From Aviation to Motorcycling
The First MV Agusta
The Boom Of The 50’s
1960 to 1980
From Cascina Costa To Schiranna
From Aviation to Motorcycling
The name Agusta first rose to prominence in the early twentieth century. It belonged to a pioneer of the fledgling Italian aeronautics industry, count Giovanni Agusta. Born in Sicily, he later moved to Lombardy and in 1907 founded his company at “Cascina Costa” in Samarate (Varese). Production of Agusta aircraft soared during the First World War, when the Count also signed up as a volunteer in the Malpensa Air Battalion.
When he died in 1927, the company passed into the hands of his widow Giuseppina and son Domenico, who soon found themselves faced by a crisis in the aeronautics sector and were forced to diversify to avoid shutting down altogether. They decided to convert production from aircraft to motorcycles, in response to the Italians’ growing demand for individual motorized transport. The first thing they did was come up with a motorcycle engine which was inexpensive to produce and run, a two-stroke engine with a displacement of 98 cc and a three port timing system; the resulting bike had primary gear transmission, an oil-bath clutch and a two-speed gearbox.
Development of the engine was interrupted by the second world war, and in 1943 Cascina Costa was occupied by German troops. The occupation lasted until the end of the war, when Domenico Agusta established Meccanica Verghera in order to complete his motorcycle project: this would be a new company, one fully prepared to meet the challenges of the motorcycle market.
The First MV Agusta
In the autumn of 1945 the first MV Agusta was presented to the public. It was supposed to be called the “Vespa 98”, but the name had already been registered. And so it was referred to simply as the “98”, available in “Touring” and “Economical” versions. Deliveries began in 1946, the year MV Agusta officially began competing in endurance races. It didn’t have to wait long for its first victory: in the first season Vincenzo Nencioni won an endurance race in La Spezia, then again in Monza on November 3 when all the podium places were occupied by MV Agusta riders (Vincenzo Nencioni, Mario Cornalea and Mario Paleari).
It was in the wake of these early successes that the 98 “Sport” was built. It differed from the earlier models on account of its telescopic fork, a new 5 cm shorter frame and sportier handling. Changes to the engine increased its power to almost 5 hp: a record at that time for an engine of this size.
In 1947 MV Agusta went to the Milan Trade Fair with a number of new developments. In addition to a “Luxury” version of the 98, two-cylinder two-stroke 125 cc bikes and 250 cc single-cylinder 4-stroke bikes appeared.
The following year the 125 cc category was introduced into the Italian speed championships (Campionato Italiano di Velocità), allowing MV Agusta to enter its “125 three gear” model. In 1949 the “98” and “125” were replaced by the new “125 TEL”, flanked by the 125 type “B” scooter in the same year.
The Boom Of The 50’s
Motorcycle racing resumed in the early fifties. MV Agusta became a racing legend thanks to outstanding progress in performance and technology. The publicity generated by its competitive success brought Cascina Costa increased sales of its range of versatile, economical bikes that responded perfectly to market demand. Moreover, racing generated offshoots such as the sumptuous 4-cylinder 4-stroke 500 Turismo and the sporty 125 Motore Lungo, named so because of the lengthened crankcases covering its ignition magnet.
While the latter went on to become the most popular sports bike of its day, the former proved to be costly and never got past prototyping. The year 1953 was something of an industrial milestone, with MV Agusta producing 20,000 bikes for the first time thanks to its comprehensive range and the introduction of the unique 125 Pullman model. Moreover, the first plant licensed to produce motorbikes for export was opened in Spain.
In the meantime, on the racing front, the Motorcycling Federation decided to reintroduce competitions for mass-produced motorcycles. For this new championship MV Agusta industrialised production of the MV Agusta 124 Monoalbero (single-shaft), a bike derived from Cascina Costa’s legendary racing machines. The following year, 1954, saw the debut of the 175 CSS, which became famous as “the flying saucer” because of the disk-like shape of its fuel tank. This model, in addition to offering aesthetic appeal, allowed MV’s riders to win in the Sport classes too. In the late fifties the motorcycle market was still booming, though there were already signs of the crisis that would later force many manufacturers to cut investment in racing and applied research.
But MV went decidedly against the trend here, purchasing Bell helicopter manufacturing licences which put new technologies at its disposal for application on motorcycles. The many innovations dating from this period include a number of progressive hydraulic gear prototypes, two-stroke fuel injection engines, plus research-focused bikes such as the six-cylinder 500 four-stroke.
