FROM THE ARCHIVES: In theory

Just before the original company collapsed, MV Agusta built a ferociously fast, pushrod parallel twin. Who needs four cylinders, overhead cams and water-cooling?

PHOTOS BY Kay Eldridge of FocusedImage.com.au

“I’VE LOVED THESE bikes since I was a teenager,” says Rowan, proud owner of the 350S you see here. However, it took nearly four decades for Rowan’s teenage dream to come true – living in Australia probably didn’t help. MV built its 349cc pushrod parallel twins for seven years in the 1970s, but the square-case Ipotesi was only produced in the latter 18 months of the 350’s life, which makes Rowan’s 1977 edition one of the final few. Fewer than 2000 were built in total so they’re not exactly common, even on mainland Europe. Hence it’s hardly surprising it took him a while to locate this example.

Don’t fall for the oh-so mid-70s squared-off styling and cute cast wheels. MV’s small-capacity twins had their mechanical roots firmly planted in the 1950s

The 350 first appeared at the Milan Show in 1971 as the 350GT tourer and the sportsbike 350B (aka the 350S, depending on the year and market). The over-square, unit construction ohv twin was a development of the 250 twin, which in turn harked back to earlier MV roadsters. While there’s nothing wildly innovative about the 350’s engineering, the alloy cylinder block and heads, with two lightweight valves per cylinder operated by short pushrod rockers, made the most of its compact architecture, twin Dell’Orto carbs and free-breathing exhaust to deliver 28bhp. This equated to a satisfactory top speed of more than 90mph, but there was more to come. The package was upgraded for 1972 with 12v electrics and electronic ignition to create the Elettronica, while flash Ferrari designer Giorgetto Giugiaro devised the next incarnation – the square-case Ipotesi. (Which means ‘hypothesis’. No, we don’t know why he gave it that name. Do you?)

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The prototype Ipotesi appeared in 1973 and was all angular lines and sharp corners, from the bodywork to the cylinder castings to the head finning, clutch cover and primary case. Nor were the changes merely cosmetic; the 350S now output 34bhp at 8500rpm through a five-speed gearbox, which boosted its maximum velocity from ‘respectable’ to ‘remarkable’ for a pushrod four-stroke. The 350S could comfortably exceed 100mph and, fitted with the optional fairing, was timed at 106mph in 1977. That put it on a par with mass-produced 400cc two-strokes from Japan; a significant achievement for a small concern which had recently lost its leading light and was slowly slipping into obscurity. So it was a woeful shame that it took two whole years for MV to deliver the Ipotesi to the showrooms. Even worse, the 350S cost £1412 in the UK: as much as a four-cylinder 750.

Nor were roadtests universally flattering. On Two Wheels reported that it “shakes and vibrates like hell… the engine clatters into life and keeps clattering until the oil warms.” Starting was “a difficult and sometimes dangerous affair.” The 350 boasted decent compression and starting from cold demanded repeated, committed hefty kicking. That’s not easy to accomplish using a left-side kickstart lever with very little clearance between the ankle and the footrest on the down-stroke. The 350 was also infamous for kicking back when cold. And the kickstart lever itself could snap.

Once running, however, the MV definitely delivered. “Performance is good by any standards and exceptional for a 350.” The extremely rigid single downtube frame exploited all the grip that the skinny Metzeler tyres could provide, ably assisted by a ferocious set of triple Scarab discs. The right-foot gearchange operation harked back to earlier eras with its one-up and four-down pattern of operation. Cog-swapping was beautifully smooth on the move although neutral was elusive. “Ride crazily and it will take it,” said On Two Wheels, but “ride smoothly and the MV will get quicker and quicker.”

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On the other hand, there was plenty not to like about the Ipotesi. The switchgear was extremely clumsy, with the indicator cluster oddly located on the right where it interfered with throttle operation. The right footrest was strangely positioned, which made gearchanging awkward. It wouldn’t tick over in city traffic. The speedo needle dithered between 30 and 60mph so riders had to judge velocity by the rev counter, and it seeped oil from the tacho drive. After 300 miles in a single day, the drive chain had stretched into extinction (and had to be replaced after just 2200 miles), while the bumps on the twistgrip had raised blisters on the rider’s hand. The paint had already lifted off the top yoke and the chainguard, revealing rust underneath. Its appearance was marred by cheap, tacky decals.

There wasn’t a lot of vibration at engine speeds of less than 3000rpm… but there wasn’t a lot of action, either. Motorcycle Sport reported that “the performance of the package is by no means gutless but the revs have to be used to maintain the progress the chassis demands.” Things got interesting at five grand, which also happened to be the harshest point in the rev range. However, the apparently uncompromising riding position was “surprisingly comfortable”, the effect of the vibes faded away over longer distances and the gear ratios were “superbly placed”.

“It could be leaned at seemingly impossible angles and would take full power without question.” Indeed, the tester rapidly found he had run out of revs and he “started silently wishing for more.” The Ipotesi is almost the very definition of a single-minded Italian sports bike, one that only encourages its rider to thrash rapidly along. “I had been travelling at speeds of 85-90mph and I honestly didn’t realise this. Such was the bike’s tremendous handling, roadholding and braking potential, I had not exceeded my own personal safety limits. The MV is built for going fast: everywhere.”

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So, it’s entirely understandable that such a machine might make a huge impression on a young man in Australia, especially as the 350 was featured in a couple of local publications in the late 1970s. When Rowan finally bought his bike in 2014 it looked reasonable, but wasn’t running. It had rusty exhausts, scruffy cosmetics and the brakes were seized – par for the course with this model. New pipes were sourced at some expense from Motostoriche in Italy. Rowan overhauled the mechanicals, made new brake pistons and fitted new pads, as well as checking through an engine that had done less than 6000 miles from new.

When our photos were being taken, Rowan was still getting to grips with the character of his uncompromising Italian classic. He confirms that starting is “a chore because of the awkward position of the kickstarter,” and reckon the electrics are “interesting”. Anyone who’s considering a similar purchase should definitely lay eyes on the actual bike and not just view it online. “You need to be sure that it’s all there because some parts can be very hard to find.” But he reckons the rewards of ownership are well worth the aggravation.

“You can’t beat it for Italian style and flair. It sounds magnificent.”

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