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Moto Parilla – A Racing Influence (Vintage)

Moto Parilla rear quarter
Moto Parilla Sport Machines

In choosing a stylized greyhound for his company logo, Giovanni Parrilla (two “r”s, unlike the company name) no doubt intended his exquisitely engineered little bikes to be pretty quick too.

Moto Parilla, was one of the earliest Italian factories into production after WWII, manufacturing its first motorcycle, a 250cc racer in 1946. Itinerant engineer Giuseppe Salmaggi (responsible for the Gilera Saturno and Moto Rumi’s racing Twins) produced the design to Parrilla’s specification, which was strongly influenced by the most successful racing engine of the day, the Norton Manx. Parrilla similarly specified a bevel/shaft drive overhead camshaft with hairpin valve springs.

The new bike first appeared at Lecco in October 1946 with Nino Grieco in the saddle, and was launched officially at the Milan show in 1947. Arousing particular interest were the huge 260mm drum brakes of the racer, quickly nicknamed padellone (frying pans). 

Moto Parilla next produced a bialbero (DOHC) version of its 250cc racer. Salmaggi designed the engine for strength and durability (no doubt with Italy’s long-distance road races in mind), keeping weight down with the use of magnesium alloy engine castings. The Parilla Bialbero is reputed to have offered a much wider powerband than usual for small-capacity racers, which was attributed to engine development on the track rather than the dynamometer. The Bialbero’s greatest success was probably its 250cc class win in the 1950 Milano-Taranto, the same year a 350cc version was announced. 

Giovanni Parrilla’s next venture seemed at first like a step backward. Credited to Salmaggi and Alfredo Bianchi, the high camshaft overhead valve 175cc single was nonetheless unique in execution and successful in competition over a period of more than a decade. The camshaft was mounted at the top of a tower formed into the left side outer crankcase cover and driven by a chain. The cams acted on two short pushrods, which in turn operated the 90-degree-spaced valves by screw-adjustable rockers. The design offered much of the advantage of an overhead cam engine, but with the simplicity of valve adjustment common to most OHV designs. 

Innovation didn’t stop with the valve operation. The built-up crankshaft used a caged roller big end with primary drive by helical gears mated to a four speed transmission, all enclosed in the same case as the engine, making for a strong, compact power unit. That the basic engine had considerable tuning potential was demonstrated with the introduction of the 14-hp Sport version in 1956 and the race-tuned Gran Sport/MSDS in 1957. Giuseppe Rottigni was first home in the 175cc class in the 1957 Giro d’Italia on a Parilla MSDS. 

Moto ParillaMeanwhile, racers in the US had noticed the success of the 175cc high-cam in competition, and requested (surprise!) bigger engine capacity. In 1962 the factory recognized the business opportunity and enlarged the 59.8 by 62mm engine, first with a larger 64mm bore giving 199cc, and then with 68mm bore and stroke for a full 247cc. It was in this final form that the high-cam had its best racing success in the US, even taking second place in the 1964 US Grand Prix with Ron Grant at the controls. 

The Gran Sport was Moto Parilla’s top of the line model, effectively a production racer. It came with alloy rims, Dell’Orto SS1 carburetor, and Parilla’s hot X1 cam profile. Early GS models up to around 1960 were mostly of 175cc capacity and used a steel tube frame similar to the MSDS racer with its distinctive curved rear sub-frame and enclosed spring/damper units. Most came with the classic Parilla “arrow” tank. 

In 1960, the 250 GS was introduced in a new frame with its characteristic diamond shape, and exposed rear springs. These were sold in the US with the Dell’Orto SS1 carburetor and X1 cam. Though these later models are better known in the US, the factory actually produced far more of the 175cc version. It’s thought that as few as 50 GS 250s were ever sold in the US, with the last being produced around 1963.

THAT FRITZ  IS A COMMITTED Italophile is obvious as soon as he opens the garage door. Inside is an orange roundcase Ducati 750 Sport with a matching orange 1974 350 Mk3D alongside, while a 1972 450 desmo “Silver Shotgun” lurks in the corner. Through another door is the inner sanctum where Fritz keeps four of the rarest of Italian sportbikes, the high-cam Moto Parillas. Stacked in a corner is a pile of Parilla engine cases, while another sits on a workbench.

Moto Parilla cylinderHow did Fritz manage to corner the market on Parillas? The first Parilla he bought, a grey 250cc Sport, came from Todd Fell’s Café Veloce restaurant in Kirkland, Washington. Fell had toured Italy to collect Italian racers to decorate his theme restaurant, but decided to part with the Parilla. Fritz knew there were no internals in the engine, but there were more surprises when he started the rebuild.

“Inside the forks where top bushes should have been were about 20 tongue depressors,” he says.

Fell also sold Fritz a rebuilt Moto Parilla engine, so it wasn’t long before the 250 was rolling.

Fritz bought the red and silver 175cc bike from a collector in Florida. The previous owner imported it from Italy, where it had been raced. 

“Bits and pieces for Parillas are very hard to find,” he says. “I can put a Ducati single together in three months, but a Parilla …”

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