Fans of modern machinery may not understand how Moto Guzzi, with their clunky driveshafts and pushrod v-twins, is allowed even a grudging membership to the sportbike club. Of course, a look back a bit further shows Guzzi was very successful in a variety of racing classes throughout the 40s and 50s. But they wanted to play in the premiere 500cc Grand Prix class with Gilera and MV Agusta, both of whom used inline fours as the basis for their race winning machines. Guzzi knew that, in order to compete without years of development, they needed to try something new that would increase power without increasing weight, and they did it with the “Otto Cilindri.” Long and low, with a period “dustbin” fairing that made it look like a wheeled torpedo, the bike was as terrifying for riders as it was for the opposition.
The brand new 500cc Grand Prix machine was powered by a brand new V8 engine… Let’s just stop there and let that sink in for a moment. A motorcycle. Powered by a 499cc V8. That’s not a euphemism or a catchy name. That’s “V8.” As in “has eight cylinders.” It also had four gear-driven overhead cams, eight Dell’Orto carburetors, liquid cooling, oil stored in the frame, and weighed in at 326 pounds with the full fairing in place. If this thing had actually finished a few more races, it’d be in the pantheon of all-time greats. Unfortunately, that’s why this bike is a glorious footnote, instead of an unforgettable masterpiece.
The main issue was that the 78hp produced by the ferocious engine was too much for the tire and suspension technology of the time. The bike was capable of very nearly 180mph, but period testing and races were plagued by crashes, with riders eventually refusing to pilot it until it stopped trying to actively kill them. Which is saying something, since basically the entire sport of motorcycle racing was trying to kill riders during this period. Handling was likely compromised by the engine being set too far back in the frame. This was common practice at the time, ostensibly to increase traction at the rear, but put too little weight on the front for stability and handling. Mechanical failures didn’t help: the bikes overheated and broke cranks with alarming regularity.
The Otto Cilindri was terrifyingly fast, even considering the mechanical and handling problems: it actually finished fourth and fifth at the 1957 Isle of Man TT, with the fourth-place bike running on 7 cylinders. Considering the ambition of the project, the reliability and handling challenges are no surprise and it is likely that, with time, the bike would have realized its full potential. Unfortunately, Moto Guzzi pulled out of Grand Prix racing in 1957, so this project will always be more of an interesting “what if.”
From the original eBay listing: 1955 Moto Guzzi 8C for Sale
Moto Guzzi 8C “Continuation”
Model year 1955
Rare opportunity to acquire one of only 7 “continuation” built in 2001 by Todaro/Frigerio from original Moto Guzzi Factory drawings.
This is the last built, fitted with ORIGINAL crankshaft, pistons and timing gear.
Parade race and collect.
Bike is currently located in Italy, 33080 Roveredo in Piano, but i can get them delivered all around World at cost, no problem.
Hat tip to Odd-Bike, where I originally saw this bike posted. Just a handful of the V8 race bikes were ever built, and only two of those remain. But in the early 2000 a small run of seven “continuation” models were built to the original’s exact specifications, including the magnesium engine cases and brake drums, although the continuation bikes will likely benefit from improvements in metallurgy. Note that the seller claims this is “fully working” which means that, not only is this a historical artifact, it’s also an actual, rideable motorcycle. I’d bet this is one of the rarest, most exotic and historic machines we’ve ever featured on this site, although it’s a bit older than our usual focus. Just how incredible this engine was in concept and execution is beyond the scope of this post or my limited engineering knowledge, but if you’ve never heard of this thing, it’s worth checking out additional sources.