Is this a Harley Davidson? Well, yes; but not as you know it. Having seen the Brit bike business laid low by what management consultants called sector retreat – letting the Japanese take over the lightweight market and focussing on big bikes – Harley bought up Aermacchi and set about building a range of two-stroke lightweights to take on the Japanese in their most profitable markets. To give these post-Aermacchi air-cooled singles credibility HD used Aermacchi (and um, Yamaha
This was in Benzina issue 5, for a story on how MV Agusta fought long and hard to keep the two-strokes at bay, culminating in a 500cc flat four. The flat four was never raced, and neither were theses Aero 500s, although Phil Read did try one in practice at Spa for the 1974 Belgium Grand Prix. Ago never got that far, although he was happy enough to parade this one at Spa’s Bikers’Classics a few years back. There’s a video Phil at Spa in 1974 in my Instagram Reels #agost
My Instagram video reminded me how excited some were when the Yamaha RD350LC arrived: a “TZ or the road” they said. They were wrong and the work needed to convert the roadster to TZ spec was such that it wasn’t allowed to compete in the Formula 2 world championship. So here’s Ago on the real thing in 2011 on a celebration lap at Creg Ny Baa.
That the TZ was on the way was hinted at in 1971 when air cooled factory twins first appeared with four lugs welded on the front
This is one of the very first MV Agusta fours, a 1951 4C aka the 500 Bialbero Corsa. Although designed, like the original Rodine and Gilera Quattro, by Piero Remor there are some notable (and frankly odd) differences. The most obvious is shaft drive (to keep oil off the rear tyre and sod changing the gearing) and the need for two gearshift levers – on one side it would change up, on the other it would change down. MV Agusta, like so many other Italian aviation manufactu
This is Michael Dunlop at the 2017 Classic TT about to a the parade lap to mark 60 years since Bob McIntyre set the first 100mph lap of the Isle of Man’s TT course. The bike’s a replica of the Gilera Quattro McIntyre rode and Dunlop did actually manage a 100mph lap from a standing start to celebrate. Geoff Duke was initially credited with achieving the first 100mph lap of the mountain course in 1956 on a Gilera 500 four, but timekeepers subsequently downgraded it to 99.
This is Nello Pagani at the start of the 1949 Ulster Grand Prix, courtesy TT Race Pics and available as a poster and much else. The following is an extract from my book Classic TT Racers, available from most bookshops and of course Amazon. The 1949 Ulster Grand Prix was the penultimate (of 6) round of the inaugural world championship. In 1948 Pagani had taken the Gilera Quattro to its first race in Cesena, but withdrew claiming the machine was "unrideable". Although it
This is the original Gilera Quattro, the 1939 version developed from the 1936 OPRA four that Giuseppe Gilera bought from Count Bonmartini. The OPRA project had been placed into another of Bonmartini’s companies, CNA (Compagnia Nazionale Aeronautica), and he renamed the four cylinder motorcycle Rondine (swallow) which is why you might occasionally read of a CNA Rondine. He brought in another Roman engineer to work with Carlo Gianni and in reality the motorcycle they des
If V-twins are so wonderful, why is it that (mostly) inline fours rule the roost? This picture (courtesy A Herl Inc) is a 1928 OPRA 500 Quattro (four) that amounts to ground zero for every four cylinder motorcycle that followed. Although there were a few fours in motorcycling’s early days, those had a longitudinal layout that made for an overlong wheelbase and a tendency to overheat. The transverse layout was considered too wide and needing to be too high in the frame (
I photographed this Britten at a Ducati club meeting at Assen a few years ago. Rino Caracchi – the C in NCR – had come especially to see it. Despite Rino’s great love of and association with Ducatis, the Britten was not just his favourite V-twin, but his favourite motorcycle full stop. Having travelled to see it he even bought the T-shirt the proud owners were selling with a simple profile of the bike. I was fortunate to see the evolution of John Britten’s racers at Ba
The Morbidelli V8 is probably one of the most unfairly maligned motorcycles in history. When launched in 1994 the original Pininfarina styling (swipe left) was ridiculed, especially by smart Alec journalists who were all sports-replica-mad and unable to afford the asking price – almost three times what a 916 cost, although for a hand built, limited edition, V8 that seems almost cheap. And then the Cassandras continued to moan that it was “only” 847cc and “only” made 12
