Apart from sheer power and speed, grand prix racing motorcycles are also fascinating for the sheer technology that goes into them. And one such fascinating machine is the 500cc four-stroke Moto Guzzi V8, raced from 1955 to 1957. Apart from the two-stroke Galbusera V8 made in the late-1930s, the Moto Guzzi V8 is the only eight-cylinder racing bike ever made.
With its ‘dustbin’ fairing, the Guzzi V8 weighed 148 kilos and while the 1955 model only had 60bhp, by 1957 the liquid-cooled, DOHC, 500cc engine was making about 80 horsepower at 12,000rpm – enough for a top speed of 280km/h! The tyres of that era could barely cope with this kind of speed, the engine was temperamental and with leading link suspension at the front, the handling wasn’t too good either.
The bike’s eight 20mm Dell 'Orto carburetors were difficult to set up and drum brakes (front and rear) meant stopping power was barely adequate. The bike ran a 19-inch wheel at the front and a rather unusual 20-incher at the back, and the rider could choose between 4-, 5- and 6-speed gearboxes.
So yes, the Moto Guzzi V8 was mechanically complex and difficult to ride, but it was the bike which Guzzi believed would help them get the better of Gilera and MV Agusta in 500cc grand prix racing. But it was not to be – before the V8 could really start to assert itself, Moto Guzzi decided to withdraw from GP racing in 1957 and it was the end of the road for a glorious racebike.
Want to listen to the Moto Guzzi V8? Download this .WAV file. And here's a more detailed article on the Guzzi V8, written by Phil Schilling, published in the March 1972 issue of Cycle magazine.
A video of the Moto Guzzi V8 in action