A history of Moto Morini and their 350 & 500 V-twins
With Phil Aynsley
Here are fine examples of two of the most popular Morini air-cooled V-twins. But first a bit of history… a very Italian sort of history! Alfonso Morini opened a motorcycle workshop in 1914 at the ripe old age of 16.
In 1925 he was then commissioned by Mario Mazzetti’s MM company, to design, build and race a 125cc two-stroke. Many victories ensued, including the 1927, ’28 and ’29 Grand Prix of Nations.
After leaving MM in 1937, Morini produced 350 and 500cc 3-wheeled delivery vehicles, then switched to aeronautical component manufacture until the factory was bombed in 1943. The post war period was Morini’s heyday with many well received road bikes and GP winning 125 and 250cc singles.
When Alfonso died in 1969 his daughter Gabriella took over running the company and one of her first moves was to employ ex-Ferrari engineer Franco Lambertini to design a new range of bikes.
The first of these was the 350 Strada V-twin (with a Sport model soon to follow). Intended to be the basis of a whole family of bikes, the 350 featured many innovative technologies (for motorcycles).
The cylinder angle was 72º and Heron heads were employed (flat machined heads with the combustion chambers recessed into the piston crowns).
In another first for 2-wheelers a toothed rubber belt was used to drive the camshafts (unusually for the period it was a pushrod design – used to make the motor more compact).
The 350 was known for its fine handling and excellent fuel economy. Performance was good without being outstanding. The Strada made 35hp at 8,000rpm and the Sport 39hp at 8,500rpm. Top speeds were 162kph and 175kph respectively.
The 350s were followed by 500cc V-twins and, with rather less success, 125 and 250 singles which used the basic V-twin layout without the rear cylinder.
The 500 was also made in Strada and Sport models (also the Camel enduro and Excalibur cruiser). Both the bore and stroke were enlarged, and together with 26mm carbs, output was raised to 46hp at 7,500rpm and top speed to 179kph.
One intriguing detail was the “la strega” (witch) decal found on the 500 Sport’s tailpiece. It had generally been thought to have been the creation of Alfonso Morini and affectionately depicting either his daughter or grand daughter.
However wanting to get to the bottom of its origin I made some inquiries and the reply from Franco Lambertini was that Morini’s stylist Mr Tolomelli was responsible and that the muffler-riding witch did not depict anyone in particular. Minor mystery solved!
The 1979 Sport seen here has a few non-standard parts – the handgrips, mirrors, Koni rear shocks, braided brake lines and replica exhaust system.
The company ran into difficulties in the early 1980s and in 1987 was sold to Cagiva. A few new variants of the 350 & 500 were produced but no real developments made it to production (Lambertini’s new 60º design was not proceeded with and he left in 1989).
A 500 Turbo was shown in 1981 and a 67º 750cc motor was built and fitted into an Enduro-style chassis in 1986.
Cagiva sold the Morini name to TPG, along with Ducati, in 1996. In turn TPG sold the name to Alfonso’s nephew Franco Morini in 1999. With Lambertini back with the new company his 1200cc 87º V-twin Corsaro appeared in 2004.
Other models followed but in 2009 the company went into liquidation. Bikes were assembled from parts for a time and sold directly to customers before the name (but not the factory, which was leased) was sold to Eagle Bikes (a company owned by two Italian entrepreneurs) in 2011. Production resumed in 2012, and with a number of fits and starts, has continued ever since.