Aermacchi – formally known as Aeronautica Macchi – was founded in 1912 by Giulio Macchi and started out making monoplane aircraft and seaplanes for the Italian military. After the second World War, Aermacchi would start producing motorcycles, though it would continue to churn out dozens of different types of airplane models until as recently as 2005. The story of the RR250 starts back in 1960 when Harley-Davidson acquired a 50% stake in Aermacchi’s motorcycle division, though the remaining motorcycle holding would also be purchased by the moco in 1974. Lightweight Japanese machines were becoming increasingly popular and in an effort to nab a piece of that lucrative market, Harley snapped up the Italian manufacturer’s motorcycle division. Part of that purchase included Aermacchi’s road racing program which already had a fruitful competition history using its four-stroke singles. By the time the ’70’s rolled around, Aermacchi’s chief designer William Soncini had set out to create a lightweight engine that would be easy to maintain and repair while still being competitive. This was accomplished by dropping two 125cc motocross engines into a single casing, resulting in a solid little air-cooled quarter-liter twin. Soncini utilized a myriad of internal components from Yamaha’s TD series machines which saved a fortune in R&D and manufacturing expenses.
In 1971, Soncini’s design saw its first competition but it would be the following year that the 250 would really hit its stride, securing a trio of GP wins whilst being piloted by Renzo Pasolini (who had a long history with Aermacchi). In 1972, Paso (yes, the Ducati Paso is named after him) would finish runner-up in the 250 World Championship and 3rd in the 350 class – with what was an bored and stroked version of the RR250 that also used Yammy internals – and won the prestigious Italian Championship that year aboard an Aermacchi racer. The next year Pasolini would sadly lose his life while competing in the Italian Grand Prix and this is where fellow Italian racer Walter Villa entered the picture. Villa would immediately dominate, clinching back-to-back-to-back Grand Prix road-racing championships aboard an RR250 in ’74, ’75, and in ’76 when Villa also won the 350cc title aboard an RR350. Motorsport icon Enzo Ferrari was quoted saying Villa was “the Nicki Lauda of the bike world,” and called the Italian “a thinking racer”.
While Villa was no doubt an extremely skilled rider, the cutting-edge machines he was riding definitely did their part too. The RR250’s cooling system had by this time switched to a water-cooled setup and the six-speed two-stroker was ridiculously well dialed-in thanks to Villa patiently spending countless hours putting in test laps. On the heels of Villa’s success, Harley opted to capitalize on the occasion by building RR250 and 350 replicas that were made available for sale to the public, albeit in pretty small numbers. Different sources make different claims on the number of units produced, but one thing that is concretely known is that RR350 examples are way more rare, with some experts claiming only 26 were built, while it’s believed under 200 250’s were built. Back in January of 2015, a perfectly restored matching numbers RR350 example – believed to have been raced in the ’74 and ’75 seasons – sold at a Las Vegas Bonhams Auction for $32,200.
In addition to the water-cooling, the RR250 would continue receiving various upgrades over the years such as a front disc brake housed within a Campagnolo conical hub and a rear mono-shock conversion. In ’76, a Bimota chassis was wrapped around the quarter-liter power-plant and the mono-shock was jettisoned in favor of Marzocchi twin rear units. For the 1977 season, the 250’s Mikuni carbs were replaced by Dell’Orto units. When the RR250’s development finally came to an end, the little racer was making a cool 58 hp – nine more ponies than the ’72 double-R 250. Villa would eventually jump ship in ’78, though he would continue racing via a privateer effort, piloting Yamahas in the 250 and 350 classes. That same year Harley would sell Aermacchi to Cagiva, ending the relationship between the Italian and American companies, as well as Harley’s only successful time spent in GP completion.
This particular unrestored RR250 example from 1975 is in fantastic original shape and is supposedly one of less than 200 built, though I wasn’t able to verify that claim. Making this example even more rare is the fact that it has a US title. The seller says it could potentially be the only titled RR250 in the States, but at the very least it is one of very very few. The current owner purchased the Italamerican racer back in 2016 and has recently given it new pistons and rings, Tyga stingers, as well as a (non-original) Lomas ignition – although the stock unit works and is presumably included in the sale. Based on the example’s original condition, the price seems pretty reasonable, and it’s hard to imagine the value of this bike will do anything other than steadily increase.
The RR250 holds an important place in motorcycle race history, as well as a noteworthy place in Harley-Davidson’s 114-year long history, but the Aermacchi H-D racer is also a beautifully designed Italian machine. I’ve seen it referred to as one of the most beautiful racing motorcycle designs from the 1970s, and quite possibly of all time. On top of that, they sound pretty good too, here’s a YouTube video of one being fired up and revved.
You can find this (mostly) original 1975 Aermacchi Harley-Davidson RR250 for sale here on RaceBikeMart in New Jersey with a price of $18,000.
There’s also a beautifully restored 1974 Aermacchi Harley-Davidson RR250 example with matching numbers for sale here on RaceBikeMart in the Netherlands with a price of $23,650.