Mark Cummings still remembers the sound of the first Agusta he heard back in the late 1980s.
1975 MV Agusta 750S America
Engine: 789cc air-cooled DOHC inline four-cylinder, 67mm x 56mm bore and stroke, 9.5:1 compression ratio, 75hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 130mph (est.)
Carburetion: Four 26mm Dell'Orto VHB
Transmission: 5-speed, shaft final drive
Electrics: 12v, distributor ignition w/ coil and breaker points
Frame/wheelbase: Dual downtube w/ engine as stressed member/54.7in (1,389mm)
Suspension: 38mm Ceriani telescopic forks front, dual Ceriani shocks w/adjustable preload rear
Brakes: Dual 11in (280mm) disc front, 7.9in (200mm) SLS drum rear
Tires: 3.5 x 18in front, 4 x 18in rear
Weight (dry): 517lb (235kg)
Seat height: 31.5in (800mm)
Fuel capacity: 6.3gal (24ltr)
Price then/now: $6,000/$80,000-$90,000
Motorcycles excite all of the senses. When it comes to sight, they can be beautiful or ugly — and even in between.
In regards to smell, they emit a heady scent of oil, gasoline and rubber — and heat has a way of intensifying the effect. Touch? There are many different textures on a motorcycle, from cast aluminum to welded steel — and of course there's the sensory overload of actually riding, and that's where taste could enter the picture. And aurally, motorcycle engines produce their own distinct music, whether a tiny 2-stroke single-cylinder or a large 4-stroke multi-cylinder.
Enthusiast Mark Cummings appreciates everything about motorcycles, but in the late 1980s it was the sound of an MV Agusta 750S America that sent a chill down his spine.
Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, Mark started off riding a Honda Mini Trail. Larger bikes followed, and by the time he entered his first year of college he'd saved enough money to buy a used BMW R90/6 from the late Perry Bushong.
Perry was a master mechanic and sidecar enthusiast who, starting in the early 1970s, bought, sold, traded and repaired BMWs and many other exotic European machines, including MV Agustas. Through the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Mark haunted Perry's shop, BMW of Fort Worth. It was a place that fueled Mark's motorcycling dreams.
He also worked at Perry's shop for a spell. Mark was well on his way to earning a degree in art history when he decided to take a break from school. That's when Perry offered him a job behind the parts counter, and Mark says he never looked back. "I was just about to start writing my thesis," Mark explains, "but after I started working at Perry's shop, that was it for me."
Mechanically inclined, Mark moved back and forth from the parts counter to the mechanics' bays, where he pulled wrenches. And he clearly recalls being behind the parts desk the day John Woody pulled up behind the shop on an MV Agusta 750S America. "John was out back revving the engine of his 750S," Mark says. "I had to drop what I was doing to go see what it was because it was just such a glorious noise."
That noise echoes back in time to 1907, when Count Giovanni Agusta founded Costruzioni Aeronautiches Agusta Spa to build aircraft near Varese, Italy. Agusta died in 1927, leaving the company to his widow, Countess Giuseppina, and his eldest son, Domenico. At the end of World War II the Agusta company was banned from aircraft manufacturing, so Count Domenico and his brother Vincenzo started Meccanica Verghera, the MV in MV Agusta, building motorcycles as a way to save jobs.
Starting with a 98cc 2-stroke, a number of small-bore machines led the way to developing a 4-cylinder, 4-stroke engine in 1950. Through the 1950s and 1960s, MV was a winning company on the racetrack and their 4-cylinder machines dominated the 350cc and 500cc classes in the hands of racers such as John Surtees, Giacomo Agostini and Mike Hailwood.
But those multi-cylinder machines were track-only devices until Count Agusta decided in the mid-1960s that it was time to offer a 4-cylinder street bike (see Motorcycle Classics, January/February 2018). Equipped with an all-alloy 4-cylinder double overhead cam engine with dual carburetors, it had a 58mm x 56mm bore and stroke for an overall capacity of 592cc. Officially launched in 1965, only 127 examples of the MV 600 were built, but the production machine provided the groundwork for the feature bike seen here, the 750S America.
