Last of the Breed: MV Agusta 850SS
The MV Agusta 850SS was the last of the bright red “fire engines” from Italy’s famed Meccanica Verghera Agusta.
From 1958 to 1974, the “fire engines” of Meccanica Verghera Agusta dominated the premier GP 500cc class.
Photo By Robert Smith
1977 MV Agusta 850SS
Claimed power: 85hp @ 9,500rpm
Top speed: 140mph (est.)
Engine: 837cc air-cooled DOHC inline four, 69mm x 56mm bore and stroke, 9.5:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 517lb (235kg)
Fuel capacity: 6.3gal (24ltr)
Price then/now: $6,400 (approx.)/$40,000-$70,000
It is unlikely that MV Agusta’s run of 17 consecutive Grand Prix world championships will ever be equaled, let alone beaten. From 1958 to 1974, the bright red “fire engines” of Meccanica Verghera Agusta dominated the premier 500cc class.
No other manufacturer came close. That is, until the Japanese factories extended their supremacy of the smaller capacity classes into the big leagues. Not to take anything away from Count Domenico Agusta’s magnificent machines, but they did make good at the right time.
At the end of the 1957 season, MV’s three most serious competitors — Gilera, Moto Guzzi and FB Mondial — all closed their race departments, and Norton had pulled out in 1956. That gave MV the pick of the best riders of the era: John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Gary Hocking and Phil Read. With no factory-based competition, MV repeatedly swept the field in 350cc and 500cc racing right through the 1960s.
MV four beginnings
The road that led to the 850SS started with Ing. Piero Remor, who arrived at MV Agusta in late 1949 with an impressive resume. In 1923, he and Carlo Gianini had designed a 4-cylinder, air-cooled single overhead camshaft motorcycle engine. Gilera acquired the rights, developing it into the famous “Rondine” double overhead cam, liquid-cooled, supercharged racer of the 1930s.
Following the post-war ban on superchargers in GP racing, Remor, now working at Gilera, redesigned the Rondine, creating the classic normally aspirated, air-cooled double overhead cam four that brought Gilera six 500cc World Championship titles between 1950-1957.
Enter MV Agusta. Banned from producing aircraft (its main business until 1945) following World War II, the Agusta company had turned to motorcycles. Count Domenico, son of the company founder and a motorcycle enthusiast, chose racing to promote Agusta motorcycles.
Before 1950, only the big Italian bike makers — Gilera, Moto Guzzi and Benelli — had tackled international competition in the larger capacity classes, but Il Conto was nothing if not ambitious. When he lured Remor away from Gilera in 1949, there was little doubt of his intentions. MV’s first four, looking much like the Gilera, appeared in early 1950. Yet while the engine’s common ancestry was apparent, the rest of the bike was new and unconventional.
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