As far back as the early 1950s, little MV road racers were seen in Australia, albeit in very limited numbers. The SOHC 125 singles and the later DOHC models were very competitive for a short period, that is, until the Honda twins arrived. The odd privately-imported road bike could occasionally be seen as well, usually 125 and 150 cc OHV singles.
There had been several half-baked attempts to establish the MV Agusta brand on a commercial basis in this country, but none had borne fruit until flamboyant Melbourne racing driver and tyre magnate Bob Jane had a crack at it in 1971. Dealing with Italian companies at the time was difficult, at least from this distance, but Jane had plenty of experience in this field, having started out in business in 1956 distributing parts for Alfa Romeo from his Autoland premises in Melbourne. Fifteen years later, Jane was eyeing an entry into the motorcycle industry, where local sales were soaring, and he set his sights on the most evocative name of all, thanks to the continuing success of Giacomo Agostini, as well as John Surtees and Mike Hailwood before him, on the fire-engine red 350 and 500 cc four cylinder racers from Gallarate. It would have been an obvious step for MV to cash in on the racing success with a road-going version, but motorcycles were very much a sideline to the core aviation business, although a steady stream of lightweights, initially 98 cc and 125 cc two strokes, was produced from 1945. 175, 250 and 350 road bikes followed in a variety of specifications, most of which were pretty, but hardly technically stimulating.
It wasn’t until 1966 that the first four-cylinder road machine broke cover, and it wasn’t exactly what everyone had been expecting, being a strangely-styled 600 cc shaft-driven touring bike, rather than a race replica. This was curious marketing, given the company’s illustrious heritage – was it a tourer? Was it a sports bike? And who thought up the square headlight? Eventually, MV got the message, and at the Milan Show of 1971, revealed a range of four-cylinder roadsters that got everyone talking. There were three models; The 750 GT, The 750 S, and the 750 SS – claimed to be – at 76 bhp – the world’s most powerful 750. Mind you, by the time that 76 bhp found its way to the rear wheel through a power-sapping transmission train, it had shed 16 ponies. But it sure looked the goods, especially the tri-colour 750S. This was more like it – the logical equivalent of Ferrari’s exploitation of their sports car success in racing with a range of similarly-style roadsters. Sure they came at a price, but so, always, did quality and kudos. Think Rolex, Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent…
Back in Oz, things were hotting up, with the first deliveries to the Jane Organisation arriving in Melbourne in February, 1972. The 750S however, was not amongst the initial batch of 40-odd MVs, made up of the pushrod 150 cc and 350 cc models. These mirrored the racer-heritage theme and were undoubtedly gorgeous, but for a market becoming increasingly used to Japanese sophistication, some aspects of the specification were questionable. A specially-airfreighted 750S touched down here in March, where it was displayed at the Melbourne Motor Show, with a price tag of $4,500, or about three Honda CB750’s worth! The still-to-be-seen SS version was reputedly going to sell for $5,576 and was expected by mid-year. When the 750S did go on sale, the price had dropped to $3,890 – the cheapest in the MV range, but still mind-bogglingly expensive for the day. A second 750S arrived in May, and was displayed in the Bob Jane Sydney headquarters on Parramatta Road, awaiting a buyer.
As part of the promotion built around the MV brand, Jane imported Giacomo Agostini in late 1971 for a two-meeting tour taking in Jane’s own Calder Park circuit, and Sydney’s Oran Park. With the 350 and 500 MVs, the world champion cleaned up in Melbourne, but was famously defeated in the 350 cc race at Oran Park by Bryan Hindle. The expected deliveries from the Gallarate factory were predictably late, and to keep up the hype Jane announced plans for another Australian tour by Agostini in late 1972, but this fell through and was replaced by the inaugural Pan Pacific Series for Formula 750 machines. However, Giacomo still made it to our shores that year, and performed several demonstration laps on a 750S at the Australian Grand Prix for cars at Melbourne’s Sandown Park.
Back in Europe, MV sent a two-rider team on modified 750S models (Agostini and Alfredo Milani) to the big-money Imola 200, which preceded the Grand Prix season. Formula 750 was now all the rage, with big rorty four-stroke multis (prior to the arrival and subsequent dimination by the Yamaha TZ750) slipping and sliding on the inadequate rubber of the day. Milani failed to start the race after crashing in practice, but to the delight of the crowd, Agostini took the lead on the screaming MV and held on for a few laps before being deposed by the two works Ducatis, which went on to score a famous victory. Agostini’s race ended before half distance with an undisclosed mechanical failure, but it had been a spectacular demonstration of the new model – just what the factory needed as it struggled to match the competition in the new breed of super-bikes.
Described by one journalist as a “mouth-watering masterpiece in red, stainless and rough-cast alloy”, the 750S engine proudly mirrored the famous racing unit, with twin overhead camshafts and the ignition via a car-type distributor mounted between the two centre carburettors, resulting in a very narrow unit compared to the CB750 and the soon-to-come Kawasaki Z1. Below the engine sits a massively-finned 4.5-litre sump, with an exposed belt drive to the generator and starter motor located at the rear of the sump. This apparent afterthought appears extremely vulnerable and exposed to the elements. Inside the engine, six roller main bearings support the crankshaft, above which sit the barrels, cast in pairs, each held in place by six studs. On top, the camshafts run in four needle roller bearings, with the inlet shaft providing the drive for the rev-counter.