If the Moto Guzzi’s pre-war supercharged four cylinder racer seemed ambitious it was nothing compared to the magnificent V8, seen here in the factory museum. It was a final attempt to beat the fours of Gilera and MV, after the rather undignified chopping-and-changing in the Blue Riband class. When I interviewed Sammy Miller for my Moto Guzzi book – a man who was racing in the V8s era and owns both a V8 and Bicilindrica – he felt this was a serious issue. “Development i
The Honda NR1/NR500 was another V8 that didn’t go as well as hoped, even if everyone agreed to call it a V4. Issue 11 of Benzina told the full story of (to my mind) the most interesting MotoGP/grand prix racer of all time. I’m fortunate enough to know Gerald Davison (who ran Honda UK and the race teams, and his story was backed up by Ivar de Gier’s interview with the R&D chief Shoichiro Irimajiri. Basically most of what you thought you knew was wild guesses by journalists fru
Another supercharged motorcycle, this Carlo Guzzi’s 1931 Quattro Cilindri, photographed by Phil Aynsley. It was a case of something old, something new, something borrowed (but nothing blue). The Cozette rotary supercharger was positioned above the gearbox, which sat vertically behind the crankshaft as on modern sportsbikes. The very oversquare layout, at 56mmx50mm, was also something today’s engineers would recognise as good practice in an engine designed for outright
This is the mythical Morini 500 Turbo, first shown at the 1981 Milan show. Turbomania started with the Renault RS01, the first Formula One car with a turbocharged engine, débuted at the 1977 British Grand Prix. What wasn’t to like? Free power from exhaust gasses to supercharge an engine, rather than use a power-sapping mechanical supercharger like those used on aircraft for decades. These days most cars run a turbo, but no motorcycles. Packaging and throttle response are the
This is an extract from the story of this image in Benzina 7:
“Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, was all that was going through my mind” remembers Chris Mayhew when asked about this fantastic photograph by Alan Horner. Chris is part of family business North Leicester Motorcycles, recently relaunched as Lusso Veloce. Although they deal with all things Italian it’s clear that Morini V-twins hold a special place in their heart. So when they decided to enter the UK Earlystocks they simply
Ducati were once just another of the many motorcycle factories around Bologna, perhaps their most famous fellow bike builder being Moto Morini. This one’s probably my favourite – the 3½ with disc front brake but still with the Borranis and the original Sport look, especially that humped seat. This image is by Paul Hart (featured in a past post with a 400 Four photo) and as with that pic this was taken on 35mm film with an Olympus OM-2N. He’s a complete Vespa scooter nut
Mototrans was the Spanish Ducati factory, by the 1970s fiercely independent. They had continued to develop the singles long after Ducati had given up on them, even producing a new frame and marketing the 350 as the Vento. Leading light among the Mototrans people was one-time racer Ricardo Fargas, who guided a Mototrans team to victory in the 1980 24 hour race at Montjuic Park with a Ducati 900SS road bike, against a slew of factory Japanese four-cylinder racers.
This is the frontispiece in Benzina 11 for a lengthy exploration of Montjuïc Park is general and Benjamin Grau in particular:
The numbers go like this: Benjamin Grau entered 34 races at Montjuich Park, Barcelona's old street circuit, which in return blessed him with 17 podium finishes and nine wins: one of those victories was at a 125 world championship round, with Grau beating lightweight genius Angel Nieto. Two more wins came aboard big Ducati bevel-twins in 24 hour r
This is Benjamin – Min to friends and fans – Grau at the 1975 24 Horas race, showing why the competition called him the King of Montjuich Park. Ducati had a long history of successes racing singles at this street course on the outskirts of Barcelona and first entered the new V-twin in 1973 ridden by Grau and Salvador Canellas - who scored a debut victory. The '73 bike used the '73 750 Imola's 86mm bore cylinders together with the standard stroke for a capacity of 864cc. T
Of the grand old racetracks I think Montjuic Park on the edge of Barcelona is my favourite. The Isle of Man TT course has the majesty, Monza the speed, Lario the mountains, Paul Ricard the south of France – but Montjuic Park has an intimacy and a history of its own.
The first motorcycle event at Montjuich Park didn't actually run this 3.79km (2.35 miles) course. Instead, competitors were invited to start from a European capital, to arrive at the famous palace fountain