MV Agusta—much like Ferrari—blatantly engaged in consumer motorcycle production for the sole purpose of funding its race program. While MV did manage to utterly dominate racing for a quarter-century, quite unlike Ferrari the company made its fortune selling small, rather pedestrian production models. But as this once-great company flamed out at the end of its spectacular run, it did finally produce a run of hand-made big-bore superbikes—finally delivering MV’s storied race pedigree to the public.
The company started in 1945 as an offshoot of Agusta Aviation (est. 1921), and was aimed at capitalizing on the post-war need for cheap personal transportation. MV stands for Meccanica Verghera, the village where the first MVs were made, and it existed parallel to but separate from the Agusta helicopter manufacturing company.
MV produced utilitarian, mostly sub-150cc bikes through the 1950’s and 60’s, but from the very start the company chased glory on the racetrack, racking up a staggering number of Grand Prix championship victories that will likely never be matched by another manufacturer.
Piloted over the years by legends like Surtees, Hailwood, Agostini and Read, MV won the 500cc class (the equivalent of today’s MotoGP) first in 1956, and then every consecutive season between 1958 and 1974. Victory came again and again aboard three-cyclinder 500s that were not available to the public.
The company had already peaked as it entered the 70s, and it rolled into the big bike era on steam gleaned from the two previous decades of race wins. With its small-displacement motorcycle sales diminished, MV upped the size of its production bikes—a 250 turned into a 350 twin, and then a 600 four-cylinder quickly evolved into a 750. The bikes were produced in extremely small batches and offered at up to three times the retail price of its competitors—totally unsustainable, but brilliant to behold.
When MV’s patriarch Count Domenico Agusta died in 1971, the company lost its way. It pulled the plug on its race program in 1976 and ceased motorcycle production in 1978 as a condition of a public financing agreement.
The 750S was a bike that MV almost begrudgingly offered to the motorcycle buying public as a last ditch effort to stay solvent. It was even rumored that Count Agusta insisted on retaining a shaft drive on this bike so that privateers couldn’t compete with his factory racers who benefited from the performance of a special chain-drive conversion kit.
1976 MV AGUSTA 750S AMERICA
The MV Augusta 750S America was built to fulfill a request from the company’s U.S. importer, which bet that the market would sustain an outrageously priced luxury motorcycle with bona-fide superbike specs, right hand brake, and vastly upgraded instruments and controls over the standard 750S.
1978 MV AGUSTA MAGNI 861
Arturo Magni joined MV Agusta in 1950, and as the eventual manager of the company’s race program he had a big hand in racking up 75 world championships and winning more than 3,000 races before MV pulled the plug on its race program in 1976—two years before shuttering the company completely.
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)
Bonus: The Benelli 750 Sei