When the V7 Sport appeared in 1971, it re-established a racing and sporting tradition that had been absent from Moto Guzzi for nearly fifteen years. Prior to 1958, Moto Guzzi built its reputation on racing success, culminating in an astonishing record of 14 World Championships, 47 Italian Championships, and 3329 racing victories between 1921 and 1957. This racing glory resulted in some of the finest sporting motorcycles of the pre-war and immediate post-war period, and the V7 Sport continued this tradition.
The Moto Guzzi story began in the Italian air force during World War I when Carlo Guzzi, a 29-year-old mechanic, teamed up with two pilots, Giorgio Parodi and Giovanni Ravelli, to build a motorcycle. Although Ravelli died in an aircraft accident shortly after the end of the war, Guzzi and Parodi pursued their dream. Parodi, from a wealthy family of shipowners, was to provide the capital, and Guzzi the engineering expertise. Ravelli’s memory endured in the shape of the air force flying eagle symbol used.
During 1920, in a workshop at the family home in Tonzanico (later known as Mandello del Lario), on the shore of Lake Como, north of Milan, Carlo Guzzi produced the first Moto Guzzi, the ‘GP’ (Guzzi-Parodi), and with it established an independent design philosophy that characterised Moto Guzzi motorcycles. The GP was powered by a four-valve, horizontal, 500cc, single cylinder overhead camshaft engine, with a unit three-speed gearbox and external flywheel. Looking for financial backing, Giorgio approached his father, Emanuelle Vittorio Parodi, who had the GP transported to a friend, an engineering professor in Barcelona. After a thorough examination the professor sent a letter of approval to Emanuelle. The GP went back to Genoa and, eventually, Tonzanico. This positive reaction led Parodi to establish the Società Anomina Moto Guzzi in Genoa in March 1921, with himself as president. Although the company was named after Carlo Guzzi, Emanuelle retained the company shares, paying Carlo a royalty for each machine produced. In 1921 the GP was tested by The Motor Cycle magazine, the first test of a Moto Guzzi in the English press.
Soon after the company was established, the first Moto Guzzi motorcycle, the Normale, entered production. Designed earlier by Carlo, he was assisted and influenced by his brother, Giuseppe, who wanted to ensure the design was a success, and that it was. By the end of 1921 the Normale was winning races, this success leading to the two-valve racing C2V in 1923, and four-valve C4V in 1924 (closely derived from the GP). Soon the Sport – with a more powerful engine and chassis similar to the C2V – replaced the Normale. The Sport formed the basis of the production line-up until 1928, with the racing C2V and C4V also available, as was a sidecar version of the Sport.
During this period the racing programme continued to expand, and the most significant victory was in the first Championship of Europe, held at Monza on 7 September 1924. Guido Mentasti, on a C4V, beat the field consisting of the works Sunbeam, Norton, Sarolea, and Peugeot; Moto Guzzi was no longer an obscure Italian motorcycle manufacturer. For 1926, Carlo Guzzi created a new competition machine, the TT250, which became one of the most successful racing motorcycles of the era. While small numbers of racing 500s (the 4VTT and 4VSS) were also made available to privateers, the production line continued to turn out 500cc Sports. In 1928 Giuseppe Guzzi also produced a sprung frame for the Sport, creating the advanced – but not particularly popular – GT. The Sport evolved into the Sport 14 in 1929 and the Sport 15 in 1931, while the sprung frame GT became the GT 16.
While many motorcycle manufacturers suffered in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street Crash, Moto Guzzi prospered, as Mussolini and his Fascist government motor sport to be an important propaganda tool. Considerable resources were expended in the creation of an (unsuccessful) supercharged, 500cc, four-cylinder racer in 1931, followed by an equally ambitious production three-cylinder touring machine. But Guzzi’s most successful models continued to be singles, in particular the racing 250, a new range of motoleggere, or lightweight motorcycle, and the military GT 17, the first of a long line built for specific military application.
