For most of its history, the biggest Italian motorcycle manufacturer and successful racer struggled to stay alive. Moto Guzzi worked on tight budget and could for a long time only develop the highly in demand California model until Aprilia put new trust in the brand and a line of new bikes.
Moto Guzzi History
A friendship among three air corps buddies (Carlo Guzzi, Giorgio Parodi and Giovanni Ravelli) who had the idea to start a motorcycle firm after the First World War. However, Ravelli was killed in a plane crash which was a shock to Carlo and Giorgio.
The two friends kept going with the motorcycle company and adapted the air corps icon (an eagle symbol) in Ravelli’s honor. Moto Guzzi has been the largest Italian motorcycle builder for most of its history.
In 1920 Carlo designed the first bike called Normale (500cc). It went into production in 1922 and continued a wave of racing success. Of course, the Normale became a popular model. Moto Guzzi updated the model over the years, but didn’t integrate new race technology, instead preferring to stay safe on the production bike series and earn a reliable name.
Guzzi started producing beautiful bikes like the GT tour (1928), Condor (1938), Dondolino (1940) and the Sport 15 (1931) all delivered in the bright red color of Moto Guzzi. The company’s success continued spurred on by loads of racing victories during these years.
A retro design in 1950 saw the Falcone introduced, based on the first Normale layout. The immensly popular Falcone was built on the 1949 Astore Tourer and styled a little more sporty. The production of the Falcone continued until 1976 with a few updates along the way.
An unusual request from the Italian army for a 3×3 bike saw Moto Guzzi integrate its new V twin engine with a 745 cc capacity. The engine would become a trademark of Guzzi in later years. Later the same engine was also used for army bikes, and it was only a small transition to integrate it to the civilian models.
In 1967 Moto Guzzi produced the V7 and in 1979 the V7 Special as a follow-up. With 757cc Guzzi was stepping up to the larger capacity bikes. With the army development background a good handling V7 was produced. The V7 was also modified to a sports model (V7 Sport).
The 850 Le Mans (844cc) was introduced in 1976. A stunning sportster which would become one of the most desirable sportsters of the 1970s. It featured many innovative aspects for its time (big valves, pistons, tuned engine, excellent brakes and much more).
Moto Guzzi’s financial history was rocky and despite owning a huge factory complex and employing over 1500 people Guzzi started to run into financial problems by the end of the 1960s. When old management retired, a misguided venture into moped bikes left Guzzi bankrupt. In 1973 Moto Guzzi was bought by an Argentinean Alejandro De Tomaso. Many Guzzi fans had hoped he would spark a new re-investment in the copmany, but that remained a hope.
During the difficult 1970s Moto Guzzi survived with the popular V7 Special, called the California in the USA. The engine was updated from 850cc, 950cc and later on to 1100cc. The California remained a popular model especially in the American market.
The successful 850 Le Mans was in desperate need of a follow-up and it took a long time for it to arrive. Sparked by the help of amateur race enthusiasts, Guzzi engineer John Wittner (who had considerable knowledge of Guzzi powered racebikes) helped develop a new Le Mans model. In 1992 the Daytona 1000 (992cc) was introduced, followed by the 1100 Sport two years later.
Moto Guzzi operated on a tight budget, but still showed there was life in Guzzi race development. Aprilia noticed the potential and took over Moto Guzzi and gave it the financial support it deserved. This has lead to a new modern line of motorcycles like the Breva 750.