September 9-10-11 sees the 95th anniversary celebrations of Moto Guzzi, the historic Italian marque founded at Mandello del Lario on the banks of Lake Como in 1921. Since then, the company has produced over 50 different models, many, like the famous Le Mans, powered by the transverse V-twin, which has become a Guzzi trademark. But what other iconic machines has the Italian firm produced over that time? Here are our pick of the best, in chronological order…
Although today famous for its transversely mounted V-twins, early Guzzis were all characterised by a horizontally mounted single cylinder engine. Indeed, its very first bike, the Normale, designed by Carlo Guzzi, was a 500cc, horizontally mounted, pushrod single producing an impressive 8bhp. As such, the engine became the basis of bikes over the next few decades and proved hugely successful in racing, as well.
The Falcone was the last of the classic, original, horizontally-mounted 500cc singles before the Italian marque’s range slowly converted to V-twins and as such is classic, bread and butter 1950s Moto Guzzi. Directly related to the Normale, like that bike it was available in a variety of forms including the Turismo tourer and Sport. Production ceased in 1967 with the debut of the first transverse V-twin, the V7.
1955-57 ‘Otto’ V8 GP racer
The sadly short-lived Moto Guzzi V8 GP racer, also known as the ‘Otto’, was arguably one of the boldest and most advanced motorcycles of all time. In the early 1950s, Guzzi was already renown for its engineering prowess and racing success. The new V8, conceived in 1954 to challenge racing rivals like Gilera’s 500/4, took things to a whole new level being liquid-cooled with DOHC, producing an unprecedented 78bhp and capable of an unheard of 172mph 20 years before the speed was achieved again in GPs. Unfortunately it was also unreliable and considered dangerous to ride and when Moto Guzzi withdrew from racing entirely in 1957 it was consigned to history. Two examples remain at Guzzi’s own museum.
Although best known today for its large capacity four-stroke V-twins, up to the 1970s the Italian marque was also a hugely successful lightweight manufacturer, the most famous and successful of which was the Stornello, a 125cc four-stroke single produced in a variety of forms including Sport and Turismo and up to 160cc. Cute, simple and useful it remained in production until 1974 by which time a Scrambler variant, as recently referenced by Guzzi’s new V7 Stornello Scrambler, had also been produced primarily for the US market.
1971-74 V7 Sport
Despite its reputation for V-twins today, Guzzi’s first transverse Vee didn’t arrive until 1967 with the 703cc V7 which proved such a success it quickly led to other variants including the 1968 757cc V7 Special and one of the most iconic Guzzis of all, the 1971 748cc V7 Sport. Designed by Guzzi engineer Lino Tonti as a pure sportster the Sport was intended to be the first five-speed, 200kg (440lb), 200kph (120mph) production bike and, as such was a major step forward and, effectively, the R1 of its day. Compact (thanks to a new frame), light (ish) and fast it led directly to the 750S, 750S3 and, most importantly, the iconic 850 Le Mans and is today considered one of the most collectable of all Guzzis.
Following the launch of the V7 Guzzi realized sales in the US were critical to its success and growth. To help promote this the very first two V7s were sold to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for just $1 each. This grew into a series of orders for police-spec machines from not just LA but ultimately Texas and Georgia and the production, from 1970, of a special police version (with footboards, different instruments and black and white livery) of Guzzi’s touring, ‘Eldorado’ V7 (these are the bikes, incidentally, featured famously in the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry sequel ‘Magnum Force’. This in turn led to public demand for a similar machine with the 1972 California being the popular result. The US-style tourer has lived on ever since as one of Guzzi’s most popular models.
1976 850 Le Mans
Possibly the most famous Guzzi of all was actually, originally, not much more than a ‘suped-up’ V7 Sport. However, with extra displacement, new disc brakes and striking styling, when the first Le Mans debuted in 1976 its combination of looks and performance really grabbed the public’s imagination. That success led to four successive models from the Mk II to its ultimate culmination in the ‘90s, the Mk V, although none of those bikes are as highly regarded as the original which remains among the most desirable of all Guzzi classics.
Not to be confused with the V7, the V11, in all its guises, was Guzzi’s most significant product during the company’s period of ownership by the ambitious Aprilia concern between 2000 and 2004. Initially developed under the old regime and launched as the unfaired V11 Sport in 1999, the Aprilia regime developed the base bike, improving its style and quality and launched a huge number of variants ranging from the basic but effective Sport Naked to the Ohlins and Brembo lavished, half-faired retro ‘Le Mans Tenni’ complete with suede seat. Although not the success Aprilia’s efforts deserved (Aprilia themselves collapsed in 2004 leading to a takeover by Piaggio) they’re increasingly valued today.
Introduced at Intermot 2002 the MGS-01 is about as exotic as modern day Guzzis get. An extremely limited production track-only race bike it’s the ultimate Guzzi transverse twin. It features an air-cooled, 1256cc engine with high compression Cosworth pistons and ceramic-coated cylinders, which produces 121bhp, upside-down front forks, one-piece quick-release carbon fibre bodywork, Brembo radial calipers and more.
2007- on V7
With the V7, Guzzi’s ‘small block’ middleweights finally came good. The first variant, the V7 Classic, was launched under Piaggio ownership in 2008 and as a straightforward, good-looking and novice-friendly retro-styled roadster rival to Triumph’s Bonneville, it proved an instant hit – enough for a succession of variants, including 2009’s Café Classic, the Clubman Racer from 2010 and the Special from 2012, to have followed in succession. Modern Guzzis don’t get any more classic – or appealing.