Motorcycle info about licenses, trikes, sidecars, scooters and more!
What is it about Italian motorcycles? Well, it’s no different than most other Italian specialties that many people adore. I think it’s the great level of passion that goes into making the motorcycles that results in the equal passion of the owners and admirers.
Several brands of Italian motorcycles were quite successful until the 1960’s when Japanese motorcycles started to dominate the world market. Many fine Italian motorcycles are still being made today, and they have developed a very loyal following among enthusiasts over many years.
This here is an alphabetical listing of Italian motorcycle info that attempts to provide a brief company history, some interesting facts, and a quick idea of what they are doing today:
Aermacchi 1948-1978 Varese, Italy. Giulio Macchi founded Aermacchi in 1912 as an aircraft manufacturing company. Started making motorcycles shortly after WWII. Harley-Davidson partnered with them in the 1960’s and eventually took them over in 1972. During this time, Harley introduced the Topper scooter and the M50 scooter. Cagiva bought what remained of Aermacchi in 1978 after AMF Harley-Davidson couldn’t make it profitable selling these Italian motorcycles. The Aermacchi aircraft company, that was separated from the motorcycle manufacturing arm long ago, is still making aircraft today.
Aprilia 1968-date. Bicycle manufacturing was dropped in favor of moped and motorcycle manufacturing by Ivan Beggio after taking over the business from his father. Got into motocross in the early 1970’s and won Italian championships in 1977 in 125cc and 250cc classes. The company grew quickly in the 1970’s and got into road racing in the 1980’s. After success in scooters and motorcycles in the 1990’s, Aprilia bought Moto Guzzi and Laverda in 2000, and was eventually taken over by the Piaggio Group. An Aprilia RSV4 polited by Max Biaggi won the Superbike World Championship in 2010 and 2012 . Since 2000, Aprilia has 8 Moto GP World Constructor’s Championships in 125cc class, and 6 in 250cc class.
Benelli 1911-date. Started by 5 brothers from Pesaro, Italy. The youngest brother, Tonino, raced several of the models from their beginning; however, he was killed in 1938 during a test. WWII caused heavy damage to the Benelli factory, but it was rebuilt and a twin-cam Benelli went on to win the 250cc World Championship in 1950. A variety of two-strokes and four-strokes were produced and raced during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1971, Benelli was bought by Alessando de Tomaso (as was Moto Guzzi). In 1974, Benelli took on the new bikes coming out of Japan and launched it’s six cylinder 750cc Sei model. In 1978, the Sei engine was increased to 900cc and was manufactured until 1988, when things at Benelli went quiet until 1995 when the Benelli Tornado was introduced, and is still available today in addition to other new models.
Bimota 1973-date. Name comes from the first two letters of each founder’s names Bianchi, Morri and Tamburini. Has typically used existing engines from other manufacturers and put them into beautifully designed racing chassis and bodies. A small and financially unstable company throughout most of it’s existence, but is still producing beautiful and radical new motorcycles. The most innovative, eye-catching new model may be the Bimota Tesi, with it’s unique front suspension and other highly engineered features.
Cagiva 1978-date. Varese, Italy. Founded by Giovanni Castiglioni. Manufacturing motorcycles in the old Aermacchi factory that was previously under AMF Harley-Davidson’s ownership, Cagiva took off running and became a strong, innovative company involved heavily in racing. To get into larger engine classes, Cagiva was able to work with Ducati to get help with engines, and Cagiva eventually took over Ducati, as well as Moto Morini and Husqvarna during 1985-1986. In 1991, Cagiva bought MV Agusta and came out with the famous MV Agusta F4 in 1997. Ducati and Moto Morini were sold off in 1996, and MV Agusta brand became the top brand for Cagiva. In 2008, Harley-Davidson purchased MV Agusta and renewed it’s past relationship with producing motorcycles in Varese, Italy. The Husqvarna motorcycles brand was purchased by BMW.
Ducati 1926-date. Probably the most popular of the Italian motorcycles today. They started out making components for radios and has become one of the most successful Italian motorcycle manufacturers. Started offering motor for a bicycle in 1946 and then offered the motorized bike soon after. It was called the Cucciolo. Launched several motorcycles during the 1950’s and 1960’s and got involved with racing with help from their new motorcycle engineer Fabio Taglioni. Ducati scooters were also introduced in the 1960’s. The famous desmodromic engine design debuted in 1968 on the Ducati 450 Mark 3D. The desmodromic design uses cam action to open and close the valves without using valve springs to close the valves. Valve springs often failed in the earlier days of racing due to limitations of spring materials, so the desmodromic design provided an important technical advantage. Ducati engines grew during the 1970’s to 750cc and 900cc and racing continued. Cagiva purchased Ducati in 1983. The first and very successful Ducati Monster was in 1993. but under Cagiva’s management, Ducati got into financial trouble in 1995 and was sold in 1996 to an American investment firm. The company was turned around and started growing quickly, with help from the Ducati Monster success. In 1999, Ducati Motor Holding became listed on the stock exchanges in New York and Milan. In 2007, Ducati won the Moto GP World Title, which had not been won by any Italian motorcycle manufacturer in 33 years.
FB Mondial 1948-1979
Garelli 1919-. Known after WWII mainly for thier mopeds and small motors that could be fitted onto bicycles, Garelli grew to become one of Italy’s largest manufacturers of mopeds in the 1970’s. The Berlusconi Group now owns Garelli and is said to be working on bringing Garelli back as an player in the market.
