The MV Agusta Museum

Photo by Phil Aynsley

To visit the official MV Agusta museum, you don’t head towards this famous motorcycle manufacturer’s current factory in Varese, Italy. After you get off the plane at Milan’s Malpensa airport, you only need to travel a few miles east to the town of Cascina Costa di Samarate.

There an elegant estate hosts a range of significant and rare MV Agustas that shares space with the business that financed the racing and bike building, Agusta helicopters.

With more than 3,000 international race wins, 38 world rider’s titles and 37 manufacturer’s championships, MV Agusta was a powerhouse of Grand Prix racing for three decades.

The outside of the MV Agusta museum, located in Cacina Costa di Samarte, not far from Milan’s Malpensa airport. Just to the right of this building, several of the companies’ historically important helicopters are displayed. Photo by Phil Aynsley

Unlike its rivals from across Europe and Japan, MV existed primarily to go racing. It regarded the production of road motorcycles a distraction.

It could do this because Count Domenico Agusta ran MV like a personal fiefdom. He employed the best riders and technicians to satisfy his every racing whim, his adventures underwritten by the family’s worldwide helicopter business.

A walk through this museum is a journey through the life and times of a visionary obsessed with speed and flight, aerodynamics and cutting-edge technology. A man who was able to surround himself with the best technicians and who had the money to hire the world’s greatest racers.

Going racing

Count Agusta started the racing program in 1946 with a 98cc 2-stroke. MV quickly moved on to 4-strokes and in 1950 revealed its first 4-cylinder Grand Prix racer.

The connection between specialized aviation and Grand Prix racing is evident throughout the museum. Here a 750 4-cylinder sectioned engine and shaft drive is on display  not far from sectioned helicopter parts. Photo by Phil Aynsley

Setting a pattern that would last until its final GP at the end of 1976, MV initially enticed top engineers Arturo Magni and Piero Remor from Gilera to develop both the 4-cylinder 500 and a 125cc DOHC single. Count Agusta then hired the first 500cc world champion, 1949 season winner Les Graham.

Sectioned helicopter parts. Photo by Phil Aynsley

The Englishman finished runner-up to Gilera in 1952, while fellow Englishman Cecil Sandford gave MV its first GP win and inaugural world championship in the 125cc class.

Beauty in the air and on the ground, as two small-capacity MVs share space with a helicopter. Photo by Phil Aynsley

The fragility of life in Grand Prix racing was brought home starkly to the Count when Graham crashed fatally at next year’s Isle of Man TT. Then his successor, Rhodesian Ray Amm, died after a crash at Imola in his first race for MV.


When you compare the beauty of MV’s America with the clumsy execution of its 1968 600/4, you need to understand that MV was invoking the styling of Honda’s well-proven CB450 “Black Bomber.” Photo by Phil Aynsley

Another Englishman, rising star John Surtess, came on board in 1956 and a golden period began. Surtees delivered MV its first 500cc title (and manufacturer’s championship) while Carlo Ubbiali became double world champion in the 125cc and 250cc classes.

Ahead of its time, the 1950 500 R19 prototype was too expensive to put into production. Photo by Phil Aynsley

That year MV poured incredible resources into its racing effort, developing four-, twin- and single-cylinder versions for the 350cc class, experimenting with fuel injection and monocoque frame technology as well as building a prototype 6-cylinder 500 for the 1957 season.

Keen buyers would have to wait until the mid-Sixties and the 600/4. MV’s 1955 350 bicilindrico Corsa prototype looks almost modern with radical frame and front forks. Photo by Phil Aynsley

When MV’s main rivals, Gilera, Mondial and Moto Guzzi, abandoned GP racing in 1958, MV made a clean sweep of the titles, with Surtees achieving the 350cc/500cc double.

 Strange days at MV saw this Vetturetta 350 prototype mini-car made in 1951. Photo by Phil Aynsley

 MV was unbeaten in all GP classes until Honda came along in the early 1960s.


