Harley-Davidson's dead ends: They were into VR before ‘VR’ meant VR

The Harley-Davidson VR 1000 had a frustrating history in AMA Superbike racing. The idea of building a competitive superbike first occurred to a small, renegade group in Milwaukee, in 1988.

 Pascal Picotte rode the wheels off the VR1000 for a couple of years. And occasionally rode the valves, piston crowns, and other engine internals a little too hard. Early in the bike’s race history, H-D mechanics actually ran a 1% premix to improve top-end lubrication.

Pascal Picotte rode the wheels off the VR1000 for a couple of years. And occasionally rode the valves, piston crowns, and other engine internals a little too hard. Early in the bike’s race history, H-D mechanics actually ran a 1% premix to improve top-end lubrication.

It may have been a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Harley farmed out most of the v-twin motor’s design to Roush Racing. Steve Scheibe, an engineer at Roush ended up moving to Harley to manage the project. Scheibe brought in a friend, Pete Mohar, who ran an engineering consultancy called Gemini Technology Systems to work on other aspects of the bike, while the chassis was the responsibility of Mike Eatough.

They were all smart guys but the VR 1000 took a long time to get off the drawing board. It was conceived in 1988, but wasn’t raced until ’96. In that interval, competitors’ bikes improved by leaps and bounds. Harley hired Miguel Duhamel, who’d spent the previous season racing in the 500GP World Championship, but even he wasn’t really competitive on it.

Harley stuck with the VR 1000 for five racing seasons. The bike showed flashes of brilliance, such as the time Chris Carr put it on the pole for a Superbike race in Pomona, or the time Tom Wilson crossed the finish line first at Mid-Ohio, only to have the results put back a lap due to a red flag. Harley finally killed the project in 2001.

 
 This text is excerpted from my  Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia . (The first  Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia  was an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

This text is excerpted from my Second Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia. (The first Bathroom Book of Motorcycle Trivia was an Amazon best-seller, but let's face it: we all know that when it comes to reading on the john, 'number two' is even more satisfying.)

Ant West again!?! Here's what I wrote in 2012...

I have no way of knowing what banned substance turned up in Ant West’s pee this time, but last time the Aussie’s urine was contaminated by bullshit. In 2012, I wrote the following column under the title, “In the Ant West case, it's the FIM and MotoGP who are acting like dopes”.

I’ll update this post when and if I get information on West’s specific infraction but until then it’s useful to realize that motorcycle racing is a little different than putting the shot.

 This image courtesy of the incomparable David Emmett’s Twitter feed. If you don’t follow @Motomatters, you should.

This image courtesy of the incomparable David Emmett’s Twitter feed. If you don’t follow @Motomatters, you should.

Herewith my column from 2012. (Shameless plug: If you appreciate this kind of long-form writing, you’ll like reading my book, ‘On Motorcycles: The Best of Backmarker’. Buying a copy would be a great way to tip your hat… and me.)

An Australian guy, named Anthony, tests positive in a random drug test. 

That sounds like the beginning of an old joke, where the punch-line is 'Anthony Gobert'. 

But Ant West's retroactive disqualification from the French Moto2 event (where the sample was taken, in May) and 30-day ban (beginning October 30, in the wake of the recent ruling by the FIM's International Disciplinary Court) are not the same thing as the "Go-Show's" repeated recreational drug transgressions. Here's why...

West tested positive for methylhexaneamine. This 'drug', which is extracted from geranium plants, is a mild stimulant that wears off in hours. It's similar to caffeine. No expert believes it's a meaningful performance aid even in sports like running or rugby. Methylhexaneamine certainly didn't influence the results of the French Moto2 race, in which West finished 7th, almost one second behind Pol Espargo and six seconds ahead of Max Neukirchner.

Methylhexaneamine confers only a trivial advantage, but it's actually a pretty frequent drug 'catch' in doping controls. Want to know why? 

It's a common ingredient in body-building and training supplements. Putting it in training supplements isn't any different than chugging a Muscle Milk shake followed by an espresso shot before hitting the gym. (That, in fact, is my formula.) The makers of those supplements are under no real pressure to even list all their ingredients, nor is there a standardized nomenclature for ingredients. An athlete that wanted to avoid methylhexaneamine would have to look for...

