By December, 1956, the V8 program seemed back on the rails, its problems behind it. Power was good at 72 rear-wheel hp, with ability to pull from 7000 rpm. The 1957 season started well, with an Italian Championship win and another at the Imola Gold Cup. At the German GP, Dickie Dale came fourth (behind two Gilera Fours and Walter Zeller on a BMW Twin!) while teammate Keith Campbell retired with a silent engine. Dale and Campbell were fourth and fifth at the TT, Dale running 240 of the punishing 300-odd miles on seven cylinders. Ignition was by coil and battery, for the V8’s need of 800 sparks per second was beyond the era’s magneto ability. The two circular objects on the left ends of the V8’s intake cams each contain four sets of mechanical contact-breakers. Ten years later, Honda would need 900 sparks per second for its 250 Six and would get them from a Kokusan magneto.
There followed crashes, a lap record at Spa, a broken battery wire and controversy over handling. By Monza, there were two bikes ready on stands with no one willing or able left to ride them.
How did an old company, vastly experienced and successful in racing, come to this? The first point is that high-rpm problems were new to Guzzi, whose greatest successes came with moderate-revving Singles. Precious time was wasted using crank solutions already marginal on 8000-rpm Singles, and more time was lost having better cranks built. Had Guzzi continued racing rather than withdrawing with Mondial and Gilera in 1957, Carcano had planned a one-piece, plain-insert-bearing crank of the modern type recently adopted by Ferrari. All modern F-1 and MotoGP engines have cranks of this kind. Testing is the key to reliability in racing, and Guzzi’s fits and starts show it did too little. The European postwar motorcycle boom was ending, and racing was hard to justify
Secondly, there’s the unique nature of the 500 class. Chassis and suspension solutions that work well in 250 and 350 racing may bring disaster in the 500 class, as Honda’s RC-181 would reveal in 1966-67. MV, with years of 500 handling evolution behind them, amassed points while the Honda wobbled, punished its tires and suffered mechanical DNFs. Five-hundred experience counts! Guzzi lacked it.
Although other writers respectfully tiptoe around this, Guzzi’s riders were leery or even fearful of the V8’s handling. Look at the fairing-off photo to see how far back in the chassis the engine is. In that “hard rubber” era (the words of Dunlop veteran Tony Mills), engines were moved back “to increase traction” (the opposite of what had worked for Norton), but the real effect was to unweight the front, robbing it of tire damping, allowing high-speed weave to develop.
Experience is expensive and takes time. Gilera in the early ’50s had to swallow the embarrassment of seeing its new four-cylinder beaten again and again by single-cylinder Nortons! Gilera gave up cherished suspension ideas, stiffened its chassis and developed its engine until the company dominated 500 racing. Beginning in 1948, this was a five-year process. MV followed the same path—because there is no other.
Guzzi jumped in at the deep end with much to learn and lacked the time in which to complete the process. With its manageable weight of 330 lb. (exactly what four-cylinder MotoGP bikes weigh today) and a real potential for 90 hp at 14,000 rpm, the V8 might in 1958 or ’59 have had its day in the sun. Tires would remain narrow and hard until change was forced by the 1972 coming of 100-hp Kawasaki and Suzuki two-strokes to Daytona. The Guzzi V8 rolled on 2.75 x 19-inch front and 3.00 x 20-in. rear tires.
Here it is: The Gilera and MV Fours sat at the top of 500 racing in their respective eras, essentially without competition, doing just enough development to keep their riders from complaining too much (not complaining is incompatible with a living rider). Change requires force, and Guzzi’s Ing. Carcano applied it boldly, taking up complexity, cylinder multiplication and super rpm as his tools. Guzzi failed in the attempt, but its direction was correct. It would now be up to Honda to make the revolution Guzzi had begun.