Monday, 25 March 2013

Moto Guzzi MGS-01 - Cooking Goose

Moto Guzzi MGS 01 Corsa
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Booming Italian twin-cylinder trackday terrors have generally been the specialty of Ducati over the last 30 years; you might picture the odd orange Laverda parallel twin thrown in when that company is flirting with solvency, but generally Ducati is the go-to Latin track machine. Rarely do you picture a big, air-cooled, transverse V-twin out of Mandello de Lario thundering out of a corner and scything past the opposition. Moto Guzzi generally presents an air of staunch traditionalism, a sort of Italian BMW that is somehow more passionate than the Munich brand but far more rational than the exuberant offerings from Bologna. Guzzi riders are weathered, skilled old men who thump along the backroads, do their own repairs, and generally abstain from high-speed shenanigans. Or at least that’s the stereotype, one that was briefly blown into the weeds by the spectacularly uncharacteristic MGS-01 Corsa.



Moto Guzzi MGS 01 Corsa Racing Motorcycle
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For a brief period in the mid-2000s the MGS-01 (Moto Guzzi Sport model number one) was held high as the future of Moto Guzzi – a paradoxical break from tradition that upheld the time-honoured Guzzi design values. It was fast, beautiful, exclusive, expensive, and inspired much desire among red-blooded riders with an affinity for Italianate machines. It was a tantalizing glimpse at a more exotic and sporting direction for Moto Guzzi that ultimately was not to be.
Moto Guzzi MGS 01 Corsa Motorcycle
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During this period the most sporting Guzzi you could purchase was the V11 Sport, which was more of a heavyweight café-racer than a true sports bike. The MGS-01 owed more of a debt to the earlier Daytona 1000, one of the most focused sports Guzzis of all time that was developed in partnership with legendary Guzzi tuner Dr. John Wittner.
Dr John Wittner Moto Guzzi Le Mans Racer
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One of the Wittner-prepared Le Mans endurance racers
Dr. John, as he was affectionately called around the paddocks, was famed for using inappropriate equipment to compete at the highest level of production racing. A Pennsylvania dentist by trade, but trained as an engineer, Wittner was a stalwart Guzzi fanatic who believed that with sufficient development a classic air-cooled big-block Guzzi twin could win races against more modern machinery. He developed a series of racers that competed in Superbike classes in the 1980s with remarkable success considering their specification – he insisted on tuning the existing air-cooled, pushrod, transverse V-Twin, using the traditional drive shaft. His first successes were in fact with tuned production Le Mans models that were quite successful in endurance racing, which inspired Wittner to abandon his dental practice to focus on racing. After much development the result was a thundering bruiser of a racer that looked ungainly compared to the lithe opposition, but had the performance and the handling to win and stun the competition that never imagined they could be overtaken by a goddanged Guzzi built by a polite dentist from New England.
Dr John Wittner Moto Guzzi Daytona 1000
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Dr John and the Daytona
Wittner subsequently joined the Moto Guzzi factory and helped develop a modernized, but still unmistakably Guzzi, engine for a limited-production superbike. After years of secretive development the Daytona 1000 LE was released in 1993, and received mixed reactions. Here was the fastest, sportiest, and most powerful street-legal Guzzi ever produced… which wasn’t saying much. The last great sports machine Guzzi had introduced was the Le Mans, which had been on the market so long it couldn’t keep up with the goalposts – it had gone from being a cutting edge sport machine to a stately gentleman’s express by virtue of the fast development of the Eastern competition. The Daytona was like a modern Le Mans – long wheelbase, quite a bit of weight for a sport bike, with a motor that had useable power rather than eyeball-flattening thrust.
Moto Guzzi 8V OHC Daytona Centauro Engine Motor
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Performance was adequate but it was never going to blow off Ducatis on the backroads, let alone the multicylinder rockets from Asia. The new fuel-injected 992cc engine was, however, a leap forward. The traditional Guzzi traits were retained – air-cooled 90-degree twin set transversely across the frame, shaft drive, and pushrods activating rocker-driven valves. The big-block crankcases and crankshaft were carried over. The difference was a totally new head design that had a high-cam (or ‘cam in head’) overhead valve layout. Each cylinder featured modern four-valve per cylinder combustion chambers and flat-top pistons, but all four valves were driven by a single belt-driven cam on the inside of the vee. A pair of short pushrods connected the high cam to a set of rocker arms, which operated two valves each. The result is unique and a strange blend of old and new, but it worked well. The Daytona produced 95hp, which remains respectable power for a litre sized air-cooled twin. A 1064cc version in later models cracked 100 hp.
Moto Guzzi 8V OHC Daytona Centauro Engine Motor
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The Daytona LE became the RS, which then begat the Centauro. The Centauro continued using the 992cc “OHC 8V” (Guzzi always mislabelled the high-cam as an overhead-cam) motor in a more relaxed sport-cruiser design. The oddball Centauro was produced from 1996 to 2000 and never achieved much success, owing to a strange design, mediocre handling, and a high price tag. Aside from being strangely styled it wasn’t particularly noteworthy – but it would contribute its motor to the new MGS-01.

