Devilishly Clever: 1955 Devil Lusso Extra

A tiny motorcycle propelled by a 160cc 2-stroke, the Devil Lusso Extra looks more toy than transportation.

1955 Devil Lusso Extra

Photo by Nick Cedar

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1955 Devil Lusso Extra
Engine:
158.4cc air-cooled 2-stroke single, 58mm x 60mm bore and stroke, 7.5:1 compression ratio, 7.5hp
Top speed:
68mph (est.)
Carburetion:
Single 24mm Dell’Orto
Transmission:
4-speed, right foot shift, chain final drive
Electrics:
6v, magneto
Frame/wheelbase:
Dual downtube steel cradle frame/50.4in (1,280mm)
Suspension:
Telescopic forks front, dual shocks rear
Brakes:
7.1in (180mm) SLS drums front and rear
Tires:
2.75 x 19in front and rear
Weight (dry):
207lb (94kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
0.48gal (1.5ltr)/105mpg (est.)

A tiny motorcycle propelled by a 160cc 2-stroke, the Devil Lusso Extra looks more toy than transportation, and its name lends itself to groaner puns: “I had a Devil of a time finding parts for this bike!” claims owner Stewart Ingram. Once upon a time, however, this lovely little bit of Italian eye candy was serious transportation.

The end of World War II saw Italy caught between advancing Allied forces and slowly retreating German armies. Everything that could be bombed, was. The factories of northern Italy had been turned into rubble, and even though it was one of the richest agricultural regions of the world, many of its people were starving. But Italians spat on their hands and got to work rebuilding their country. And being Italians, they infused beauty and style, as well as utility, in everything they built.

Building small bikes

The inspired Italian solution to these challenges was to use some of the few factories that remained operational to build small motorcycles. There was a great need for transportation to get to whatever jobs existed, but the raw materials and tooling needed to build motorized vehicles were scarce. Gasoline was in limited supply, with only low octane fuel available. In fact, gas quality was so poor that, until 1955, 6:5:1 was the top compression ratio for production motorcycles.

Many of these bikes, typically less than 175cc, were not only gorgeously styled, but had excellent handling for their time. Italian engineers wrung as much horsepower as possible from tiny cylinders, as the need for speed had not been extinguished by the war or postwar privation. In late 1950, 220 Italian manufacturers presented new models at the Milano Motorcycle Exhibition. Some of these, like Bianchi, Benelli, Gilera and Moto Guzzi, had been respected motorcycle factories before the war. Others, like MV Agusta and Laverda, had been in other industries before the war and had transitioned to motorcycles.

Competition for customers was fierce, and one of the best ways for a company to make a name for itself was to go racing. More than a few factory owners (Count Domenico Agusta of MV Agusta being a prime example) were really in business to make money to support the factory racing effort, and Italians loved racing; a day at the track was a good way to forget the privation and problems at home, and racing stars were the subject of
adulation.

Circuit courses throughout Europe served as testing grounds for innovations that were often incorporated in street bikes. In addition to the road racing circuits, topped by the Grand Prix course at Monza, the Italian government sanctioned races on public roads, the most famous of which were the Motogiro d’Italia and the Milano-Taranto. Success in these races was considered essential for sales, and great efforts were made to build winning bikes for these races. Unfortunately, in 1957, at the height of its popularity, road racing was banned following a horrific crash in the Mille Miglia automobile race that killed 11 people, including five children.

That didn’t stop everyone, of course. Unsanctioned street racing was illegal but endemic, with riders trying to wring that extra tenth of a horsepower out of 49cc clip-on engines attached to bicycles. By the end of the 1950s, more than four million motorcycles were licensed to operate on Italian roadways, outnumbering automobiles by nearly one million.

The Devil

In 1953, O.C.M.A. Fiorano al Serio, a well-known Italian machining company, decided to take the plunge into this whirlpool of two-wheeled madness, hiring Ing. Boninsegna to design a range of 2-stroke motorcycles for its new brand, Devil. The first year’s lineup was the 125cc Turismo, the 160cc Raid, and the Sport Lusso, also a 160. A 250cc model, the Motocarro, was also planned, and although listed in advertisements, only a prototype was built. Innovations in the Turismo and Sport included a linked braking system that operated both front and rear brakes from the handlebar brake lever.

During the four years Devils were manufactured, 1953-1957, several other models were offered ranging from 49cc to 175cc, including the Raid 160 2T, the 160cc Lusso Extra (translates as “Extra Luxury”) and the Devilino moped, which was first shown at the 1954 Salone di Milano motorcycle show. Although the Devil brand was only one of numerous manufacturers trying to make it in post-war Italy, the bikes were well made and fast for their size. Erwin Tragatsch, author of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles, called the Devil “a good motorcycle” — high praise from someone who did not often give out accolades.

Competition

Engineer William Soncini developed the 2-stroke into a competition machine that earned a number of racing victories in 1955 and 1956. The 160 Raid production bike and the competition version both featured a compact, modern frame with a tubular double-cradle design.

In 1956, Soncini designed a 125cc and a 175cc single overhead cam engine, and a 175cc double overhead cam that was claimed to produce 15 horsepower at 7,800rpm. A competition version of this machine equipped with dual ignition had a claimed output of 20 horsepower at 11,000rpm. With a full fairing, the twin cam 175cc Devil could hit an estimated 112mph, very fast for the time. Only one example of this bike is known to exist and is currently in the Guy Webster collection.

