Moto Magni celebrated its 40th birthday in 2017, but it’s only in the past six years that its small but well equipped factory, run by Giovanni Magni, 59, has started using the products of the modern MV Agusta firm as the basis for creating and refining a blend of yesterday’s looks and today’s performance.
Mind you, it’s hard to think of any company more entitled than Moto Magni to use current MV Agusta hardware to produce such an authentic retrobike. For it was the firm’s founder, Giovanni’s late father Arturo who, before he passed away in December 2015 at the age of 90, led the world’s most successful ever non-Japanese GP race team to its remarkable haul of 75 road racing World Championships in 26 years, bankrolled by the profits of Count Agusta’s helicopter factory and achieved with bikes developed in MV’s former race HQ at Gallarate, just a stone’s throw from Moto Magni’s Samarate factory.
However, Giovanni’s first Magni MV tribute bike was actually a ringer, because the only thing MV about the Magni Sport 1200 S introduced 20 years ago in 1999 was its styling. For this was a palpable pastiche of the original ultra-desirable four-cylinder MV Agusta 750S streetlegal superbike, of which just 402 examples were built from 1971-75 (one of which sold in April 2018 for £96,700 ($122,108) at the Stafford Classic Show auction). That’s because the Magni lookalike was powered by a Japanese engine, the ubiquitous Suzuki 1200 Bandit motor. Despite borrowing various design cues from the original MV 750S, like its red leather hump-backed seat and the shapely so-called disco volante (flying saucer) styling of the fuel tank with tricolore paintwork (but a Gallic red, white and blue rather than the colours of the Italian flag – no, I’ve never been able to find out why), the result looked pretty ungainly, plus it was rather uncomfortable and tiring to ride.
Nevertheless, 92 examples were sold around the world during the next decade, and these have themselves become collectors’ items, even if Giovanni Magni admits it wasn’t his family company’s finest piece of work.
“The problem was that we couldn’t get access to the 750cc MV Agusta F4 engine that had finally reached production the year before,” he says. “They were backed up for at least two years with orders, and there was no other four-cylinder Italian engine to consider using instead of that. But we could obtain the Suzuki motor, and while it’s not the most beautiful engine to look at, it had excellent performance, and suited our needs. And our sales proved that it was the right decision!”
In 2013 Giovanni decided to finally introduce a modern MV-engined Magni, with the four-cylinder Storia, a classically restyled stock-framed Brutale 1090 that was unveiled at that year’s Milan Show, and continues in production today. But although he’s delivered 23 such bikes to date and has orders for more trickling in continuously, Giovanni got criticised by some Magni tifosi for merely offering a change of clothes with the Storia, since it didn’t have a bespoke Magni frame, but instead used the production MV Brutale one – which handles very well!
This was a source of serious irritation for Giovanni, so he and his brother Carlo decided to make a streetlegal three-cylinder retrobike using the 800 Brutale F3 motor in a purpose-built period-style Magni frame. The result debuted late in 2014 as the nominally streetlegal fully-faired Magni FiloRosso – Italian for ‘red line’, as in taking it to the limit – an exquisitely designed, superbly executed and classically striking streetlegal three-cylinder racer-with-lights, looking for all the world like the 500cc triple GP racer that MV’s 15-time World champion Giacomo Agostini took to seven successive 500GP World titles from 1966-72, before switching to Yamaha.
Twenty-one examples of the FiloRosso have been completed so far, all created to order in the Magni factory at a price of €30,000 upwards plus tax, depending on spec.
But now Giovanni Magni has completed the circle by coming back to where he started out, with a modern tribute to MV Agusta’s iconic 750S streetbike – but this time powered by an MV Agusta engine, not a Suzuki one. The result is called – what else? –the Magni MV Tributo 750S, and was unveiled at the last EICMA Milan Show in November with prices starting at €36,000 + tax fully built up depending on spec, or €26,000 + tax, still assembled in the Magni factory, but using a donor bike supplied by the customer.
“We won’t provide chassis kits for home assembly any more,” says Giovanni.
“If somebody supplies a donor bike we’ll always give them a discount off the list price, but we have to adapt the stock Eldor ECU and wiring loom to the new application ourselves – it’s not something you can do at home.”
He already has five orders since launching the bike at Milan, and construction of the first of these is well under way. But before its show debut, I was honoured to be allowed to be the first person to ride the prototype Tributo show bike – including Giovanni himself – beyond a 2km ride up and down the road outside the Magni factory to make sure the gearbox and brakes all worked, before bringing it to Pirelli’s Vizzola test track for yours truly to sample it in action.
