Touring the Moto Guzzi Factory and Museum

Innocents abroad

| November/December 2006

“We voyaged by steamer down the Lago di Lecco, through wild mountain scenery, and by hamlets and villas, and disembarked at the town of Lecco. They said it was two hours, by carriage to the ancient city of Bergamo … We got an open barouche and a wild, boisterous driver, and set out. It was delightful. We had a fast team and a perfectly smooth road. There were towering cliffs on our left, and the pretty Lago di Lecco on our right, and every now and then it rained on us.” -Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad 

Unlike Mark Twain, I arrived in Lecco, Italy, by taxi after a short train ride from Milan. The small town situated on the shores of Lake Como — or, to be geographically correct, along the banks of the River Adda — was bathed in brilliant sunshine, and the skyline was dominated by the gleaming snowcapped Bergamo Alps across the sparkling water. Taking a stroll alongside the picturesque lake, the air was filled with the sound of flapping sails, small outboard engines, and lots of birds singing their hectic springtime songs as they busied themselves. Twisting alongside the lakeside road there was also a near endless stream of brightly colored motorcycles, which drew my thoughts to my mission for the following day — a visit to the world famous Moto Guzzi factory and museum a few kilometers up the train line in the town of Mandello del Lario.

Having cut my sport bike teeth on the plank that posed for a seat of a Mark I Le Mans, Mandello del Lario was something of a semi-mythical place. Blasting through the English countryside on my fire spitting, racing red, Italian stallion with barely enough money for a cup of tea in my pockets, Mandello might as well have been on the moon. Now, nearly 25 years later, I would finally get the opportunity to walk through the factory gates and step into a history that started back in 1917 during the First World War.

In the beginning …
During World War I, three young Italian pilots were fighting for their country in the Italian Air force: Carlo Guzzi, Giorgio Parodi and a well-known racer of the day, Giovanni Ravelli. As uncertain as life must have been, they still managed to think about what they would do after the war, and the three young men shared a collective dream of building their own motorcycles.
A loan from Giorgio’s father would get them going, and Giovanni would race their new motorcycle, as success on the circuits of Europe would be vital for the new company. In a cruel twist of fate, Giovanni survived the war only to die in an accident just days after the war’s end; but it didn’t stop Carlo and Giorgio from going ahead with their original business plan.

By 1920, the first machine had been built. It had a 500cc single-cylinder engine, and a total of 17 were produced at the new factory in Mandello by the end of 1921. Moto Guzzi was born. Proudly displaying their Air Corps flying eagle on the gas tank in honor of their fallen friend, the pair immediately went racing and took their first win at the torturous Targa Florio. By 1924, Moto Guzzi was a dominant force in the world of motorcycle racing, and by the time they retired in 1957 they had won more than 3,000 races, taken eight world championships and 11 victories at the grueling Isle of Man.

Under the constant supervision of Carlo and Giorgio, there were many highlights in the journey, including the incredible 1955 Otto Cilindri (eight cylinder) Grand Prix race bike by designer Giulio Cesare Carcano, which was the only motorcycle of its type ever built, and was very successful as a racing machine to boot.

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