Moto Guzzi: On Eagle’s Wings

Moto Guzzi testrider Raimondo Riva wringing out an early V7 Sport

This iconic Italian brand started as a scheme hatched by three friends enlisted together in the Italian Air Corps during WWI. Two pilots and their mechanic, Carlo Guzzi, schemed to start a company that would make them all rich and famous through the racing and production of innovative motorcycles.

Moto Guzzi was formed in 1921 to realize that dream, and today it’s the longest continually operating motorcycle company in Europe. The company quickly began development of a horizontal single-cylinder motorcycle that would define the first 45 years of its history. Variants of the original design would go on to win the Isle of Mann TT in 1935, and later dominate middleweight grand prix racing during the 1950’s.

Riding high, Moto Guzzi poured money into R&D, and Guzzi’s brilliant chief engineer Giulio Carcano undertook development of an ambitious 500cc V8 grand prix racer that in 1955 put out 80 horsepower and was clocked during a live race at a mind-boggling 170mph. For reference, it would be 30 years before another GP bike went so fast.

Ultimately the Otto Cilindri proved too dangerous and unreliable and was shelved two years after its debut. But it wasn’t for naught. When Carcano was tasked with the more constrained design challenge of vying for an open grant to build a new police bike for the Italian government, he came up with an air-cooled transverse cylinder pushrod V-twin—the distinctive V-shaped silhouette of which would come to define the Moto Guzzi through the present day.

Guzzi’s sturdy shaft-drive design won the contract, giving Moto Guzzi a valuable new income stream that it would parlay with sales to police departments from New Orleans to Los Angeles, as well as the California Highway Patrol.

Financial woes put the company into state-controlled receivership in 1967, forcing the company into producing a series of mopeds marketed with humiliating names like Dingo and Trotter.

Redemption came when Lino Tonti joined the engineering department and quickly contributed an innovative trussed chassis. With the “Tonti frame” V-Twin, Guzzi was ready for the 70’s.


1971 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport “Telaio Rosso”

This very first 150 V7 Sports issued by Moto Guzzi came with striking lime green bodywork and frame highlighted with a bright red paint job. Love or hate the color combo, the Telaio Rosso was deliberately hard to miss.

1974 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport

After the colorful debut of 150 first-edition V7 Sports (the Telaio Rosso Edition), Guzzi went on to sell about 3,500 standard models over three years of production. While these bikes might pale slightly in comparison to the hopped up “red-frame” edition, the real comparison should be made to Guzzi’s outgoing loop-frame, 700cc V7 Special that the V7 Sport was brought in to replace. More than just picking up 50cc’s and 10 horsepower, the V7 Sport really represented an entirely new motorcycle.

1976 Moto Guzzi LeMans 850

If the V7-Sport is where the legend of big, fast, rock-steady Tonti-frame Moto Guzzi V-twins began, the bikini-clad 850 Le Mans is the genre’s ultimate culmination.


Start Here: Intro 70s Italian Superbikes

The Ducati Story
Ducati 350 Mark 3-D (1968-1972)
Ducati 350 Desmo (1971-1972)
Ducati 750S (1972-1974)
Ducati 750SS (1973-1974)
Ducati 900SS (1975-1982)
Ducati Darmah (1977-1982)
Ducati MHR (1979-1984) 

The Laverda Story
Laverda 750S (1969-1970)
Laverda SF (1970-1976)
Laverda SFC (1971-1976)
Laverda Jota (1976-1983)
Laverda Montjuic (1979-1981)

The Moto Guzzi Story
Moto Guzzi V7 Telaio Rosso (1971)
Moto Guzzi V7 Sport (1971-1974)
Moto Guzzi 750S (1974-1975)
Moto Guzzi Lemans 850 (1976-1978)

The MV Agusta Story
MV Agusta 750S (1971-1974)
MV Agusta 750 America (1975-1977)
MV Agusta Magni 861

BonusThe Benelli 750 Sei