Geranium -oil, -extract, -flower, -stems, -leaves, Methylhexaneamine; Methylhexanamine; DMAA (dimethylamylamine); Geranamine; Forthane; Forthan; Floradrene; 2-hexanamine, 4-methyl-; 2-hexanamine, 4-methyl- (9CI); 4-methyl-2-hexanamine; 1,3-dimethylamylamine; 4-Methylhexan-2-amine; 1,3-dimethylpentylamine; 2-amino-4-methylhexane; Pentylamine, 1, 3-dimethyl-.

...and that's not even an exhaustive list.

West's 30-day ban (which he has until Sunday to appeal) has the effect of denying him a start in the season finale in Valencia. I'm not sure if, according to FIM rules, he can partake in early post-season tests or whether the ban applies to competition only. Either way, though, it's bullshit.

The irony of West's ban, in a sport in which riders routinely expose themselves to deadly risk, and where there is a traveling doctor in the paddock at all times whose main duty is to provide pain-killing drugs to riders who want to compete with injuries, should not be lost here. That irony is doubled by the fact that West's ban is for a mild stimulant. Presumably he'd've been fine if he'd glugged down a Monster Energy or Red Bull, since those companies are major sponsors.

The FIM and MotoGP have voluntarily acquiesced to WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency. Thus, the unique drug control 'needs' of motorcycle racing have been replaced by WADA's one-list-suits-all approach. A big part of the FIM's embrace of WADA actually goes back to the chip motorsport has on its shoulder about whether racers are athletes. ("Look, our guys have to pee in a cup just like Lance Armstrong.") 

WADA itself warrants some skepticism. What began as a legitimate and generally-agreed-as-necessary quasi-independent organization supervising doping control at the Olympics quickly became an IOC-style old-boys club of its own. 

To grow, WADA convinced non-Olympic sports governing bodies to sign up; the FIM pays WADA dues and relies on its testing and protocols. (Half WADA's funding comes from sports governing bodies, and half comes from national governments.) Now WADA, an organization that justifies its existence by catching athletes who have an 'adverse analytical finding', has an incentive to create the longest-possible list of banned substances -- and in effect to ban substances on the flimsiest evidence that they could confer an advantage in any of hundreds of sports. 

The range of sports that have now agreed to turn over their doping controls to WADA is so diverse that athletes face the risk of being banned for the accidental use of drugs that put them at a disadvantage. Stimulants are banned across the board, so they're banned in shooting sports. Jockeys are tested for all manner of steroids.

It would be great if common sense could prevail, and the FIM and MotoGP could consult a few experts  and -- once they'd determined that West didn't gain an advantage or even knowingly cheat -- void WADA's finding. It would be great if the FIM told WADA, "Hey, you give us all the drug reports, and let us decide who's cheating." Instead, WADA and the FIM spent five months smelling and tasting West's piss, holding the test tube up to the light, and then announced West's 30-day ban.

The Lance Armstrong debacle (and BALCO before that) proves that in sports where doping can and does influence results, WADA in particular and doping control, generally, is still playing catch up to the cheaters. Motorcycle racing needs to police the use of recreational drugs for safety's sake, and to keep an eye on performance-enhancing drug technology. But WADA's exhaustive list of banned substances and the FIM "court's" decision in West's case is bullshit

Why I don't give a shit about Romano Fenati's career

Unless you’ve been living in the Tora Bora cave complex, you’ve already heard all about Romano Fenati’s famous ‘brake grab’ in the Misano Moto2 race.

Fenati got into it with Stefano Manzi after Manzi pushed him wide a corner or two earlier. Manzi was not completely innocent; race direction imposed a penalty on him, too. But Fenati’s retaliation was pretty spectacular. He caught up to Manzi on the straight, reached over with his left hand and grabbed Manzi’s front brake. Manzi didn’t crash, though he might have done.

The incident was captured on Misano’s CCTV system. Fenati was black flagged, and soon after we got word that he’d received a two-race ban.

That sparked its own outrage, by riders and racing insiders who argued – especially in light of Fenati’s history of, shall we say, anger-management issues – that he should have received a much harsher penalty. Cal Crutchlow vehemently declared he should be banned for life. Frantic motorcycle journalists further degraded the signal-to-noise ratio by saying Fenati should be charged with attempted murder.

In the end, the two-race ban was moot; Fenati was dropped by his current team and, for good measure, MV Agusta reneged on his 2019 contract. But wait, there’s more: the Italian motorcycle federation took away his racing license, effectively putting his entire career on hold. Then, the FIM called him onto the carpet. Fenati, overwhelmed, announced he was quitting racing altogether and going back to school.