In 1969, MV enlarged the 600 to 743cc and fitted a bank of four 24mm Dell'Orto carburetors to create the 750GT, with shaft final drive. Alongside the GT, MV also offered the sportier 750S, a motorcycle that Bike magazine claimed to have the most powerful 750cc engine ever made.
MV Agusta's U.S. importer was Commerce Overseas Corporation in New York, headed by Chris Garville. In 1974, Garville and MV retailer Jim Cotherman visited the MV factory to press their case for a revised 750 that would better suit the tastes of the U.S. market. "The American duo proposed a series of changes to update the existing 750 MV Agusta," an article from the May 1975 issue of Cycle magazine claimed. "The factory took their proposals under advisement and began work on a revised roadster."
According to Cycle magazine, power output was one of the most important aspects of the redesign and MV pushed overall capacity to 789cc. MV did this by enlarging the pistons by 2mm, taking the bore to 67mm while retaining the 56mm stroke. Compression was given a slight bump, from 10:1 to 10.2:1, and the cylinder head was revised, with freer-flowing intake tracts, larger intake and exhaust valves and re-shaped combustion chambers.
A quartet of larger 26mm Dell'Orto VHB carburetors were installed and a hand-hammered aluminum cover went over the air filter. Gear-driven cams rotated via a matched set of three straight cut gears driven off the crankshaft; these were situated in a tunnel between the individually removable cylinders. The four aluminum alloy cylinders with cast iron liners attached to a "crankshaft block," a subassembly that held the pressed-together crank in four split-cage roller bearings, with ball bearings at each end. Once built up with the crankshaft, the entire sub-assembly bolted into a tub that was cast in the engine case.
Doubtless, it was not cheap to produce. "Hardware junkies blow themselves away on MV engines," Cycle magazine said. "It is a masterpiece of precision castings, gears, needle bearings, ball bearings, shafts and all other things in the hard goods department. Were it mass-produced, the engine would still be murderously expensive to build."
Bosch equipment provided the electric starter/generator that mounted behind the engine sump and a Bosch automotive-style distributor ensured current arrived at the spark plugs at the correct time. The engine and transmission were built in-unit and the gear ratios in the primary, gearbox and rear drive were the same as the 750S. The mill bolted into a steel duplex tube frame that, apart from a longer and stronger steering head, was unchanged from the 750S in terms of overall geometry and wheelbase. On the America, however, a beefier Ceriani fork with wider triple clamps and 38mm tubes anchored the front, and included a pair of 280mm discs with a set of Scarab calipers topped off with Tomaselli clip-ons.
No changes were made to the rear swingarm or shaft final drive, either. Front and rear wheels were both 18 inches with Borrani rims, the front equipped with a 3.5 x 18 inch Metzeler ribbed tire and a 4 x 18 inch Metzeler racing block on the rear. At 562 pounds wet the America was no lightweight, outweighing its shaft-driven contemporaries like the BMW R90S and Moto Guzzi Sport by 70 pounds.
During Cycle magazine's time with the America, testers found that tire pressures played a critical role in how the machine handled. With 28psi front and 32psi rear, they said the bike "would weave and snake treacherously in fast corners." Lowering the rear to 26psi produced a "stable condition" that didn't leave the rider fearing for life and limb.
Despite being dubbed the America and ostensibly built for the North American market, MV also sold the model in Europe. With the European machines included, it's thought as many as 540 Americas were built, with 200 sold in the U.S.
In 1952, Agusta returned to the aeronautics industry, building aircraft as well as motorcycles. They built Bell helicopters under license, and Bell has its headquarters in Fort Worth — and that's how Perry Bushong became associated with MV Agusta motorcycles.
According to Mark, Perry always liked to tell his story. "In the mid-1970s a team of Italian engineers from Agusta was visiting Bell, and because they were also motorcyclists they came to see Perry in his Fort Worth shop," Mark says. "They were impressed by Perry, and suggested he should be selling MV Agusta motorcycles."
