What Might Have Been: The Lambretta GP Racer

In the early 1950s, scooter maker Lambretta crafted this amazing 250cc V-twin GP racer.

| November/December 2017

  • The Lambretta GP racer.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • The 90-degree V-twin has its crankshaft mounted inline with the frame, which pushes the cylinders out into the cooling breeze.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • The 90-degree V-twin has its crankshaft mounted inline with the frame, which pushes the cylinders out into the cooling breeze.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • Vittorio Tessera with the racer today.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • The bike as found.
    Photo courtesy the Vittorio Tessera archives
  • The rear drive is by driveshaft, which is unusual for a race bike as a simpler chain drive setup would have saved weight.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • The Lambretta GP racer.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • One of the racers on track.
    Photo courtesy the Vittorio Tessera archives
  • The factory with two engines.
    Photo courtesy the Vittorio Tessera archives
  • The V-twin on display at the Milan show in 1951.
    Photo courtesy the Vittorio Tessera archives

Here’s a simple question: Name the Italian motorcycle manufacturer that has been synonymous with transverse, overhead-valve V-twins since 1967? Yes, you genius, it is Moto Guzzi.

Now answer this: Name the Italian company that revealed a similar V-twin at the International Milan Fair in 1951. Here’s a hint: It isn’t a motorcycle manufacturer. Still thinking? OK, let’s put you out of your misery.

Lambretta quickly became a giant of post-World War II transportation in Italy with scooters inspired by the rugged U.S. military Cushman runabout. It even built racing versions for Italy’s early national motorcycle championships. But a little-known part of Lambretta’s history was its early ambition to become a major player in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. It is only due to the efforts of a passionate Italian enthusiast that any trace of Lambretta’s GP adventure exists today.

How it all started

Lambretta founder Ferdinando Innocenti’s cheap 2-stroke scooters helped mobilize a nation devastated by war. The financial return from Lambretta’s massive scooter sales in the late 1940s allowed Innocenti to commission Giuseppe Salmaggi to design a sophisticated overhead-camshaft 4-stroke GP racer.



Salmaggi was one of Italy’s leading motorcycle designers of the prewar era and his Gilera Saturno had become the most sought-after privateer race bike of the 1930s. If Salmaggi’s pushrod production-racer Saturno was the benchmark for single-cylinder 500cc Italian racing machinery, his Lambretta V-twin was to boldly go where no GP designer had gone before. 

Sure, there were inline 4-cylinders from Gilera, and soon from MV Agusta, plus a 120-degree V-twin from Moto Guzzi, but when the Lambretta was first displayed at the 1951 Milan show there was nothing like it on earth.

Vintagebikeman
12/5/2017 10:25:04 AM

I always thought a transverse engine referred to the crankshaft orientation and not the cylinder orientation. Awesome bike. Awesome story.


db
12/1/2017 12:05:26 PM

I have owned and ridden a 74 Guzzi El Dorado for the last 20 years and I have to say I would trade it in a second for the Lambretta GP racer. What a beauty and I agree, right there with the Gliera Saturno. Pity it never saw production, it would have become a classic.


db
12/1/2017 12:05:21 PM

I have owned and ridden a 74 Guzzi El Dorado for the last 20 years and I have to say I would trade it in a second for the Lambretta GP racer. What a beauty and I agree, right there with the Gliera Saturno. Pity it never saw production, it would have become a classic.




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