Moto Guzzi 8V OHC Daytona Centauro Engine Motor Rocker Arms
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Which brings us, in my usual roundabout way, back to MGS-01. In 2002 Moto Guzzi opened a new design centre dubbed the Style Laboratory. Here Guzzi would encourage the best and brightest stylists and engineers to build interesting concepts around Guzzi hardware. They handed things off to a team of five designers led by renowned Guzzi tuners (Giuseppe) Ghezzi & Brian (Bruni Saturno) and the MGS concept was the result. Introduced at the 2002 Intermot motorcycle show, the prototype causes a sensation. It was powered by a hotted-up Centauro 8V engine with shaft drive, but was otherwise all-new.
Moto Guzzi MGS 01 Intermot Prototype
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The elements were unmistakably Guzzi, but the parts were put together in a way that was unlike anything they had made before. Sleek, angular bodywork enveloped the cockpit while leaving the motor unobstructed. A solo seat was perched over a single undertail exhaust. Front suspension was Ohlins upside down forks with radial mount Brembo brakes, while out back there was a sizeable aluminium box section swingarm wrapped around the driveshaft. The wheelbase was around 55 inches with 50/50 weight distribution. It was a pure sports machine that was clearly intended for the track, but a headlight hinted at possible street legality.
Moto Guzzi MGS-01 Corsa Motorcycle
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The press went nuts and it was clear that building a production version was a viable exercise. Two versions were announced – a small initial run of Corsa models would be produced with race-kitted 1200cc engines and track-only equipment. A detuned street-legal version using the 992cc motor, called the Serie, would be available shortly after with a projected price of around $17000 USD. The motorcycling world waited with anticipation for Guzzi’s hottest sport bike since the Daytona.
Moto Guzzi MGS-01 Corsa Motorcycle
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It took two years to get the ball rolling. In traditional Italian fashion Moto Guzzi had flirted with bankruptcy off and on for decades and had had a string of owners over the years. The infamous Alejandro De Tomaso had owned the brand from 1973 until 2000, when Aprilia purchased it. The MGS-01 was introduced under Aprilia ownership, but the company had difficulties with maintaining production and Aprilia had its own cash-flow problems to deal with. Things looked dire in 2004 when Guzzi was forced to stop production for a period, but at the end of 2004 Piaggio purchased the brand and resuscitated the works.
Moto Guzzi MGS-01 Corsa Motorcycle Swingarm
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The MGS-01 Corsa production began during this difficult transitional period. The Corsa was never intended to be a profit maker for the brand, and was the last thing a barely solvent company should be building in times of crisis, but despite the difficulties they managed to get the $25000 Corsa out the door.
Moto Guzzi MGS-01 Corsa Motorcycle Front Ohlins Brembo
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The Corsa featured a 1225cc, 100x78mm version of the 8V motor with hot cams, high compression Cosworth pistons, lighter internals, a six-speed gearbox (the Centauro and Daytona had five-speed gearboxes), a reinforced clutch, and upgraded lubrication. The net was 122hp at 8000rpm and a thumping 83 lb/ft a 6500, respectable for a big air-cooled twin. The chassis featured a box-section aluminium swingarm and steel spine frame, which doubled as an intake runner. As on the concept bike, there was Ohlins front and rear, Brembo brakes, and forged aluminium OZ wheels. Termignoni provided the 2 into 1 undertail exhaust. The production bike looked even more delectable than the much-lauded Intermot concept, with a gaping black maw (feeding the oil cooler) replacing the headlamp and carbon-fibre elements sprinkled throughout. 
Moto Guzzi MGS-01 Corsa Motorcycle Dash
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Reviews were favourable. The performance was impressive and the handling sharp. Testers noted that motor provided a broad, useable spread of power that was remarkably tractable for a race engine. But the weight was considerable for a track bike, over 420 lbs dry. It was good, but not the best. It was considerably cheaper than the highly-focussed Ducati-powered missiles from NCR, but the MGS-01 was more of a trackday toy for wealthy enthusiasts than a turn-key race-winner. It was eligible to compete in Battle of the Twins and Italian Supertwins and won some races in 2006 and 2007 but otherwise flew under the radar for the most part. After 150 Corsas were completed new owner Piaggio shut down production in 2005 to focus on more profitable ventures. The promised street-legal version never came to fruition, but each year a few rumours sneak out of Mandello and interest in the project is renewed. Supposedly the assembly line equipment is still in place and production could be resumed if only the bosses would give the go ahead…   
Moto Guzzi MGS-01 Corsa Motorcycle Racing Guareschi
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Now it’s time to descend into the realm of conjecture and heresay, because what Italian bike would be complete without some whispered rumours and allegation of mismanagement behind it? The MGS-01 was the last machine to use the 8V Wittner-developed motor, and people have often wondered what happened to the 8V motor. After the MGS the engine was quietly forgotten by the factory, and quickly faded into obscurity. The current Quattro Valvole engine, introduced in the Griso 1200 in 2008, is a new high-cam mill that shares nothing with the previous design and has a totally different character. Supposedly, the rumour goes, the original 8V had a very specific alloy used in the cylinder head to properly dissipate heat from the air-cooled mill. This recipe was “lost” at some point and never re-formulated, so the final run of 8V motors used in the Corsa were built from new stock parts in the warehouse. Once the existing parts supply was exhausted, that’s it, that’s all – I don’t know what you are talking about, here’s a new engine, fuggedaboudit. In all likelihood production was simply shelved because it wasn’t profitable and Piaggio preferred to focus on money-making ventures rather than expensive sidelines. Since 2005 Guzzi has been recast as a producer of sensible street bikes and tourers, not uncompromised track toys. Additionally the 8V was getting a bit long in the tooth and was overdue for an update, lest it be strangled to death by increasingly tight emissions laws. But the whole “we lost the blueprints” story makes for a much more interesting, and stereotypically Italian, tale to share over beers at the pub.
Moto Guzzi MGS-01 Corsa Motorcycle Guareschi Racing
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Information about the Corsa is consistently inconsistent. Supposedly Piaggio pulled the plug in 2005, but you can find what are claimed to be 2006 and 2007 model year examples (leftover inventory perhaps?). The original 2004 USD retail was proposed at $23000 – some sources quote claimed $37000. An archive of the Moto Guzzi USA website quotes $24 990 in 2005. Some say 150 were built, others say only 100, most agree 50 were earmarked for the US market.
Moto Guzzi MGS-01 Corsa Motorcycle Battle of the Twins Guareschi Supertwins
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The MGS-01 has become a modern day classic. While some other limited production homologation specials have plummeted in value and trade for far less than MSRP, the MGS-01 has maintained consistent pricing. Today Corsas trade hands for $40 000 plus, and there are still a few zero-mile examples languishing in showrooms around the world. There are even a few brave souls who have taken it upon themselves to build “street legal” (in the flimsiest definition of the term) versions by slapping lights and mirrors onto Corsas. While many hoped the MGS-01 would become the beginning of a new direction for Moto Guzzi and the genesis of a line of pure sports machines from the venerable marque, it was not to be, and the MGS has become an interesting footnote in Moto Guzzi history. Today Moto Guzzi has refocused on relaxed tourers and standards, with nary a sport machine in their lineup outside of the café-styled V7. The prospect of a series of MGS models was a mouth-watering “what might have been” project, but ultimately it was not to be.