MV also stood out from the other motorcycle manufacturers when it came to the more economical bikes. Instead of adapting its engine displacements to the standards set by racing, it preferred to adopt an “optimal compromise” research philosophy aimed at its general clientele. In accordance with this policy, in 1956 the company presented the “83”, capable of carrying two people comfortably at reasonable speeds with limited fuel consumption. In 1959 it started producing a new lubrication system that permitted MV Agusta engines to achieve hitherto unknown standards of reliability, so much so that the warranty on MV engines was extended to 100,000 km. The generation of bikes built with this new engine was soon nicknamed the “hundred thousand”.
1960 to 1980
The 1960s saw the advent of mass car ownership, causing a sharp slowdown in the motorcycle market. MV Agusta reacted to this shift in consumer tastes with true enterprising spirit by offering new models that would continue to appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts. Of these, the one that went down in history was the 600, the first maxi motorbike on the market to offer a four-cylinder engine. Derived from Mike Hailwood’s 500 GP, it gradually developed into the high performance 750 S America with a top speed of 220 kph.
The same year saw the introduction of the 125 Disco, so-called on account of the rotary disc timing of its two stroke engine. The late 60s marked the start of the Agostini era, with the three and four-cylinder 350 and 500 models dominating from 1967 to 1973. These two models were produced first with three-cylinder and then four-cylinder engines to hold back the tide of Japanese two-stroke bikes.
After Count Domenico’s death in the early 70s, the company faced severe economic difficulties. This period was marked by a clash between two opposing schools of thought within company management: one believed it best to pursue investment in racing, the other was convinced that only a reduction in racing commitments would help them balance the books. The outcome was a middle-of-the-road arrangement that resulted in limited development of the racing team and a drastic fall in the number of models on offer to just two: the 350 and the 750. The former was available in three different set-ups – “Scrambler”, “GTEL” and “SEL” – while the 750 came in the Sport and Gran Turismo versions.
On the racing front MV continued to keep the Yamaha two-strokes and the Suzukis of Jarno Saarinen and Barry Sheene at bay. Fierce resistance to the Japanese invasion came from the plucky Phil Read, who took two wins in the 1975 season, and, of course, Giacomo Agostini. Agostini had made a surprise return from his spell with Yamaha and it was he who notched up the last MV Agusta victory on the Nurburgring on 29 August 1976.
The company’s precarious economic position forced MV Agusta to seek out a new financial partner. A solution was found in the form of public financing giant EFIM (Ente Partecipazioni e Finanziamento Industria Manifatturiera), which demanded that MV Agusta exit the motorcycle industry if were to have any chance of straightening its finances. The awkward decision to halt motorcycle production resulted in the abandonment of a new generation of large twin cam 16-valve engines (750 and 850 cc) which were to have been launched at the Milan Motorcycle Fair in 1977. The company had even reserved its stand, but simply failed to show up; however, they continued to sell bikes until 1980, when the last machine in the Cascina Costa warehouses was bought up.
The name MV Agusta returned to the headlines in July 1986 when the trade press advertised a sale of bikes, prototypes, frames and engines from the company’s legendary racing division. The news raised such clamour that the leading journalists of the day demanded government intervention to protect what was a part of Italy’s engineering heritage. Unfortunately, not even the historical and technical worth of these superb racing machines was enough to attract the interest of the Ministry of Industry and State Holdings: the entire lot of motorbikes and parts went to Italo-American Roberto Iannucci for about one and a half billion Lire (approximately 750 thousand Euros). And so ended the industrial saga of MV Agusta of Cascina Costa, in an atmosphere of controversy and heartfelt nostalgia for a glorious past.
From Cascina Costa To Schiranna
After the controversy surrounding the Iannucci affair had died down, MV Agusta was back in the news in the spring of 1992 thanks to an unexpected statement from Cagiva Motor’s press office. It was officially announced that ownership of the Cascina Costa trademark would go to Castiglioni’s group following lengthy negotiations with a number of interested parties in finance and industry. The only thing under negotiation was ownership of the trademark, as the machinery and motorcycles had mostly been sold, with the exception of several road and racing bikes lovingly preserved by the Agusta Retired Workers’ Association (these are now on display in the museum in Cascina Costa).
