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MV Agusta

An Italian Masterpiece

By

MV Agusta

John Surtees' MV Agusta Grand Prix bike on display at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.

John H Glimmerveen

Many of the early motorcycle manufacturers had their roots in either bicycles or aircraft. And so it was with MV Agusta. Founded by Italian Count Giovanni Agusta, the original company was initially involved with the early days of the aeronautics industry. But when the Count died in 1927, his widow Giuseppina and his son Domenico were forced to look into other markets as the aeronautics company was struggling.

Motorcycle Production Begins

Together, Giuseppina and Domenico decided to enter into motorcycle production to meet the demand for affordable mass transport. Unfortunately, before new motorcycle production could get underway, with their first 98 cc 2-stroke, the Second World War began.

After the war, Domenico established a company called Meccanica Verhera (MV) to produce his motorcycle. And in the autumn of 1945 the first MV Agusta was shown to the public. Interestingly, the new bike was to be known as the Vespa, but the company had to change that when they found the name had already been registered.

The new bike, therefore, came to be known as the "98" in recognition of its engine size. The first machines were available in Touring or Economical versions from the beginning of 1946. At the same time as the road bikes were being produced, the race team was also active taking victories at La Spezia and Monza.

By 1947 the range had expanded considerably. A luxury version of the 98 was introduced along with a new 2-stoke 125 cc twin and a 250-cc single, the 4T.

Racing Success

International motorcycle racing became very popular the world over in the '50s and MV took advantage of their racing success to promote their street bikes. Some of the street bikes were direct descendants of the race bikes, such as the 125 Motore Lungo. The factory claimed this bike was the most popular sports bike of its day.

1953 was a special year for MV Agusta. That was the year they produced 20,000 bikes in one year. From a start-up company only seven years previously to 20,000 bikes per year was no mean feat, particularly considering this was just after the Second World War. This was also the first year a plant was licensed to produce their bikes outside of Italy when manufacturing for export commenced in Spain.

By the end of the '50s, most major manufacturers were cutting back on their research and development and racing teams, but not so with MV. They purchased manufacturing licenses to produce Bell helicopters. This gave the company access to cutting edge technology, making their machines extremely reliable. So advanced and reliable were the street MV's of the time that they offered the first ever 100,000 kilometer engine warranty.

Japanese Competition

The '60s saw major competition from the Japanese affecting all of the European manufacturers, and MV were no exception. However, rather than cut back, MV decided to introduce new models in an attempt to attract new motorcycle customers.

One of the new offerings was a 600 cc in-line four cylinder machine with shaft drive which had been developed (loosely) from Mike Hailwood's and John Surtees' 500 GP winning racers. This same engine unit was further developed to 750 cc and was used in the 750 S America, a bike capable of more than 130 mph.

By the end of the '60s, the period known as the Agostini era began. Winning a total of 14 world championships, Agostini became a legend in Italy and had fans the world over. He raced against, and beat, some of the all time greats of motorcycle racing including: Hailwood, Saarinen, Sheene and Phil Read. Fittingly, Agostini was the last rider to win a 500 GP on a MV when he won the German round in 1976.

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