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A complete history of Moto Guzzi

Written by Simone | 29th May 2019

Over the years it has become one of the most prestigious motorcycle manufacturers, prominent for its achievements in motorcycle racing and above all, one that has entered the hearts of many motorcyclists all over the world. We are of course writing about Moto Guzzi, Europe’s oldest motorcycle manufacturers that has maintained continuous production since 1921. Motorcycle expert Davide Marelli takes us through the company’s history.

What separates Moto Guzzi from the competition is something very hard to rationally explain. Moto Guzzi just has something its competition lacks: soul. For better or worse, the creators behind Moto Guzzi have always been professionals that can somehow create ‘living’ bikes that may not be perfect but are certainly lovable.

Foundation

The Moto Guzzi Limited Company was set up legally in Genoa on 15th March 1921, with its headquarters in Mandello del Lario. The founders were shipowner Emanuele Vittorio Parodi, his son and military aviation pilot Giorgio and mechanic Carlo Guzzi. At first, Emanuele Parodi wasn’t so enamoured with Guzzi and Giorgio’s plan, but when one of his friends told him regarding their first prototype “If you don’t do it, I’ll build it”, his uncertainty vanished.

The logo, an eagle with spread wings, is a homage to the Miraglia Squadron from the Regia Aviazione (the Italian air force) and to the friend and former comrade of Giorgio Parodi and Carlo Guzzi; Giovanni Ravelli. He died during a test flight on 11th August 1919. The three became friends when they were assigned to the same squadron based outside of Venice. They quickly developed a shared vision to create a motorcycle company after the war; with Guzzi as its engineer, the wealthy Parodi as the financier and Ravelli as a promoter, because he was already a famous pilot and motorcycle racer.

SEIMM (1967-1973)

In 1963, right after founder Carlo Guzzi passed away, a crisis hits the motorcycle market and the company came under financial strain. After a brief period (1963-1967) under the reign of Enrico Parodi (Giorgio’s brother), state-controlled receiver SEIMM took ownership of Moto Guzzi. In 1965, engineer Giulio Cesare Carcano designed the 90 degree V twin 700cc engine. The V7 was created and released in 1968. The famous V7 Sport 750cc of 1971 frame design by Lino Tonti became a new milestone and symbol of Moto Guzzi.

De Tomaso (1973-2000)

In 1973, Alejandro De Tomaso, an Argentinian businessman who owned Benelli from Pesaro, brought Guzzi from SEIMM. His management was controversial, but a few other iconic motorcycles hit the market, including the 850 Le Mans, a former development of the V7 Sport, the 750 S and the 750 S3 equipped with a three-disc brake. All those bikes used the frame based on the original Lino Tonti design.

Aprilia (2000-2004)

In 2000, Ivano Beggio of Aprilia acquired Moto Guzzi for a whopping $65 million. Beggio had declared he was born ‘Guzzista’ and to be at the head of such a historic brand was the goal of his life. The intention was to keep Moto Guzzi’s headquarters in Mandello del Lario and that it would share Aprilia’s technological capabilities and financial resources, but unfortunately Aprilia itself stumbled financially. Nonetheless, Aprilia managed to renovate the Mandello Moto Guzzi factory.

Piaggio (2004-Present Day)

In 2004, Piaggio, in turn, acquired Aprilia. Over the years, the V twin engine was developed further and it continues to be the base for Guzzi production. Displacement kept rising until 1400 cc and 4-valve heads became standard.

Notable models

After their first GP500 four-valve prototype, the Guzzi Parodi, Moto Guzzi’s first mass-produced motorcycle came to the market in 1921. The first official Moto Guzzi was named ‘Normale’, but with its innovative, robust and reliable design and performance, it was anything but normal. Especially compared to the contemporary motorcycles of the roaring twenties.

In the late 40s, a two-stroke engine was developed. The three-speed lightweight Guzzino 65cc, later the Cardellino 73cc, was a best seller during the rebuilding era after WWII, probably because it was, simple, cheap to maintain, and usually the only vehicle available to Italian families. It could be said that, together with Vespa and Lambretta, the Guzzino helped Italy to rise up from the ruins that the war had left behind.

Moto Guzzi’s most famous single cylinder engine is the Falcone 500cc. The motorcycle was created in 1950 and featured an innovative front shock absorber; the never-before-seen, upside-down reversed fork.

Moto Guzzi was a pioneer of several innovations in the motorcycle world, including the centre stand and the revolutionary back elastic frame first used on the GT500cc Norge. The company has also produced models specifically for military and police forces.

Another famous popular vehicle was the Galetto (2xL 2xT). Made in 1950, this hybrid of a scooter and motorbike has a single horizontal cylinder four-stroke engine, spare wheel and a larger displacement than the contemporary two-stroke engine scooters. It was able to ride longer distances and had enough power for two people plus luggage.

In 1955 the Moto Guzzi 500cc V8 came to the race track; the highest amount of cylinders fractionation ever attempted on a racing bike. It still remains a unique technical example today: no one has ever tried to put such an engine into a racing motorcycle chassis. Already in 1957, still at the beginning of its development, it could deliver the impressive power of 75 hp. And the soundtrack was just as incredible!   

Sports achievements

In 1935 at the hands of pilot Stanley Woods, Moto Guzzi won the Tourist Trophy at the Isle of Man. In 1937 the success was copied by the first non-British pilot able to win the famous Mountain race, Omobono Tenni on a 250cc single. Notable achievements in motorsports by Moto Guzzi were seen at the very beginning of the motorcycle World Champion, until 1957. That the year when Guzzi, together with Gilera and Mondial, quit the championship following a conflict with the FIM and the ban on full fairing motorcycles.

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Discover more motorcycles | Moto Guzzi

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