Looking at the mix of motorcycles on the roads today, it is difficult to believe that there was a time when European brands battled it out with Japanese brands for supremacy, both in the showroom and on the racetrack.
Why Japan came out on top is open to debate, although one contributing factor was that European marques tended not to have the same international focus as their Japanese peers. Arguably, timing and marketing also played their parts.
Honda, for instance, started to compete in international racing not long after several Italian manufacturers withdrew, setting up a titanic battle between themselves and MV Agusta which Honda eventually won.
But there were other, smaller, brands that threw their hats into the ring – Moto Morini being one of them.
In some ways Moto Morini’s successes came too early – winning races when the Grand Prix season featured a small number of meetings confined to Europe in the 1950s.
In 1963, after some success in the Italian Championships, Moto Morini decided to take on the best in the world in the 250cc World Championship, with Tarquino Provini only losing the title in the final race of the season in Japan to Jim Redman riding a Honda.
Potentially Moto Morini’s focus on the smaller capacity classes did it fewer favours in the eyes of the motorcycle-buying public than success in the larger categories would have done, and its similar focus in road bikes may be one cause for its undoing.
In the 1970s, Moto Morini released a range of innovative V-twin 350cc road bikes, with belt-driven camshafts, six-speed gearboxes, and electronic ignition – all quite rare in the motorcycling world at the time. The capacity was chosen because at the time in Italy larger capacity machines were hit with a punitive 38 percent tax rate.
Unfortunately, the bikes cost a similar amount as the now mighty Honda’s CB750 – making them something of an esoteric choice in markets outside Italy. That and the reversed foot controls – with the gear change on the right and rear brake on the left – which would certainly have limited its appeal. Some other 500cc models launched in the 1980s failed to excite buyers as well.
Eventually the company went into decline and was sold on, and as seems to have happened to so many of Italy’s great motorcycle brands, it has taken a fairly bumpy road back to financial health.
Small-scale production, though, may not prove the challenge for Moto Morini that it once did.
Take the new Corsaro 1200 ZZ, announced at EICMA Milan motorcycle show in late 2016.
Moto Morini aims to start deliveries in the second quarter of 2017, and claims that it will be customizable to the point that the company will even attempt to gain type approval for any modifications that would affect its road legality. The company reckons no two Corsaro 1200 ZZs will be the same.
What customers get is a street naked with a steel trellis frame wrapped around a 1,200cc V-twin engine.
The engine itself is unique, and was designed by Franco Lambertini, an engineer who apprenticed with Ferrari before moving to Moto Morini in 1970. He was the man responsible for the original 350cc V-twins, so there’s some nice continuity that he is also responsible for the Bialbero CorsaCorta 1200cc engine found here.
Moto Morini claims the hand-assembled Corsaro is as Italian as it gets, with 99 per cent of components sourced from Italian manufacturers – a goal that may seem unachievable, until you consider how many Italian companies supply race teams of the world.
For braking duties the choice was fairly straightforward, with four-piston monoblock radial-mount Brembo calipers, on twin 320mm discs at the front, and a 220mm disc and two-piston Brembo caliper at the rear. The brakes feature dual-channel ABS, which can be disabled via a handlebar-mounted switch.
Wheels are 17-inch forged alloy items.
The exhaust, with its underseat silencers – another Moto Morini solution that harks back to earlier models – is from Zard
The APTC slipper clutch should help tame the big V-twin’s torque for easier and safer riding, and is from yet another Italian company; ADLER.
Mupo, a company that supplies suspension components to World Superbike teams, is responsible for the suspension. The front fork legs are machined from billet, diamond-like carbon coating on the fork rods reduces friction, and adjustment is available to tweak preload, compression and rebound damping. At the rear is a single-shock absorber adjustable for compression and rebound damping, length, plus a remote hydraulic preload.
The dash is a race-style five-inch TFT display from AIM, with various rider choices for configuration – only the gearshift position remains on every screen.
Top-quality components are used throughout, including indicators which are machined from billet. All the lights, from indicators to brake lights to the double reflector headlights, are LED.
Plus, there are nice touches such as a 12 volt socket for running a satellite navigation system.
Because of its low-volume hand-built nature, it is highly unlikely you’re going to see more Moto Morinis on the roads than Hondas, but these days that sort of individualism is seen as a valuable thing. As is a venerable brand name like Moto Morini.