Almost by definition, racing machines don’t stay competitive for long, assuming they were competitive in the first place of course. But with innumerable and prestigious international successes achieved over much of an 18 year period, Moto Guzzi’s 500 Bicilindrica is a very notable exception.
The story starts back in the early 1930s when Guzzi needed something new to replace its aged 500cc 4-valve single-cylinder racer. At that time Guzzi’s 250, with its horizontally-mounted single cylinder, was dominant in the smaller GP class, and so Carlo Guzzi had a eureka moment when he decided to fill the vacant space above the 250’s engine with a second cylinder.
Thus was created the first 120° v-twin 500 Bicilindrica which debuted at the 1933 Italian GP. During the ensuing years the 68x68mm 494cc OHC 43bhp Guzzi achieved great success, winning, amongst much else, the Italian GP three times consecutively in the mid ‘30s. As icing on the cake, a Bicilindrica also won 1935 Isle of Man Senior TT with Stanley Woods aboard.
With supercharged, 80bhp BMWs and Gileras appearing on the scene in the mid 1930s, the by now 50hp Bicilindrica struggled on the faster courses, but it could still more than hold its own on the twistier circuits where light weight and agility was still paramount.
Concerned that the Bilcilindrica’s winning days were numbered, by late 1937 Guzzi had built a water-cooled, supercharged Bicilindrica prototype. However, whether for reasons of complexity, reliability and/or cost, it was never raced. Instead the factory concentrated on improving what it already had, and so by 1949 the Bicilindrica sported a new and lighter frame with uprated suspension, more light-alloy parts and a one-piece tank with streamlined cowling. It weighed just 144kg, and with a small frontal area it could hit 130mph.
By 1951 – the Bicilindrica’s final year and indeed the year of the fine example on sale here – power had risen to 52hp at 8,000rpm. Despite its age handicap, Fergus Anderson, (twice 350cc World Champion and Moto Guzzi’s Racing Manager from 1955), scored his first 500cc Grand Prix victory and the Bicilindrica’s last in the 1951 Swiss GP at Berne, with Guzzi team-mates Enrico Lorenzetti in third and Benoit Musy in fifth. Later in the year Lorenzetti scored the Bicilindrica’s final podium with third place in the 500cc Dutch TT at Assen. And so ended close on two decades of Bicilindrica success.
Only about a dozen Bicilindricas were built by Moto Guzzi for its factory racing team. How, why and when this extremely rare survivor found its way to South America isn’t known at the time of writing, nor why it was allowed to deteriorate there. But fortunately it was found and returned to Italy in the early 1990s whereupon it was completely restored by a team of ex Moto Guzzi Racing Department mechanics. About half of the parts were remade to original specifications, eg. the tank/cowling, rear wheel, front fork, magnesium crankcase and some ancillaries, while the other 50% is restored original.
Despite conspicuous and continued racing success, this legendary, almost mystical Guzzi never had its in-line 120° v-twin layout copied by any other manufacturer, although it did provide Fabio Taglioni with inspiration for his first Ducati v-twin… That aside, the 500 Bicilindrica is the very essence of all that is desirable in a historic racing motorcycle.