What Might Have Been: The Lambretta GP Racer

In the early 1950s, scooter maker Lambretta crafted this amazing 250cc V-twin GP racer.

| November/December 2017

  • The Lambretta GP racer.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • The 90-degree V-twin has its crankshaft mounted inline with the frame, which pushes the cylinders out into the cooling breeze.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • The 90-degree V-twin has its crankshaft mounted inline with the frame, which pushes the cylinders out into the cooling breeze.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • Vittorio Tessera with the racer today.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • The bike as found.
    Photo courtesy the Vittorio Tessera archives
  • The rear drive is by driveshaft, which is unusual for a race bike as a simpler chain drive setup would have saved weight.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • The Lambretta GP racer.
    Photo by Phil Aynsley
  • One of the racers on track.
    Photo courtesy the Vittorio Tessera archives
  • The factory with two engines.
    Photo courtesy the Vittorio Tessera archives
  • The V-twin on display at the Milan show in 1951.
    Photo courtesy the Vittorio Tessera archives

Here’s a simple question: Name the Italian motorcycle manufacturer that has been synonymous with transverse, overhead-valve V-twins since 1967? Yes, you genius, it is Moto Guzzi.

Now answer this: Name the Italian company that revealed a similar V-twin at the International Milan Fair in 1951. Here’s a hint: It isn’t a motorcycle manufacturer. Still thinking? OK, let’s put you out of your misery.

Lambretta quickly became a giant of post-World War II transportation in Italy with scooters inspired by the rugged U.S. military Cushman runabout. It even built racing versions for Italy’s early national motorcycle championships. But a little-known part of Lambretta’s history was its early ambition to become a major player in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. It is only due to the efforts of a passionate Italian enthusiast that any trace of Lambretta’s GP adventure exists today.

How it all started

Lambretta founder Ferdinando Innocenti’s cheap 2-stroke scooters helped mobilize a nation devastated by war. The financial return from Lambretta’s massive scooter sales in the late 1940s allowed Innocenti to commission Giuseppe Salmaggi to design a sophisticated overhead-camshaft 4-stroke GP racer.



Salmaggi was one of Italy’s leading motorcycle designers of the prewar era and his Gilera Saturno had become the most sought-after privateer race bike of the 1930s. If Salmaggi’s pushrod production-racer Saturno was the benchmark for single-cylinder 500cc Italian racing machinery, his Lambretta V-twin was to boldly go where no GP designer had gone before. 

Sure, there were inline 4-cylinders from Gilera, and soon from MV Agusta, plus a 120-degree V-twin from Moto Guzzi, but when the Lambretta was first displayed at the 1951 Milan show there was nothing like it on earth.

Vintagebikeman
12/5/2017 10:25:04 AM

I always thought a transverse engine referred to the crankshaft orientation and not the cylinder orientation. Awesome bike. Awesome story.


db
12/1/2017 12:05:26 PM

I have owned and ridden a 74 Guzzi El Dorado for the last 20 years and I have to say I would trade it in a second for the Lambretta GP racer. What a beauty and I agree, right there with the Gliera Saturno. Pity it never saw production, it would have become a classic.


db
12/1/2017 12:05:21 PM

I have owned and ridden a 74 Guzzi El Dorado for the last 20 years and I have to say I would trade it in a second for the Lambretta GP racer. What a beauty and I agree, right there with the Gliera Saturno. Pity it never saw production, it would have become a classic.







November December Vintage Motorcycle Events

Blue Moon Cycle Euro Bike Swap Meet and Vintage Ride


Make plans for the 28th Annual Blue Moon Cycle Euro Bike Swap Meet on Saturday, Oct. 27, followed by the Blue Moon Cycle Vintage Ride on Sunday, Oct. 28!

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