1949 Gilera Saturno Sport

The Italian Big Star

| March/April 2011

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    Girder forks used until the end of 1949.
    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    James Adam Bolton riding Luigi Mazzaccherini’s 1949 Gilera Saturno Sport.
    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    The 1949 Gilera Saturno Sport.
    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    Adjustable friction discs control rear damping.
    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    Marelli magneto ignition.
    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    Smiths speedo not as optimistic as it might seem — a Saturno will come close to 100mph, or 162kmh.
    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    28mm Dell’Orto with remote float feeds fuel and air.
    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    Low and lean, the Saturno was quite the sporting proposition when new. Some 6,000 were built between 1946 and 1958.
    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    Photo by Marco Giuliani
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    Low and lean, the Saturno was quite the sporting proposition when new. Some 6,000 were built between 1946 and 1958.
    Photo by Marco Giuliani

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1949 Gilera Saturno Sport
Engine type:
499cc OHV air-cooled vertical single w/aluminum cylinder head and barrel (cast iron stock)
Claimed power: 25 HP @ 5,000rpm (measured, rear wheel)
Top speed: 99mph (est.)
Transmission: 4-speed
Weight: 330lb
Price then (1949)/now: 500,000 lire ($800) approx. / $8,000-$12,000

“I’m not hearing it! I’m not hearing that special noise it makes when it comes on cam — you’ve got to give it more gas!” I’m riding Luigi Mazzaccherini’s 1949 Gilera Saturno Sport, and these are the first words he offers me as I pull over to check something with Marco the photographer.

My helmet almost makes a squelching noise as I remove it from my head, as I am sweating so much from the heat and effort of pacing lap after lap, and I need to let my brain breathe for half a moment. “I don’t want to break anything,” I reply pathetically. Luigi laughs and says, “Don’t worry, I ride this on the motorway all the time at high speed, and if anything was to break, I would have broken it by now! Give it some gas!” “Ok,” I reply, and put my helmet back on, and get back on the road. I love this man’s attitude.

Luigi is referring to his very red, very imposing, very Italian Gilera Saturno Sport. It is 500cc of proper man’s motorcycle, and it is hard work to handle it and ride it to the full, in that it seems suspiciously quick. I’ve ridden a couple of Gilera Saturnos before, and on the last occasion I was restricted in how far and how fast I could go. Today is a different matter. Thanks to my friends at the Moto Storiche Toscane motorcycle club, I have a local track to play on with straights, corners and esses, and though the effort to ride it fast and neatly is far greater than anticipated, Luigi’s Saturno is absolutely breathtaking in more ways than one.



The bike to own

The Gilera Saturno was available in Turismo or Sport designation. The earliest models had sprung girder forks and Gilera’s patented rear suspension, with horizontal springs running in tubes on the rear subframe and damping provided by manually adjusted friction dampers. The impressive Saturno engine is also notable for its clean unit design and lack of unsightly oil lines. All components are well integrated into the unit.

Read about the history of the Gilera Saturno



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