Fast-forward to 1969 and MV’s Overcraft (Hovercraft) prototype, powered by twin horizontal cylinder, 300cc 2-stroke engines. Just 50 of these 70cc Motozappa 188 tilling machines were made. It seems almost sacrilege to expend the resources of MV’s design department on something so agricultural, but the beauty is undeniable. Photo by Phil Aynsley

Count Agusta responded by concentrating his efforts on the 500cc classes, with Mike Hailwood and then Giacomo Agostini dominating the 1960s with year-on-year championship wins. Ago also won six 350cc world titles in a row for MV from 1968 as the factory evolved several versions for this class, including a 6-cylinder.


When you own a luxury Riviera house in Portofino, you don’t want guests struggling from the dock up the narrow, winding, cobblestone streets. Instead Count Agusta commissioned his factory workers to construct this one-off trike for his chauffeur to use. Photo by Phil Aynsley

Pushing on until the end

By the early 1970s MV’s main 500cc weapon, a highly-developed 3-cylinder, seemed invincible. But it was about to be swamped by a tidal wave of Japanese 2-strokes. Count Agusta died suddenly of a heart attack in 1971, but the MV technicians soldiered on.

Not usually associated with scooters, MV made a range of them. Here, from left to right are: a 1949 125 Tipo A, a 1952 125 CSL, a 1954 125 CGT, a 1950 125 Ovunque and 1955 125 Pullman prototype. Photo by Phil Aynsley

Multiple world champion Phil Read gave MV another two titles in 1973 and 1974 while engineers pushed the envelope of 4-stroke design and aerodynamics. They even built and tested a 4-cylinder 500cc with frontal wings on its fairing.

A 1975 750 America, one of MV’s finest and most desirable road models.  Photo by Phil Aynsley

Ago returned in 1976 from his Yamaha 2-stroke adventures (1974 350cc world title/1975 500cc title) for one last tilt with MV. The 15-time world champion signed off his career at the season’s final round at Germany’s Nurburgring, winning his last GP and making MV’s final victory the last for a 500cc Grand Prix 4-stroke.

MV’s early 500/4 featured radical front suspension matched to extreme aerodynamics to allow the rider to “tuck in.” This is a 1951 version. Photo by Phil Aynsley

Museum history

Bookends of the MV Agusta story. At left is a Model 98 from 1945, the company’s first road-going model. A 2-stroke, it was produced from 1945 to 1955. “Touring” and “Economical” versions were joined by a “Luxury” variant in 1947. By this time a 98 “Sport”, with telescopic front forks, was regularly winning endurance races. The 98 sits alongside MV’s final GP racer, a 1974 4-cylinder 500cc. This is the actual machine on which Franco Bonera won the post-season Nations GP event at Imola in September 1974. A month earlier Bonera had finished the 1974 season second overall to teammate Phil Read with the pair completing the season finale at Brno, Czechoslovakia in a one-two result. Photo by Phil Aynsley

If the story of MV Agusta really is a case of truth being stranger than fiction, so is the story of the museum. Back in the 1980s Team Obsolete acquired much of the MV Agusta racing team. At the same time the Elly collection was established and eventually prominent racers in this stable were demonstrated by their original riders, including Ago.

MV wasn’t shy of experimenting with 2-stroke technology. This is its 1963 125cc disc-valve prototype that also featured a 7-speed gearbox. Photo by Phil Aynsley

Like the official MV Agusta museum, most of the Elly collection is made up of machines gifted to mechanics by the factory. There are known to be other significant collections in existence, including one involving 90 models dating from 1945 that was auctioned off in Paris in early 2019. The highest price at that auction was $108,800 for an ex-Arturo Merzario 1972 MV Agusta 750S.

Contracts to supply law enforcement agencies are a useful income stream for many motorcycle manufacturers. MV was no exception with this 1967 250B on display in police trim. Photo by Phil Aynsley

Meanwhile, the new owner of MV Agusta, Russian investor Timur Sardarov, has said he is going to build his own museum through buying or loaning landmark race bikes from existing collections. Until then, we hope you enjoy the highlights of the museum at Cascina Costa di Samarate on these pages. MC

Published on Feb 4, 2021
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