1946 Moto Guzzi Dondolino
David Roper’s Rockin’ Dondolino: After years of sitting, this Moto Guzzi is just catching her second wind.
David Roper says the 1946 Moto Guzzi Dondolino puts a smile on his face when he's riding it, and confesses sometimes he even breaks out laughing.
Photo by Corey Levenson
1946 Moto Guzzi Dondolino
Claimed power: 33hp @ 5,500rpm
Top speed: 110mph
Engine: 498.4cc OHV air-cooled horizontal single
Carburetion: 35mm Dell’Orto SSM
Transmission: 4-speed, chain final drive
Weight (dry): 279lbs (127kg)
Fuel capacity: 5gal (19ltr)
This is a landmark year for a couple of reasons. 2011 marks the 65th birthday of the exquisite 1946 Moto Guzzi Dondolino campaigned by veteran racer David Roper, and it’s also the 90th anniversary of the venerable Italian firm, based in Mandello del Lario on beautiful Lake Como.
Moto Guzzi is perhaps best known for the iconic, transverse V-twin engines that have powered its motorcycles since the late 1960s. It’s easy to forget that since 1921, when Carlo Guzzi and his partners began building and selling motorcycles, the factory has produced a wide variety of engines, including inline V-twins, inline fours, parallel twins, inline triples and the crown jewel of their inspired mechanical vision and skill, the Carcano-designed transverse mounted dual-overhead cam 500cc “Otto Cilindri” V8 masterpiece of the mid-Fifties.
The original Moto Guzzis were built around horizontal single cylinder engines. These machines distinguished themselves over several decades beginning in the 1920s, with many victories and a handful of World Championships. In addition to production machines, Moto Guzzi’s race shop designed and built bikes specifically for competition. Some were works racers for factory sponsored riders, others were sold to private racers.
The Gentleman’s Racer
The 1946 Moto Guzzi Dondolino featured here is one of a series of “Gentleman’s Racers” produced to satisfy privateers who wanted to compete effectively in circuit races and other endurance events that were immensely popular in Italy.
1946 was the first year of production for the Dondolino. That year, a Dondolino piloted by Enrico Lorenzetti won the Swiss Grand Prix at Berne. A Dondolino also won the 1946 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, with Nando Balzarotti riding. Dondolinos also won the second-division Italian Championships in 1946, 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1954, as well as third division titles in 1947 and 1948. They won the first division French Championships in 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951 and the Swiss titles in 1950 and 1951.
Although there were numerous victories in circuit races, the Dondolino really proved itself in such marathon events as the Milan-Taranto race. This event was one of many great Italian long-distance road races extremely popular in the post-war years. While the Dondolino often competed in these events against more powerful machines with greater outright top speed, the Guzzi’s ruggedness and reliability afforded it stellar success in these grueling tests of rider stamina and mechanical stoutness.
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