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Predictably, while those dominoes were falling, I read a few comments to the effect of, “Well, maybe a lifetime ban is excessive”; “Could he get counseling?”, and; “You know, other racers have done some daft and dangerous things without such draconian punishment…” Finally, even Stefano Manzi released a statement suggesting that a lifetime ban was certainly too strong a reaction to Fenati’s intemperate grab.

I say, “So what?” I don’t give a shit whether that two seconds of bad judgement permanently derail Romano Fenati’s career, and it’s not because I think the offense was so egregious as to make a lifetime ban the only appropriate punishment, or because I think Fenati lacked the talent to be in a World Championship in the first place. (I do not think either of those things, BTW.)

The reason I don’t give a shit is, up-and-coming careers are derailed all the time. A young rider’s climb from youth racing, to national and then international racing, up the pyramid towards MotoGP – that climb is inherently incredibly precarious.

Young riders’ careers are derailed when they have an ordinary fall but an unlucky bounce, ending their career before it starts by injury. Or because by sheer fluke they’re paired on a team with an even greater prodigy who makes them look slow only in comparison, but that impression taints them when teams are recruiting for the next level. Or when a team manager makes the wrong frame choice. Or, more likely, when their dad simply can’t afford the massive, six-figure investment that has to be made to get a young rider the experience they need to even seek sponsorship.

Before Misano, no one looked at Fenati and thought, “He shouldn’t be here.” He already had a reputation as a hothead, but he was a fast hothead. So what? On his rise through the ranks to Moto2, he managed to swim while other riders – who were every bit as talented and probably slightly more worthy human beings – sank.

Fenati’s dream, I’m sure, was to make it to MotoGP, win races, get a factory ride, and win the Championship. That is not something that talent alone can possibly guarantee. Along the way, careers get derailed all the time, often for random reasons utterly beyond a rider’s control. Only a handful of the dozens of Moto2 riders in that Misano race are destined to get a call-up to MotoGP and of those, most will only linger at the back of the grid and bottom of the points table for a season or two and then they’ll be forgotten.

So who cares whether the initial ban was too lenient, or the Italian Federation went too far pulling his license altogether, or MV Agusta went too far tearing up an entire year’s contract? All around the world, in classes from Metrakits and underbones to World Superbikes and MotoGP, riders’ careers have been – and will continue to be – derailed for less.

Fenati, at least, was the architect of his own misfortune. We’re only talking about him because the moment his career came to a premature end was captured on video. Did he deserve a de facto lifetime ban? That’s irrelevant; young racers’ careers are derailed for random reasons, deserved or not, all the time.

If you can’t handle that, you need to take a cue from Romano Fenati; quit and go back to school.

 
 If you dig this kind of philosophical rambling about motorcycle racing, you’ll love my book ‘On Motorcycles: The Best of Backmarker’. Buy it on Amazon right now by clicking on the cover, or read it tonight on Kindle for less than ten bucks  here ..

If you dig this kind of philosophical rambling about motorcycle racing, you’ll love my book ‘On Motorcycles: The Best of Backmarker’. Buy it on Amazon right now by clicking on the cover, or read it tonight on Kindle for less than ten bucks here..

Harley's dead ends: Nova? Or ‘no va’?

 Ironically, the decision to kill the Nova project helped create the circumstances that led Vaughn Beals’ employee buyout, and ultimately saved Harley-Davidson from a slow death under AMF control.

Ironically, the decision to kill the Nova project helped create the circumstances that led Vaughn Beals’ employee buyout, and ultimately saved Harley-Davidson from a slow death under AMF control.

In the late 1970s, Harley spent millions on the Nova project; designing and prototyping v-twin, v-four, and v-six motorcycles ranging from 800-1,500cc displacement. The Nova motors would be liquid-cooled, with overhead cams. The intent was to take on increasingly sophisticated and powerful bikes coming from Japan. 

So, what killed the Nova? It wasn’t a technical problem; it was corporate bureaucracy.

At the time, Harley-Davidson was owned by American Machine and Foundry. AMF had two divisions, one focused on industrial equipment and the other focused on leisure products. 

