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

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.


TONYC
11/30/2017 9:08:32 AM

Wow. What a technical tour de force. Those engine castings are beautiful. I wonder if AutoZone stocks replacement heads for it?


Bruce
11/30/2017 7:33:52 AM

The previous two posters, it's a Lambretta, not a Laverda. Very different.


Bruce
11/30/2017 7:33:51 AM

The previous two posters, it's a Lambretta, not a Laverda.


shadowmachine
11/11/2017 6:22:31 PM

Wonderful article! Never even heard about Laverda motorcycles. And about who really was first to put a transverse V-twin on a motorbike: in 1929 a Russian engineer P. V. Mojarov created and assembled 5 motorcycle models, which were intended for a mass production as first Soviet mass-produced motorcycles. First two models, named "IZh-1" and "IZh-2" were equipped with transverse mounted V-twins 24 hp,1200cc. THey had 3-speed transmission in one block with an engine and used parts of heavy stamped frame for an exhaust. These two motorcycles took a 3300 test-run. Unfortunately, both models were too expensive for a young, severely battled Soviet Russian economy to produce. "IZh-1" was saved and now in a museum of Izhevsk City. Here are couple of links to see this magnificent beast. http://s46.radikal.ru/i114/1008/7d/f657be3946be.jpg http://i070.radikal.ru/1008/58/866f127814ca.jpg http://s56.radikal.ru/i154/1008/20/b8a32dee3192.jpg http://s45.radikal.ru/i108/1008/b1/6c514c46a61a.jpg


motorstereo
11/7/2017 2:32:01 PM

Hamish this is a great article , thanks for putting it together! I really enjoyed reading about the Laverda. What an interesting bike. Who knew such a thing existed? Truly amazing. I'd love to see details of the cam operation on this bike. Cheers, John Lewis






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