When MV Agusta closed its doors in 1977 it signalled the death of Italy’s premier motorcycle brand. Between 1952 and 1976 MV won 37 world titles and took 270 Grand Prix victories, an achievement unmatched at the time. In 1978 Claudio and Gianfranco Castiglioni of Cagiva took steps to acquire the MV name but these talks broke down. The factory was dismantled soon afterwards and in 1982 the company was placed into liquidation.
Things move slowly in Italy and it wasn’t until a decade later, in the spring of 1992, that the Castiglionis finally managed to acquire MV Agusta. At the time the Castiglioni’s owned Cagiva, Ducati, Morini and Husqvarna, and operated out of the old AMF-Harley-Davidson Aermacchi premises at Schrianna on shore of Lake Varese. Massimo Tamburini ran Cagiva’s design department, CRC (Cagiva Research Centre), situated in San Marino.
Tamburini came to Cagiva from Bimota (the “Ta” in Bimota), and by late 1992 was in the final stages of finishing the Ducati 916. But after the 916 was finished Tamburini was ill with a stomach tumour and it wasn’t until 1995 that he could embark on the next production bike project; the four-cylinder F4.
Andrea Goggi, an engineer with Cagiva since 1988, was entrusted with redesigning the liquid-cooled F4 engine. With oversquare dimensions of 73.8 x 43.8 mm and a central chain-drive for the double overhead camshafts, the layout was unlike the Japanese four-cylinder engines at the time that featured side cam chain drives.
The cylinder block was sand-cast as a separate entity, and inclined forward 20 degrees. This provided for near vertical 46 mm throttle bodies for the Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection. Another unusual feature was a reduction gear driven off the crankshaft that allowed smaller cam sprockets.
This reduced the size of the cambox but the cams rotated backwards and required a front-mounted cam chain tensioner. Another unique feature was the radial four-valve per cylinder layout. The included valve angle was a narrow 22-degrees, with the valves tilted outwards 2-degrees.
The cassette-style six-speed gearbox came from the 500cc Cagiva Grand Prix racer, the primary drive was by straight-cut gears and the clutch a wet multiplate. Tamburini designed the 4-2-1-2-4 exhaust system, with special emphasis on the four rear exhaust pipes.
He wanted it to sound like music. “It looks like organ pipes. Just like I love listening to Pavarotti, I love listening to the engine,” Tamburini said. The pistons provided a 12:1 compression ratio and the 749.4 cc four-cylinder engine produced 126 horsepower at 12,200rpm.
Eschewing the popular aluminium beam frame, Tamburini preferred a composite chassis layout. This included chrome-molybdenum tubular steel upper section wrapping around the narrow engine and bolting to cast magnesium rear uprights. These doubled as an engine cradle and pivots for the single-sided magnesium swingarm. Eccentrics on the steering head bearings provided adjustable steering geometry, while alternative mounts for the Sachs shock absorber allowed a choice of rising-rate.
The suspension, wheels and brakes were all designed specifically for the F4. The 49 mm upside down Showa fork incorporated quick release axle clamps and the brakes were designed in cooperation with Nissin. Along with 310 mm floating discs, the front calipers featured six pistons of different diameter.
At the rear was a 210mm disc with four-piston caliper. Marvic supplied the magnesium 3.50 x 17 and 6.00 x 17-inch wheels and Tamburini commissioned Pirelli supply a special 120/65ZR17 EVO front tyre to match the 190/50ZR17 rear. Completing a rigid chassis specification were large diameter axles, 35 mm on the front and 50 mm on the rear.
The F4’s styling was another Tamburini triumph. Following the example set by the Ducati 916, the small poly-ellipsoidal headlights dominated the frontal aspect. The final design placed the twin headlights one above another in the centre of the fairing.
According to Tamburini, “Lights in the centre are easier to control, allow a more compact fairing and simplify homologation around the world.” Completing the specification of the 184 kg F4 750 Oro was carbon-fibre bodywork, a transverse Öhlins steering damper and adjustable (by eccentrics) foot-pegs and levers.
Instrumentation was thoroughly modern, with a digital speedometer and analogue tachometer. Rolling on a short 1,398 mm wheelbase the F4 750 Oro promised exceptional agility and stability, with a claimed top speed of 275 km/h.
The F4 Oro was initially unveiled at the Milan Show in September 1997, and appeared in the Guggenheim exhibition The Art of the Motorcycle at the end of 1998. Production of three a day commenced mid-1999 and by the end the year delivery of the limited edition run of the 300 pre-ordered examples was complete.
Unfortunately, as it took so long to develop by the time the F4 Oro was released it was arguably already obsolete. By 1999 the Japanese 750 fours were lighter and more powerful. But that didn’t worry prospective F4 Oro buyers, most who would never ride them.
Many Oros went into the collections of celebrities, including King Juan Carlos of Spain, Jay Leno, Giacomo Agostini, and Max Biaggi. A handful made it to Australia, then imported by ex-champion racer Paul Feeney. And while MV Agusta has released many limited editions since 1999, the F4 750 Oro stands alone. The F4 Oro heralded MV Agusta’s resurrection and is still the most collectable of the new generation MV Agustas.
Five MV Agusta F4 750 Oro Facts
The genesis for a new four-cylinder motorcycle went back to September 1989 when Claudio Castiglioni and Tamburini discussed creating a high performance 750cc four-cylinder all-Italian motorcycle over a late night dinner in Rimini.
As Cagiva was heavily involved in the 500cc Grand Prix racing program resources to develop the F4 were limited, Ferrari Engineering in Modena was engaged to develop the prototype. The four-cylinder engine was initially similar to half a Ferrari V8. The choice of radial valves was also Ferrari Formula 1 inspired.
Engine development was problematic and in 1991 the F4 project was moved to the Ducati factory at Borgo Panigale in Bologna. Here two of Ducati’s most eminent engineers, Massimo Bordi and Fabio Taglioni were engaged to help facilitate development.
By 1994 the Cagiva Group was under considerable financial pressure and at the end of the year the Cagiva Racing Department closed. Head of the Racing Department, Riccardo Rosa, then assumed control of the F4 project, which moved back to Schrianna at Varese.
Massimo Tamburini was given the task of finalising the chassis and styling. By now it was decided the F4 would be an MV Agusta and Tamburini was provided a blank sheet of paper with the freedom to design what he wanted. When Cagiva sold Ducati to the Texas Pacific Group in 1996 Tamburini elected to stay with Cagiva, citing as his reason, “Cagiva is my family.”
Ian Falloon is one of the world’s leading motorcycle historians. For more than thirty-five years he has been a regular contributor to a number of motorcycle magazines worldwide and over that time has authored more than 50 books on motorcycles. These books have covered a broad range makes including Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Laverda, MV Agusta, BMW, Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki and Triumph
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