MV Agusta 350 GT
The bigger GT with a sporty heart performs multiple roles. we swing a leg over the icon
THE LITTLE MV’S NAME is 350 GT and, at first glance, I had expected it to live up to those initials. High handlebars, a relatively large dual seat and that aristocratic “MV Agusta” name on its tank combined to make this GT seem as much of a Grand Tourer as any elderly parallel twin with a capacity of just 349 cc could possibly be.
But as the little maroon-and-white twin charged along the narrow country lanes, its engine revving hard, its exhaust note rolling across the fields, and its taut handling and powerful braking making it as much fun in the bends as on the straights, that GT designation seemed more than a little misleading. If this bike is a Tourer at all, it’s one with a distinctly sporty heart.
I really shouldn’t have been surprised. The 350 GT is an MV Agusta, after all, and built in the heyday of the famous old firm from Gallarate, north of Milan. When this bike was produced in 1972, MV ace Giacomo Agostini was on his way to winning the marque’s 15th consecutive 500-cc world championship and also to taking yet another title in the 350-cc class.
Like the vast majority of the MV factory’s production, this 350 roadster was very different from the exotic, multi-cylinder race bikes
ridden to glory by Ago and Co. Ever since the Agusta firm had begun production after World War II, most of its output had been relatively humble single-cylinder machines. And although MV had unveiled a striking 350-cc sports model at the Milan Show in 1955 — complete with gear-driven double overhead cams and electric starter — it had not reached production.
In the early 1960s, MV developed a sporty 166-cc twin, called the Arno, but even this was too expensive to be sold in any numbers in the depressed Italian motorcycle market. Instead, in 1967, the firm released a less glamorous 250-cc model, called simply the 250 2 Cilindri, whose styling, especially the chromed tank with its knee rubbers, owed much to Japanese bikes such as Suzuki’s popular T20 Super Six. In 1969, the twin was renamed the 250B (for Bicilindra) and joined by a Scrambler derivative that incorporated high-level pipes but few other off-road modifications.
The 350 twin range was launched two years later, at the Milan Show in November 1971, and was created by boring out the 249-cc unit to 349 cc, giving oversquare dimensions of 63 x 56 mm. A slightly increased 9.5:1 compression ratio and larger 24-mm Dell’Orto carburettors helped boost the pushrod-operated twin’s peak output by 13 PS to a claimed 32 PS at 7,650 rpm. Two models were introduced: the sporty 350B, with clip-on bars, angular fuel tank and humped seat, and the more practical 350 GT, which featured higher bars, a more rounded tank and a conventional dual seat.
Both were stylish machines, their compact, neatly finned engines held in single-downtube frames, and with their predominantly red paintwork offset by small, chromed side-panels. This example, from the UK’s leading specialist, Made In Italy (www. madeinitalymotorcycles.com), was a very original 1972-model machine that was in excellent condition, even if its odometer’s 10,500 km figure was surely not accurate. The GT’s maroon-and-white tank carried a typical MV badge on its top, showing a group of stars and the words: “34 volte campione del mondo”, emphasizing the firm’s championship-winning history.
The GT was almost completely standard, apart from its carbs being unfiltered, like those of the B model, instead of having the small filters that they would have worn when new. To start the bike, I applied a bit of choke, tickled both carbs to get the petrol flowing, then stood to its left and gave a gentle dab of the kick-starter. The MV came to life easily, with a pleasant parallel-twin bark through its pair of chromed exhaust pipes.
If the sound was improbably sporty, then the same was true of the bike’s feel, despite the upright riding position dictated by those high, pulled-back handlebars, and foot-rests that were set further forward
Although very few were exported, the GT was quite popular in the Italian market
than the B-model’s racy rear-sets. At a claimed 152 kg, the GT was light and its low seat and fairly firm suspension helped make it feel very agile and easy to ride as I snicked into first gear with the rightfoot lever, let out the light clutch and accelerated away.
