February 26, 2024

MotoGP, the farewell to Italian motorcycles that Count Agusta tore apart


As early as December 1957, the historic owner of MV asked employees to inform them that he would not abide by the farewell agreement from competitions concluded a few months earlier with Guzzi, Gilera and Mondial. A decision that caused a stir

Massimo Falcioni

– Milan

In early December 66 years ago, some say December 8th is the day of the Immaculate Conception, MV Agusta owner Domenico Agusta called the small group of mechanics and technicians from his racing department to his studio to relay urgent information. The tension is high, for fear of bad news from “Mr. Conte”: the closure of the racing department. Two months earlier, at the end of September 1957, MV, together with Guzzi, Gilera and Mondial, had signed a pact not to race. Instead, Agusta tells his men that MV no longer recognizes this agreement. In fact, the Cascina Costa company will contest the 1958 World Championship with a relay in all engine sizes: in the 500cc Surtees and Venturi plus Hartle, Masetti and Bandirola, in the 350cc Surtees and Hartle again, in the 250cc and 125cc Ubbiali and Provini, plus other drivers in the Italian championship.

the decision

Those present applaud and some of them cannot hold back their tears of joy. The departure from racing came like a bolt from the blue after the four major Italian manufacturers had dominated the 1956 season: notably the world champion MV Agusta with Carlo Ubbiali in the 125cc and 250cc and with John Surtees in the 500cc (no manufacturer had). Such poker had never been achieved before!) and at the Moto Guzzi with Bill Lomas in the 350. For the Germans… Sop the sidecar with Noli-Cron's BMW. The FIM itself (the organizer of MotoGP at the time) thanked the Italian manufacturers, without whom the races would not have been possible, especially not at this technical and competitive level. The bitter and historic opponents of the Italians, the English and German houses, had actually raised the white flag by making various kinds of excuses. There was only one truth: the absolute supremacy of Made in Italy motorcycles and the inability of Norton, BMW, Ajs, etc. to counteract it. Not only. In Italy, other manufacturers were preparing for the races: Ducati with a flaming 125cc Desmodromik entrusted to the promising Degli Antoni, Romolo Ferri and Montanari; Benelli, who thought of the big return to 250 after conquering the world title in 1950 and the withdrawal in 1951 due to the death of Dario Ambrosini in Albi (in fact, the company from Pesaro returned with an unprecedented single 4-stroke twin) . Cam 1958 in Monza with Silvio Grassetti) and other “smaller” brands. At the end of 1956, during Christmas and the end of the year holidays, panettone and sparkling wine descend on the racing departments of the Italian industry to toast the successes of the season and the successes that were considered imminent in 1957. Our manufacturers will continue to dominate: Mondial (125 with Tarquinio Provini and 250 with Cecil Sandford), Guzzi (350 with Keith Campbell), Gilera (500 with Libero Liberati). But by the end of 1957 there will be no more toasts.

end of an era

It was the end of an era, or rather an epic. A serious blow for racing and the Italian industry. The path opened for the Japanese. The question arises again: why have our great manufacturers withdrawn from competitions at the height of their triumphs, with structures and professionalism at the top of the world and with motorcycles of sophisticated and daring technology, like the amazing 500 8-cylinder 4-stroke of Guzzi, symbol of exceptional racing cars, the result of the ingenuity and ingenuity of Made in Italy, leaving the field open for competitors, especially for the industry of the Land of the Rising Sun? The first reason for the flat rate, “we are waiving it because the regulations have banned full fairings since 1958”, was a clumsy and mocking idea at the time. The second reason is even worse: “We are giving up because there is a lack of opponents”, given the participation of other Italian and European manufacturers and, above all, the announced entry into the world championship of Japanese manufacturers who were already there in 1959. With Honda he was at the English one TT strong, followed by Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Bridgestone, who expected great success on the track and in the markets. Here, too, one cannot blame cynical and deceitful fate. The manufacturers involved in racing left the field, not only because of the large human and financial resources required to compete, but because they no longer believed in the future of the motorcycle. From this perspective, racing no longer became an added value and a resource, but a luxury that was no longer affordable even for large manufacturers: victories no longer had a direct impact on sales, they were no longer the flagship, but one harmful noose of the neck. At least this was the assessment of Guzzi, Gilera, Mondial and also MV (the Cascina Costa company was still at the back thanks to its aeronautical production, especially helicopters), which led them to say goodbye to racing. But has racing really plunged these companies into crisis? Or was it not due to the inability to adapt the product “motorcycle” to the new needs of the markets and the relationship with the overwhelming automobile, and not to fully evaluate the “value” of racing in the new context, not just as a test bench for the production standard, but an irreplaceable tool for the identity of the corporate brand? Instead of taking on the new challenges and restarting and pushing innovation, it was decided to raise the white flag and cut off the branch of excellence and image that is most attractive to the enthusiastic consumer and that has most stimulated the plant itself to to give their best best fruits.

John's feeling

Certainly this “abstention pact” of 1957 was a defeat, a great missed opportunity. This “farewell to arms” pact was made official on September 26, 1957 and was also signed by MV Agusta of Varese, which then, not without controversy, withdrew its lump sum and dominated the scene for many seasons from 1958 (i.e. this year). He played poker with Ubbiali in the 125cc, with Provini in the 250cc, with Surtees in the 350cc and 500cc, with his cars marked on the tanks with the ambiguous and opportunistic inscription “private”. In this context, MotoGP 1958 will be monochromatic: for the first time one manufacturer will take all the titles (except the sidecar title) and for the first time eight titles will be assigned to a single brand, namely MV Agusta. Only once, in front of an astonished Jonh Surtees, did Count Agusta explain his decision to withdraw from the abstention pact and return to racing. “It felt like an escape, a defeat, not just personally, but for the whole of MV, for all the employees, especially for the drivers and my technicians in the racing department. I don't like escapes or defeats. When “Big John” told this story to the author of these notes twenty years ago, he held a red handkerchief over his glowing eyes.

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