One of my favorite stops when I went to Italy last year for a cover story with Motorcyclist magazine (I don’t know why it’s never been posted to their website) was Moto Guzzi’s official museum in Mandello del Lario. Even if you’re nearby, it can be difficult to visit because it’s only open from 3pm to 4pm during the week (2:30pm to 4:30pm in July). So with that in mind, here’s a few of my favorites from my quick visit to tempt you in to visiting for yourself!
I’ve featured a few of these in the past on my Instagram feed, but it seems nice to have everything together in one spot.
The good stuff started even before we got into the museum. We killed some time in town before the museum opened up and at one point we parked next to a MG Bellagio, which was never offered in the US.
This example has been customized and to my untrained eye it’s got the tank, subrame, and seat from a V7 II. I think it looks fantastic.
The overall styling and the owner’s modifications make me feel like this is a Griso from an alternate timeline.
There were more interesting machines in the parking lot outside of the factory. Here’s an Aprilia Mana 850 – most notable for the automatic transmission. Note the lack of a clutch lever, though there’s still the foot shifter if you want to put it into “manual” mode and tell the computer when to shift.
My favorite machine in the parking lot was this Beta Alp 4.0. These are very interesting options for those of you that want quality off-road performance without the maintenance schedules associated with modern 450cc dirtbikes. It’s Italian in name and design but the engine might look familiar to you – it’s basically the motor from a Suzuki DR350! This example was setup with all kinds of luggage and I tried in vain to find the owner to see where he was traveling from.
It’s finally time to enter the factory! As soon as you get behind the gate there’s a security guard (dressed in incredibly fashionable clothing) who checks you in, and then you’re off to the museum.
Party time. Hiding in the shadows are Chris Cantle, current editor-in-chief of Motorcyclist and Julia LaPalme, current freelancer extraordinaire.
There’s lots of natural light thanks to the ample windows. This was great to look at the bikes but it made it difficult to get good photos of certain models – especially the ones enclosed in glass!
The first Moto Guzzi wasn’t actually called a Moto Guzzi – it was the GP, which stood for Guzzi-Parodi.
The story of how Moto Guzzi came to be is interesting and tragic. As a young man, Carlo Guzzi developed a passion for engine building which led to a job at Isotta Fraschini, but got in the way. While serving as a mechanic in the Royal Marines, he befriended two pilots (Giovanni Ravelli, and Giorgio Parodi) and together they decided that they would create a motorcycle company once the Great War was over. The plan was that Guzzi would build the bikes, Ravelli would race them, and Parodi (who was part of a shipping dynasty) would fund it. Unfortunately, Ravelli passed away in a plane crash during a test flight and he never had a chance to see the idea through. Guzzi and Parodi created their first bike (the GP shown above), but Parodis family wanted their name removed to prevent any embarrassment if the motorcycle was a flop. “Società Anonima Moto Guzzi” was born, and the two friends used the eagle logo of the Italian Air Force to commemorate Ravelli.
The first motorcycle to bear the “Moto Guzzi” name – the 8 horsepower Normale of 1921. That year, just 17 bikes were built, but it was the start of one of the coolest marques of all time.
The first floor is the early stuff with a mix of production bikes, racers, and prototypes. Here, Chris admires a C4V – 499cc, 22 horsepower, and a top speed of 93 miles per hour.
One of my favorite motorcycles at the museum was the experimental Cicogna (which translates to “stork”). It features a 499cc four-stroke single that produces 13.2 horsepower, a gearing-limited top speed of 50 miles per hour, and Guzzi’s ‘meat slicer’ exposed flywheel. Most importantly, this bike also has skis! It must have been quite a sight when it debuted in the 1930s.
There’s a plaque on the front fender that details the trips that were taken with this bike – the first was 2,000 meters in 1934.
The “Albatros”, a popular 250cc privateer racer.
The “Tre Cilindri”, a 492cc inline triple that produced 65 horsepower and could top 140 miles per hour.
