Historic Motorcycle Brands
Meccanica Verghera Agusta (MV Agusta) is a motorcycle manufacturer founded by Count Domenico Agusta on 19 January 1945 as one of the branches of the Italian Agusta aircraft company. The abbreviation MV stands for Meccanica Verghera, the hamlet where the first MVs were made.
Agusta AG 1 biplane
Count Giovanni Agusta built his first aircraft, the AG1, four years after the Wright brothers had made history in the US. The First World War prompted the count to found the Agusta aircraft factory, but, in 1927 at the age of 48, he died and was succeeded by his wife Giuseppina and sons, Domenico, Vincenzo, Mario and Corrado.
Aircraft orders were plentiful and business was good until World War II intervened. Following the Paris Peace Treaties, in 1947, the production of aircraft was forbidden to Italy, so the Agusta family had to diversify.
During the War the company had already laid plans for motorcycle production, knowing that a country devastated by war would need a simple, cheap and efficient machine.
1950 MV Agusta 125 Turismo AGV Sport
Therefore, when peace broke out, the bike was ready: a 98cc, single-cylinder, two-stroke with a two-speed gear box, in a steel-tube rigid frame, with girder forks and 19-inch wheels.
In 1946, the motorcycle was put to mass production as the MV 98, in two versions: Economica and Turismo; the latter with a three-speed gearbox and rear suspension.
Count Domenico Agusta had a passion for motorcycle racing, so as with Enzo Ferrari, the Agusta family produced and sold motorcycles mainly to fund their racing efforts.
MV Agusta 98 Corsa
The first MV Agusta race victory was delivered by Vicenzo Nincioni in the La Spezia on October 6, 1946. On November 3, in Monza, MV racers Vicenzo Ninconi, Mario Cornalea and Mario Paleari occupied the entire podium.
For 1947, a race-special Model 98 with shorter wheelbase, telescopic forks and a plunger type rear suspension was readied. The two-stroke engine was improved by enlarging the cylinder ports, raising the compression ratio and installing a new 20mm horizontal carburettor. Maximum speed increased to 95km/h.
Soon almost all these improvements were put into the production MV98. By that time, the capacity of racing engines had changed to the classic 125, 250 and 500cc categories.
MV Agusta MV98 – AGVSport
In 1947, MV Agusta went to the Milan Trade Fair with a Luxury’ version of the 98, plus a single-cylinder 250cc and two-cylinder, two-stroke 125cc bikes.
The MV Agusta 250 Turismo’s single-cylinder engine produced 11bhp at 4700rpm, giving a top speed of 110km/h.
The 125 cc model had a similar design to the MV 98, but with a four-speed gearbox and two cylinders instead of one. However, it proved too expensive to produce and was replaced by a more affordable, 4.8hp, 125 Turismo, which was a development of the original MV 98.
Together with the 125 Turismo, MV introduced the lightweight, 9bhp125 Corsa designed for national and world championships. The bike proved good enough for Franco Bertoni to win the 1948 Grand Prix of Nations at Monza.
In the end of 1949, Count Domenico Agusta had Gilera’s Piero Remor and Arturo Magni work on a 500 cc four-cylinder engine and a racing 125cc, DOHC, single-cylinder engine.
The MV’s first racing success with the new 125cc engine came after the introduction of telescopic forks and full-width aluminium brakes. Britain’s Cecil Sandford piloted the new MV 125 to a 1952 Isle of Man TT victory and went on to win MV Agusta’s first world championship. Later that year, Leslie Graham won MV’s first 500cc Grand Prix at Monza.
In 1949, the company launched production of scooters. From 1955 till 1969, MV also produced mopeds.
MV Agusta Regolarita – Klaus Nahr
In 1952, the Agusta factory started building helicopters under licence to American manufacturer Bell and aviation made him a fortune, which he spent on racing. Aviation technology also served him well on the racetrack, where his Grand Prix bikes were constructed using the same high-tech casting, forging and machining techniques used in the manufacture of his helicopters.
The MV product line-up consisted of motorcycles and scooters with two-stroke engines, with capacities from 98cc to 150cc. But many buyers preferred four-stroke engines because of their torque, so Remor was tasked with designing a four-stroke road model.
1955 MV Agusta 175 CSS – AGVSport
At the end of 1952, the aluminium-alloy, single-cylinder, overhead-camshaft MV Agusta 175 was released in two versions: CST and CSTL. The chain-driven camshaft operated the valves via rocker arms, which were closed by hairpin valve springs. This model had a frame of a double loop design, using tubes for the front sections and pressed steel members at the rear. Suspension was telescopic forks at the front and a swinging arm at the rear.