A change in AMF management led to a new strategy. They decided to use the leisure division as a cash cow (or should I say, ‘cash hog’?) while pumping capital investment into the industrial division. Harley had already spent about $15 million on the Nova project, with 30 working prototype motors and a dozen complete bikes, but there was no way AMF would allow the company to make the capital investment required for new tooling and assembly lines.

Weirdly compelling motorcycle movie: Roadside Prophets

This 1992 film was written and directed by Abbe Wool (she also wrote the critically acclaimed Sid and Nancy screenplay.) 

‘Prophets…’ is a wacky road-movie that stars L.A. punk icon John Doe and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz. They’re two guys on Harleys, riding from L.A. to Nevada, looking for a place to dispose of a comrade’s ashes.

Wool roped in an incredible cast of supporting actors, from John Cusack to Timothy Leary (the LSD guru) and Arlo Guthrie. The script is antic, but the cast makes it all work. Doe also scored the film, and the music’s great.

You can watch the entire film on YouTube for free, here.

 
 One of the many trivia categories in this book is ‘Weirdly compelling motorcycle movies.” Where else are you going to get a year’s worth of reading on the john, including tips on what to watch when nothing on Netflix or Amazon catches your eye? (Something obviously caught John Cusack’s!) Click the cover to buy the book, and you can score a bonus point with your wife or room-mate by cleaning up that dog-eared pile of magazines on the back of your toilet.

One of the many trivia categories in this book is ‘Weirdly compelling motorcycle movies.” Where else are you going to get a year’s worth of reading on the john, including tips on what to watch when nothing on Netflix or Amazon catches your eye? (Something obviously caught John Cusack’s!) Click the cover to buy the book, and you can score a bonus point with your wife or room-mate by cleaning up that dog-eared pile of magazines on the back of your toilet.

Obscure motorcycle fact worth Knowing: 'A View to a Kill'

 Even Grace Jones couldn’t help this Bond franchise nadir.

Even Grace Jones couldn’t help this Bond franchise nadir.

‘A View to a Kill’ may be one of the worst James Bond films. But while the film was set in the 1980s, with a plot involving horse racing, it was inspired by a short story about motorcycle riding.

Ian Fleming created the James Bond character in a series of novels and short stories. From a View to a Kill was one short story in an anthology titled ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

 Spy novelist Ian Fleming worked in the British Naval Intelligence Division during WWII. He was involved in the creation and oversight of 30 Assault Unit – an elite commando group. The plot of  A View to a Kill  is fairly similar to some of the things that the commandos of 30 Assault Unit actually did.

Spy novelist Ian Fleming worked in the British Naval Intelligence Division during WWII. He was involved in the creation and oversight of 30 Assault Unit – an elite commando group. The plot of A View to a Kill is fairly similar to some of the things that the commandos of 30 Assault Unit actually did.

In the story, Bond investigates the murder of a motorcycle dispatch rider, who was killed while delivering secret documents in France. To catch the killer, Bond impersonates a courier on similar mission. The assassin tries to kill Bond but (of course) the spy is ready for him. Bond kills the killer, and then uncovers his hidden base of operations.  

Pilgrimage: Museo Agusta

 The museum doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside...

The museum doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside...

Getting from Kansas City to Varese, Italy, basically involves traveling for about 24 solid hours. So one Sunday morning in March, I arrived at my hotel exhausted but determined to stay awake until evening. I figured that way, I’d avoid the worst of the jet lag, and take best advantage of a free day – a rare thing, for a motorcycle journalist on a ‘launch’ junket. (I was scheduled to tour the factory and interview Giovanni Castiglioni on Monday, ride a new MV Agusta motorbike on Tuesday, and fly home on Wednesday.)

I had heard there was an MV Agusta museum about 20 kilometers away, near the helicopter works in Cascina Costa. Judging from the museum’s web site, it was primarily devoted to the aviation business, but there seemed to be quite a few motorcycles on display, too. Like a lot of small European museums, the opening hours were intermittent, but it was supposed to be open from 2-5 pm. All in all, a perfect way to kill a few hours and keep myself awake.

 ...there are dozens of great motorcycles, including many race bikes and unique prototypes.

...there are dozens of great motorcycles, including many race bikes and unique prototypes.

As usual on such trips, MV Agusta had provided a ride from the airport in Milan to the hotel, and they were scheduled to pick me up on Monday and drive me to the factory. But I was on my own when it came to getting around on this day off.

