Villa V-2 250 Hand-made in NZ

Bryan Thomas’ Villa 250 GP replica

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tos Jim Scays­brook

A mirac­u­lous re­cre­ation of a never-com­pleted Ital­ian mas­ter­piece, made in a small work­shop in New Zealand.

When Mon­dial joined Gil­era and Moto Guzzi in with­draw­ing fac­tory sup­port for in­ter­na­tional road rac­ing at the end of 1957, it looked like the end of the line for many a promis­ing rider’s ca­reer. One such was Francesco Villa, then aged 24. Mo­den­aborn Villa had achieved con­sid­er­able suc­cess as a rider, be­com­ing Ital­ian Ju­nior Cham­pion in the 125cc class in 1956 on a Du­cati, and sig­nif­i­cantly had joined the Bologna com­pany as both a rider and me­chanic, train­ing un­der the leg­endary Ing. Fabio Taglioni. These dual skills at­tracted the at­ten­tion of ri­vals Mon­dial, and at the end of the 1956 sea­son he switched camps, be­com­ing a se­nior tech­ni­cal mem­ber in ad­di­tion to his rac­ing du­ties. At Mon­dial Francesco added to his tro­phy cabi­net with re­sults that in­cluded win­ning a stage of the pres­ti­gious Moto Giro, but when Mon­dial pulled out, he was swiftly on the phone to Du­cati and was wel­comed back into the com­pe­ti­tion depart­ment. His du­ties in­cluded not just de­vel­op­ment of do­mes­tic rac­ing ma­chin­ery, but as­sist­ing the push into ex­port mar­kets, pri­mar­ily Spain and the United States. The Du­cati fac­tory even sent him to the US in 1960 where he gained sev­eral race wins. Villa’s grow­ing stature as a skilled race de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neer per­suaded his old em­ploy­ers Mon­dial, un­der the pas­sion­ate hand of Count Guiseppe Boselli, to coax him back into their fold. While a long way short of the well-funded Mon­dial race team of the ‘fifties, the ven­ture was based around the for­mer race-ware which was still lan­guish­ing at the fac­tory and was good enough to bring Villa the Ital­ian 125cc Se­nior ti­tle for four con­sec­u­tive years 1961-64. Villa also helped to de­velop an all-new 50cc DOHC Mon­dial which pro­duced 7hp at 14,000 rpm and weighed just 50kg, on which he made a win­ning de­but at Mo­dena in 1962. In ad­di­tion to the four strokes, Francesco also de­vel­oped ro­tary valve two strokes, with his younger brother Wal­ter (ten years his ju­nior) en­listed to help with the rid­ing du­ties. With Wal­ter in the sad­dle, the new 60cc 12hp two-stroke gained the 1965 Ital­ian ti­tle, suc­cess­fully de­fend­ing it in 1966 and 1967. By this stage Mon­dial were los­ing in­ter­est and the race project be­came more and more a Villa brothers’ en­ter­prise. To this end, Francesco forged a re­la­tion­ship with the Span­ish Mon­tesa con­cern, and fi­nally sold the rac­ing de­signs – the 125cc disc valve sin­gle and the dou­bled-up 250cc twin – to Mon­tesa, in re­turn for be­com­ing the com­pany’s ex­clu­sive im­porter for Italy. Both of these de­signs had orig­i­nally been cam­paigned as Mon­di­als. But Mon­tesa was in­creas­ingly fo­cussed on mo­tocross and tri­als ma­chines, and their road rac­ing pro­gram was shelved in 1967. It left the Villa brothers as free agents once more, and they took the op­por­tu­nity to build mo­tor­cy­cles un­der their own name – Moto Villa. It was en­vis­aged that a grand prix ma­chine would form the flag­ship of the rac­ing ef­fort, sup­ported by sales of a pri­va­teers’ ma­chine, but these would be very dif­fer­ent in ex­e­cu­tion. Two new 250s were de­signed and built; a sin­gle cylin­der 40hp, 7-speed racer for sale to pri­vate own­ers, and a four-cylin­der, 6-speed ‘works’ ma­chine. There was also to be a new air-cooled 125 twin pok­ing out 30hp at 14,000 rpm, while the V-4 250, which had wa­ter-cooled cylin­ders and air-cooled heads, pro­duced a healthy 48hp at 11,500 rpm. The ex­cit­ing new V-4, with en­gine di­men­sions of 43mm x 43mm, was tested at Monza in 1969, but then came the stun­ning an­nounce­ment from the FIM that for the 1970 sea­son, in­ter­na­tional races in the 250cc class would be re­stricted to en­gines of no more than two cylin­ders, with six-speed gear­boxes. It killed the Villa 250-4 dead in its tracks, and Francesco turned away from road rac­ing to fo­cus his at­ten­tion (and his two-stroke skills) on the rapidly ex­pand­ing world of mo­tocross. Un­sur­pris­ingly, he achieved al­most in­stant suc­cess and went on to cre­ate many win­ning de­signs for the next two decades.