This cleverly concocted creation uses an unmodified liquid-cooled Brutale 800 three-cylinder motor with rearwards-rotating 120º crank, wrapped in a TiG-welded Magni open cradle chrome-moly tubular steel frame using the engine as a fully stressed component.
It comes complete with box-section twin-shock swingarm and 18-inch wire wheels made by JoNich in Milan, with sturdy but lightweight aluminium spokes and rims, the front a 2.50in wide one with a 4.50in rear. Both are specially designed to take tubeless tyres, in this case Metzeler’s latest Racetech RR, a 110/80 front and 160/60 rear. The conventional 43mm fork and twin rear shocks all look very classic, but are in fact fully-adjustable high-spec hardware made by ORAM near Como, a small but high quality suspension manufacturer that’s recently begun making period-looking motorcycle components.
Even the shocks are individually adjustable for both compression and rebound damping, as well as preload. Axially-mounted four-piston non-Monoblock Brembo calipers grip the twin 320mm floating front discs, giving hefty braking response with a 220mm rear to arrest a bike weighing just 170kg dry, split 49/51% for a slight rearward bias.
The result is a breathtakingly beautiful tribute – yes, it’s surely the right word – to MV Agusta’s Classic heritage, which thanks to a longer 1420mm wheelbase is slightly more spacious than Magni’s previous such iteration, the FiloRosso using exactly the same completely stock ultra-compact 79 x 54.3mm 798cc F3 engine, which is likewise here painted silver. This once again makes you realise how inexcusable it is that MV Agusta should smother such a good-looking piece of mechanical art in black paint in its Brutale application, especially as thanks to its being so eye-catching, the low-mounted stock Brutale water radiator is so visually unobtrusive. Whereas the FiloRosso carried a fairing, the three-cylinder Tributo apes the four-cylinder 750S in being naked as nature intended, and the result is that even if it’s slightly longer than its Magni sister-bike, it seems even more diminutive – small, but perfectly formed.
However, there’s quite enough space to allow a 5ft 10in rider to feel comfortable on the Tributo, which is one of those bikes you just slip aboard to discover a riding stance that’s sporty but welcoming, where you feel a part of the bike from the very first. It’s so perfectly proportioned that until you sit aboard it you’ve no idea it’s so relatively tiny – quite low, but not too short, it’s perfectly packaged. The footrests don’t feel as high-set as on the FiloRosso, though the clip-on Discacciati handlebars are quite steeply raked, and carry very Seventies looking dark red Ariete rubber grips complete with a ridge along the right-hand one to make it easier to keep the light-action throttle fully wound open, just like my brand new Ducati V-twin had back in 1974!
Riding the Magni MV in just-completed prototype form meant there was only a Scitsu tacho fitted, mounted forward of the upper tripleclamp milled from solid Ergal alloy, and behind the large 190mm-diameter round headlamp shared with various Moto Morini and Guzzi models. But customer versions will carry the original MV Brutale dashboard linked to the Eldor EM2.0 ECU incorporating the Mikuni RBW/ride-by-wire throttle package. This has a choice of four riding modes – Sport, Normal/Touring and Rain, plus one Custom setting with increased options, and eight levels of switchable traction control, all to be accessible via the control pod on the Tributo’s right handlebar. Add in the full range of set up choices delivered by the ORAM suspension, and the new Magni is very much a modern motorcycle dressed in period clothing.
It’s also one of those bikes that’s simply intuitive to ride – without being at all nervous despite its quite sporting steering geometry, with the ORAM fork set at a 25º rake, with just 85mm of trail via a 60mm offset on the machined-from-solid tripleclamps. The Magni MV feels light and flickable, and goes exactly where you point it, sometimes seemingly anticipating your command. Thanks partly to the skinny 18-inch rubber it feels nimble and agile, while rock solid on the fast fourth and fifth-gear sweepers round the Pirelli track’s outer perimeter course.
It made mincemeat of even the tightest infield turns, where the wide spread of torque peaking with 62lb ft available at 8600rpm entices you to save on gearshifts in driving hard and strong out of a low speed corner – you can accelerate wide open in sixth gear from just 2000 revs without a hint of transmission snatch.
