Few motorcycles have captured the public imagination as the Moto Guzzi 500cc V8 race bike. This machine was an incredible work of genius by Guiliano Carcano. Although never developed completely, racing only from 1955 to 1957 the Moto Guzzi V8 is still a technical marvel which has still to be equaled.
Development was stalled when Moto Guzzi pulled out of GP racing in 1957along with most of the other motorcycle manufacturers, German, Italian and British. In it’s day the V8 was able to achieve remarkable speeds for the technology of its time, reaching 187 mph at the MIRA test track in France. Whist still under development it was clocked at an incredible 178mph at the Belgian GP in 1957. Producing 75 bhp at a then remarkable 12,500rpm the machine only weighed 135kg.
Pictures fail to convey the incredibly compact design of the V8. The Moto Guzzi 250 and 350 GP singles at that time were the slimmest, lightest machines on the track yet the V8’s fairing for all it’s added complexity, was only 30mm wider than the factory 350 single. The small bore and stroke of 44mm X 42mm enabled Carcano to keep the transverse mounted engine quite narrow.
The carburettors were specially designed for this engine by Dell’Orto. In early engines, the two banks of 4 Dell’Orto carburettors were fed fuel by two large float bowls mounted on the left-hand side of the engine, but this led to rough running so later engines were fitted with custom made Dell’Ortos, each with their own individual float bowl.
The V8’s development was plagued with trouble at first. The V8 was first ridden at the 1954 Belgian Grand Prix by Aussie rider Kev Kavanagh but it soon suffered a crankshaft failure. The bike didn’t appear again until 1956 when Kev again rode the machine, this time at the Coppa d’Oro race. He soon retired with bearing trouble. Bill Lomas and Kev Kavanagh rode V8s at the Dutch Grand Prix in 1956 and after making the fastest lap they both retired. And so the sad story went on. Little things such as water hoses let the machine down.
Tests of the V8 continued with a revised machine at Monza, then Montlhery, Oulton Park and Snetterton! In 1958 the V8 won its first race at Syracuse in Sicily, although this was a non-championship race. Finally at Imola Dickie Dale won a GP recording the fastest lap. Dickie went on to ride the V8 at the Golden Jubilee TT at the Isle of man coming a poorly placed fourth Beaten by a MV and two Gilera fours there was no reason to go on with such a complex machine. Guzzi retired from racing at the end of the year and the fascinating V8 motorcycle disappeared from the race circuit, never to be equaled, although Honda has tried with the oval piston NR500 which was even less of a success and a 4 cylinder at that.