MV Agusta 750 GT – Buff beauty

Bike Profile

Ian Nicholson's 1973 MV Agusta 750GT.

Story: Jim Scaysbrook • Photos: Sue Scaysbrook

One of just 50 produced, the 750GT is the rarest of all the MV Agusta fours.

When the much-anticipated Milan Motorcycle Show opened on 3rd December 1950, it confirmed that the recovery of the once great Italian motorcycle industry was indeed on the way. Held at the salubrious Palazzo della Triennale, the same venue where the annual shows had taken place pre-war, it was the opportunity for the country’s manufacturers to trumpet their wares, or at least, their very existence, following the near devastation of the war years. 

Left: The 1966 600cc 4C6 in the Agusta Museum, Varese, Italy. Right: The original road-going ‘four’, the R19, rather ignominiously squeezed in at the MV Agusta Museum in Cascina Costa.

No one was keener to exploit this chance than Count Domenico Agusta, and while his contemporaries displayed practical, ride-to-work products or their more sporty derivatives, the Count went for the jugular. On the MV stand stood one of the most formidable motorcycles ever produced – nothing less than a road-going replica of the company’s fabulous, if still slightly wayward, four-cylinder 500cc Grand Prix racer, which was dubbed the R19. The price tag was no less astounding; 950,000 Lire or approximately $1,550 US dollars at the time. With a power output of 40 bhp and a top speed of 180 km/h, the R19 was certainly a rocket by the standards of the day, especially for a motorcycle with a capacity of just 494cc. Unlike the racer, the R19 used battery, coil and distributor in place of magneto, with a pair of 27mm Dell’Orto carburettors supplying the mixture. An interesting feature of the chassis was the ‘parallelogram’ rear swinging arm controlled by friction dampers, with shaft drive. Up front sat a set of quite long telescopic forks, with the twin speedo/tacho instruments built into the top of the fuel tank. Finished in metallic silver, the R19 was a stunning looking motorcycle that was greeted with near hysteria on its debut.

A 600cc 4C6 in the Barber Museum, Alabama, USA.

Sadly, that showpiece was to remain just that, a showpiece. Thereafter, the R19 did the rounds of the exhibitions, with MV Agusta occasionally teasing the media with stories of its imminent release, but it never went into production as the factory concentrated on its racing efforts and the core business of building helicopters. Today, the sole R19 sits in the MV Agusta Museum at Cascina Costa di Verghera in northern Italy, rubbing shoulders in a cramped line with its later incarnation, the 600 4C6, first produced in 1966.

Fifteen years after the R19 broke cover at the Milan show, a prototype of the machine that finally made it into production appeared at the Salon di Milano in late 1965. But instead of a racer for the road, the new machine was a rather cobby looking tourer, with an ugly rectangular headlight, high handlebars, a dual seat, electric starter and shaft drive. It was rumoured that Count Agusta was determined that any production road bike would not be able to be converted into a racer, hence the 600cc capacity and the distinctly non-sporting nature of the new model which was finished in a sombre black with chrome tank panels. As displayed in Milan, the new DOHC 600 broke with tradition by having the use of four individual cylinders instead of the one-piece cylinder block and top crankcase used on the racers. Cable-operated twin discs were used at the front, with a drum rear and the traditional shaft drive.

A 750GT in the Barber Museum, Alabama, USA.

As with the R19, the initial excitement generated at Milan quickly ebbed away as projected dates for the commencement of production came and went. In fact, it was April 1967 before what was to be the final production version saw the light of day and several months after that  before the first customer model was delivered. Less than 30 600s were built in 1967 and carefully distributed to wealthy purchasers and key international markets. Curiously, a single example was sent to England where it was offered as a prize in a motorcycle newspaper contest and won by a truck driver. Released in the USA in early 1968 with a price tag of $2889.00 (the Triumph Trident went for $1750.00), the 600 was immediately catagorised as a collector’s special, which essentially it was. The complex nature of the racer-derived engine meant it was always going to be a hand-assembled, very low volume motorcycle. 

In production form, the gear-driven DOHC 600 had a bore and stroke of 58mm x 56mm, with a five-speed gearbox. 50 horsepower at 8,200 rpm was claimed; a healthy output given the pair of puny 24mm Dell’Orto carburettors, connected to the engine by U-shaped manifolds. In effect, the engine was in a very mild state of tune, a deliberate ploy to sustain reliability and reduce maintenance.  A Marelli starter motor was driven by an extremely large 12v/18ah battery, and when not working as a starter, the unit became a 12 volt 135 watt dc dynamo to charge the battery and run the ignition coil. Despite the specification, the starter motor made heavy work of spinning over the 9.3:1 compression engine, leading to the embarrassing situation where several US road testers were forced to bump-start the motorcycle. Despite its massive appearance, the fuel tank held only 15.3 litres, and the cable operated Campagnolo discs were found to fade quickly due to heat remaining in the 216mm rotors. Most US reports also questioned the wisdom of running open carbs in a country where dust and grit made up a considerable proportion of the air, especially as there appeared to be ample space to fit some form of air filtration. 

