Different by Design: 1957 Aermacchi Chimera

Sleek, chic and packaged in jazzy space age design, the Aermacchi Chimera was definitely different, but being different didn’t guarantee success.

| March/April 2014

1957 Aermacchi Chimera 175
Claimed power: 13 horsepower @ 6,500rpm
Engine: 172.4cc air-cooled OHV horizontal single-cylinder, 60mm x 61mm bore and stroke, 7:1 compression ratio
Top Speed: 68mph (110kmh)
Weight (dry): 269lb (122kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 5.3gal (20ltr)
Price then/now: $212 (approx.)/$15,000-$25,000 

Being different doesn’t guarantee success. Consider the Italian-made Aermacchi Chimera. Unlike many small-bore motorcycles of the 1950s, the Chimera was sleek, chic and packaged in a jazzy space age design.

Equipped with alloy body panels and monoshock rear suspension — none of which was truly new, but definitely unusual — the machine didn’t capture the imagination of the motoring public. That’s not to say the Chimera wasn’t a great little motorcycle. It was; it just didn’t sell. Built from 1956 to 1964, production was minimal, with only 119 of the 175cc models and 177 of the larger 250cc machines rolling out of Aermacchi’s Varese-based factory.

The name Aermacchi literally translates as “air machine.” Founded by Giulio Macchi in 1912, the company built airplanes that saw use in both World War I and World War II. As part of the peace treaties after World War II, the Marshall Plan prohibited manufacturers of war equipment from producing any products of a military nature. In an effort to get its aeronautical engineers back to work in the postwar era, Aermacchi diversified and began producing mopeds, scooters and small motorcycles. It’s no surprise then that Aermacchi used aeronautical styling cues when it developed the Chimera.

Designed by Alfredo Bianchi, the Chimera, which means “dream” in Italian, was inspired by a sketch of the “ideal motorcycle” penciled by car designer and motorcycle racer Count Mario Revelli. Bianchi had joined Aermacchi as motorcycle design chief early in 1956, and the Chimera was his first project. The finished machine was displayed at the Milan Show in early December. Period magazines marveled at its smooth, flowing design and referred to the Chimera as the peak of engineering elegance.

Those attributes are exactly why the Chimera caught the attention of Chicago-based collector and rider Burt Richmond. An industrial designer by education and architect by career, Burt developed a keen appreciation for well-executed and thoughtful design as it pertains to both vehicles and structures.

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