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"Fast Bikes", May 1, 2013

MV AGUSTA

It’s eventful being an Italian motorcycle manufacturer. In between spells of near obligatory bankruptcy and industrial chaos, the country always seems to be able to turn out the occasional stunning motorcycle and a bit of racetrack success. And no manufacturer embodies this philosophy more than MV Agusta.

While they may be seen as little more than novel exotica these days, back in the day the red and silver bullets were not just the best bikes in racing – they were unstoppable.

Between 1958 and 1960, MVs won all four Grand Prix classes (500cc, 350cc, 250cc and 125cc) every single year. The Italian bikes rarely lost a race and in total they won a massive 270 Grands Prix and 38 riders’ world titles. It was domination that no-one has managed before or since.

Founded as an offshoot of their successful helicopter manufacturing operation by the Agusta family in 1945, MV was motorcycling’s answer to Ferrari – grudgingly churning out production machines (albeit in small numbers) to fund their racing operations.

In 1949 (the first year of the world championships) the company entered the 125cc series, with Carlo Ubbiali finishing fourth overall. Their first wins came in the 1952 season when Brits Leslie Graham and Cecil Sandford were leading lights, Graham winning twice in 500s and Sandford winning thrice en route to the 125cc title. British legends Mike Hailwood and John Surtees took multiple titles on the red bikes before Giacomo Agostini, the most successful rider of all time, started his domination in the late sixties and early seventies. Ago won an incredible 110 races and 13 titles for the Varese crew.

But by the mid-seventies the four-stroke MV’s reign was over, killed by Japan and the two-stroke. Hit by the death of owner Count Agusta, the company slid into a slow and painful death on and off the track. Agostini took a final victory in 1976, the last GP win for a four-stroke in the 500cc class, and by 1980 the team had run its last race.

For 11 years the MV name lay dormant. The buy-out by Cagiva (who at the time also owned Ducati) saw the introduction of the F4 but, despite numerous rumours, there would be no return to world championship racing. Success in European superstock and Italian superbikes demonstrated some pedigree but the new ParkinGO team marks the first official MV Agusta entry in a world championship for 34 years.

MV’s return to world championship racing is a big deal, a really big deal. Welcome back, we’ve missed ya!

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