Can Italians do anything without an overwhelming sense of style? Beauty is everywhere here in Italy—and it’s spread itself like butter on warm toast the world over—or perhaps that should be “Italian racing red over hot gas tanks” because that’s pretty much what I’ve come to talk about.
On my way to the boot I discovered the exhibit Moto Bellissima: Italian Motorcycles From the 1950s and 1960s at the San Francisco International Airport terminal while I waited on the first leg of my Air France flight headed for Paris. I can tell you: airports have improved at least as much as seats in airplanes have shrunk in the last 30 years. But back to these motos.
The Italian wartime recovery required cheap transportation options, cheap meaning the same as today only cheaper, vehicles that got 100 miles to the gallon. But do you think that Italians could just throw something together cheaply and let it out the door? Nah, they created enduring art. Just look at the details on the right. It is a pair of carburetors feeding pistons just larger than a thimble. The perfect duet, duetto.
Imagine this (from the exhibit):
The Italian government assisted a beleaguered industry in 1959 with a revision to its Highway Code that allowed anyone over the age of fourteen to operate, unlicensed, any internal combustion vehicle “not exceeding 50cc and able to travel on a horizontal road at a top speed of 27 miles per hour.” Manufacturers competed for a whole new generation of riders with a variety of innovative small-displacement motorcycles, including Moto Morini’s Corsarino, FB Mondial’s Record, and Italjet’s Mustang Veloce. They all used a piston the size of a shot glass, and were all easily modified to achieve speeds of up to sixty miles per hour.
Could your government do that for you? It’s not that way these days, of course, but the actions of the backroom boys with the cigars sure made Italy the place to go to zip around on a snazzy moto between trips to the bar for a quick Caffè and a gawk at the girls.
It was the time of great and optimistic Italian pop music—and a time when space exploration was becoming a reality. Italians went nuts over the concept of a flying saucer, making the MV Agusta CSS Disco Volante (flying saucer) the hit of the show. It gets the name from the smooth, wing-like bulges from its tank, as you can see in the picture above right. Alfa created a car with the same moniker.
Italian racing red. You’ll see a lot of that when you start looking at Italian motos, and this exhibit was no exception.
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