Desperately needing a competitive 500 in the wake of the failure of the racing four-cylinder, Carlo Guzzi built a twin out of two SS250 singles. This was the Bicilindrica, a design that lasted from 1933 until 1951, and successfully blended the balance between horsepower and agility. In the design of the Bicilindrica, Carlo Guzzi retained the horizontal cylinder of the SS250, and placed another cylinder 120 degrees behind it. Both featured a single overhead camshaft driven by a shaft and bevel gears, and, in the hands of the brilliant rider, Omobono Tenni, spearheaded Moto Guzzi’s 500cc racing programme for nearly twenty years.
The production 500cc, single cylinder engine was also completely redesigned for 1934, and was named the ‘V’. While retaining the distinctive horizontal cylinder and external flywheel, valve layout included two overhead valves operated by pushrods and rockers with external hairpin springs. The cylinder head initially featured twin exhaust ports, the gearbox was four-speed, and Guzzi’s design formed the basis of all later Guzzi 500 singles, including the magnificent Condor, Dondolino, and Gambalunga competition machines.
For 1935 the official Guzzi 250 and 500cc racers received a sprung frame. Veteran Isle of Man specialist, Stanley Woods, claimed Guzzi victories in the Lightweight and Senior TTs, a landmark victory, signalling the end of the dominance of British rigid frame singles in the blue-ribbon 500cc class. At the same time, Moto Guzzi grew in status to a world class motorcycle manufacturer. The Italian invasion of Ethiopia curtailed competition involvement during 1936, but Moto Guzzi was back at the Isle of Man in 1937, Tenni winning the Lightweight TT.
In the years prior to the outbreak of World War II, Guzzi produced a supercharged 250 racer, and in 1939 released two new catalogue racers: the 500cc Condor and 250cc Albatros. All were immediately successful, and so advanced that they were resurrected after the war. In 1940 Guzzi unveiled a machine – the Tre Cilindri 500 – that could have made Guzzi unbeatable in the 500cc class if war hadn’t intervened. Developed in response to the supercharged Gilera, BMW, and NSU, Guzzi’s supercharged 500 triple arrived too late ...
From 1940 Moto Guzzi was almost totally committed to the production of military motorcycles, in particular the Alce, Trialce, and Motocarri 500U. Situated away from major industrial centres, when normal manufacture resumed late in 1945, the company was ready to take on the world in providing cheap transportation, which provided the resources to allow Moto Guzzi to become a major force in motorcycle road racing.
In 1942, while Giorgio Parodi was serving in the Italian forces, his brother, Enrico, assumed control of the company. When Giorgio was forced to retire from the company through injury, Enrico continued as manager, and instigated a fresh approach. He saw the demand for basic transportation in Italy in the immediate post-war period, and under his direction Moto Guzzi became a mass producer of small motorcycles. Led by the two-stroke Motoleggera 65, and the later, scooter-like Galletto, by 1950 Moto Guzzi was producing more than 30,000 motorcycles a year. Now one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers in the world, the revenue generated from the sales of mass produced, lightweight motorcycles enabled Moto Guzzi to expand its racing programme, and create sophisticated racing prototypes. The traditional four-stroke single was also revived during this period. The machines produced – the 250cc Airone, and 500cc Astore and Falcone – had long and distinguished production runs, and while the number produced was relatively small, they have come to symbolise the production Moto Guzzi during the 1950s. The Falcone continued until 1968, still remarkably similar to its 1920s and 1930s ancestors, before it was updated to the Nuovo Falcone. During the 1950s, smaller capacity, four-stroke singles were also produced in reasonable numbers, headed by Carlo Guzzi’s final design, the 175cc, overhead camshaft Lodola (Skylark). The Lodola evolved into a Sport for 1958, and by 1959 had grown to 235cc (now with pushrods) to replace the ageing Airone.
