Moto Guzzi: Almost Famous

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With nearly 100 years of bikes under its belt, can MOTO GUZZI finally break into the mainstream?

Heritage is both a help and a hindrance to Moto Guzzi, an Italian motorcycle manufacturer with century-old roots. A rousing start was followed by a tough era featuring numerous slipups and near-fatal stumbles that eventually steered Guzzi to where it is today: a company that creates eclectic, aesthetically interesting bikes typically unseen by the masses. And that’s something the company hopes to change.

“With Moto Guzzi we are now facing what we call the ‘heritage brand dilemma,’” says Davide Zanolini, executive vice president of marketing and communication for Moto Guzzi’s parent company, Piaggio Group. The dilemma is this: “Preserve decades of history and tradition, or change to stay relevant for a rapidly evolving market? Heritage shouldn’t tell you where you are, but where to go next,” he says.

That heritage originated in 1919, when two World War I vets in Italy’s Air Service returned to their small town of Mandello del Lario on the shore of Lake Como and decided to collaborate on a street bike. Two years later, Carlo Guzzi, Emanuele Vittorio Parodi, and his son Giorgio started Moto Guzzi and MOTO created their first mass-market motorcycle, the eight-horsepower Normale. The bike sold well, and the guys found success when they brought their lightweight motorcycle to the racetrack, taking home their first trophy from the 1921 Targa Florio. In subsequent years, Guzzi debuted several other successful models, until the onset of World War II strangled production.

Times were tough, but Guzzi persisted, and in the early ’50s the company came out with acclaimed models like the Guzzi Cardellino 65 and the Falcone. By then it had cemented itself as a force in racing and became the first motorcycle company in the world to build a wind tunnel, reducing its bikes’ wind resistance to improve top speed. “The people from Mandello del Lario told me that every time they turned on the wind tunnel, the lights in the town would go out,” says Miguel Galluzzi, design director at Piaggio’s Advanced Design Center in Pasadena, California. “But everybody was happy about it, because they knew they were testing something nobody else had.”

Still, Moto Guzzi reallly struggled in a postwar Europe that embraced less expensive scooters. With motorcycle popularity waning, Guzzi reluctantly shifted its focus to smaller bikes.

By the late ’50s the company had abandoned motorsports, and following the death of Carlo Guzzi in 1964, the company could no longer manage its increasingly serious financial woes.

An Italian investment group stepped in and helped develop the V7, a handsome motorcycle with a transversemounted, 90-degree V-twin engine that became a pillar of Moto Guzzi design. But the company still couldn’t catch a break, and for the next few decades, the once-great Moto Guzzi languished under a handful of different owners. While continuing to debut distinctive bikes, inventive designs and breakthrough technologies, Moto Guzzi struggled to stay in the spotlight. Then, in 2004, Piaggio Group bought Guzzi, 83 years after the introduction of the Normale. Piaggio promised to invest heavily in the bike maker, revamping its outdated factory and developing a more robust product portfolio.

In 2008, Moto Guzzi debuted a stylish, all-new version of its iconic V7, which has since become the best-selling model in the company’s 10-bike lineup. “Our largest challenge is to make Moto Guzzi accessible and desirable among a younger generation of riders,” Zanolini says. “All Guzzi motorbikes are made to be customised to the owner’s taste and personality — a large number of accessories, a flexible platform ready to be transformed on demand.”

Over the past couple of years, Guzzi has made solid strides toward a stronger, more assured future. To show its commitment to the American market, the company launched its MGX-21 “Flying Fortress” — a huge, sinister-looking bagger that hopes to steal sales from Harley — at last year’s rough-and-rowdy Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

This year, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the much-loved V7, Guzzi launched a limited-edition V7 III Anniversario; all 750 examples have a polishedchrome fuel tank and sport a beautiful saddle-brown leather seat. Soon we’ll see the unveiling of an all-new Moto Guzzi that will take the brand into totally unfamiliar terrain. And the firm promises something huge in 2021, Guzzi’s 100-year anniversary. “That year is a milestone for the brand and for our motorcycles,” Galluzzi says. “You will look at the bike we’ll have at that time and say, ‘Wow.’ ”

by CHRIS NELSON

For the full article grab the February 2018 issue of MAXIM Australia.

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