Founded in Bologna, Italy, in 1937 by Alfonso Morini (formerly of MM), Moto Morini initially built 350cc and 500cc three wheelers. Although successful, production was severely interrupted by the war. But this was not to deter Alfonso … and in 1946 he opened a new factory in Bologna and unveiled the T125. Over the next ten years, Morini would produce a handful of super successful models, such as the Gran Turismo, Settebello and Supersport which empowered the company’s fortune & status within the industry. The fact that Giacomo Agostini began his racing career on a Moto Morini Settebello “Short Rods” only strengthened their hold on the market.
By the early 80s the company was in decline and sold to Cagiva in 1987. By a simple twist of financial fate, the Morini family bought back the company in 1999 only for it to go into liquidation ten years later. Moto Morini is now owned by two Italian entrepreneurs.
The highly desirable and celebrated Italian motorcycle manufacturer, Moto Guzzi, was established in 1921 by two aircraft pilots – Carlo Guzzi and Giorgio Parodi – and remains the oldest European manufacturer in continuous production today.
Noted for its innovative approach – it is credited with the first motorcycle centre stand, wind tunnel and eight-cylinder engine, Moto Guzzi survived the financial instability of the war and by the 1950s, along with Gilera & Mondial, led the world of Grand Prix motorcycle racing and also won five consecutive 350cc world championships.
After falling into state governed receivership in the late 60s, Moto Guzzi’s re-birth occurred in 1973 when it was bought by the Argentinian Industrialist, De Tomaso. In 1976 they released the 850 Le Mans, a cafe racer that was a stylistic masterpiece and still today considered one of the most iconic and sought-after of all the Guzzi’s.
Moto Guzzi was acquired by Aprilia in 2000 and ultimately by Piaggio in 2004.
Montesa was founded in 1944 by Pedro Permanyer and Francisco ‘Paco’ Bulto in Barcelona, Spain. In the late 40s they created a bike powered by a 95cc two-stroke engine with no rear suspension. It created quite a stir so Bulto designed a successor in the form of a 125cc roadster which proved popular in trail-type rallies and semi-enduros across northern Spain. By the mid 50s Montesa was picking up pace and winning titles at the Isle of Man TT. They were also starting to produce the Brio 80 and 90 street bike which saw sales sky rocket. However, Permanyer and Bulto began to disagree on the company’s main objectives and a divisive split occurred in 1958 – with Bulto leaving the company to form a competitive firm, Bultaco.
Undeterred, Permanyer restructured Mondial and work began immediately on a 175cc engine that would power the latest Impala sports roadster model. This was followed by a 250cc version which cemented Montesa’s grand scale success. The rest is motorcycle history.
Founded in Milan, Italy in 1929 by the Boselli family, Mondial rose to assured racing prominence with five rider and five manufacturer Championship wins at the Motorcycle World Championships between 1949 and 1957. Parallel to this, Mondial began to manufacture boutique road bikes – specialising in mostly hand-made high-performance, small-displacement motorcycles … which cost time & money to produce. This niche business model suited Mondial well and for several years they successfully balanced road and racing production – whilst attracting the applaud of the motorcycling elite: notably, Soichiro Honda who approached the Boselli’s in 1957 to purchase a Mondial 125cc race bike. Honda used this bike as a standard to which he aspired in order to compete on a world-scale. This bike is the first bike on display when entering Honda’s Motegi Collection Hall in Japan.
After the 1957 Grand Prix season, many major Italian motorcycle manufacturers such as Gilera and Moto Guzzi announced they would be pulling out of Grand Prix competition citing increasing costs and diminishing sales. Mondial followed suit. This marked the beginning of the end for the company and in 1960 the last all-Mondial motorcycle left the factory.
Established by Mario Mazzetti and Alfonso Morini in 1924, MM had an illustrious yet relatively short lived career. Throughout the 20s & 30s both their 125 and 175cc won numerous races along with their road versions being commercially successful. In 1939 they introduced a 350cc sidevalve machine which not only won major Italian endurance races but was assigned as the official motorcycle of the Bologna police force – which it remained until 1960.
The war period was not kind to MM: Mussolini exacted revenge on his vocal opposers at MM by forcing them to cease motorcycle production in favour of producing aeroplane parts. When their factory was destroyed by allied bombs in 1943 you would have assumed this would have broken their spirit and future. Alas not. They rose out of the war with a super fast 250 OHC model which sported rear suspension and Italy’s first example of telescopic front forks. This bike was as fast as the 500cc Gilera Saturno. Gradually swingarm suspension with hydraulic dampers, a twin-loop cradle frame and a dual seat were added. But within a couple of years this kind of machine was out of market favour and MM just couldn’t keep up. It closed its doors in 1957.
Minarelli was founded in Bologna in 1951 by Vittorio Minarelli. By the mid 50s the company began exclusively manufacturing two-stroke engines which were sold predominantly across Europe and South America.
In 1967 the company changed its name to Motori Minarelli and within a few years they were producing 250,000 engine units per year. This had doubled by the early 90s. In 2002, Motori Minarelli became a member of the Yamaha Group.
Founded in Cesena, Italy in 1969, Milani made its debut with a 48cc sports motorcycle powered by P4-SS Minarelli engine. Despite producing the 6 gear Cross, the Chopper 50, and the popular mini moped in the 70s, Milani’s production history was short lived and it ceased in 1986.
First established in 1923 MBK was for many years the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in France. Post war production saw the creation of the MBK mopeds: Motobecane and Mobylette which substantially added to the company’s fortunes … ensuring they could buy Velosolex in 1974. By the mid 80s MBK joined forces with the Yamaha Motor Company guaranteeing a solid future for the French scooter.
One of the oldest marques of British motorcycles (est 1899), Matchless produced a wide range of models ranging from small two-strokes to 750cc four-stroke twins over its 67 years.
Add to this a long history of racing success – including the title of the first single-cylinder race in the first Isle of Man TT in 1907, the AJS buy out of 1931, the ‘Teledraulic’ forks unveiled in 1941 and the legendary war-time G3 model and you have an idea of the achievements of Matchless.
Based in Bologna, Italy, Malanca specialised in the production of 50cc mopeds from the mid 1950s onwards. In the 1960s they launched the now iconic Testa Rossa and by the 70s they were producing bikes with 125 and 150cc engines which proved popular with road racing enthusiasts. Malanca folded in 1986.