According to historic lore, the 160cc 2-stroke looked way too much like a contemporary MV Agusta 125 or 175 (it did) and the 175 4-stroke looked like a copy of the Parilla 175 (it didn’t; the engine designs are visually completely different). It’s been written that Devil was sued for copyright infringement and lost, and also that Parilla and MV Agusta joined forces to put Devil out of business. Which one is true — and possibly neither — is unknown, but in 1957 production of Devil motorcycles stopped. Apparently, most of the remaining stock was sold to Rumi, who rebranded the bikes and sent them to Argentina. In an interesting twist, MV Agusta named its new-for-1956 250cc single the Raid.

Whatever led to its demise, it is likely that O.C.M.A., the parent of the Devil brand, would not have lasted much longer. By the late Fifties, increasingly affluent Italians were buying tiny Fiats and other cars, and by the early Sixties, most of the small motorcycle manufacturers were gone, with only the larger and better-financed companies able to survive. But the motorcycles of postwar Italy have not lost their appeal, appreciated today by enthusiasts who don’t rely on these tiny motorcycles for day in and day out transportation.

Motogiro revival

The Motogiro d’Italia was revived in 1989, no longer a true race but a retrospective, a parade and reliability trial for small motorcycles, especially pre-1957 Italian motorcycles. As its popularity grew other Giros were launched, with Giros now taking place in several different countries and around the U.S. On the East Coast, the United States Classic Racing Association organizes a couple events most years, and other groups have held similar events on the West Coast and elsewhere.

Giro popularity has given added impetus to the restoration of 1950s Italians for the road. One aficionado of these rolling works of art is Stewart Ingram, who collects small Italian motorcycles and has a particular affinity for Devils. “I have always been the Devil’s advocate,” Stewart says, tongue firmly planted in cheek.

 Italy is a favorite destination for Stewart, but instead of going to museums and Renaissance churches, he goes to motorcycle swap meets. He met up with the Devil for the first time at one of these events. “This bike is my second Devil,” Stewart says of our feature bike, a 1955 Lusso Extra. “Devils were never imported to the United States, so you have to go to Italy to find them. I bought a 1956 Lusso 160 2-stroke in Italy at a swap meet. It was painted white, which is a rare color.” Eventually, he sold it, but he found he missed his little demon. He found this red 1955 Lusso Extra, the higher compression version, at Italy’s famed Imola swap meet, and it returned to the U.S. with Stewart, along with some extra parts. “I collect Devil parts,” Stewart admits. “I think I have cornered the market on Devil ignition points in the United States.”

The Lusso Extra has a double downtube, dual shock cradle frame that is very similar to the race-derived Raid. The engine’s 7.5:1 compression ratio, high only by the standards of 1950s Italy and dictated by the poor quality fuel available in Italy at the time, makes the bike easy to kickstart. The 160cc displacement is unusual, but may have been chosen to get around the Italian road tax scheme. Bikes under 50cc were not taxed (which is why 49cc clip-on engines were so popular) and bikes under 175cc were taxed at a lower rate than larger engines. The transmission is a 4-speed with right-foot shift, and the little 2-stroke engine is fed by a single tiny Dell’Orto carburetor. The electrics are Italian, which Stewart defends as marginally better than the British electrics of the 1950s, saying that they work as long as the bike is kept under a cover when not on the road. The Devil rides on aluminum wheel rims, and is sprung by telescopic forks made in-house and unbranded rear shocks. The vented brakes are a Lusso Extra feature, providing a little more stopping power over the standard brakes.

Stewart’s Lusso Extra was running when purchased, with a few rough spots on the tank. Even the electrics were in reasonable shape, except for the horn wiring, which had to be redone. “This bike had an easy life,” Stewart says. “It wasn’t raced or anything. It had only 1,350 kilometers (about 839 miles) on the clock, although the speedometer may have been disconnected at some point. Any wear was very light.”

The restoration — mostly consisting of cleaning and a search for replacements for non-original parts — took about a year. The tank was repainted by Underground Colors in San Francisco, California. The braided-cover gas line setup is unusually complicated, and sourcing all the parts for it was a challenge. Stewart was just able to get the Devil finished in time for this year’s The Quail Motorcycle Gathering, where it won second place in its class.

Most Italian motorcycles of the 1950s relied on parts from the same short list of suppliers, making restoration somewhat easier. For example, parts for Dell’Orto carburetors of the correct vintage are often found on eBay’s Italy site.

“Part of the sport of restoring obscure motorcycles is the parts chase,” Stewart says, “You have to do some serious hunting to find parts. It’s more of a challenge, and I enjoy that. A lot of parts are simply not available.”

“You have to treat these bikes with respect,” Stewart continues.” Respectful treatment, to Stewart, does not mean putting the motorcycle on a pedestal under a glass case. It does mean regular but careful riding. Premium gas is best, with 2-stroke oil added at a 32:1 ratio. The kickstarter is on the left, and, given the low compression, a good push on the lever gets the little machine burbling away. It will do about 25mph or so in first gear and top speed is about 68mph; “downhill, with a skinny Italian rider,” Stewart jokes.

The Devil was made for winding roads and really shines on a nice back road in the mountains. “It just loves it,” Stewart says. “It has a nice flat power curve.” Nice flat power curves are not common on 2-strokes, which tend to be peaky, and the Devil’s engine is a testament to good design.

An Italian proverb says, “He who is embarked with the devil must make the passage in his company.” An embarkation with this Devil, whether together with other enthusiasts in a Motogiro or on a quiet Sunday morning, can be a pleasant passage, indeed. MC