The FIM de­ci­sion to limit the spec­i­fi­ca­tion of 250cc class ma­chines was a blow to en­gi­neers like Villa, who thrived on in­no­va­tion, and the ini­tial re­ac­tion was to walk away from road rac­ing com­pletely. But as per­haps a part­ing ges­ture, Francesco de­signed a 250 to com­ply with the new-for-1970 reg­u­la­tions – a 50hp 250cc air-cooled disc-valve nar­row-an­gle (30 de­gree) v-twin with a 6-speed gear­box, which was ef­fec­tively half of the V-4, scaled up. With his boom­ing off-road­based busi­ness to con­cen­trate on, progress on the 250 was on-again, off-again. A 125cc ver­sion, us­ing sim­i­lar in­ter­nal di­men­sions to the V-4 250, was com­pleted

but saw lit­tle track time as Francesco con­cen­trated on build­ing up the off-road side of the busi­ness and Wal­ter pur­sued rac­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties with Aer­ma­c­chi, which it­self had been res­cued by an in­flux of cap­i­tal from Har­ley-David­son. The Mon­dial/Mon­tesa/Villa 125cc disc valve sin­gle con­tin­ued in pro­duc­tion, and sold well to pri­va­teers who wanted a fast and re­li­able mount for the 125 class. It ap­pears that the 250 V-twin was never fully com­pleted. Villa con­tin­ued with his mo­tocross and en­duro ef­forts and also branched into small ca­pac­ity road bikes, as well as pro­duc­ing en­gines for other com­pa­nies such as Cara­bella in Mex­ico. In 1974, Francesco moved into brand new and more spa­cious premises near Bologna where the ever-ex­pand­ing range of off-road bikes – from 50cc to 480cc – was pro­duced. Go kart en­gines were also pro­duced in the new fac­tory and if this work­load were not enough, Francesco also col­lab­o­rated with the fa­mous en­gi­neer Mauro Forghieri on the 3.5 litre Lam­borgh­ini For­mula One en­gine. How­ever, as the global mo­tor­cy­cle mar­ket con­tracted in the ‘eight­ies, Villa, faced with in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion from the Ja­panese fac­to­ries, grad­u­ally opted out of mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion by 1987 and turned to spe­cial­ist projects for other com­pa­nies.

A Kiwi Villa

Both the V-4 250 Vil­las built in 1969 sur­vive to­day; one orig­i­nally sold to the Cana­dian Bom­bardier Cor­po­ra­tion and later to a Swiss en­thu­si­ast, and the other, re-con­structed from parts by Wal­ter Villa shortly be­fore his death in 2002, in the Elings Mu­seum in Solvang, USA. More re­cently, there has been con­sid­er­able pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing the replica V-4 Villa con­structed by for­mer Moto Villa em­ployee Giovanni Galafassi. It took ten years, from 1999 to 2008, to com­plete the ma­chine from the orig­i­nal draw­ings, dur­ing which time Galafassi was as­sisted by the tire­less Francesco Villa. This ma­chine was sold by Bon­hams at auc­tion in 2012 and pur­chased by Sammy Miller for his mu­seum in UK.

How­ever the V-4, splen­did as it is, is not the only re­cre­ation of Francesco Villa’s art from the hal­cyon days of the com­pany. In Feild­ing, New Zealand, Bryan Thomas has built some in­cred­i­ble ma­chines vir­tu­ally from scratch and of­ten with lit­tle more than a few fad­ing pho­to­graphs as ini­tial in­spi­ra­tion. OBA fea­tured the work of this amaz­ing en­gi­neer in is­sue num­ber 11. From his work­shop has come desmod­romic 250cc, 350cc and 500cc Manx Nor­ton en­gines of var­i­ous bore and stroke com­bi­na­tions, a short run of com­plete 250cc Manx Nor­tons, his own take on DOHC desmo Du­cati sin­gles, minia­turised ver­sions of clas­sics like the NSU Sport­max, a 125cc 3-valve desmo en­gine of his own de­sign, plus all man­ner of ma­chine tools and test­ing equip­ment – self-de­signed and made, of course. It was while in Hol­land for the Assen Cen­ten­nial Clas­sic in 1998 that Bryan’s next ‘im­pos­si­ble dream’ sur­faced. For­mer New Zealand GP star and Isle of Man TT win­ner Rod Cole­man had been in­vited to at­tend this amaz­ing event, which fea­tured hun­dreds of for­mer rid­ers, of­fi­cials and per­son­al­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with the his­toric venue. Rod’s ma­chine for the event was one of Bryan’s scaled-down 250 Manx Nor­tons, and in the crowded pad­dock, crammed with mil­lions of dol­lars worth of rare and ex­otic mo­tor­cy­cles, they found them­selves next door to the garage oc­cu­pied by the Villa brothers. Over the week­end, Bryan and the Villa brothers dis­cussed all man­ner of rac­ing de­sign, and Francesco re­vealed some de­tails of the v-twin 125 and 250; ma­chines so rare that very few even knew of their ex­is­tence. Some en­gine and frame spec­i­fi­ca­tions were ex­changed, and a sin­gle black and white