Motorcycle fans greeted the news enthusiastically. The purchase of the legendary trademark by the most dynamic and determined entrepreneurs in the motorcycle industry would, surely, mean the rebirth of MV Agusta. After all, the Castiglioni family were the only businesspeople on the scene capable of reviving ailing firms and making them successful. The Castiglioni family had demonstrated their managerial talent when Cagiva rose from the ashes of the glorious Aermacchi AMF; just a few years later Cagiva saved Ducati, in dire straits, a victim of public financing strategies. Lastly, they’d moved Husqvarna production from Sweden to Schiranna, allowing the group to offer Europe’s widest motorcycle range. But while the other trademarks had involved a technical or industrial inheritance, when it came to MV Agusta the only certainty was the prestige of the glorious trademark.
Faced with a blank sheet of paper, Cagiva Motor engineers sought a way forward, starting from the assumption that an MV Agusta bike, to be true to its technical heritage, had to have a 3 or 4-cylinder in-line engine. No such configuration was used on European motorcycles, so Claudio Castiglioni was faced with the choice of either buying a Japanese engine or creating an entirely new one. He chose the latter, and started out with a project developed by Ferrari, referred to as the F4: it is a project that MV Agusta engineers are still developing to this day. The engine was designed using exclusive solutions such as a radial valve arrangement and a removable transmission, the former an offshoot of multi-cylinder Ferrari engines, the latter from Cagiva GP bikes. Industrial manufacturing of the new engine proceeded in concert with the design of the chassis set-up and styling, entrusted to the renowned Massimo Tamburini, then director of CRC (Cagiva Research Centre). Tamburini already had several years’ experience “dressing” this type of engine, experience gained during his years with Bimota (which stands for Bianchi, Morri and Tamburini).
The first prototype was completed on the eve of the 1997 Trade Fair in Milan and presented to the press on 16 September of that year. On seeing the all-new MV Agusta F4, the reporters were simply stunned. Red and silver just like its forebears, with an organ-pipe exhaust system reminiscent of lost symphonies, the MV Agusta F4 was an immediate success, the ideal object of every motorcyclist’s desire. The subsequent process of industrialisation was a two-stage affair: the first saw a limited production run of 300 F4 Gold Series bikes, with carbon bodywork, magnesium parts and an engine with sand-cast crankcase. Afterwards came the manufacture of the S model, aimed at a broader customer base thanks to a price that was half that of the Gold version.
In April 1999 the F4 Gold Series was presented ‘in action’ at the Monza racetrack for the first time, putting on a show that attracted the attention of over a hundred trade publications. The bike had an impressive speed of over 280 kph, an extraordinary chassis and outstanding handling characteristics, all universally acknowledged as setting new standards. Despite a price tag of over 68 million lire (approximately 35 thousand Euros), the F4 Gold Series was snapped up by wealthy motorcycle aficionados from all over the world that included royalty, actors and sports personalities: King Juan Carlos of Spain, Emanuele Filiberto, Lapo Elkan, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Hugh Laurie, Brad Pitt, Eddy Irvine, Michael Schumacher, Gerhard Berger and all the players on the Italian football team that won the 2006 World Cup.
Manufacturing the new MV Agusta involved complete reorganisation of the production cycle, conversion of the Schiranna plant and the establishment of new engine and chassis assembly lines. The production facilities of MV Agusta were redesigned together with Porsche Consulting. To boost its market share, MV Agusta also invested in a new bike platform, creating a revolutionary 3-cylinder 675 cc engine. Introduced in 2010, this gave rise to the new mid-weight sports MV Agusta F3 675, which made its debut in 2012 and soon became one of the best-selling bikes in the 600 class. Again in 2012, the 3-cylinder 675 cc engine was used to power the new mid-weight naked, the Brutale 675. Throughout 2013 the range continued to expand with the introduction of the new 800 cc Brutale and F3; the entire 4-cylinder range was also renewed with the upgraded F4 1000 and Brutale 1090. At the end of 2013, MV Agusta began shipping the Rivale 800 to showrooms: this exclusive model won the “Best-Looking Bike of the 2012 Show” title in the year of its presentation. During 2013 the company presented the Turismo Veloce 800, the first, revolutionary tourer to be built by MV Agusta. Lastly, the first few months of 2014 saw the launch of the Brutale 800 Dragster, an uncompromising, breathtakingly styled naked – the most extreme, essential naked bike ever!