Rare Air: Moto Parilla 175 MSDS F3

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Alberto Sisso’s Moto Parilla 175 MSDS F3.
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The external tachometer drive on the right engine case turns the large Smiths tachometer.
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The external tachometer drive on the right engine case turns the large Smiths tachometer.
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The external tachometer drive on the right engine case turns the large Smiths tachometer.
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Alberto Sisso’s Moto Parilla 175 MSDS F3.
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Alberto Sisso’s F3 wears hard-to-find parts like the correct Sturcher rear shocks and 22.5mm Dell’Orto carb.
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Alberto Sisso’s F3 wears hard-to-find parts like the correct Sturcher rear shocks and 22.5mm Dell’Orto carb.
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Alberto Sisso’s F3 wears hard-to-find parts like the correct Sturcher rear shocks and 22.5mm Dell’Orto carb.
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Alberto Sisso’s F3 wears hard-to-find parts like the correct Sturcher rear shocks and 22.5mm Dell’Orto carb.

If there is only one thing to know about Italian motorcycles, it might be this fun fact: From 1900 until the present day, there have been hundreds of Italian motorcycle manufacturers. In fact, there is an entire micro region known as the Motor Valley that has been home to many of the most famous car and motorcycle companies, including Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati, and more than 40 motorcycle manufacturers including Ducati.

Balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese and high-performance machines all thrive in the same small part of Italy. And to give you an idea just how long the list is, my friends and I used to play a game to name Italian motorcycle manufacturers, the more obscure the better — “name one that starts with B — Benelli, Bianchi, Bimota.” This game could go for hours and many, many beers. The moderator of all this was my friend Jim Dillard, an actual rocket scientist and the guy everyone called if they were restoring anything old, weird and Italian. He owned something like 600 small Italian vintage machines, and unfortunately for the rest of us, could tell if we were making up names out of thin air.

But even with all those motorcycle factories popping up and disappearing like whack-a-moles, a handful were truly special. Some companies like Ducati and MV Agusta managed to stay in production over the years, while others like Mondial and Moto Parilla did not. If you are a hardcore vintage Italian motorcycle enthusiast, you probably already know how rare, special and respected the Parilla marque was. But even the most knowledgeable Parilla fans have rarely had the opportunity to see, much less own, a Parilla 175 MSDS F3. This is a motorcycle that appeals to a sophisticated palate. That’s why Italian vintage motorcycle collector Alberto Sisso was intrigued when the opportunity to buy one arose.

The history of this Parilla was hard to trace because its story was interrupted at some point. Its frame was stripped and stored away for years, until its path miraculously intersected with a person armed with the specific skills to bring it to life again. Alberto was quite aware that this Parilla was as close as he might ever get to owning any version of this hand-built racer, so he jumped at the chance, made the deal and eagerly waited for it to arrive from Italy. All that was left to do was call other collectors to share his good fortune, and have every one of them respond in the same way: “Are you kidding? He SOLD that?”

A little history

If this machine looks vaguely familiar to you it might be because its inspiration was the well-known and beloved Norton Manx, a motorcycle that to this day draws sighs in race paddocks around the world. How that came about is a pretty good story that, like many amusing tales from that day, began with a dare.

Surprisingly, with a name like Giovanni Parrilla, Giovanni wasn’t Italian. Born and raised in Spain, Giovanni found himself in Milan, Italy, as a young man after leaving the military. There, he took a job as a diesel injection pump mechanic. Crazy about motorcycle racing, his work lunches were spent bench racing with his fellow workers. One day after a particularly bad race finish for the Italian factories, Giovanni, to the amusement of his friends, declared he could build a better entry than the current offerings. Bets were taken, and incredibly, he began his quest.

He was most impressed with the racing results of the Norton Manx, which was doing well at that time. Giovanni bought one, took it apart, measured, drew and studied. When he was certain he had what he needed, he reassembled it, found a buyer and used the cash to start his work. It may have been a bold call, but history shows it was the right one. His life would be changed forever, his legacy secured, his motorcycles truly Italian in every way.

Over the next 18 years he produced more than 150 models, from racers to scooters, all graced by the famous racing greyhound logo. Today, one-off prototypes and racers aside, the best loved and most coveted of the Parillas (the company name used only one “r” instead of two) is the Moto Parilla Grand Sport, specifically the hotrod version known as the MSDS, which stands for Macchina Sport Derivato dalla Serie. In English this translates to Sports Machines Derived from the Series. The MSDS, although considered a regular production bike, was more of a “catalog racer.” Built in small numbers, the model is rare and desirable — somewhere in the range of 25 MSDS Parillas made it to the U.S. The F3 that it inspired, on the other hand, was a pure racing machine, used by factory riders and a very few elite privateers. By any account, the F3 was and remains something special.

From the ground up

As with many race bikes, this one was inspired by its special frame, found at an Italian swap meet by famed Italian F1 and MotoGP race patron Patrizio Cantu. Perhaps best known as Valentino Rossi’s team manager, Cantu had the contacts, resources and perseverance to take on a project of this size and gather the hard-to-source items unique to the F3 like the rear shocks, the 22.5mm Dell’Orto carburetor and the quick-detach fuel tank.

The search for original parts stretched from Italy to the U.S. and Australia. Some pieces, like the special cast magnesium brake, were purely unobtainable right from the get-go. Only found on factory Parillas or on a Parilla owned by someone with special factory connections, and made in small numbers and prone to cracking, very few still exist. The search for that part now continues on the part of Alberto, but all the other hard-to-find pieces did emerge, and one by one found their way back onto the factory F3 frame.

Original Corsa front forks, the correct aluminum, larger capacity, longer and wider Grand Sport fuel tank and even the super rare (and very special for the period) Sturcher rear shock absorbers were found and installed. Made in Italy, these shocks were very technologically advanced for the time because they were both air and oil damped, with adjustable dampening. As with most state-of-the-art racing parts, they were rare and expensive right from day one. Somehow, a set was sourced and installed.

A true “hi-cam” production racer, the F3 is different from a regular production MSDS by its frame, swingarm and the state of tune of the engine. Somewhere between eight and 10 F3 frames are known to have been produced. A prototype was built in 1957 and was successful enough that the remaining handful were produced for the 1958 season. To identify the differences between the frame of an F3 and an MSDS, look at the rear tube bend radius — it’s much tighter than a standard MSDS. The swingarm is different as well — the MSDS sports a production “U” swingarm while the F3 uses a gusseted, straight-tube swingarm. Finally, F3 frames are lighter, as they are made from thinner tubing.

In the flesh

When the bike arrived in South Florida, Alberto could finally get a real look at his purchase. His Parilla F3 had survived its journey with no damage and its beautiful vintage patina fully intact. It started and ran. A good cleaning revealed the usual small issues — the manufacturer’s tag for the seat needed to be sourced and replaced, and a couple of decals could use adding, but all in all it was in remarkable shape for a sight unseen purchase from halfway across the world. And, of course, he’s still looking for that front brake. Alberto plans to bring his Parilla out to share with appreciative admirers, on occasion, and he’s hoping, fingers crossed, that one of the other Parilla collectors might eventually take on the task of overseeing another Parilla Days reunion to get all the Moto Parilla collectors together once again (see the January/February 2016 issue of Motorcycle Classics for coverage of the last one). That’s just the kind of weekend where crazy rare manufacturer-specific Holy Grail parts tend to turn up. And he’s got his checkbook ready. MC

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