For better or worse, motorcycles wear their insides on the outside, and their workings are an integral part of their appearance.
The Eagle has landed
For better or worse? Well, perhaps some motorcycles are over-exposed, and some of the parts on display would be better hidden. Take the Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport, for example. Is it perhaps a little too naked, maybe wears too much of its heart on its sleeve?
In the Falcone’s case, it comes by this exuberance honestly, because the basic design can be traced back, without fundamental change, to the first Moto Guzzi of 1921 and even to Guzzi’s first design, the Guzzi-Parodi prototype of 1919. Aircraft mechanic Carlo Guzzi, and aviators Giorgio Parodi and Giovanni Ravelli all served in the Italian Air Corp during WW1, when they conceived the idea of a motorcycle company. Guzzi would design the bikes, the wealthy Parodi would contribute startup capital, and Ravelli would race them.
Sadly, Ravelli was killed in the last days of the conflict, his spirit commemorated in the Guzzi eagle wings logo. Undaunted, Guzzi and Parodi set up shop in Mandello del Lario on the eastern shore of Lake Como.
The first Guzzi-Parodi borrowed much from aero engine technology, with a horizontal engine for optimum cooling, four-valve OHC cylinder head, automatic pressure lubrication and oversquare cylinder dimensions of 88 by 82mm—and an external flywheel. Drive to the integral transmission was by gear. Equally revolutionary was the frame, which used pivoted fork rear suspension with coil springs hidden in a box under the frame—an idea revived in the 1980s by Harley-Davidson.
The first production Moto Guzzi, the 1921 500cc Normale retained most of the prototype’s features except the valvetrain, substituting an inlet-over-exhaust (F-head) system. Parodi also persuaded Guzzi to go racing, a decision rewarded with a victory in the 1921 Targa Florio (circuit of Sicily) race. However it was the more conventional Corsa 2V racer of 1923 with a two-valve OHV layout, and the four-valve OHC C4V of 1924 that started Guzzi seriously on the victory trail.
Meanwhile, the basic road-going 500cc single continued into the 1930s as the GTW joined by a less expensive GTV model with lower compression. Sportier was the 26-hp GTC of 1937 with distinctive high-level, two-pipe exhaust and overhead valves. Sportiest of the pre-WW2 Guzzi 500 singles was the 28-hp Condor, a development of the GTC with alloy barrel and cylinder head and a new alloy rear subframe saved 44 pounds (20 kg).
At the close of hostilities, the GTW and GTV continued, but now with Guzzi’s own interpretation of the telescopic fork, which again went against convention, presaging the later trend to inverted types. Both machines retained their cast-iron cylinders and heads with exposed valve springs, but gained hydraulic rear dampers.
In 1946, the Dondolino replaced the Condor as Guzzi’s highest performance street racer, with 33 hp. It’s said the name (“rocking horse”) derives from the effect the extra power had on the rather elastic frame during enthusiastic cornering! Produced around the same time, but strictly for racing, the Gambalunga (“long leg”) became the only 500cc Guzzi to use different engine dimensions: 84mm bore and 90mm stroke. Both were effective in competition, the former winning the first post-war Swiss GP, and the latter chalking up victories in the Milano-Taranto road race.
In 1949, the GTV finally acquired an alloy cylinder and head and enclosed valves to become the Astore. Then for the 1951 season, the Moto Guzzi Falcone arrived. Essentially a detuned Dondolino with aluminum engine cases instead of magnesium alloy, the Falcone featured alloy wheel rims, sporty riding position, and friction dampers for the rear suspension. Although the engine produced just 23 hp at 4,500 rpm, the Moto Guzzi Falcone was considered pretty sporting for its day, and with weight of just 388 lbs. it was capable of around 85 mph.
A Falcone could also be fitted with the piston, cam and carburetor from a Dondolino to give 105-mph top speed—this at a time when, for most Italians, a powered two-wheeler meant little more than a bicycle with a motor, like the Ducati Cucciolo or Guzzi’s own Motoleggera.
The Falcone was an instant critical success, though few Italians could afford such a luxury machine, and its “styling” was too unorthodox for other markets like the UK and US. Compared with the sleek styling of Triumph’s post-WWII Twins, for example, the Guzzi had a dated, “bitsa” look. To put the Moto Guzzi Falcone’s sales into perspective, just around 20,000 were built between 1950 and 1968, with much of production going for police and military use.
In 1953, the Astore was dropped, the economy GTW became the Falcone Turismo, and the Falcone Normale was renamed Falcone Sport. It was in this form that the big singles saw out their lives with production tapering off in the 1960s. The same basic design had endured almost 50 years.
Even then it wouldn’t die. Military demand prompted Guzzi to produce the Nuovo Falcone, essentially a Falcone engine with the flywheel enclosed and fitted into modern cycle parts. Though it never achieved the acceptance (or the performance) of the “old” Falcone, more than twice as many Nuovos were built, with production ending in 1976.
It seems that, like BSA Rocket Gold Stars, there are more Moto Guzzi Falcone Sports around now than the factory produced. The reason: a few unscrupulous “restorers” have been buying up ex-police and military Turismo models, fitting them with alloy rims and other Sport cosmetic items, then selling them as genuine Sport models. The example on these pages, owned by Vancouver’s Michael Blumberg, is the genuine article: a 1963 Falcone Sport, and quite rare.
“Mine is probably a very, very late one,” says Blumberg. “Most Falcones were produced to around 1957 or so. After that … just a handful were built every so often as orders accumulated.”
I wonder if they’re still accepting orders?
– Robert Smith, August 2010 (issue#264)