One of just 50 produced, the 750GT is the rarest of all the MV Agusta fours.

Very few 600s made it to Australia as part of the original production run which lasted until 1973, although one machine exists in New Zealand as part of the collection of Bill Irwin. 

Moving up a notch

It is doubtful if MV Agusta made any money on the slow selling 600, due mainly to the extremely high costs involved in producing the engine. If the books were to balance, what was needed was a simpler, more practical design – and one with better looks. Although Count Agusta was still adamant that any production four-cylinder MV should not be overtly sporting-oriented (and insisted on retaining the shaft drive), pressure from many markets convinced him to display a model called the 750 Sport, which was in fact a converted 600, at the Milan Show of 1969, but it was late 1970 before the first production machines were completed. The new 750 engine had a bore and stroke of 65mm x 56mm for a capacity of 743cc, with 10.0:1 compression ratio and a power output of 66hp at 8,000 rpm. The crankshaft was unchanged from the 600, but the structure (usually referred to as a rack) carrying the crankshaft was strengthened and new forged pistons were used.  The main difference was in the method of valve clearance, with shims placed under the bucket rather than on top, as on the 600. 

Left: Clean and distinctive from the rear. Top right: Pressed metal side covers are fitted to the GT, covering the battery and oil tank. Above right: The badge of office.
Mufflers currently fitted are the same type used on the 750S.

The 750 Sport was an altogether better proposition than the 600, sporty in looks and character, and much more what the buying public expected from a company with such a racing pedigree. With its four tapered megaphone silencers, racing style seat and tank, clip-on handlebars and rear set footrests, the 750S really looked the part. Melbourne entrepreneur and tyre dealer Bob Jane thought so, and snapped up the agency for Australia. However there were no four cylinder models in Jane’s first shipment which arrived in Melbourne in February 1972 and was made up of 150cc and 350cc models. A specially air-freighted 750S touched down here in March 1972 and was displayed at the Melbourne Motor Show, with a price tag of $4,500, which would have bought you almost three CB750 Hondas. The price eventually settled at $3,890 and reportedly, the first sea shipment contained two each of the 750S and the as-yet unseen 750GT, which brings us to the subject of our story.

Left: Aprilia horn was original supplemented by two Bosch units mounted on the crash bars. Top right: The ubiquitous Aprilia switch incorporated the starter button. Above right: Natural rubber Tomaselli grips were standard.
British Smiths instruments, with cables routed through the mounting plate.

Essentially of course, the 750S and the 750GT were identical, as was the Australian price of $3,889, but the racy looking Sport tended to get the bulk of the attention from the press, and few road tests were published on its plain sister. The GT appeared at the 1971 Milan Show, alongside the new and even more expensive 750 SS, which failed to proceed to production. By mid 1972 the GT was being built in small numbers, with just 50 made according to factory records. The engine on both models was identical, but the GT had a lower final drive ratio.

The logical thinking behind the 750GT was that it replaced the discontinued 600 as a tourer, and to this end incorporated several differences in styling over the 750S. Rectangular side covers hid the battery and oil tank that were exposed on the 750S. Most obvious was the square-sided fuel tank and dual seat, which sat on a hand-beaten pan that incorporated the rear mudguard in a very swoopy structure that reputedly took specialist metal worker Primo Felotti (who made the tanks for the works racers) many hours to make. It has been reported that Felotti asked for more money to supply these components, and when Agusta refused, he ceased to supply and the run of the 750GT came to an end.

Handsome power plant. The vertical fins on the head were an MV tradition originating on the GP racers.
Lack of air filters was a major gripe in the US.
Final drive pinion sits under this intricate casting.

Crash bars were standard fitment, and had twin Bosch horns mounted on them, while the mufflers differed in that the GT versions were without the seams used on the Sport. The décor was quite striking and very different to anything else in the range. All the GTs were painted off-white with gold/brown highlights and frame. 

For a tourer, the GT had some shortcomings, notably in the thinly padded seat. Inexplicably, the factory still refused to fit any form of air filtration, and this was a major impediment in markets such as USA and Australia. The chassis was identical on the two 750s, with the effective but stupendously weighty Grimeca dual-sided front brake. In place of the rear sets, the GT had conventional footrests, with a right-sided rocking pedal gear lever and a rear brake pedal pivoting from just below the swinging arm pivot. For the first two years of production (1972 and 1973), just 35 were produced, but at the 1973 Milan Show an updated GT was displayed, with a twin disc front end using Scarab callipers. According to marque specialist and prolific author Ian Falloon, only 15 of the new-spec GTs were built in 1974, bring the total production to 50 before the model was dropped. Of the export component, 15 went to Spain, three each to USA and UK, and six to Bob Jane in Melbourne. It makes the GT the rarest of all the 750s, and although the model was initially considered to be unattractive, it is now highly treasured among MV collectors.