pho­to­graph of the 125 taken in 1969 was pro­cured. “Af­ter meet­ing the Villa brothers at Assen and see­ing their beau­ti­fully en­gi­neered bikes, I de­cided I would cre­ate a V-twin two stroke sim­i­lar to theirs. I first saw a pic­ture (of the 125 V-twin) in the Mick Walker book Ital­ian Clas­sic Gallery Rac­ing Bikes which was first pub­lished in 1991,” says Bryan. “Af­ter a few years, I man­aged to cor­re­spond through an­other per­son with Fran­cisco who I was told, was not well but would as­sist me in any way he could. Un­for­tu­nately I lost con­tact with him. Be­cause the Villa 250 v-twin was not com­pleted, it is that one that I have con­structed.” While the idea rolled around in Bryan’s mind, it was an­other five years be­fore he com­pleted the first stage of the Villa project, the frame. Bryan’s son Garth takes up the story. “Bryan had an old mo­tor­bike book and in the back it had sev­eral mar­ques, and one was Villa. The photo in the story was the v-twin 125, whereas vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing you see on the in­ter­net etc is the v-four 250. So Bryan’s re­cre­ation came about all from that one pic­ture and the write up that was with it. The project was on again and off again be­cause two strokes with the multi port­ing takes a long time, and he used some Yamaha com­po­nents for it. There’s a cas­sette gear­box in­side from the Yamaha – you don’t man­u­fac­ture what you don’t have to – and the cranks are Yamaha as well with the cor­rect bore and stroke (56mm x 50mm, same as the Yamaha TD1C). The re­ally big job was to man­u­fac­ture the pat­terns and do all the ma­chin­ing, and think­ing how it could work. He didn’t want to cast ev­ery­thing to­gether so he made it in mod­ules and the mod­ules slipped and pressed to­gether. He was versed in four strokes so a two stroke was some­thing to­tally new, and to try to get the port­ings and the way the tim­ings work had to be fig­ured out as he went along. With the frame, he bent up all the tubes and had them welded to­gether lo­cally, and the frame sat there for a few years while he fig­ured out the next stage. I helped make the tank, seat and mud­guard which is all fi­bre­glass and it takes a long time with sand­ing and so on to get it right. The or­ange frame is cor­rect which we colour matched from pho­tos, how­ever we can’t find where that orig­i­nal bike has gone, it’s just dis­ap­peared. When it was fi­nally com­plete, I drove down from Auck­land with a set of start­ing rollers and I was re­ally sur­prised, be­cause it fired first crack. I couldn’t be­lieve it, and I don’t think dad could ei­ther.”

I first saw the raw bones of the Villa project in Bryan’s home work­shop in 2008 – just an un­painted frame with the fi­bre­glass tank and seat also in rudi­men­tary form. Tucked away un­der the bench were the crank­case pat­terns and a sheaf of notes and draw­ings. And from what I have learned, the project re­mained at that stage for some time due to a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing some health prob­lems for Bryan. But true to form, he bounced back, and grad­u­ally the var­i­ous as­pects of the job were tack­led and com­pleted. From the time the frame was com­pleted in 2003, it took an­other 13 years be­fore the Villa be­came a com­plete and run­ning ma­chine. There were myr­iad small, and not-so-small jobs to at­tend to, such as the cre­ation of a one-off dual coil ig­ni­tion sys­tem, and the pro­cure­ment of the cor­rect Ce­ri­ani front forks and Fon­tana front brake, plus the Dell’Orto 27mm car­bu­ret­tors. Bryan made the rear hub and brake him­self. As with all Bryan’s work (and with much as­sis­tance from Garth) the re­sult is yet an­other stun­ning ex­am­ple of en­gi­neer­ing art, and un­til the orig­i­nal ma­chine can be lo­cated, if it still ex­ists, to­tally unique.

Early stages of the project, with the bare frame and fi­bre­glass. Bryan’s orig­i­nal crank­case pat­terns, pho­tographed back in 2008. Left hand view of the en­gine with the twin ig­ni­tion coils on the frame tube. Square slide Dell’Orto carbs feed the mix­ture...

The Villa V4 con­structed by the late Wal­ter Villa in the Solvang Mo­tor­cy­cle Mu­seum in Cal­i­for­nia. The V-twin 125 Villa at Monza in 1970.

Viewed from ei­ther end, the Villa presents a slim pack­age. Where the noise comes out. Dou­ble sided sin­gle-lead­ing shoe Fon­tana front brake.

ABOVE Bryan with his lat­est mas­ter­piece. BOT­TOM Tank shape was ar­rived at by study­ing a sin­gle pho­to­graph.

Twin-pull front brake ca­ble, ig­ni­tion switch and air lever all re­side on the right clip-on han­dle­bar. The com­plete in­stru­men­ta­tion.

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