Motorcycle Classics

Book Review: The Book of the Classic MV Agusta Fours, by Ian Falloon

If Triumph is among the best known brands in the world, surely MV Agusta sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. A small Italian company, MV was almost unknown in this country until its 1997 relaunch under Claudio Castiglioni and its subsequent purchase by, of all companies, Harley-Davidson in 2008. With hundreds of excellent period and contemporary photos to bring the MV four to life, The Book of the Classic MV Agusta Fours, by Ian Falloon is an enthusiastically told and detailed account of the development of one of the most desirable and collectible motorcycles of all time.

Founded in 1945 as a way to protect the jobs of workers at the parent Agusta aviation company, Count Domenico Agusta’s motorcycle division grew quickly in transportation-starved post-war Italy. A 98cc two-stroke was its sole initial offering, but a larger, 125cc single quickly followed and proved to be competitive on the Italian race circuit, prompting Count Agusta to direct more effort toward racing.

The first MV Agusta four was produced in 1950. Featuring an air-cooled, gear-driven double overhead cam engine, it was heavily modeled on the 500 four produced by rival Gilera. And while Gilera abandoned its four — and racing — in 1957, Count Agusta and ace race mechanic Arturo Magni continued to develop the MV four (in both 350cc and 500cc versions) into one of the most potent, winningest race engines of all time.

Small singles defined MV’s civilian production, however, and the first street MV four didn’t appear until 1966. MV was transitioning to a new triple for racing, so it was decided to use the four as the foundation of a luxury touring bike, the 592cc MV4C6. Featuring an oddly bulbous chrome gas tank and a huge, rectangular headlamp, the new 600 was hardly the performer its racing heritage might have suggested. This was followed by the much more sporting and capable 743cc 750S in 1970, the more gentlemanly 750GT in 1972, and what for many is the definitive MV Agusta, the 750 America in 1975. MV production stopped in 1977 with the 850SS, of which only a handful were built.

There were variations along the way, and their differences are spelled out in detail in this exhaustively researched book by motorcycle historian Ian Falloon. The author of dozens of books on classic motorcycles, including the recent The Book of the Ducati 750SS, Falloon is a trained researcher with an eye for accuracy. 240 pages. $100, Veloce Publishing. Click to order a copy.

  • Published on Oct 3, 2011
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