What have we here?

The featured motorcycle is one of the batch received by Bob Jane in 1973. It is believed the bike was crashed by a journalist while being road tested by a local magazine and extensively damaged. It was acquired during the early ‘eighties by Sydney collector Les Miller and subjected to a rebuild, although this may have been largely cosmetic, as ace restorer Stephen Craven, who is responsible for the work you see here, discovered. Stephen bought the bike for a customer more than five years ago, and immediately began work on a total restoration, but he admits he grossly under estimated the enormity of the task. When the GT arrived, tied onto a trailer, the forks were compressed, and stayed that way when unloaded. One of the sliders was crushed and unrepairable, so while the rest of the bike was stripped, Stephen began to scour the world for replacement components. “I discovered that the Ceriani forks were the same as used on the US version of the Laverda Eagle and we managed to get a new set from the States,” Stephen says. “However that was probably the lesser of our problems. The frame was bent, so much so that the swinging arm pivot had been pushed forward and into the crankcases, which had cracked. Laurie Alderton managed to straighten the frame but said when I picked it up, ‘don’t bring another one!’ The seat had also been recovered but when the frame was straightened it didn’t fit, so we had to rebuild that too. The seat material is unobtainable so we had to carefully make do with what we had. Probably the biggest hurdle was the fuel tank. When it was chemically cleaned it revealed a real mess which took major work to rectify. I am still trying to find the correct sticker for the tank top, the one that has 36 stars representing 36 World Championships for MV Agusta.”

Stephen had promised me first look at the GT once it was completed, but almost a year passed between the projected date and the time it fired up for the first time. “This has been a five year project,” said Stephen with a heavy sigh, “but it had to be done right. We still can’t find a set of original crash bars, but I am sure they will come in time.” Likewise, the original Ceriani rear shocks are at present replaced with locally made IKON units, which look the part and undoubtedly work better.

I have ridden several versions of the 750S, as well as the later models and Magnis, but the GT is the best mannered of all. As well as the rarest.

So on a very grey day in July, I ventured to SCR Ducati, the business in Morisset NSW run by Stephen and his wife Christine. We had to be patient to await sunny patches for photography, and the roads were more than damp when I set out for a short ride. The procedure for commencement is to press the top button on the little rectangular Aprilia switch on the left handlebar. Stephen explained that this is a switch found on two strokes, and this button is normally the kill button. The engine fires up instantly and quickly settles down to a regular tickover, a very Latin burble coming from the four pipes. 

Dropping into that thinly padded set, I selected first gear by engaging the heel part of the gear pedal, and off we went. Wow, that exhaust note! The burble at idle is replaced by a deep growl that becomes a howl as speed increases, most unlike other four cylinder engines. From the engine emanates a purposeful if muted cacophony of things meshing and thrashing around in the bialbero (twin-cam) top end, with a very audible whine from the Dell’Ortos as they ingest the crisp country air. The gearbox works extremely well as it is light and positive in operation, each of the five speeds engaging crisply and cleanly. On such a greasy road surface there was no thought of testing the acceleration too severely, but the GT is certainly no slouch in this department. One area that is presently lacking is the front brake, but as a freshly assembled component with no bedding in, that can be easily addressed. All too soon the ride was over, but it was enough to remind me that this is a very different MV. I have ridden several versions of the 750S, as well as the later models and Magnis, but the GT is the best mannered of all. As well as the rarest.

Stephen Craven has done a mighty job of returning this GT to the fold, probably in better condition (and certainly better sorted) than when it was new. The owner, Sydney surgeon Ian Nicholson, has a large and impressive stable of motorcycles, many restored by Stephen, but few if any boast the sheer presence of the 750GT.

Specifications: 1973 MV Agusta 750GT

Engine: DOHC four cylinder, two valves per cylinder
Bore x stroke: 65mm x 56mm
Capacity: 743cc
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Power: 66hp at 8,000 rpm.
Carburettors: Dell’Orto UB 24mm
Ignition: Battery and coil
Gearbox: 5 speed with shaft final drive
Clutch: Wet multi plate
Forks: Ceriani 35mm
Rear suspension: Ceriani twin shocks
Wheels/tyres: Front: 3.50 x 18, Rear: 4.00 x 18
Brakes: Front: Grimeca twin sided tls  Rear: Grimeca sls.
Wheelbase: 1390mm
Weight: 230kg dry
Fuel capacity: 24 litres
Test bike: SCR Ducati, 4/6 Brodie St Morisset NSW. (02) 4973 4165

This article first appeared in Old Bike Australasia Issue 61.