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Legendary bikes: MV Agusta 500

Submitted by on October 1, 2011

Giacomo Agostini has no hesitation naming his favourite bike: the MV-Agusta 500 tre cilindri.

It was created in 1966 when he became MV’s lead rider and won seven successive premier-class crowns.

The 12-valve air-cooled triple replaced MV’s venerable eight-valve 500-4. It grew in stages (the first version was 420cc) out of the previous year’s 350-3, to counter Honda’s new 16-valve 500-4, ridden by Jim Redman and Mike Hailwood.

This was a bold strategy in a period when the usual answer to any challenge was to build an engine with more cylinders.

Seasons 1966-67 were classics in the premier class. Agostini and Hailwood won three races each in 1966. In ’67, they traded wins all year, finishing 5-all in a 10-race season, but for the second year running Agostini won the title.

Honda folded its works team in 1968 and actually paid Hailwood not to contest the GPs, leaving Agostini racing a bunch of private entrants. The title runners-up in the next four years rode, in order, a Matchless, Linto, Kawasaki and Suzuki.

What was the 500-3’s secret?

“At MV, we worked on the whole machine – engine, frame and brakes,” Agostini explained.

Australia’s Eric Hinton saw both machines in 1966 and vividly recalls one Hailwood wobble. “The MV was a racing motorcycle – properly finished – while the Honda was a racing engine slung between two wheels,” he said.

The MV specifications were: 62 by 55mm engine with 11:1 compression ratio delivering 78hp at 12,000rpm; seven gears; approximately 260km/h top speed; 118kg dry weight; steel-tube frame; 1310mm wheelbase; 240mm four-leading shoe front drum brake and 230mm twin-leading shoe rear brake.

If you’re lucky enough to see an MV triple in the flesh, marvel at how small it is and the deep bark through those tapered megaphones. Indeed a classic.

by Don Cox

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