But you must keep the MV engine revving above 4000rpm for any meaningful drive, though the high 13.3:1 compression ratio will help give a jump out of a bend, allowing you to surf the waves of torque as the addictive intake roar from the trio of open 50mm Mikuni throttle bodies now deprived of their airbox – but each covered with a protective intake grille to guard against stones etc – competes with the great-sounding free-flowing non-catalyst triple-pipe exhaust’s haunting howl to deliver the evocative sound of mechanical music.
Why is it that three-cylinder bikes sound so much better than anything else on two wheels, even if silenced to meet Euro 4 requirements, which is however, very much not the case here?
“We sell all our bikes on the understanding that they’re not homologated for road use,” says Giovani Magni. “It’s up to the customer to register it in his or her own country if they want to ride it on the street, otherwise they must use it only as a track day bike.”
The reason the Tributo isn’t homologated for the street is simply one of cost, plus the time needed to add ABS, sanitise the exhaust system via a catalyst and figure out a way of wrapping the throttle bodies in some kind of airbox without destroying the bike’s allure.
Despite its period looks recalling the MV 750S the Magni Tributo’s scintillating performance is from another era – today. The F3 800 engine delivers 125bhp at 11,600rpm at the crankshaft, and combined with the Tributo’s low weight of 170kg dry with all street equipment, results in addictive acceleration from low down, as well as a determined midrange roll-on, again accompanied by that exquisite exhaust note.
Fire up the motor and it settles to a fast 1800rpm idle, but once you cross the 4000rpm threshold and achieve serious forward motion, from there until the 13,000rpm revlimiter there’s just a luscious flow of linear power which is simply – sorry, that word again: addictive. The performance is almost unexpectedly good because you’re half seduced into thinking the Tributo will behave like the oldtimer it appears to be. Not a bit of it – this is a real world ride whose stonking appetite for revs delivers modern Supersport-style poke, and the harder you rev it the more power there is for you to avail yourself of.
They don’t come a lot better than this, a bike that looks a million dollars and has performance to match, even without the gamut of rider aids that had yet to be dialled in for me to use. The default riding mode Magni was using for development was Sport, but despite that the pick-up from a closed throttle was strong but completely controllable – no snatchy or over-fierce response as on some other bikes (though to be fair, not on MV Agusta’s own 800cc family of models), just a deliciously refined feel to the whole package.
Considering the bike I rode was effectively brand-new, Giovanni Magni had done a great job of dialling in the ORAM suspension just right, so that at both ends it was very compliant and induced heaps of confidence. I could use serious turn speed without worrying about front end grip, especially thanks to those great Metzeler race-spec treaded tyres, and the way the Tributo shook off the effects of a series of bumps that have appeared over the summer on the entry into one second-gear turn – probably because of the suction effect of the latest grippy car rubber tearing up tarmac softened by the sun – was really impressive.
There was minimal front end dive under the super effective braking from high speed delivered by the Brembo stoppers, yet I could feel the front fork absorbing the bumps without any chatter on the angle as I trailbraked into the apex. Nice. And the twin rear shocks laid the MV motor’s more than acceptable level of torque to the tarmac exiting a turn – again, everything felt super-controllable, with no trace of a snatchy initial pick-up.
I’ve ridden a couple of original early-1970s 750S MV Agusta streetbikes in the past, but always found them distinctly disappointing, with a mechanically noisy engine and heavy steering, and the handling compromised thanks to the shaft final drive which Count Agusta for some reason stipulated should be fitted (leaving Arturo Magni to make a chain-drive conversion kit which sold very well!).
The first time I rode one I was hugely disappointed that the performance failed so dismally to live up to the MV’s fabulous looks, and when I rode the second of the two bikes which were built up for Ago and team-mate Alberto Pagani to ride in the 1972 Imola 200 in MV’s only factory outing under Formula 750 rules, that proved equally disappointing.
The model came devoid of any of the lightweight allure of the three-cylinder GP bikes that Ago had won copious world titles with, and at one-third of the price the contemporary Honda CB750 was a much better motorcycle, if less exclusive than the Italian bike. But almost 50 years on, Giovanni Magni has corrected the truth of time by creating the gorgeous-looking, sweet-handling, glorious-sounding 750S Tributo bearing his family’s rightly esteemed name. Job done!
Retro bikes don’t come any better than this – unless it’s the equally impressive, and evocative, fully-faired Magni FiloRosso powered by the same engine, but with a different exhaust that delivers a subtly different tune. Your choice, should you be fortunate enough to have the resources to indulge in one of these classic era counterpoints to today’s leading edge MV Agusta products…..Enjoy more Classic Bike Guide reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.