Founded in Bologna in 1937 by Alfonso Morini, Moto Morini was formerly a small but prestigious family concern whose sporting flair brought it widespread respect as an underdog capable of defeating larger motorcycle manufacturers, leading to deserved commercial success.
The most famous Moto Morini racer was the bike widely recognized as the world’s ultimate 4-stroke racing Single – the 12,000-rpm 37-hp twin-cam 250cc Grand Prix contender on which Morini’s solitary works rider Tarquinio Provini came so close to winning the 250 GP World title in 1963, finishing two points behind Jim Redman’s 4-cylinder Honda.
By then, Morini had established a loyal following for its 125/175cc sporting Singles like the Rebello, Settebello, and Corsaro. Giacomo Agostini actually began his racing career on a Morini, attracting the attention of Count Agusta by winning the 1964 Italian 250cc title on one before switching to the far wealthier MV team. By the time he passed away in 1969, Alfonso Morini could be well-satisfied with a lifetime of two-wheeled achievement.
Moto Morini’s management was taken over after Alfonso’s death by his daughter, Gabriella, who wisely diversified the company’s model line in 1973 by introducing the family of bikes powered by the ultra-distinctive air-cooled Heron-headed 72-degree V-Twin high-cam pushrod engine developed by the firm’s new chief engineer, former Ferrari designer Franco Lambertini. Debuting in 350cc form with the 3½ Strada, with later 500cc V-Twin and spinoff 250cc single-cylinder variants, more than 85,000 of these groundbreaking motorcycles were built over the next two decades, gaining Moto Morini a loyal following around the world.
This was the first volume production streetbike from any manufacturer to be fitted with electronic ignition, toothed-belt camshaft drive, a dry clutch, and a 6-speed gearbox. The Kanguro trail bike, which followed later, surfed the wave of popularity of dual-sports and was a hit in showrooms. But, although profitable, Moto Morini’s small production volume of around 10,000 bikes a year wasn’t capable of generating enough capital for the rising costs of developing a new range of bikes. After an abortive attempt in 1981 to produce an 84-hp turbo version of the 500cc V-Twin, Gabriella Morini sold the company to the Castiglioni brothers’ burgeoning Cagiva empire in 1987.
The Castiglionis couldn’t resist the chance to acquire such a historic marque, especially when it came with such a fine piece of real estate as the Moto Morini factory located in what was then a prime Bologna residential suburb not far from the Ducati plant they already owned. They commissioned design guru Massimo Tamburini to produce a modern sportbike addition to the V-Twin Morini range, which duly arrived in 1988 as the full-enclosure Dart, closely modeled on the same designer’s Ducati 750 Paso and Cagiva Freccia 125.
But while Moto Morini’s Excalibur custom models continued to sell well, the Dart’s air-cooled pushrod engine was too archaic to appeal to the sportbike customer, and although Lambertini already had its successor up and running on the dyno in the form of a liquid-cooled fuel-injected 720cc 8-valve 67-degree V-Twin of advanced design, the rival Ducati faction in the Cagiva empire headed by Massimo Bordi ensured the Castiglionis’ development cash was directed toward its own 851cc desmoquattro V-Twin design. Starved of funds, the new Morini V-Twin motor never saw the light of day, Lambertini joined Piaggio to design scooters, the Morini factory was knocked down and redeveloped (netting a tidy profit for Cagiva, helping refuel Ducati’s revival), and Moto Morini production petered out in 1992.
American investment firm TPG’s acquisition of Ducati from Cagiva at the end of 1996 brought Moto Morini with it, leaving the Castiglionis to find a buyer for a marque they’d ended up owning by default. In 1999, a sale was concluded to Morini Franco Motor, founded in 1957 in the Bologna suburb of Casalecchio by Alfonso Morini’s nephew, Franco. Producing over 100,000 engines a year, mainly for scooters, MFM also manufactured Benelli’s range of 3-cylinder motors, as well as the Bimota 500cc Vdue 2-stroke engine.
In 2003, a joint venture to relaunch the Moto Morini marque was formed between MFM and the three locally based Berti brothers, keen motorcyclists as well as successful industrialists. The Bertis acquired 50% of the new company, with MFM boss Maurizio Morini bringing the Moto Morini brand to the table. The marque’s former chief engineer, Franco Lambertini, had already joined MFM from Piaggio in 1997 and quickly developed the all-new 1,187cc 87-degree V-Twin CorsaCorta engine powering the Corsaro 1200, the reborn marque’s first model. The Corsaro and its later 9½ Granpasso and Scrambler sibling models established a well-earned reputation for muscular performance and mechanical reliability, which saw the Corsaro win successive Naked Bike magazine shootouts against its 2- and 3-cylinder competition.
Having reestablished the Moto Morini marque with a sound product and solid corporate structure, the Berti brothers accepted Maurizio Morini’s offer to cash in their share of the business in January 2007, transferring their half of the partnership to him and exiting the motorcycle industry. Moto Morini was back in the hands of the family that founded it – just in time for its future to be threatened by the Great Recession. The company went into voluntary liquidation in September 2009 and was sold by the liquidator in 2011 to two Milan-based entrepreneurs, investor Ruggeromassimo Jannuzzelli and banker Sandro Capotosti. Production restarted in April 2012 in a new, much smaller factory south of Milan, with the debut of a new model, the Rebello 1200 Giubileo, to celebrate Moto Morini’s 75th birthday.
Moto Morini had manufactured 4,000 bikes during its five years of existence after being relaunched at the end of 2004 up to its closure in 2010, with a maximum of 1,600 bikes produced in any one year. In 2016, Jannuzzelli took 100% control of the company and continued to invest in new models while addressing the single biggest hurdle to Moto Morini’s future success: making potential customers aware of what many considered to be the best-kept secret in the motorcycling marketplace.
In October 2018, Jannuzzelli passed on that task to Mr. Chen Huaneng, owner of China’s Zhongneng company, a maker of scooters and small-capacity motorcycles. The X-Cape was the first new Moto Morini model to be developed under Zhongneng ownership and has now been followed by its Seiemmezzo twin sisters, the SCR and STR.
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