- Engine:7cc air-cooled, piston-port 2-stroke single, 58mm x 65mm bore and stroke, 7:1 compression ratio, 9hp @ 5,500rpm
- Top speed: 66mph (est.)
- Carburetion: Single Dell’Orto 26mm
- Ignition: Coil
“What’s in a name?” wrote old Bill Shakespeare. In the case of Mi-Val, a lot of information and Italissimo but not much attention.
Mention Mi-Val motorcycles to most old bike guys and you’ll get a blank stare. Attempt to explain the derivation from Minganti-Valtrompia, (the name of the founder and the location of the factory), and how it later became Metalmeccanica Italiana Valtrompia on Ettore Minganti’s death in 1951, and eyes start to glaze over …
But the back-story is a little more interesting than that. Mi-Val motorcycles were produced in Lombardy, Italy, at the old Pietro Beretta arms factory close to Lake Garda in Gordone, Val Trompia, north of Brescia. The company’s first motorcycle was a 125cc 2-stroke single modeled on the ubiquitous DKW RT125 (much like post-World War II bikes from many other makers including Harley-Davidson, BSA and Yamaha). Mi-Val’s 125 Turismo was released in late 1950.
Between 1950 and 1954, the 2-stroker was steadily improved, and a fourth gear was added to the transmission. As did most Italian motorcycle manufacturers, Mi-Val went racing — especially in off-highway competitions like the International Six Days Trial. Success in the 1950 event in Varese, Italy, with Otello Spadoni riding led to the creation of a “Sei Giorni” (Six Days) model in 1951.
A factory team was formed in 1953, and Mi-Val rider Franco Dall’Ara won Gold Medals in the ISDT in 1954 and 1956. Dall’Ara was also 125cc Italian Enduro Champion in 1956 and won the Italian off-road races at Valli Bergamasche on a Mi-Val 125 each year between 1955 and 1957. Olga Kevelos, the only woman to have won two ISDT gold medals, was also part of the team.
As well as off-highway success, Mi-Val was also competitive on the street, with Dall’Ara first home in the 175cc class of the Milano-Taranto race in 1953.
But change was on the way. Joining the mid-1950s microcar boom, Mi-Val introduced a license-built version of the three-wheeled, tandem two-seater Messerschmidt KR175, calling it the Mivalino. It was powered by a new 172cc 2-stroke of Mi-Val design with a 3-speed transmission. And while the microcar project was a bust (just around 100 were built), the new engine went on to power a range of commuter and sports motorcycles. 1955 brought a change of direction with the news of a 175cc OHV 4-stroke single. This grew into the 199.5cc OHV 200TV street bike and was soon joined by a 125cc 4-stroke. For 1958, the 125cc and 175cc 4-strokes got a 5-speed transmission.
But Mi-Val was best known in Italy for its exotic motocross and enduro machines. In 1958, rider Emilio Osterero took the Italian 500cc motocross championship on a Mi-Val, repeating his victory in the 250cc class in 1959 before he moved to Bianchi. The Mi-Val range also included a 175cc road racer and scrambler, both with dual overhead cams.
Mi-Val dipped its toe into several niches. For the street were the 200cc Principe (Sovereign), 175cc 4-stroke and 125cc 2-stroke Sei Giorni. And as well as their own 150cc Motocarrello three-wheeled light truck, Mi-Val produced mopeds to its own design as well as supplying engines for the U.K.-built Norman Nippy.
But by 1967, sales were in steep decline across the range, and the company ceased motorcycle production in the same decade, turning instead to supplying machine tools.
Russ Blow’s Mi-Val
I certainly wasn’t expecting to see a Mi-Val on British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island in 2021. But participating in the annual “Tiddler Tour” for small-bore classic motorcycles was a bright red 1955 175cc 2-stroke with its distinctive gas tank swoosh. Owner Russ Blow is a well-known local enthusiast and restorer. As well as the Mi-Val, Russ owns a number of British bikes including Velocettes, and is known in the classic motorcycle community as “Velo-Russ.”
Russ comes by his interest in motorcycles honestly: his father, Les Blow, was a competition rider around Victoria, British Columbia, and owned a motorcycle dealership on Douglas Street in the middle years of the century selling Norton, Triumph and Royal Enfield. His influence on the local motorcycle scene was such that the Victoria Motorcycle Club still runs an annual Les Blow Trial, even though the dealership terminated more than 50 years ago.
Russ discovered the Mi-Val languishing in a storage shed on the store property.
“I can’t seem to pinpoint the exact date, but probably in 1970 my dad sold the business. I would have been about 13 and was there helping to clean out the shed. The bike was going to be sent to the dump, so I asked if I could have it. It was pretty much complete, and I thought it looked interesting.”
“I had been riding motorcycles for years at this point, but this was the first one that actually belonged to me.”
Russ admits to working on the Mi-Val at home and even took it to high school as a shop project. Unfortunately, one of the shop students decided to “liberate” the carburetor. That put an end to the school involvement, and the Mi-Val returned home. Russ didn’t get the carburetor back until many years later when it was found on the school roof missing many internal parts
“1955 Dell’Orto parts were not exactly thick on the ground,” says Russ.
He finally found another Dell’Orto with the correct internals 37 years later at a swap meet in Toulouse, France. It was at the same swap meet that Russ managed to score a pair of period correct tires for the Mi-Val. As one can see from the timeline, the Mi-Val restoration took a back seat to many other projects!
