Count Domenico Agusta wanted a completely new bike to compete in 350 and 500. So in MV in record time a racing car was built that will be turned on for the first time on 2 August 1964 in Venice. Then a young Giacomo Agostini will get on it, and it will be a legend
Among the many records of MV Agusta in racing there is one not written in the golden books but equally significant, truly unique. What is it about? Of the first exit of the MV 350 3-cylinder, the symbolic motorcycle of the House of Cascina Costa and Giacomo Agostini, which took place on Sunday 2 August 1964, at dawn, on the road in front of the most prestigious hotel in the heart of the Lido of Venice where it was located in Count Domenico Agusta is on vacation.
the history of the mv 350
The story began seven months earlier in mid-December 1963 when the owner of the MV decided to kick off the project for a new Grand Prix motorcycle in the two maximum displacements, starting with the 350 and then moving on to the 500. For the Italian manufacturer, the three-year period 1958-1960 had passed and the triumphs of the Constructors and Drivers titles of all classes (125, 250, 350, 500) were now only a memory. The 1963 season ended with MV triumphing in the only 500 world title with Mike Hailwood and in the Italian 500 championship with Silvio Grassetti; in 1962 Hailwood had also won the 500 world champion, while the previous year there had been the double by Gary Hocking (350 and 500) and in 1960 there was the last full house of the MV world champion in the 350 and 500 with John Surtees and in the 250 and 125 with Carlo Ubbiali. In short, it was evident that even for the Cascina Costa manufacturer the times of domination were significantly reducing in the face of the overwhelming intrusiveness of Japanese motorcycles, in particular the Honda, which after having dominated in the small and medium displacements, already in 1962 and in 1963 with Jim Redman ousted the MV in the 350 with the intention of doing the same in the maximum displacement. The farewell of the MV from the 125 and 250 had seemed to everyone like a surrender in front of the Houses of the Rising Sun.
the new project mv
Thus, at the end of the ’63 season, Agusta thinks of retiring the glorious but now obsolete 4-cylinder in-line designed by Piero Remor, giving way to a new project, with an unprecedented motorcycle and engine, technically revolutionary in many ways. The count, an extraordinary international entrepreneur who came from the ranks, writes down the draft of the new 350 3-cylinder 4-stroke double-shaft engine in his own hand in red pencil the 3-cylinder two-stroke Dkw) entrusting the operational task to the manager of the technical office Mario Rossi assisted by Enrico Sironi and the head of the racing department Arturo Magni and by the small but super-tested staff extraordinarily effective and cohesive also because there, at that time , the music was chosen and directed by a single man, the “lord count”, that is, the “master”. Rossi says to his followers: “The count wants us to design and build a new 350 3-cylinder racing engine and a completely new bike to be put on the track within six to seven months at the latest to compete in the Italian flag and in the 1964 World Championship”. The guidelines are: simple and light engine even if the crankshaft assembly must refer to that of the 4-cylinder; the three heads must be separated, the return of the 2 valves must have needle springs, “otherwise nothing will be done” threatens the count; ignition on the base of the two-cylinder 250, with platinum-plated points, side distribution folder; dry external clutch, removable seven-speed gearbox. Chassis closer to the 250 than to the 500, focusing everything on lightness, driveability and reliability.
the forces of count agusta
No expense is spared with a profusion of hyper-technological, aeronautical material. The racing department gets to work with its head down, assisted by the design department of the aeronautics-helicopters area. At the end of January 1964 the drawings of the heads were completed and in February those of the crankcases and gradually of all the components that made their way to the modeling and casting department with Domenico Agusta’s signature of approval at the bottom. The first problems begin and many components are changed: for example by redesigning the cylinder head in one piece, with four valves and with coil springs. We work day and night, both on the engine (which runs without pause on the test benches) and on the chassis, in total secrecy. The main characteristics of that first engine are: 3 cylinders in line, front gear 344 cc 52x54mm, (later in the definitive version 348.58 56×47.2mm) over 60 HP at 13,000 rpm (they will become over 70 HP above 15,000 rpm at the end of the cycle in 1972 ), 3.5 Kgmt torque, 11: 1 compression ratio, 6-speed gearbox, empty weight just over 130 kg (it will then drop below 120 kg), speed on 250 Km / h (it will soon rise up to 270 Km / h), great torque and super acceleration. The weeks fly by and Count Agusta begins to get impatient until he puts a firm point: “I want the complete bike before my holiday week scheduled in Venice from 1 August”.
first real tests
In the meantime, on March 19, 1964, the Italian championship began, bringing the 250 twin-cylinder bikes (with Bruno Spaggiari and Emilio Mendogni) already world championships ex Ubbiali and ex Provini back to the track, but with poor results compared to the single-cylinder Morini of Giacomo Agostini and Silvio. Grassetti and Tarquinio Provini’s 4-cylinder Benelli, not to mention the Japanese motorcycles. Fortunately, the Japanese racing cars are not yet seen in the 500 world championship so that the old 4-cylinder MV continues to win easy with Hailwood. At Cascina Costa they know the general picture well, the values on the field, the prospects: on the “tricolor” and world championship circuits they reduce their commitment to a minimum, in the 500 without modifying the large 4-cylinder but concentrating all the technical and financial forces to make the new 3-cylinder project operational and competitive. And just on the evening of August 1 Magni telephones Mr. Count in Venice in the mega hotel, with excitement, telling him that the engine is a bomb, that the bike is completed and is ready for a first road test. “Load everything on the truck and tomorrow morning at dawn come to me in front of the hotel: I want to see her with my eyes, I want to hear her voice with my ears”. And so it was.