Gilera 1909-date. Giuseppe Gilera started out making a motorized bicycle in Milan at age 22. Gilera got into racing during the 20’s and 30’s with his brother Luigi running the racing program. With a supercharged 500cc engine, Gilera obtained the world speed record in 1937 with Piero Taruffi, and went on to win the European Championship with Dorino Serafini in the late 1930s. Things were going good until WWII, then after the war, the successful supercharged Gilera engine was no longer allowed. Gilera then developed the single cylinder Saturno which won quite often, including a few Grand Prix races. Gilera went on to win several World Motorcycle Championships in the 1950’s, but left racng in 1957. After struggling in the 1960’s, Piaggio Group purchased Gilera in 1969 and has continued to develop Gilera since. The Gilera motorcycles of the 1970’s were had mainly small displacement two-stroke engines. Medium size four-stroke engines came in Gilera motorcycles during the 1980’s. In 2001, Gilera became involved in racing once again and immediately won. Gilera now has several eye-catching and very well performing scooters and maxi-scooters, including the Gilera GP800.
Innocenti 1931-1971. Manufactured the popular and stylish Lambretta scooters after world war II as an economical form of transportation in post-war Italy.
Laverda 1950-date Francesco Laverda. First model was Laverda 75. Piaggio has owned the brand since 2004, but has not produced a Laverda since. The Laverda 750 and 1000 Jota of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s were and still are on many rider’s wish lists.
Maserati – offered motorcycles during the 1950’s that sprang from the purchase of Italmoto of Bologna, Italy. Fabbrica Candele Accummulatori Maserati, the branch of Maserati that actually began with spark plug production, became the division that was responsible for motorcycles, but ran into financial problems in the late 1950’s and competition from other Italian motorcycle manufacturers.
Morbidelli 1960-1990 Giancarlo Morbidelli V8 850cc Pininfarina design.
Moto Guzzi 1921-date. Mandello del Lario, Italy. Founded by Caro Guzzi, Emanuele and Giorgio Parodi, Giovanni Ravelli. After Ravelli was killed in an accident, the eagle was added to the company logo in his honor. First motorcycle was called the Normale in 1921. Moto Guzzi immediately got involved with racing and became well known around the world for their Italian motorcycles and were successful on the track. They were the first motorcycle manufacturer to have a wind tunnel for testing full-scale motorcycles. Withdrew from racing in 1957 along with Gilera and Mondail. 1973 taken over by De Tomaso Industries. 1988 Guzzi Benelli Moto was formed. This resulted in the Benelli factory being sold and the Innocenti brand being finished. Aprilia took over Moto Guzzi in 2000 after Moto Guzzi had a bad decade of ownership changes other issues. Moto Guzzi was acquired by Piaggio Group in 2004 along with Aprilia. Moto Guzzi is likely is one of the best known brands of Italian motorcycles still around today, aside from Ducati.
Motom – The first Motom, a moped they called the Motomic, was shown at the Geneva Motor Show in 1947. It was a four stroke single. Motom went on to produce some interestingly styled Italian mopeds, scooters and motorcycles until ending in the late 1960’s. Models included the 12, 48, 51, 60, GG, Cross, Nova 3, Nova 50, Junior 63, Junior 100, Delfino 160, Model E, 98 TS, Supereller, and a Motocarro. Motom has since attempted a comeback, buying the Lambretta trademark and producing mopeds and scooters once again.
MV Agusta 1948-date. Meccanica Verghera. Founded by Giovanni Agusta. Purchased by Harley-Davidson in 2008. The beautiful and extremely fast F4 amd the new F3 are their main models today. Harley-Davidson soon sold the company back to the previous owners.
Moto Morini 1937- date . Bologna, Italy. Founded by Alfonso Morini. Morini and Mattei (MM). The company began racing and won in 1948 and 1949 in the 125cc Italian championship. Several other racing victories came through the years. In the 1980’s, the company fell on hard times and was sold to the Cagiva-Ducati Group. Recently, Moto Morini has been owned and run by Morizio Morini after he purchased the company back from Ducati in 1999. As of October 2009, news was that Moto Morini has fallen on hard times and will be sold.
Piaggio 1946-date. The company actually began in the late 1800’s, but did not begin to produce motorcycles (Vespa scooters) until after WWII. Piaggio, Vespa, Gilera, Scarabeo, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Derbi. Founded in 1884. Headquartered in Pontedera (Pisa), Italy. Has become one of the world’s leading manufacturers of Italian motorcycles and two-wheeled vehicles in general, and is the largest in Europe. Piaggio also manufacturers 3-wheeled and 4-wheeled light duty vehicles branded as Ape, Porter, and Quargo. In 1994, Piaggio launched the Hexagon maxi scooter.
Note: This is not a complete list of all Italian motorcycles, and will continue to be updated. Information was gathered from the manufacturers, books and news articles. One particularly good resource was “The Complete Encyclopedia of Classic Motorcycles” by Mirco De Cet. A few dates shown in that book were found to be incorrect, but I feel this was a very minor issue for such a good book that any motorcycle enthusiast should consider getting.
Please contact us at motorcycleinfo.org via comment below if you want to suggest another Italian brand be added to this list, or if you have some additional motorcycle info or comments about Italian motorcycles.