Whilst the production line at Mandello was expanded to include the Motoleggera, Moto Guzzi resurrected some of the pre-war racers, adapting them for new, post-war regulations. A ban on supercharging left the door open for the return of the pre-war Bicilindrica, and Guzzi also decided to develop the pre-war single cylinder Albatros and Condor. The Condor evolved into the superb Dondolino (rocking chair) and Gambalunga (long-leg), with a longer stroke engine. Renowned for its ruggedness and strength, the Dondolino’s forte was long distance events like the Milano-Taranto road race, which it won from 1950 until 1953. The Gambalunga was a factory racer, developed by the great engineer, Giulio Cesare Carcano, with a leading link front fork.
As it was optimistic to expect the pushrod, overhead valve, single cylinder Gambalunga to be competitive in 500cc racing, Moto Guzzi revived the Bicilindrica. Updated Bicilindricas went on to win the 1947 and 1948 Italian Championships, and it was developed until 1951. Although the Bicilindrica was moderately successful, the modernized Albatros and subsequent Gambalunghino were far more eficacious. At the Isle of Man in 1947, Manliff Barrington rode an Albatros to victory in the Lightweight TT, Maurice Cann repeating this in 1948. When the World Championships for motorcycles were created in 1949, Moto Guzzi was better prepared than other manufacturers, particularly in the 250cc class.
For the 1949 season, Moto Guzzi created the 250cc Gambalunghino; essentially an Albatros engine in a Gambalunga chassis with leading link front suspension. While not the fastest machine, the Gambalunghino’s superior reliability allowed rider, Ruffo, to win the World Championship. Considering the compact horizontal 250cc single, with its geared primary drive and external flywheel, first appeared in 1926, this success was remarkable.
The 250 was outclassed during 1950, but further development of the venerable single overhead camshaft Gambalunghino for 1951 saw Ruffo again win the 250cc World Championship. Commissioning of the wind tunnel for 1952 meant that aerodynamics began to play as important a role as engine development. Lower and narrower, the Gambalunghino proved virtually unbeatable, with Enrico Lorenzetti winning the 1952 world title from Fergus Anderson.
Buoyant from the sale of Guzzinos, for 1953 Moto Guzzi decided to build a replacement for the Bicilindrica to contest the 500cc category. Another original and unique design, the inline 500 four stunned the world – but was a disaster. Designed by Rome-based engineer, Carlo Gianini, in order to reduce frontal area the 500 was a longitudinal, water-cooled, four-cylinder with shaft final drive that closely followed automotive practice. Unfortunately, the disadvantages of the inline four outweighed the advantages. The torque reaction from the crankshaft caused problems, and the engine speed clutch made gear changing difficult. While it occasionally showed bursts of speed, the four was extremely unreliable and difficult to ride. In many respects the 500 four was extremely advanced, with features that did appear on later Moto Guzzis. As on the later V7, the shaft was located inside the swingarm, and braking was by a linked system. The engine was also fuel injected.
It was in the 350cc class that Guzzi had most success during 1953, a class that it dominated until 1957. After several years of testing various prototypes, Carcano finally discovered the right formula. Earlier 350s were simply a bored and stroked Gambalunghino, and this was initially what Fergus Anderson persuaded Carcano to do late in 1952. Anderson wanted to compete against the Nortons and AJSs, traditional class leaders, and the engine was enlarged to 317cc, the maximum possible. Eventually, the engine cases were redesigned to allow for 345cc, and Anderson won the World Championship.
Australian rider, Ken Kavanagh, joined the team for 1954 alongside Anderson, Lorenzetti, Montanari and Ruffo. This year saw the first dustbin fairings developed with the aid of the wind tunnel, and a new single overhead camshaft, 500cc single developed from the Gambalunghino. Light and overstressed, it proved unreliable and, despite excellent aerodynamics, was never a match for the MV Agusta and Gilera fours.