In order to become an MV dealer, Perry had to buy five of the America models from Garville. Not flush with cash, Perry called five of his influential clients and they backed him to make the purchase. After that, Perry was linked to MV and the machines became an important part of his life.
The first two MV Agusta 750S America motorcycles produced were sent to importer Chris Garville in 1975. They were displayed at trade shows and loaned out to the motorcycle press for testing. One of these bikes, manufactured in June 1975 with engine number 221012 and frame number 221009, is the machine featured in the Cycle, Big Bike and Motor Cycle World tests. It's also the bike featured here. "These two bikes were sent around the U.S. One was crashed and not used again, making this one the lone survivor of the pair," Mark says.
Ownership of the magazine test bike was transferred from Chris to his brother Peter Garville in 1984, and Peter kept the bike until 1990. That's when Peter approached Perry Bushong about trading the America straight across for a just-released and fully loaded BMW K100RS with ABS.
"Perry knew I had been looking for an America and he offered me first crack at it, and I jumped on the chance," Mark explains, adding that to fund the purchase he had to sell his Vincent Series C Rapide. "I bought it because I wanted to ride it, and because of the visceral reaction I'd had to having heard one running.
"For the first four or five years I'd ride it if not daily, then at least three or four times a week. You aren't crouched over uncomfortably, and I'm 6 feet tall. The seat, bar and peg positions were all in good proportion. Overall, the bike was very stable thanks to its good suspension system. Clutch action wasn't stiff and when you got on the throttle, the bike got on it, too. Honestly, the bike simply didn't have a lot of quirks to it, it was just a joy to ride."
Shortly after buying the America, Mark left Perry's shop and began working a different job where he used his motorcycle riding skills to carry camera men as they shot rolling footage, among other tasks.
In 1994, while at the BMW Battle Of The Legends event in Daytona, Florida, Mark asked racing hero John Surtees to autograph the gas tank of his 750S America. "He was gracious enough to sign the fuel tank," Mark says. He was more than a little glad John agreed, because Mark's painter had already slightly scuffed the red paint in preparation for the felt pen. A layer of clear coat preserved the integrity of John's signature.
After that, Mark rode the bike sporadically, mostly at bike events and shows until 2014, when he approached Perry about performing a sympathetic cosmetic restoration. The America was always properly stored, but it had started to look a little tired. Perry took the bike apart, but with only 5,000 miles nothing major had to be done or rebuilt. Rather, everything but the gas tank was detailed and made shiny again after a little bodywork and paintwork.
At the time, Mark took the opportunity to fit a racing exhaust system built by MV Agusta specialist Dave Kay of Kay Engineering in the U.K It was something he'd always wanted to do, and he says it not only looks fantastic, but it makes the America sound even better — something he didn't think was possible.
The MV was finished in November 2016, and Mark sadly notes that it was Perry's last restoration, as he died in early March 2017. Within the same week, John Surtees died. "I just find it an odd circumstance that two people connected to the bike died in the same week," Mark says.
That caused Mark to do a bit of soul searching, because not long after, he decided it was time to move the MV Agusta along. "I've got a few other motorcycles that are needing some attention and I'd like to get some money together to keep those bikes rolling," Mark says. "It wasn't an easy decision, but a bike can get to a tipping point where it's worth so much you become very self-conscious about riding it, and you're almost uneasy."
In 1975, the MV Agusta 750S America was the most expensive motorcycle sold in the U.S., selling for $6,000 at a time when a top-of-the-line BMW sold for almost half the price. It was a figure that prompted the editors at Big Bike magazine in 1976 to quip: "The MV Agusta is, without question, the most expensive, exotic and bizarre motorcycle that has ever filtered around our inexpensive, exotic and flat-freako offices. Ever."
Today, that $6,000 now sounds a paltry price to pay for a premium Italian motorcycle that makes the most glorious noise and is capable of exciting all of the senses. MC