I set off on foot from the hotel, jumping puddles in pelting rain. I counted on finding the train station by dead reckoning. That was more difficult than it should’ve been. Two or three desperate immigrants were sleeping in there, under piles of blankets needed both for an illusion of privacy and warmth.

Italians kill time waiting for the train by making out. I accidentally made eye contact with a guy whose expression in the U.S. would almost certainly have conveyed, What are you looking at? But here it was more like, Yeah, she’s cute, isn’t she? They too deserved an illusion of privacy, so I looked off into the grey distance, where a helicopter buzzed. The whole region’s still a hub of helicopter- and aviation-related industry.

In Galarate, I grabbed a cab; a BMW that the guy drove as though he’d never heard of aquaplaning. But when we got to the museum, the gates were all locked—even though according to the ‘museum hours’ sign on the gate it should’ve been open.

 My guide was the museum's motorcycle restorer, Cesare Tobaldo.

My guide was the museum's motorcycle restorer, Cesare Tobaldo.

I guessed that it was possible that if I’d waited, someone would have come to open it but my cheap-o phone plan doesn’t offer European service at all, so I had no way to get a cab to come back. I told the cabbie to take me straight back to the train station. He spoke no English at all, but my Italian’s good enough to understand his suggestion, which was that there was a bigger and better aviation museum nearby that would be open. I told him, No.

Again, as we got close to the train station, he pointed out Galarate’s modern art museum. My Italian’s not quite good enough, any more, to communicate that for me, it’s motorcycles or nothing.

40 Euros lighter, I got back on a train to Varese. At that point I opened by backpack for the first time, and realized that while my umbrella had been keeping the rain off me, the backpack and its contents were soaked. Luckily I’d pulled almost everything—especially my passport—out of it. Damage report: a half-filled Moleskine and the Italian-English dictionary I bought way back when I was writing ‘Searching for Spadino’.

I had another long walk from the train station back up to the hotel, at which point I was happy to take a long hot shower and install myself in the hotel bar.

The next day while I waited for my interview appointment with Castiglioni, I told MV Agusta’s PR director, Alessia Riboni, my ‘museum was closed’ story. After my talk with the boss, Alessia came back to show me out and said, "Our driver will take you to Gallarate, drop you at a roundabout where Giovanni Magni will pick you up and take you to the museum"

Me: "It's closed Monday."

Alessia: "They're opening it for you."

Giovanni parked, and called someone on his mobile. An old gentleman, Cesare Tobaldo, appeared at the door, recognizing Giovanni, he unlocked it and let us in, then locked it again behind us. Perhaps I’m too Canadian, because that kind of special treatment is a little embarrassing to me.

Tobaldo apologized; the museum should have been open when I’d arrived on the previous Sunday afternoon. But that morning, the museum had a big group come through, and the staff were not able to shoo them out in time to close for lunch at noon. Since no Italian can properly eat a Sunday lunch in less than two hours, they decided to reopen the museum at 2:30. I had arrived in the interim.

I got over my embarrassment when I realized that the museum has a much bigger collection of bikes than I expected, and I was getting the ultimate private tour, accompanied by Giovanni Magni (whose dad Arturo had been Giacomo Agostini’s lead mechanic, and who is himself a leading restorer of MV Agustas) and guided by Cesare, who it turns out is the museum’s own restorer. He came in just for me, on his day off.

Cesare worked as a fabricator in the helicopter factory for decades. The motorcycle race shop was also located there in Cascina Costa, not at the nearby motorcycle factory in Verghera, for several reasons: the Count’s office was at the helicopter plant, and he liked to keep an eye on the race bikes in development; Arturo Magni, the race team manager could take advantage of the plant’s advanced fabrication capabilities; and the layout of the plant made it possible to move race bikes on and off the property even if the factory was being picketed by strikers, which was a common problem in Italy in the 1960s!

 '51 500 triple.

'51 500 triple.

I asked him whether the employees at the helicopter factory had been big supporters of the motorcycle race team. “Oh yes,” he replied. “There used to be a big private road along one side of the factory, and Sig. Magni used to run motorcycles up and down that road frequently. There were always a few people who’d stop work and watch. But every now and then Agostini himself would come to run a bike up and down the road, to get a feel for a new motor. When word got out that Ago was riding, 500 people put down their tools and went to watch him, even though he was just riding up and down the straight road.”

 ’47 Duecentocinquanta – This 250cc pushrod single had an unimpressive production run of about 100 units in the late ’40s.

