19th July 2022

Moto Guzzi: The Italian innovators

You might imagine the title of oldest European motorcycle manufacturer in continuous production would be held by one of the great British brands. Triumph and Royal Enfield, for example, have histories tracing back to the dawn of the twentieth century - but both companies were blighted by receivership in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Only one European manufacturer has celebrated a centenary of constant production: Italy’s innovative Moto Guzzi.

Towards the end of World War I, three members of the Italian Air Corp began to discuss their plans for the post war world. Despite remarkably different socio-economic backgrounds, they were united by a shared passion for motorcycles and were soon discussing plans for a joint business venture in motorcycle manufacturing. The idea was that pilots Giovanni Ravelli and Giorgio Parodi would finance, test and promote the motorcycles, while mechanic Carlo Guzzi would manage the building and engineering. Tragically Ravelli was killed in a plane crash in 1918, leaving Parodi and Guzzi to take the business forward - the pair would later pay tribute to Ravelli within the Moto Guzzi logo which features a soaring eagle to this day.

Following the end of World War I Guzzi and Parodi took just three years to develop their first machine, the 1921 8 HP Normale. Carlo Guzzi’s all-new horizontal single cylinder was simple, reliable and relatively smooth - demonstrating man’s clear engineering prowess - and was also perfectly suited to racing. Incredibly the flat single engine it would be used to power Moto Guzzi bikes for the next 45 years, also kickstarting plans to establish and build the brand through racing success.

Carlo Guzzi’s engine was pivotal to the manufacturer’s success both on and off the track, securing wins at over 3,300 official events before the company pulled out of racing in 1957. By that time, Moto Guzzi had won 14 world GP championships and 11 Tourist Trophies. Just as importantly, the successful Airone 250 model of 1939 would remain Italy's best-selling medium capacity motorcycle for over 15 years.

The 1960s was a tough decade for Moto Guzzi following the retirement of Carlo Guzzi in 1961; by 1964 the company was close to ruin. A welcome bail out came in 1967 led by Societa Esercizio Industrie Moto Meccaniche (SEIMM), a brand-new company backed by a major Italian building society. Perhaps the most important milestone arrived at the end of the decade with the development and launch of the iconic Moto Guzzi V-twin.

Instantly recognisable by its prominent transverse cylinder heads, the air-cooled 90° V-twin was the backbone of some legendary machines including the V7, V7 Special and the V7 Sport and is still used by Moto Guzzi today.

In 1973 De Tomaso purchased the parent company of Moto Guzzi and would remain in ownership for the next 27 years. The relationship was a successful one; the company was profitable and is rumoured to have supported other divisions of De Tomaso’s operations during that time.

The year 2004 marked the beginning of a new chapter for Moto Guzzi, following acquisition by the Piaggio group – a major Italian motorcycle manufacturer which also owns Vespa, Aprilia and Scarabeo – where it remains to this day. The legendary V7 model remains a popular choice with enthusiasts more than 50 years later, powered by a brand-new V-twin engine that aims to continue the legacy of Ravelli, Parodi and Guzzi for years to come.

Ever owned a Moto Guzzi? We’d love to hear your ownership experiences in the comments below…

I own the current V7 having had a Mk2 V7 previously. Back in the 70s I saw an MG 750 S3 but it was out of my reach financially and I ended up with a Triumph Bonneville.This time around I”ve ended up with MG and not regretted it. To me they are very similar to the Meriden Triumphs in feel and they have soul. They are not the fastest, most technically advanced or capable motorcycle but it feels like the Mandello factory have put all that 100 years into one complete package. They are worth getting to know.

Tonupkid, 23/07/2022