“The bike always seemed to be low priority while other projects came and went,” says Russ. “I didn’t really do anything with it till 2010-11 when I finally got around to stripping it down to every nut and bolt and restoring it.”
Russ did all of the engine work himself, as well as polishing, respoking wheels, wiring, bodywork, paint and pinstriping.
“I did get some parts plated and re-chromed.”
The bike was pretty complete, says Russ, but he did have to find a new taillight, light switch, horn and speedometer. He built the control cables himself, and also fabricated the chainguard. Working from photos, Russ came up with a design for the tank decals and had them made up to match the paint.
“I even had a period helmet that I painted to match,” says Russ.
Russ’s 175 has some interesting sporting features. The humpback dual seat follows contemporary competition practice, and although fitted with a generous gas tank, the 175 was available with a smaller tank, solo saddle and a small luggage rack. The narrow handlebars feature integrated brake and clutch lever perches, choke lever, light switch and horn button. Rear suspension units have both compression and rebound damping as well as air preload, quite exotic for the time. And they’re pretty complicated, as Russ found out when he rebuilt them: “Each one has 44 parts,” says Russ. “They don’t currently work all that well, but they are pretty cool!”
The wheels use Sanremo alloy rims mounted on quick-detach alloy hubs with cooling fins. And while there was provision for an optional speedometer, Russ’s Mi-Val came without one, the hole being blanked off with a rubber plug bearing the Mi-Val logo. Russ has fitted a period instrument. Also period correct are the original footpeg rubbers and grips, all logo embossed. One of the curious features of Russ’s bike is the location of the ignition coil, housed in a cylindrical recess in the bottom of the fuel tank. Presumably this was done to keep the coil cool: but it must also have been a safety hazard in the event of a fuel leak.
Riding the Mi-Val
“As far as riding the bike goes, it is very light and handles well, despite the suspension, and the brakes work well,” says Russ. “It goes OK for a 65-year-old 175, but it has some clutch slippage at higher rpm that I haven’t sorted out.” Russ admits that the cork inserts he made himself may be the culprit, as he cut them out with no specification to guide him.
“It starts well as long as I don’t tickle the carburetor too much,” says Russ, “and for a 2-stroke it has a very pleasant exhaust note.” Fortunately, Russ has a very amenable wife: “The bike usually spends the winter in our living room and has at times been decorated as our Christmas tree!”
So why aren’t Mi-Vals better appreciated in North America?
“From what I understand Mi-Vals weren’t exported from Italy and therefore not many are around,” though Russ does know of another Mi-Val, a 125, on Vancouver Island. “I was told my bike was brought over by an Italian fellow and went through about three owners with the last registration in 1966.”
Russ has also been researching Mi-Val’s role as an engine supplier.
“Recently I found mention of Mi-Val supplying engines to a company in Mexico called Moto Islo, founded by Isidro Lopez. Moto Islo used an Italian engine in their bikes including a 175 race bike that never actually got to race. They made four of them, and the engine in that bike looks the same as mine.”
“I also read that the engines were supplied by Moto Morini but other than some 2-strokes early on, Morini just made 4-strokes. So either someone got their facts wrong or Morini sold Mi-Val engines to Islo! Islo made various bikes with an engine that looks like mine right up into the late 60s.”
Russ and his wife visited the Mi-Val factory in 1990 while on a two-month tour of Europe on a BMW. “We didn’t speak Italian and they didn’t speak English,” says Russ, “but once I showed them a photo of my bike, they invited us in. We enjoyed some refreshments while they printed off a parts book for my model which came in very handy during the restoration. They also took me out to a shed where there were about six Mi-Val’s. It seems they were so proud that they used to make motorcycles.”
As they should be, based on Russ Blow’s Mi-Val 175! MC
The Mi-Val 175
It’s worth noting that 175cc was an important engine capacity for Italian motorcycles in the 1950s. Serious competition in that class came from Aermacchi, Benelli, Bianchi, Gilera, Mondial, Motobi, Moto Morini, MV Agusta, Parilla and others. Especially important in this class was success in the prestigious and highly competitive Motogiro d’Italia. It truly was win on domenica, sell on lunedi. Not surprisingly, those companies with a good track record were foremost in promoting their products. Mi-Val, however, chose to compete mostly in off-road events like the International Six-Days Trial. In 1955, the same year that Russ’s Mi-Val was made, the company produced the 175SS Giro, a street 175 suitably modified for off-road competition and available over the counter.
Mi-Val and me
I first became aware of the Mi-Val brand a dozen years ago. A 175cc 2-stroke was up for sale locally and I did a little digging. It was in pieces, and the scarcity of information and parts in North America was daunting. I was intrigued but decided to pass. Next, I was at the Las Vegas auctions in 2016, and on offer was a rare Mi-Val 175cc 4-stroke. It was mostly complete and in museum quality — meaning, it was dusty. But who knew how long it was parked and when it last ran? I did some quick financial guesswork: It was offered on a bill of sale, meaning it could not be exported from the U.S., so it would have to wait while I got a title organized; then there was shipping to the Canadian border, another several hundred bucks; and the $CAD exchange rate, then around 75 cents on the dollar. By the time I had it landed and titled in Canada, I could comfortably double the auction estimate. I took another pass. Shoulda, woulda, coulda …
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