Keeping Eyes Open

Moto Guzzi’s V8 was a techno-feast.

Keeping Eyes Open

With technology changing as fast as it does, it's tempting to imagine that if a gadget or idea wasn't created in the last five years, it is of no possible interest to anyone but antiquarians.

A case in point is Moto Guzzi's famed V8 Grand Prix bike of 1955–57, a beautiful creation. Yet its complexity was so ambitious that its creators couldn't keep up with its appetite for development. Why did designer Giulio Carcano waste time with half-measures that caused big-end failures? What the engine needed was strong one-piece rods with caged roller big-ends, assembled onto a multi-piece crank built with Hirth face splines. Well, the postwar motorcycle boom was already fading when the V8 was born, and that Hirth crank can't have been a cheap solution. Gilera, after all, ran practice with cheaper, simpler cranks, then put in Hirth cranks for the race itself.

Another problem was ignition—the Eight needed 800 sparks a second at 12,000 rpm. Enough magnetos for that job would've weighed as much as the whole engine! So coil-and-battery seemed the solution. But to run off and hide from the four-cylinder opposition...only to have a battery wire break? Or to lose all the coolant through a burst hose? These are the nickel-and-dime failures that testing should have nailed. But you know what they say, "No bucks? No Buck Rogers!"

But let's have another look. Isn't that a swingarm pivot, cast right into the back of the gearcase? And didn't Honda hail that in 2001 as "Pivotless Suspension?" Isn't it a feature of present-day Ducati racers? It appears it's not new.

Here's another detail: To avoid the extra weight of forests of head bolts to keep gaskets in place, present-day F-1 engines adopt liners that screw into the head—no gaskets. Here on the drawing it looks like the Guzzi V8 has this very feature. Hmmm, maybe this Carcano fellow had more than one good idea.

And by golly, it looks like this compact little V8 has vertically stacked transmission shafts—a length-saving feature found on just about every up-to-the-minute sportbike from Japan's Big Four. Yessir, here it is, right on the drawing. But in our era, we reckon this concept is from Yamaha's adoption of it on the YZR500 GP bike at the end of the 1983 season. Carcano had the idea 28 years before that.

So the bottom line is, good ideas are everywhere and we should keep our eyes open—without historical prejudice.