Thursday, December 18, 2014

Moto Guzzi

Marit and Geoff from Holland
who we met at Lake Como

joined us
How could we not visit the Moto Guzzi factory while staying at Lake Como? It's an opportunity not to be missed! Moto Guzzi is as Italian as pizza and pasta. An iconic brand with a history spanning almost a century. Today they are known for their shaft drive V-twins in various guises and sizes, but that isn't how Carlo Guzzi and Vittorio Parodi started in 1919. The first motorcycle they produced wasn't even called a Moto Guzzi but simply the GP (Guzzi-Parodi). Carlo Guzzi designed it and Vittorio Parodi paid for it all!

The GP was a horizontal 500 cc single cylinder 4 stroke, which formed the basis of many Moto Guzzi's to come. In 1921 Moto Guzzi officially opened its doors as a motorcycle manufacturer, but even then they kept the back door open to other activities as well. Officially the description, as written down in the notes, was "the fabrication and sale of motorcycles, and all other activities pertinent or correlated to the metalworking and mechanical engineering industries". The spread-winged eagle logo is in memory of Parodi's friend and aviator Ravelli who died in 1919 during a test flight.

Moto Guzzi's first motorcycle was the 8hp Normale. The first 'Norge' was made in 1928 to commemorate a polar expedition. The first Moto Guzzis don't look anywhere near the V-twins produced today, but they were the basis of a series of single cylinder Moto Guzzis that would remain in production for almost 50 years. Other engines and configurations were tried as well, like the 250cc two stroke twins and a 4 cylinder 4 stroke for instance. Moto Guzzi also produced a range of small capacity single cylinder four strokes like the Guzzino, the Galetto and the Lodola. The Guzzino was the best selling motorcycle for over a decade. In 1950 Moto Guzzi installed a wind tunnel, the first motorcycle manufacturer to do so, which helped in creating the dustbin fairing of the 8 cylinder racing bike capable of 275 km/hr.

The 8 cylinder 500, known as the Otto, which propelled these bikes to such speeds is pictured above and right. Looking at the engine today, it's already a masterpiece of engineering. Just try to imagine what it was like when it was new in 1955 and the rest of the racing field was made up of bikes like the single cylinder Norton Manx. The 8 cylinder Moto Guzzi must have been incredible.

Today Moto Guzzi is known for its V-twins, a concept created at the end of the 1960s. The first and well known example was the V7. In the 1980s the V-twin range started at 350cc, the V35. Jeanette learned to ride on one and has fond memories of it. The V50 and V65 were in the same range. Legendary names like the Moto Guzzi Le Mans and the Californian are well known too. They used 850 and 1000 cc engines.

Although having never owned a Moto Guzzi myself, I've always had a soft spot for them. Before I bought my Bonneville, I seriously looked at the new V7 and so did Jeanette. Problem was, we simply couldn't get them! We were promised a demo model for weeks and in the end gave up and bought the Triumph. Had that demo model arrived, we might have been riding Moto Guzzis around the world now. Back in the 1990s I came very close to buying a California but for some reason it never happened.

Being at Lake Como, the Moto Guzzi factory is situated in a beautiful part of Italy. The factory isn't open to the public, but there is a museum inside the same factory walls that is. Better still, it's free of charge and houses virtually every model of Moto Guzzi ever produced! Strangely enough the current models aren't on display, a missed sales opportunity I think. Being able to walk past row after row of Moto Guzzis and reading about the history and the successes of this factory, but also it's difficult times, is fascinating. Moto Guzzi is 100% Italian. Most, if not all, parts suppliers are Italian too and local to the factory in Mandello del Lario. Moto Guzzi and KTM are proving that motorcycle manufacture in Europe is possible. Moto Guzzi is 100% made in Italy, on the shores of beautiful Lake Como… I quite like the new Norge… the Stelvio… and the V7… who knows, one day?

Geoff, Marit, Jeanette, Aad and Mike visiting Moto Guzzi together