1954 MV Agusta 175 CSS ‘Disco Volante’ – Thesupermat
The sportier, 11bhp 175 CS had a larger, 22mm carburettor instead of 18mm, a higher compression ratio, larger cylinder head with bigger fins and aluminium wheel rims.
This model featured lower handlebars and a beautifully sculpted fuel tank that quickly earned it the unofficial nickname ‘Disco Volante’ (flying saucer).
In July 1954 came the limited-availability racing model 175 CSS. The engine was further turned to produce 15bhp at 8800rpm and it was fitted with Earles forks.
1954 MV Agusta 175 CST – AGVSport
In 1955, MV Agusta designed the 175 CSS-5V for the 175cc Formula Sport Derivata race series. The ‘Squalo’ (shark) had a lighter frame, larger brakes, a magneto and a five-speed gearbox. A young Mike Hailwood, the future nine-time world champion, won his first race on one of these machines, bored out to 196cc for a 200cc-class race at Oulton Park in 1957.
The 175 cc engine became famous not only in road racing. From 1955 to 1958, MV also produced off-road racing motorcycles. But, perhaps, the most unexpected option manufactured in the same years was the trike Motocarro with a load capacity of 300 kg.
MV-Agusta RS Rapido Sport – AGVSport
Four-stroke, 175cc MV Agusta engines had excellent dynamics, but not durability. Also, the overhead camshaft complicated the procedure for cleaning carbon deposits, which was required several times a season, because of the poor quality of oil and fuel at that time.
Therefore, for the new 125cc motorcycle that was to replace two-stroke models, a simplified version of the four-stroke engine was developed, with pushrods operating the valves.
The model debuted in 1954 in two versions: Turismo Rapido (6.5bhp) and Rapido Sport (7.5bhp). The chassis was similar to the 175cc models, but the Rapido Sport had an hydraulically-damped telescopic fork.
MV Agusta 250 Raid – Hitman76ers
In autumn 1956, the company introduced the 250 Raid, powered by a larger, single-cylinder, four-stroke, overhead-valve engine, with a four-speed gearbox. However, the bike’s weight went up and its 14bhp struggled to propel it faster than 110km/h.
Cranking engine size up to 300cc did little to improve sales.
For 1959 MV Agusta revisited the 125 and installed a high-performance oil pump, a centrifugal oil filter and increased the sump capacity. MV Agusta 125 TRE advertising focused on its reliability and assured 100,000km mileage.
MV Agusta Centomila 150 – Klaus Nahr
In 1957, MV had produced a cheaper version of the 175cc engine with the camshaft located in the engine block. In 1959, this engine was bored out to 232cc for the new Tevere motorcycle. The 11bhp Tevere was a more dynamic but more expensive 150 RS, so it was soon discontinued.
After the 1957 season, the Italian motorcycle manufacturers Gilera, Moto Guzzi and Mondial jointly agreed to withdraw from Grand Prix competition due to escalating costs and diminishing sales. Count Agusta originally agreed to withdraw, but then had second thoughts.
1964 MV Agusta 500cc – Yta
MV Agusta went on to dominate Grand Prix racing, winning 17 consecutive 500cc world championships. Count Agusta’s competitive nature drove him to hire some of the best riders of the time, including Carlo Ubbiali, John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read, along with the best engineers, headed by Arturo Magni.
The three- and four-cylinder race bikes were known for their excellent handling. The fire-engine red racing machines became the hallmark of Grand Prix racing in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Giacomo Agostini – Spurzem
In the early 1960s, MV Agusta decided to return to off-road sport, in which the company had 1950s enduro race successes. A new 125 Regolarita was equipped with a 12.5bhp. 125cc engine and a five-speed gearbox.
The main MV premiere at the 1965 EICMA Milan Motorcycle Show was the flagship Model 600, with a 590cc, in-line-four engine. This configuration, with the engine mounted across the frame, was originally designed by Pierro Remor for the 1950 Grand Prix season, but as the demand for larger engines in road bikes increased, Count Agusta ordered the build of the MV Agusta 600 that was the world’s first production motorcycle with a transverse four-cylinder engine.
MV Agusta 600 Roadster – Klaus Nahr
The 1965 MV Agusta 250 B had a 19bhp, 247cc four-stroke, parallel-twin engine, a battery ignition system, two carburetors and a five-speed gearbox, but the price was too high, so it was replaced by the much more successful MV Agusta 350 B with engine bored out to 349cc.