Local road tests were predictable. Once the scribe completed the genuflections to the 750S’s heritage, reality set in. There were few concessions to Australian conditions. On the 750S, the four 28 mm Dell’Ortos gulped unfiltered local air (and dust). No chokes were fitted, but each float bowl had its own tickler for starting. Generally, tickling the two outside carburettors was sufficient to fire up the machine. Clip-on handlebars made city riding a bit of a chore, but were just the ticket for out-of-town scratching. The fat, wide, 4.4 gallon fuel tank meant the rider’s arms were well apart, in typical race-bred fashion. Speaking of the tank, its crowning glory was a sticker with 37 stars and the inscription ’37 Volte Campione Del Mondo’ – one for each Manufacturer’s World Championships won by the marque. And this was a real fuel tank – seemingly sculptured by Michelangelo!
The magazines of the day struggled with the basic concept, but all acknowledged the classic beauty and jaw-dropping presence of the 750S. One common complaint was the durability of the clutch and the rest of the transmission, which, when warmed up, became stiff and notchy. Once up to operating temperature, engaging neutral was a major chore. Several testers reported that the clutch began slipping after mild abuse. One magazine even questioned the lack of attachments for saddlebags. Saddlebags?
The frame can be politely described as substantial, but massive is another word that springs to mind. The wall thickness of the tubing was almost twice that normally employed – all in the name of torsional rigidity, it was said. It all added up to a rather weighty package – 230 kg dry. In comparison, a fully-fuelled Honda CB750 tipped the scales at 218 kg. Ceriani front forks and rear units competently handed the suspension duties, with a huge 230 mm (9 inch) Fontana double-sided twin-leading shoe front brake, with an MV-made 200 mm single-leading shoe rear.
Despite the bulk, the MV handled beautifully, and naturally there were those who were keen to see how it performed on the track. Bryan Clarkson, the Sydney motocross, and stunt rider and occasional road racer who also became an MV dealer in 1972, entered a 750S in that year’s Castrol Six Hour Race at Amaroo Park. It attracted plenty of attention and looked and sounded wonderful, but clutch problems sidelined the MV before half distance.
Despite the best efforts of the Jane organization, the MV marque never really got going in Australia, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the big bikes were too expensive, and the smaller twins simply not up to scratch against the latest Japanese machines. But in reality, the root of the problem was back in Italy, where the factory staggered from crisis to crisis, along with many other manufacturing-based companies as the country’s economy went from bad to worse. The death of Count Domenico Agusta, the son of the founder Giovanni Agusta, in 1971, was a major blow to the company, which progressively lost direction. In 1974, the 750S was restyled with disc front brakes and given a slight increase in capacity to 788 cc. It became an 850SS (actually 837 cc and also known as the Monza) in 1977, but sales were hard to come by, and by 1980, motorcycle production ceased altogether.
Life goes on
Bryan Thompson, the former car racing star whose mouth-watering collection we featured in OBA 15, has owned the MV featured here since buying it at the Auto-Trade auction held in conjunction with the Australian Grand Prix at Calder in 1981. He wasn’t even considering buying a motorcycle at the auction, but when Lot Number 24 came up, it was love at first sight. The auction catalogued described the MV thus:
‘Developed directly from the world championship factory racing motorcycles ridden by Giacomo Agostini, this particular version is the very rare drum brake version capable of 135 mph. A very realistic reserve should see this bike sold.’
“I was stunned when I saw the MV. I thought ‘That is classic – somebody should have that.’ I went to the auction to buy the John Mann 3.8 Mk 2 Jaguar that was built for Bob Jane by Lofty England. That car had been bought originally by Ernie Thompson from my home town of Shepparton, so I bought the car plus a Mk 5 Jaguar that appealed to me. Anyway, the MV was passed in so I went back to Auto-Trade and asked what the reserve was. They said, “Six and a half grand’, so I said, “I’ll have that! It was the same price as a new Holden VB Commodore, and it only had 1651 miles on the clock. It now has 1944. I wasn’t really MV-motivated, but it just overwhelmed me – it was the most beautiful motorcycle I’d ever seen! It has proved to be a wonderful addition to my collection – an appreciation of Italian styling and engineering – an introduction to another world.”
Registered in Victoria as MV750 in early 1972, this particular machine was first bought by the father and son motor dealer team of Reg and Graham Hunt for their collection, then on-sold to Melbourne tyre dealer Kevin Donnellan. It is believed to be the actual machine demonstrated by Agostini in Melbourne in 1972.
“You have to appreciate that this is a 1970’s superbike, not a 2009 superbike,” Bryan says of his pride and joy. “It was good at its time. It steers well, is very nimble, stops OK but it is not extremely powerful. Paul Feeney rode it at Broadford a little while ago and when a journalist asked him what the brakes were like he said ‘A lot better than the tyres!’”.
Regardless of how it performs, it is easy to see why four-cylinder MVs from this period are now amongst the most collectable machines in the world. Quintessentially Italian in looks and temperament, the 750S stops people in their tracks whenever Bryan takes it out for a run. The exhaust note could not possibly be produced by anything other than a pedigreed Italian thoroughbred, and if it’s a little lethargic by modern standards, who cares? When it comes to panache, the 750S has it by the truck-load.
MV Agusta 750S Specifications
Engine: In-line DOHC air-cooled four
Bore & Stroke: 65 x 56
Power: 76 bhp at the gearbox at 7,900 rpm.
Capacity: 743 cc
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Carburation: 4 28 mm Dell’Orto
Transmission: Five-speed gearbox with helical gear primary and shaft final drive.
Clutch: wet multi plate
Wheelbase: 1390 mm
Width: 686 mm
Ground Clearance: 203 mm
Weight: 230 kg dry
Fuel capacity: 24 litres
Tyres: Front 4.00 x 18 Rear: 4.25 x 18
Performance: Standing Start quarter mile: 13.91 seconds
0-100 km/h: 4.9 seconds
Top Speed: 201 km/h.
Story: Jim Scaysbrook • Photos: Philip Smith. Photosmith.com.au