Mystery MV: 1954 MV Agusta Idrobad Automatic

Likely to be the only complete MV Agusta 175 with cambio idraulico (hydraulic gearbox) in existence, it’s a motorcycle about which little is known.

| November/December 2014

  • 1954 MV Agusta Idrobad Automatic
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • 1954 MV Agusta Idrobad Automatic
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • The left twist grip moves the two cables that control the hydraulic transmission.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • 1954 MV Agusta Motoleggera Idrobad
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • To start the bike, the clutch is pulled in and the button is pressed to lock it, then just kick!
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • 1954 MV Agusta Idrobad Automatic
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • 1954 MV Agusta Idrobad Automatic
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • MV enthusiast Dorian Skinner sits astride the 175 Idrobad.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • For some reason the 175 doesn't have any gauges. It looks as though the factory installed a "delete" plate instead.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • 1954 MV Agusta Idrobad Automatic
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • You can just see the cables that actuate the setup.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • The diagram illustrates how the swash plates (C and E) vary the strokes of the pistons.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • "It's much easier to ride than to explain how it works," Dorian Skinner said about the 1954 MV.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton

1954 MV Agusta Motoleggera Idrobad
Claimed power: 7.5hp @ 5,200 rpm
Top speed: 62mph (100kmh)
Engine: 172.3cc air-cooled OHC single, 62mm x 59.5mm bore and stroke, 6:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet): 227lb (103kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 3.7gal (14ltr)/55-65mpg (est.)

No more gears! No more clutch! This was what the prematurely printed brochure for the “automatic” MV Agusta 175 proclaimed. But the early promise was never fulfilled, and while the “greatest novelty in motorcycling” never went into production, one did survive.

It’s no exaggeration to say the MV Agusta Motoleggera 175cc “Idrobad” has to be one of the rarest motorcycles in the world. And it’s only thanks to MV enthusiast Dorian Skinner and the generosity and trust of the MV’s owner that it was able to see the light of day to be photographed, pored over, and ridden. It is a bike that was developed ahead of its time, but whose eventual production was canceled for reasons we can only guess at. Likely to be the only complete overhead cam MV Agusta 175 with cambio idraulico (hydraulic gearbox) in existence, it’s a motorcycle about which little is known.

Digging deeper

Sig. Sironi, the gatekeeper and historical expert of the MV Agusta Museum in Cascina Costa, Italy, knows of the bike but has never seen one, and reckons only a couple were even made; any records at MV are sparse. There is a mention in Mick Walker’s MV book along with a photo of a prototype — identical to this machine — that was displayed by MV Agusta at the 1954 Milan show, and it is extremely likely that it is the same bike: Even the battery looks to be the same one, still in place.



Apparently, the engine underwent some testing and assessment, and was even used in MV competition bikes competing with some success in the 250-mile Calanchi Trophy road race, as well as the Coppa Ducati regolarità. Another cambio idraulico MV 175 made its way to the U.K., where it was tested by MotorCycling magazine and featured in the Dec. 27, 1956 issue: Its fate is unknown, unless that bike is the one we have here in front of us, a connection that can’t be proved. There is supposedly an engine in Germany — and that’s it, nothing more remains. It seems the model attracted little enthusiasm.

What is so very special about this 4-stroke, overhead cam MV Agusta 175cc is its transmission, an infinitely variable drive unit that was developed by mechanical engineer Giovanni Badalini of Cambi Idraulici Badalini SPA, Rome. Badalini invented the drive unit for use in industry and engineering, and filed a patent with the United States Patent Office for a “rotary pump and motor hydraulic transmission” on Aug. 19, 1952, following up with further patent filings in November 21 and then again on May 12, 1953.



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