Today examples of MV Agusta racing motorcycles are spoken of in revered tones, and generally associated with three and four cylinder “fire engines” of 350 or 500cc. But there was a time when the ordinary rider (provided one was sufficiently well heeled) c
MV itself had contested the class for some years with its own two stroke, which began life as a 98cc and was the brainchild of Domenico Agusta, son of the company founder Count Giovanni Agusta. The Agusta empire had begun in 1923 as an aircraft company – Construzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta – in the northern Italian town of Verghera, but the Count passed away in 1927 leaving his wife Giuseppina to run the company, which she did very well. The company prospered but the war put a stop to that, and post-war Giuseppina and her sons Domenico and Vincenzo were faced with finding work for the company’s many employees. Domenico knew there would be a need for cheap transport, and the result was the 98cc lightweight motorcycle, which was to be called the Vespa (Wasp) until the Piaggio concern pointed out that they had registered this name for their scooters. So a new company was formed – Meccanica Verghera – or MV for short.
The little 98 sold well and a ‘sports’ version was soon introduced – and was pounced upon by amateur racers in the newly-introduced Italian 125cc class. As a means to promote the factory’s products, Domenico decided to produce a proper racing model with a capacity of 123cc, which made its debut in 1948 and scored its first major victory in the same year. With the advent of the World Championships in 1949,
Agusta entered the 125cc class but the bikes were no match for the DOHC FB Mondials. Undeterred, Count Domenico lured Arturo Magni and later Piero Remor from Gilera and began a serious assault on the championships, in both the 125 and 500cc classes. MV Agusta’s first World Championship was won by Englishman Cecil Sandford in 1952, riding the ‚
Bialbero (twin cam) 125 single, with wins in the Isle of Man TT, the Dutch TT, and the Ulster GP. This success convinced MV to produce a customer version of their 125 racer for the following year. To keep costs down, the production machine was a single-overhead camshaft design known as the Sport Competizione, which used the same basic design as the works racers, including the 53mm x 56mm bore and stroke with the camshaft driven by a train of gears in a case on the right side of the engine. The engine featured a gear-driven oil pump, and a 27mm Dell’Orto SS1 carburettor. The primary drive was by gears, but with a four-speed transmission instead of the works 5speeder. Power output was listed as 10hp. For use in the popular Italian events such as the Giro d’Italia where lighting was required, the new 125 was supplied with a crankshaft-mounted generator. The chassis was practically identical to the 1952 championship winner, with telescopic forks with a single shock absorber mounted in front of the steering head, swinging arm rear suspension and a full double cradle tubular steel frame. Both wheels were 19 inch, with a substantial (for a 125) 180mm front brake. A 15-litre alloy fuel tank and a 3-litre oil tank were both finely sculpted in true Italian style, and the neat little racer scaled it at a svelte 75kg dry. Despite a hefty price that would have paid for a Manx Norton, the Sport Competizione found plenty of buyers and was a major fillip to the 125 class. It continued in limited production until the end of 1956, but even ten years later, plenty of the red rockets were still on the grids around the world, although now fighting a losing battle against the Japanese two and four strokes. DOHC conversions were marketed from 1955, and a stretched 203cc version created for use in the 250cc class, although only a handful were built.
When the new 125 MV Agustas became available for the 1953 European season, there were more buyers than bikes, despite the asking price. However one man who could afford one was Bendigo motel owner Jack Walters, and he managed to buy one and have it shipped to Melbourne, arriving in time for the Fishermen’s Bend meeting in October 1953. Walters purchased the MV at the 1953 Isle of Man TT from the team’s works rider Les Graham, who won the 125 TT on the works double-knocker but was tragically killed in the Senior race later in the week when he crashed at the foot of Bray Hill.
Over the next decade, Walters purchased five of the 125 MVs. His own well publicised debut came to nought however, when the new MV seized in practice and was unable to be repaired in time to take the grid at Fishermen’s Bend. Three weeks later, with the engine repaired and tweaked jetting in the Dell’Orto carburettor, Walters competed in the first meeting to be held at the 2.9 mile circuit within the Army Camp at Bandiana, near Wodonga. Although the bark of the little four-stroke was distinctive amongst the two-strokes, Walters could only manage a distant fourth behind the highly-tuned Bantam BSAs of winner Maurie Quincey, Ken Rumble and Eric Miller. Walters struggled to get on even terms with the rapid Bantams and their star riders, but he finally got the better of them at the big Bandiana meeting in January 1955 when 10,000 spectators piled in to see World Champion Geoff Duke in action on his works Gilera-4. In a hard-fought 4 lap race, Walters defeated international rider Bob Brown after earlier disposing of Maurie Quincey on the Walsh Bantam. In recording MV Agusta’s first win in Australia, he also set a new 125cc lap record. By mid 1955, there was a second MV in the country, in the hands of Italian immigrant Gai Cesario, who made his local debut at Darley in June. On the grid for the International meeting at Mildura on Jan 1 1956 were no fewer than three 125 MVs for Walters, Max Brumhead, and Col Brown riding a machine owned by Tony Street. As far back as 1954, Len Tinker, from Warrnam- bool in Victoria, had raced a SOHC MV 125 in Europe – the first Australian to compete in the smallest class – and took the bike with him to North America, where he rode in USA and Canada before selling it. Back in Europe with his brother Neil, Len bought another 125 direct from the factory, along with one of the 203cc versions. Neil also had a 125, and the brothers and their three MVs plied the Continental Circus with some success until Len returned home after the 1958 season and Neil moved to Canada. Back home, Len and his rather scruffy but reliable
Where it began; the 98cc MV ‘Lusso’ of 1947.
1952 Isle of Man TT winner and 125cc World Champion, Cecil Sandford on the works MV Agusta.
Sports version of the 98cc MV, the Corsa.
ABOVE The Australian debut of Jack Walters’ new MV at Fishermen’s Bend in 1953. RIGHT Eric Hinton on Len Tinker’s 125 MV at Daley in November, 1959. Two-stroke forerunner; The ‘Carter lungo’ (Long sump) 125 in the MV Museum, Italy.
ABOVE Jack Walters new MV in the pits at Bandiana. RIGHT Jack Walters warms up his MV at Fishermen’s Bend, circa 1957.
ABOVE Last gasps; 1960 Bathurst 125 winner Ken Rumble keeps his MV just ahead of Alan Osborne’s Honda. CENTRE RIGHT Kel Carruthers on the Daniel MV at the 1961 Easter Bathurst meeting. RIGHT Clem Daniel with his MV in the Bathurst pits in 1961.