9 comments:

  1. Nice article!

    Would be interesting to include info about the water cooled kit engine, as can be seen in the penultimate picture above ;)

    Rgds

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  2. There were rumors around ten years or so ago of a new water-cooled transverse v-twin from Moto Guzzi and I even saw photos of the alleged prototype but haven't seen or heard anything else since. I have a slight suspicion that Cosworth may have been involved with development somewhere too. Maybe just a bunch of empty rumors but it was an exciting thought.

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    1. From Giovanni Mariani on the Facebook page: "The Big Bore fitted to the 2007 Daytona winning bike was a one-off 1350cc short stroke version made specifically for racing and was engineered much before of the Millepercento involvement in the Big Bore venture. That engine was developing exactly 167 bhp at the crankshaft @8750 rpm. At Daytona the lack of taller gears compelled us to lift the rev-limit of the ECU to 9400 rpm in order to avoid to hit the limiter on the banks. In this conditions the 1350 engine run faultlessly the whole race with a clear speed advantage over the Dario Marchetti 1098 superbike Works Ducati. What a day for the Guzzi eagle!!!!!"

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  3. Saw one of these today at Cadwell Park, UK, though not on track. One of those bikes I thought I'd never, ever see.

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    1. A dealer here in Calgary has an as-new, 0-mile example. I had the opportunity to see it in the workshop. I didn't take pictures, it seemed impolite at the time.

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  4. One was raced today (Boxing Day 2015) at the Cemetery Circuit street races in Wanganui, New Zealand.

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  5. I don't know that the special aluminum was used for MGS/01 heads. It was necessary - and caused considerable delay - in the development of the Daytona 1000. Street exhaust makes an engine run hotter, thus the problem for the Daytona and not for the MGS/01. The alloy - containing silver - would be listed on the blueprint so it couldn't be lost. I would guess that this engine was put out to pasture because in street form it wouldn't pass Euro 3 emission, implemented in 2005. That's why the street-legal version never made it. Rumor has it that the Aprilia Leonardo scooter's headlight fits the MGS/01 fairing cutout once the oil cooler is relocated. I have heard that 17 of these bikes were imported into the US by Moto Guzzi USA. As for total production, we have seen one purchased out of Germany with a VIN ending in 119 or 129 (can't remember now) and the digit before the M in the VIN was 9, indicating that it is a model year 2009 motorcycle.

    Dave Richardson
    Moto International
    Seattle, USA

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  6. Has anyone made a kit/bodywork to fit to my 1100 Sport? I'd love to put the original bodywork away, wrapped in cotton wool, and bolt on something that looks like an MGS01. Neil

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  7. Yeah, that'd be cool !

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