Motorcycles from MV Agusta became more advanced, with modern electrical equipment and improved suspensions, but the look of its motorcycles was almost unchanged until 1971. The changes then included elongated petrol tanks, front forks without covers, low handlebars and saddles with a ‘hump’.
Count Domenico Agusta died in 1971, but despite the loss of this guiding force, development momentum continued for a few years.
1975 MV Agusta 350 Sport – Mr Choppers
The 1973, 34bhp, MV Agusta 350 S Ipotesi was in production for two years, during which only 1991 units were made, but its design set the pattern for the industry for the next 15 years. It was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, founder of Italdesign and had trend-setting cast alloy wheels and triple disc brakes.
MV Agusta 750S – SG2012
The original four-cylinder road bike was followed by models with engines with a displacement of 743, 790, 837 and 862cc, including the legendary 750 Sport and 750 Sport America. The latter was an amazing machine, but at nearly three times the price of a Honda CB750, found very few buyers.
1977 MV Agusta 750S America – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
The new MV Agusta 125 Sport entered the market in 1974, with styling that echoed that of the prototype MV Agusta 350 Ipotesi. Technical advantages included fully enclosed, fully tubular duplex frame, front disc brake and electronic ignition system.
However, that was the last development of one- and two-cylinder motorcycles and the last MV motorcycle manufactured in the company’s old factory was a 125 Sport in 1977.
1978 MV Agusta 125S – SG2012
MV Agusta won its last Grand Prix in 1976 and by the end of the season it was out of racing.
By then its precarious economic position forced MV Agusta to seek a new financial partner. A solution was found in the form of public financing giant EFIM (Ente Partecipazioni e Finanziamento Industria Manifatturiera), which demanded that MV Agusta exit the motorcycle industry if were to have any chance of straightening its finances.
MV Agusta’s last GP victory machine, August 1976 – AGVSport
When the company cancelled motorcycle production in 1977, Arturo Magni was authorised to produce and sell motorcycles under the MV Agusta brand. The 1978 Grand Prix 1100, developed 119bhp, weighed only 202kg and accelerated from 0–100km/h in 3.9 sec.
The brand continued until 1980, when the last machine in the Cascina Costa warehouses was sold.
The MV Agusta brand was saved by the Castiglioni family. At the end of 1976, the Castiglioni brothers tried to buy the MV racing team, but Corrado Agusta did not approve the deal, so the Castiglioni brothers bought the Aermacchi factory in Varese and renamed it Cagiva (CAstiglioni + GIovanni + VArese).
Soon Cagiva became the largest Italian motorcycle manufacturer, with annual production of 40,000 units and in 1992, the Castiglioni family finally managed to acquire MV Agusta.
At the time, the Castiglionis owned Cagiva, Ducati, Moto Morini and Husqvarna. However, by 1994 the Cagiva Group was under considerable financial pressure and, at the end of the year, the Cagiva Racing Department closed.
MV Agusta F4 – AGVSport
Design work continued, despite the financial situation. Massimo Tamburini ran Cagiva’s design department and in 1995 he began work on the four-cylinder MV Agusta F4, in conjunction with Ferrari. The four-cylinder engine was similar to half a Ferrari V8 and the choice of radial valves was also Ferrari Formula 1-inspired.
The prototype was completed on the eve of the 1997 Trade Fair in Milan. Its design was so impressive that an F4 was exhibited in the Guggenheim Museum in New York during the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition from June 26 to September 20, 1998. The exhibit list included 95 of the most outstanding motorcycles of all time and four of them were MV Agusta brands.
The F4’s in-line, four-cylinder, 749.5cc engine produced 126bhp at 12,500rpm, with 72Nm at 10,500rpm. Maximum speed was 275km/h.
Initial production was a limited run of 300 F4 Serie Oro (Gold Series) bikes, with carbon fibre bodywork, magnesium parts and an engine with sand cast crankcase.
MV Agusta Superveloce – Peter Campbell
With minor improvements the F4 750 was in production until 2004, when it was replaced by the F4 1000. In addition to the catalogue versions of the 750cc sports bike (S, S1+1, S EVO2 and S EVO3), special editions were also produced: 140bhp Senna in 2002, in memory of the legendary Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna and 146bhp SPR/SR in 2003.
After several ownership changes the MV Agusta brand lives on in the 21st Century. It will be interesting to se which models emerge as classics in the years to come.