Moto Guzzi themselves consider this one of their “least well known” bikes because supercharged motorcycles were banned from racing soon after it was built so it was never truly fleshed out.
A few Guzzi motors from 1937-1947.
Once you head upstairs you’ll be greeted by a room of old photos and certificates, as well as a model of the “Galleria del Vento.” You probably know it as a wind tunnel, and Moto Guzzi is particularly proud of theirs. They should be – it was the world’s first wind tunnel built for motorcycles.
As you can probably see, the system was able to generate wind speeds up to 225 km/h (140 mph).
The second floor of the museum is pretty much dedicated to machines built after WWII – production bikes, racers, prototypes, you name it.
The Gambalunghino took over as MG’s production racer from the Albatros in 1949. It produced 25 horsepower and could reach about 120 mph.
In 1955, this Guzzi won the 350cc Grand Prix with Bill Lomas winning 4 out of 7 rounds. The 349cc single put out 35 horsepower, enough for a top speed of over 135 miles per hour thanks to the dustbin fairing developed in Guzzi’s wind tunnel.
Another 350cc single, this racer was built in 1956. Guzzi would take 1st and 2nd that year (Bill Lomas repeated as champion) but I could not figure out which specific bike this was.
Another gem is this 1966 Moto Guzzi Dingo Cross. I normally wouldn’t get too excited about a 1.5 horsepower, 49cc scoot with a top speed of 25 miles per hour, but a journalist named Roberto Patrignani tested this bike by taking it over 4,500 miles through the African continent from Cape Town to Asmara (the capital of Eritrea). Besides the bare essentials, It seems he just carried a notebook and two-stroke oil to premix into the gasoline he sourced along the way. The museum has an additional photo of Roberto at the equator in Kenya and a lovely poster with a clipping of his story in a newspaper. It’s a treat!
There were a few other small displacement off-roaders that I found particularly charming. Here’s a 1960 Stornello Regolarita…
…here’s another one doing a stellar wheelie. Look at that smile!
Rewind to 1986: in response to a request from their French importer, MG created 16 replicas of a bike they had built the previous year to compete in Baja. Goodies included a 30 liter gas tank, Marzocchi suspension, 2-into-1 exhaust, a lengthened swingarm from a Le Mans, heavy duty skid plate, and a kickstarter to replace the magic button.
More big-bike-bruising from Moto Guzzi – here’s their 1986 Paris-Dakar racer with the new 744cc V-Twin. The motor produced just over 60 horsepower and it weighed about 350 pounds. Guzzi claims a top speed of 106 miles per hour, presumably over just about any surface!
Just two were built, but neither was able to make it all the way to the end.
The Falco 350 (346cc) prototype. 42 horsepower, 100 mph top speed, and styling that reminds you this was designed in 1987.
A racer prepped by Dr. John Wittner – a dentist who became a legend in Guzzi history thanks to his success in endurance racing.
Weirdly, the top floor ends with a Centauro (introduced in the mid 90s) and then you go back downstairs to a poorly-thought out final section that just seems to include bikes or engines that weren’t displayed upstairs because they ran out of room. Maybe in a few years this will have some more modern features to continue the chronological theme of the rest of the building.
This 73cc oddball set speed records of a flying kilometer at 60 miles per hour and 1,000 kilometers at an average speed of 47 miles per hour.
Built in 1950, this was another record breaker – the 75cc 2-stroke single motor powered this interesting shape for a distance of 1,000 kilometers while average a speed of 65.8 miles per hour.
It couldn’t be the official MG museum without one of the legendary V8s, right?
Remember how I mentioned that the museum was only open for an hour? Turns out an hour isn’t very long when you’re trying to take a lot of pictures. I actually ran out of time at the end so I rushed a few shots of some endurance racers and a MGS-01 – again, the last room seems hastily put together without much in the way of organization. Still, I took lots of photos that I did not show above in a half-hearted attempt at brevity. If you really want to see more, head on over to the complete album. Hope you enjoy!