the day of the new mv agusta
At dawn on that Sunday, August 2, 1964, patron Agusta is in front of the legendary hotel where the mechanics pull down the new car with the smell of the paint still intense from the truck that has just arrived from Cascina Costa. The count carefully observes every detail, visibly moving around his motorbike. “Make it sing, he says to Magni”. And here for three minutes that mark the beginning of a new era of motorcycling, the 3-cylinder, from a standstill, sings beautifully, releasing its notes towards the sun just out of the sea. The small crowd of hotel guests (the VIPs of the international jet set) who still have to go to bed after a night of partying, applaud and receive the earl’s bow in return. The bike is immediately covered, recharged, brought back to Cascina Costa. In eight seasons, since 1965, that engine and that bike will be almost unbeatable, essentially remaining the same. In 1969 the MV will try the turning point with the 350 6-cylinder, without however insisting also because it is an extremely massive bike, not very driveable, not appreciated by Giacomo Agostini. Then in 1970 the new 350 4-cylinder project was launched, a great bike, especially in the 500 displacement. the too delicate clutch, the overheating of the engine solved by increasing the capacity of the sump and its cooling surface, especially problems with the ignition (they will cost Agostini the victory in the 1965 Japanese GP and therefore the first 350 world title), coil-battery with the switch plate keyed to the end of the motor shaft, in front of the first gear of the distribution cascade.
growth with agostini
At the first world championship race of the 350 3-cylinder in the German GP at the Nurburgring not even the triumphant Agostini, who made his debut in the MV with the MV, knew that his bike had practically the same chassis as the “old” 250 two-cylinder Ubbiali, as well as the same brakes ( with drum and simple cam) made in MV house until from 1968, on the push of the same Ago, they opted for the Ceriani. And when the 3-cylinder will have “its own” original chassis, it will still be built on the basis of that of the duemmezzo, evidently considered more than valid so much so that for Agostini that was really a “tailor-made suit”. A titanium frame will also be made, but never used in racing, because it was forbidden at the time. With the 3-cylinder 350 and 500 MV Agostini won 13 of his 15 world titles between 1966 and 1973 (before moving on to 4 cylinders). The Agostini-MV 3-cylinder combination (350 and 500) was the most solid and most successful combination in motorcycling, deserving all the successes in races and championships. It can be said: the best rider on the best bike.
what if there had been bold?
But few know that those new 3-cylinders had to be brought to the race by another Italian, Silvio Grassetti who, at the beginning of the 1964 season, was a Morini 250 driver on a team with Agostini. The 28-year-old champion from Pesaro, former official Benelli (125 and 250), Bianchi (350 and 500) and MV Agusta (in 1963 Italian 500 champion on 4-cylinder Cascina Costa) had been contacted by the head of the MV racing department Arturo Magni because the Count Agusta wanted him to race on the international circuit of Cervia-Marittima on 12 April even in two classes, in the 500 (Mendogni’s teammate) with the 4-cylinder and in the 250, the only MV driver, with the twin. On the green MV truck, since Friday, there are two 250 racing cars and two 500 racing cars all already with the number 23, that of Grassetti. Silvio thanks but says he cannot race with the twin-cylinder MV in duemmezzo because he wants to keep the commitments made with Morini and also because he has to settle a “certain question” with his teammate Agostini. However, he took to the track in the 500 with the 4-cylinder from Varese, immediately setting the best time (and record of the circuit) in the first practice session. In the MV box there is satisfaction with the performance of the rider from Pesaro and Magni calls Silvio aside: “Mr. Count says you have to race with us. He has a big surprise for you. On we have been working for months in great secrecy on an entirely new bike: a brand new 350 three-cylinder engine, a feather, you’ll see, a jewel. From there we will also make the new 500 3-cylinder much faster and easier to drive than the one you raced with in ’63. By autumn we go on the track. The Count wants an Italian rider to get on it: you … Then you will do the Italian and the 1965 World Championship with these bikes ”. Grassetti thanked him and returned to the track for the last qualifying sessions of the 250. Right at the end of the session, fighting for pole, the front brake of the Morini 250 crashes, throwing Silvio against a plant at 200 per hour. It will be for days and days a hard struggle between life and death but in the end the tough skin of the Pesaro area prevails. Grassetti will be back on track stronger than before in the Monza World GP in September, on the official 4-cylinder Gilera 500, teammate of Benedicto Caldarella, fighting against Hailwood’s 4-cylinder MV and Venturi and Rossi’s twin-cylinder Bianchi. At the beginning of 1965 Grassetti will return to Morini flying to America, finishing on the 250 podium in the first round of the world championship at Daytona and triumphing the following week at Sebring and then starring in the Mototemporada in the scorching duels with Provini on the new 4-cylinder Benelli. While Agostini, who passed from Morini to MV Agusta at the end of ’64, began his new adventure in 1965 with the House of Cascina Costa. And what an adventure! In the end, after 12 years of racing, it will be the most successful and acclaimed pairing ever.
August 2, 2021 (change August 2, 2021 | 09:53)
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