Counting to Eight: Moto Guzzi 500 V8 History

The history of Moto Guzzi’s 500 V8 Grand Prix racer.

The Moto Guzzi 500cc V8 at the 1957 German Grand Prix

Dicky Dale and the Moto Guzzi 500cc V8 at the 1957 German Grand Prix.

Photo By Kyoichi Nakamura

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1956 Moto Guzzi 500 V8
Claimed power:
79hp @ 12,500rpm
Top speed: 178mph top speed
Engine: 499cc liquid-cooled DOHC 90-degree V8, 44mm x 41mm bore and stroke
Weight: 301lb (137kg) with full streamlining/295lb (134kg) with partial streamlining
Fuel capacity/MPG: 9gal (34ltr)

Ask any race fan to nominate the most exotic and most desirable Grand Prix racer ever built, and the Moto Guzzi 500 V8 will almost certainly be The One. It’s the ne plus ultra of two-wheeled engineering, and although it effectively only raced for two years in 1956-57 and never won a World Championship GP, there’s an aura about this semi-mythical motorcycle that’s entirely in keeping with its improbable specification and incredible allure.

Truly the stuff of legend, it was created in a small workshop in the Moto Guzzi factory by a team of just 12 men, including the three engineers who conceived it almost 60 years ago. It was a 500cc that revved to 16,000rpm safely, produced 79 horsepower at 12,500rpm in its ultimate guise thanks to its eight cylinders, 16 valves, eight carburetors and four camshafts, and was trapped at 178mph along the Masta Straight at Spa-Francorchamps in its final race.

The Guzzi V8 was the product of the fertile mind of the firm’s chief engineer, Giulio Cesare Carcano — the same man who created Guzzi’s ultra-lightweight 250/350 singles that scooped eight World titles in nine years, including five successive 350cc crowns. But Carcano’s comparable 500cc single was unable to consistently keep up with the 4-cylinder competition, so after the demise of the long-lived 120-degree V-twin Bicilindrica, Carcano decided to look for more power by creating Moto Guzzi’s own 4-cylinder contender.

In typically thinking outside the box, he opted for an inline four with longitudinal crank and shaft final drive to give a narrow, wind-cheating frontal aspect that had undoubted relevance in the days before streamlining.

For more on the Moto Guzzi from Alan Cathcart read Ultimate Ride: Moto Guzzi 500 V8 Racer.

Order the November/December 2013 issue of Motorcycle Classics to read more about the Moto Guzzi 500cc V8 Racer history. Contact Customer Service at (800) 880-7567 or contact us by email.