was increased in the mid-1980s, with four-valve versions of Tonti’s ‘small block’ series. Of these, the 650 and the 750 were rated at 60bhp and 65bhp, respectively. The production of the four-valve “small block” engines ended in the later 1980s.
Other Moto Guzzi signatures include an integrated brake system, where the right front disc works off the handlebar lever, while the left front and the rear disc work off the foot brake.
The cartridge front fork used in Guzzi’s motorcycles of the later 1970s and 1980s is a Guzzi invention. Instead of containing the damping oil in the fork, it is in a cartridge. Oil in the fork is purely for lubrication.
Still under the De Tomaso umbrella, in 1988, Benelli and SEIMM merged to create Guzzi Benelli Moto SpA. During this period, Moto Guzzi existed as an entity within the De Tomaso owned GBM, but in 1996 celebrated its 75th birthday and the return of its name to Moto Guzzi SpA.
Moto Guzzi Stelvio – Snowdog
Under the helm of Ivano Beggio, Aprilia SpA acquired Moto Guzzi in April 2000. The arrangement was short-lived, as Aprilia itself stumbled financially.
In December 2004, Piaggio & C SpA acquired Aprilia and Moto Guzzi, and investments have allowed the introduction of a series of competitive new models in rapid succession.