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Italian Motorcycles

MV Agusta 860 Magni

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I have now paid for the MV and become a euro bike owner, I had no previous intention of buying an MV but had gone along with the knowledgeable and sat squarely on the fence of the finest bike of all time being the Gilera fours either in their air cooled form or the prewar watercooled Rondine/Gilera incarnation. I had planned to start racing with the vintage club this season with the Tiger 100A and now that the engine has been sorted we might well make the latter part of the season, winning with the Tiger is out of the frame when its up against featherbed framed specials and with this in mind it had been my aim to shortcut up the grid by having a bike no one in the vintage circles stood a cat in hells chance of beating because they don't have one, I have intentions of buying a Gilera four clone as and when Dave Kaye has one ready, he plans to go to Daytona next year and win. This is still on the cards assuming I still have a job to pay for it.

However, MV's; in the late 60's the factory turned out a few 600cc fours with god awful styling and fiat car headlights, this eventually metamorphised into the 750S a really stunning looker much against Count Agusta's wishes. After his death another version of this bike was made known as the 750S America, what happened was that 2 US wallah's sweet talked the factory into revamping the 750S by the well known American method of it is'nt big enough for us as known to the Brits and the engine had 2mm increase in bore size which took the capacity from 750 to 789.7cc. The styling was gone over and the curvaceous tank dumped in favour of a much squarer version, the combustion chamber shape altered along with the carbs and exhausts and the factory was given to believe that the US market would absorb 500 of these machines annually and therefore geared up for volume production.

As is the way with the world and particularly anything really good from Italy, and I'm told on good authority that when the MV and Gilera first raced in the US less than 3000 people bothered to get out of bed to watch their home GP whereas at a minor meeting here on a wet Saturday over 70.000 would turn out to pay homage, suffice to say the US market did not embrace the MV Agusta. As late as 1979 that batch of machines where being offloaded in Europe and mainly the UK even though they cost 3 times a CB750/4 or twice a BMW 75/5, its hard to believe now.

Anyway the machine I have aquired from George Beale is an 860 Magni, likely built around spare parts from the over production of the America, strictly speaking it was'nt built in the hallowed assembly hall of its forefathers but Magni himself built it and he was the man who did all the development work at MV, you might say this one was built by the sorcerers apprentice.

Two things struck me on first sight, it has matching Smiths clocks rather than Veglia instruments and the distributor has gone and a big Lucas 4 cylinder competition magneto lurks in there, MV's record for reliability needs no explanation from me therefore you can assume that magneto's can cope with arduous racing as well as anything made today. It has a carbon fibre fairing, 4 x 29mm Dell'Orto carburettors a race frame which means the frame is a clone of the one known at the factory as the 'Counts' frame which John Surtees designed and both he and Magni jigged up and built the first one, it has a race cam, beautiful spoked alloy rimmed wheels and a magnesium 4 leading shoe Fontana drum at the front, why it did not retain the twin discs with Scarab calipers of the America would be obvious to anyone priviledged to use it, its fully equal to the twin discs of my CBR and you would'nt believe the progression it has, still discs are cheap to make.

I've only ridden from George's down the road to Bosworth and back, a distance of about 14 miles but it was superb, after very careful but rather noisey warming up I fed in the light clutch and off it trundled, as docile as a kitten. I won't pretend that you could compare this to a modern race replica like the Blade/R1/ or 916 because it does not produce that sort of power, but down the roads I was on they could'nt use theirs anyway. I can however compare like with like and say how it felt against the CB1100R.

The MV is very responsive to its throttle, it will idle along at 2K in 5th gear without so much as a by your leave, as you open the throttle its gently builds up revs until the tacho hits 4k, then you feel a gentle shove in your back, at 4.5k it gets on the cam and the shove gets harder, never does it go bananas and try to turn somersaults it just squats down on its suspension and goes, like the 1100R its has lots of intake roar, unlike the civilised Honda this is very soon drown by the bellow from the 4 megaphones that turns into a howl by 7k and stays like that all the way to the 10.5k redline.

Coming up to Ibstock the road is narrow and there is a sharp 90' left hander and then slightly uphill for 200 yards to a small traffic island, I'd gone down the box to second for the corner hit third up the rise and gone down to first for the island, the people outside the Coach and Horses turned as one to look. On the return trip some 10 mins later they did'nt turn to look they had come the kerbside to get a closer view, I get this with my Tigers but never with a Honda so therefore when none motorcylists get out of their seats you instinctively know they have done so to see something that is'nt ordinary.

By direct comparisson the bigger Honda has the better engine as the 1100R will pull the side out of your house from 2.5k but after that they are very similar in the attributes, neither has throttle lag, nor do they pause midrange due to oversize carbs getting the burps or the EMS chip refering to the manual to figure what parameter to change next, these old aircooled fours just get on with it.

George thinks it has 90bhp which puts it in round figures 10 behind my CBR600 which has 36mm flatside you name its, the CBR is civilised and will tootle along at low revs but not a lot happens under 7k, you have to work hard on the gear lever if you want hyper drive, I'm afraid the Triumph's have spoiled me somewhat, I like to short shift and let the engine do the work and like the 1100R the MV will do just that.

The handling actually feels more precise than the bigger Honda likely due to the Surtees frame, much of another version of a featherbed only Surtees refers to this frame as the camel (as did Hailwood with the big Honda 500/4 only for opposite reasons) due to the hump in the tank rails to clear the camboxes. It turns in easily, tracks like a dream. maybe the suspension shows its age and by todays standards it is undertyred or rather todays bikes are overtyred. If you screw the MV the back end will step out of line or the wheel will lose traction just as the front starts to lift, some and me included would say this is good, exitings corners this bike is the last on the list to highside you if the rear breaks away, and because of this you can power drift it in curves, controlling the drift (and your line) with the throttle which rather points to impeccable balance of the whole machine.

A chap wrote in MCN post the Assen bash that he thought these old bikes and the old duffers who rode them where just that, but following what his eye's had seen at Assen with Surtees and the brotherhood power drifting at racing speed he's changed his mind. Some of us had already had our eye's opened but I know what he means; the MV does'nt just have charisma it invented the word.

As I said, you cannot begin to compare it to todays hyper missiles in terms of sheer performance but on open roads you'd be hard pressed to leave it far behind, certainly it would give the CBR600 a fright, its not what the MV does but a matter of just how it does it, and there its way in front.

The other area in which the MV is up front is elegance, I don't care what it is you have from europe its die cast like a Honda, or the crankcases are shored up on the outside like a Guzzi with scaffolding even Bee Em have squared off the old boxer to make it look 70 years younger, the MV has craftsman made castings, not a square edge in sight, there are 4 individual cylinder pots with twin heads and not an hour from where I'm sitting is all the spare parts the world will ever need, I'd lay money on that parts for this are easier to get from here than a new Ducati, the beauty of the frame and the rear swingarm has to be seen, you wonder where this all went to.

Yes its fire engine red with the lower fairing panels in silver like its illustrious forbears, I wish you could go out and buy this just as it is today, maybe even the US market might be receptive to style. Yes it also cost a lot, a 916SPS to be precise, although I gain with the classic insurance by around 700 pounds per annum, and maybe I'll get to ride it sometimes.

Alison H.


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Phil Aynsley Photography
Phil Aynsley Photography
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