Straight-line performance was impressive for an elderly 350-cc tourer and the bolt-upright riding position helped by making the little MV seem quicker than it really was. The motor pulled crisply from low revs, sending the bike rumbling respectably rapidly up to an indicated 120 km/h, about 6,000 rpm in top gear. Acceleration above that speed was more gentle, but the GT was good for a maximum speed of about 150 km/h.
At low and medium revs the GT’s 360-degree parallel twin motor stayed pleasantly smooth. The bike was happy to sit at an indicated 100 km/h, feeling as though it could live up to its Gran Turismo label by covering some serious distance in reasonable comfort. But above about 5,000 rpm the bike emphasized its engine layout by vibrating a little through the seat and foot-rests; not painfully, but insistently enough to encourage me to change up through the light and smoothshifting five-speed box, which had a heel-and-toe lever.
That meant the MV was best ridden in a not-too-aggressive way. So although the racier 350B doubtless made a more stylish and exciting machine for the youthful Italian enthusiasts of the early 1970s, the
more relaxed GT was arguably a more practical bike. It handled well, too, steering effortlessly with gentle pressure on those wide bars and staying stable with no need to wind up the friction steering damper at the headstock.
That reasonably firm suspension hinted at MV’s sporty background and made the bike fun to throw into bends, confident in its generous ground clearance. The Metzeler front and Pirelli rear tyres on its 18inch wheels were narrow, but gave very adequate grip on a cold but dry day. And the 200-mm twin-leading-shoe front drum brake, identical to that of the 350B, did a great job of slowing the light MV, backed up by a similar-sized single-leading-shoe drum at the rear.
If I’d had farther to ride, the 350 GT’s upright riding position and high-rev vibration would probably have made it uncomfortable before long, despite the reasonably generous dual seat. Nevertheless, the GT was undoubtedly a stylish, lively, and sweet-handling bike — and also a fashionable one, thanks to that all-conquering MV Agusta name on its tank.
Although very few were exported, the GT was quite popular in the Italian market. The original model was uprated in October 1972 by the addition of 12V electrics and electronic ignition. However, MV had ambitious plans for their middleweight range and, at the Milan Show in 1973, the firm unveiled a new generation of 350-cc parallel twins. The revised version of the engine featured more angular cases, completely reworked finning, and a claimed output of 40 PS.
The new touring model had the full name of “350 GT model 216”. It combined the new engine and frame with a familiar GT layout of high bars and forward set foot-rests and used wire-spoked wheels, drum brakes, and gold and blue paintwork. Inevitably, the sensible GT was outshone by its racier stable-mate, the 350 Sport, whose dramatic styling — by famous car designer Giorgio Giugiaro — featured cast wheels and a twin-disc front brake.
Both the new twins were good for a genuine 160 km/h and handled well thanks to stiff new frames and high-quality suspension. But their reception was mixed, partly because the new engine’s extra power was accompanied by increased vibration. Just like its predecessor, the 350-cc parallel twin unit was highly regarded for its performance and reliability, and even for its low fuel consumption. But between 4,000 and 6,000 rpm it shook badly enough to numb its rider’s hands and feet.
Ultimately, however, the new 350 GT’s main problem was exactly the same as that of this original model: it was simply far too expensive, especially to make a serious impact outside Italy. The original GT had never gone on sale in many major export markets; almost all had been sold in Italy. By 1978, MV’s problems were summed up by the fact that in many countries the 350 GT cost more than Suzuki’s new GS750 four!
Sadly for MV Agusta, that inability to offer its bikes at a competitive price handicapped the firm right across its range and resulted in this most glamorous of marques ceasing production later that year. The fate of the 350 GT went almost unnoticed by most people amid the publicity surrounding the demise of MV’s exotic four-cylinder superbikes and once all-conquering race team.
Evident style was backed by brilliant performance
Note the rightside gear lever
High, pulled-back handlebar offered an upright riding position
Reasonably firm suspension hinted at MV’s sporty background
The pleasant paralleltwin bark is sporty