Moto Guzzi is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most succesful and celebrated Italian motorcycle makes ever. It was born out of the friendship of three air corp buddies, Giovanni Ravelli, Giorgio Parodi and Carlo Guzzi. The trio who founded the company experienced a hard shock when Giovanni was killed in an aircraft accident. The two remaining founders pushed on with the project, and it was then they adopted the airforce logo, as their company symbol, in honour of their fallen comrade.
Their first ever motorcycle was designed in 1920 by Carlo Guzzi. The "Normale" went into production in 1922, sporting a half liter engine, with a single horizontal four stroke cylinder,and a side and an overhead valve.
Moto Guzzi almost imediately got into racing, and the success of its bikes was largely due to the victories they achieved on the circuits.
Their initial bike has later been updated, however Guzzi never took any hazards with the introduction of fresh race-developed elements in its street design.
Moto Guzzi’s racing successes had such on impact on the company image (it is well known that generally race victories sell motorcycles - a theory all the more valid for Italy) that by the 1930s it grew up to be Italy’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.
Models like the 1928 GT Tour, the 1931 Sport 15, the 1938 Condor, the 1940 Dondolino all bearing Guzzi’s bright red trademark color marked a victorious march towards the modern age for the company.
Being a race-oriented company from the very beginning , Moto-Guzzi won an impressive number of races (3329) World Champioships (14) an Tourist Trophies (11)
The Second World War took its toll on the company, and as a result Guzzi tuned down their production to whatever was marketable to the war torn and empoverished population, namely the 65cc Motoleggera and the 175cc Galletto.
The initial engine design was carried rather far by the street legal bikes they produced, however the racing machines were grounds to all types of testing and experimenting with different valve and cylinder configurations.
The results were fast to come as 1950 proved to be a turning point in the history of the make. It was the year when Moto Guzzi took up grand prix racing, and to no surprise they made quite an impression.Giulio Carcano designed the motorcycles that Guzzi dominated the 250cc and 350cc classes with, and he was the one who - benefiting from all of the knowhow and experience these races yielded- set about to design the most complex racing motorcycle of the era, the V8, featuring a 500cc engine.
This bike however was to become Guzzi’s swansong in the world champioship as they pulled out in 1957, because of rising costs, and generally because GP racing failed to yield the expected result as far as street-bike sales were concerned.
Despite this fact, Guzzi’s exceptional racing harritage was far from being disconsidered. Its street bikes had such a success that they were starting to be used by various police forces (even in America where Harleys were traditionally used for this duty)
The architect of this success was engineer Giulio Carcano, who designed Guzzi’s first 90 degree V twin engine, a move that virtually saved the factory from extinction.
Driven on by the initial success of the V-twin pushrod, Guzzi insisted on developing the engine further. Thus the 750 Breva and Nevada were born. One of the most famous models the company ever produced was the Le Mans, developed in 1971 into the 750 V7 Sport designed by Lino Tonti.
Other models manufactured around this time were: 1974 - the 750S, 1971 -Nuovo Falcone 500 , 1975 - V850 Le Mans , 1977 -1000 SP, V50, V35 (346,2 cc), 1980 -V50 Monza,Le Mans III , 1981 -California II,1982-V65, V35 Custom, 1983-850 T5, 1984-V65 Lario, Le Mans 1000, 1987 -California III ,1000 GT, 1991-Nevada 350,Daytona 1000 IE, 1994-Sport 1100, 1998-V10 Centauro,Quota 1100 ES,V11 Sport.
Current Moto Guzzi models are: 2005 - Breva V1100, Griso 1100, Norge 1200, 2006 - Breva 850, Griso 850.
Although the company discontinued production of racing motorcycles in 1957, as a result of withdrawing from the racing world, its 2004 MGS-01 Corsa might fuel some hopes that the age-old Moto Guzzi - Ducati rivalry might one day be taken onto the circuits again, to the delight of thousands of viewers.
Contributed by Alex Cooper.