These days Bianchi is owned by Piaggio and it makes high-quality racing bicycles, but for 70 years from 1897 Bianchi also made motorcycles. In the 1920s the Milanese firm turned out various single-cylinder and v-twin machines, some of which fared well in competition, and during the ‘30s a 498cc OHC single enjoyed racing success with one of the riders being Tazio Nuvolari. By the mid 1950s Bianchi was in financial trouble and ultimately, the vehicle division was merged with Fiat and Pirelli. Bianchi soldiered on though, and even went GP racing.
Following the success of its 175 Tonale production bike in national racing in the late ‘50s, Bianchi’s chief engineer Lino Tonti – who had previously worked for Benelli and Mondial, and who from 1967 achieved greatness with Moto Guzzi – got the go-ahead for a 250 twin GP machine. The 250 racer appeared in 1960 and it featured a countershaft behind the crankshaft which drove the primary transmission and ignition. Despite this novel design, the motor proved too bulky and so Tonti built a very similar 350 version. This proved much more successful; Bianchis scored two 2nds, a 3rd and a 4th place in GPs during the 1961 350cc World Championship, with Bob McIntyre finishing a creditable 5th overall. Silvio Grassetti also managed 5th overall in the ’63 350cc title race, with Remo Venturi finishing 6th in 1964.
By now Tonti had also built a 500 Bialbero GP machine. With a 6-speed gearbox, this twin-spark 454cc motor with gear-driven overhead cams made 72bhp @ 10,200rpm, with useful power from 6,000rpm. It was reportedly easy to ride, the biggest problem apparently being wheel spin under hard acceleration.
Over the previous winter Bianchi had developed its own brakes; 4-leading shoe at the front with twin leading shoe at the rear, all 230x30mm, while the half-cradle spaceframe and suspension now provided handling to MV’s high standards.
Remo Venturi and his big Bianchi Bialbero won the 1964 Italian 500 title quite easily. Although success on the world stage was harder to come by, he also finished 2nd in the Dutch TT at Assen, being beaten only by Mike Hailwood’s MV four.
The machine on sale here was the last of very few Bianchi 500 GPs ever produced. The engine – a development of Venturi’s racer – has a crankshaft made by Hoeckle in the 1960s with rare Dell’Orto carburettors. Although not documented, the story goes that this bike had been built especially for top British rider Derek Minter, but Bianchi went bust at the end of 1964, so Minter never received it. For the same reason it was never raced either. At the same time, legend has it that the company owed Ing. Lino Tonti money, and so as payment he loaded this disassembled machine into his Alfa Giulietta and, in four separate trips, took it back to his house! The bike remained in Tonti’s ownership for the next 32 years.
Tonti died in 2002, but seven years earlier he had sold the bike to the current owner who has kept it in his collection for the past 20 years. That this very rare GP racer would be welcomed with open arms at the most prestigious classic events would be an understatement.