’47 Duecentocinquanta – This 250cc pushrod single had an unimpressive production run of about 100 units in the late ’40s.

The museum has a lot of race bikes from the 1950s through the ’70s and scores of production models that I was unaware of, including scooters and trail bikes. Many of the displays are prototypes, so the information placards carry two dates; the year the one on display was made, and the date – a year or two later – when this model was raced or produced. There are also several wild and wonderful prototypes that were never raced or that never made it into production, including a stylish microcar and a working hovercraft!

If you love motorcycles, Museo Agusta is ‘worth the detour’, as they say in the Michelin Guide. Admission’s a bargain at €2.50. And of course, if you’re a particular fan of MV Agusta and its storied Grand Prix history, this collection’s your Mecca. There are, of course, also many exhibits devoted to the Agusta helicopter business, including a helicopter simulator which established, if nothing else, that I’m a better rider than pilot.

Getting there: Museo Agusta is located immediately east of Milan’s Malpensa airport

Via Giovanni Agusta, 506 – 21017 Cascina Costa di Samarate (VA)

For more information visit: www.museoagusta.it

Hours

Tuesday & Wednesday: 2-6 pm

Saturday 9:30 am-12:30, 2-5 pm

Sunday 9:00 am-noon, 2-6 pm

 ’54 175 CSS – 175cc, SOHC, four speeds. About 500 were made like this, with the characteristic ‘flying saucer’ fuel tank and Earles fork.

’54 175 CSS – 175cc, SOHC, four speeds. About 500 were made like this, with the characteristic ‘flying saucer’ fuel tank and Earles fork.

 ’54 175 CST – 175cc, SOHC, four speeds. This commercially successful machine was produced in several different versions (some with 17” wheels and some with 19”).

’54 175 CST – 175cc, SOHC, four speeds. This commercially successful machine was produced in several different versions (some with 17” wheels and some with 19”).

 ’55 Bicilindrico Corsa Prototype – Fascinating space frame and front suspension. This was a project by an MV engineer named Giannini. The 350cc twin was tested but never raced.

’55 Bicilindrico Corsa Prototype – Fascinating space frame and front suspension. This was a project by an MV engineer named Giannini. The 350cc twin was tested but never raced.

 1955 prototype 125cc ‘Pullman’. 125cc, 2-stroke, 3 speed. This was a commercially successful road bike. MV Agusta sold 9,000 units with a twistgrip gear shift in 1953, then 27,000 units with foot shift over the next two years.

1955 prototype 125cc ‘Pullman’. 125cc, 2-stroke, 3 speed. This was a commercially successful road bike. MV Agusta sold 9,000 units with a twistgrip gear shift in 1953, then 27,000 units with foot shift over the next two years.

 ’56 250 Monocilindrico Corsa – 250cc single, DOHC, five speeds. Bill Lomas delivered the first GP win for this elegant machine at the 1955 TT.

’56 250 Monocilindrico Corsa – 250cc single, DOHC, five speeds. Bill Lomas delivered the first GP win for this elegant machine at the 1955 TT.

 ’56 350-4 – This 350cc four-cylinder is of the type raced from 1953-’63. DOHC, five speeds, 51.5 hp @ 11,000 rpm. Mike Hailwood delivered the last victory for this model at the scary old Imatra circuit in Finland, in 1963.

’56 350-4 – This 350cc four-cylinder is of the type raced from 1953-’63. DOHC, five speeds, 51.5 hp @ 11,000 rpm. Mike Hailwood delivered the last victory for this model at the scary old Imatra circuit in Finland, in 1963.

 '56 Superpullman.

'56 Superpullman.

 ’62 Chicco scooter – This is a 1962 developmental prototype for a model that was fairly successful, selling 3,000 units from 1960-’63. It has a fan-cooled 155cc 2-stroke motor with 4 speed ’box.

’62 Chicco scooter – This is a 1962 developmental prototype for a model that was fairly successful, selling 3,000 units from 1960-’63. It has a fan-cooled 155cc 2-stroke motor with 4 speed ’box.

 1964 ‘Arno’ prototype. 166cc pushrod twin. Five of these prototypes were made, leading to a 250cc production model in 1966.

1964 ‘Arno’ prototype. 166cc pushrod twin. Five of these prototypes were made, leading to a 250cc production model in 1966.

 ’64 Germano – 48cc, 2-stroke, three speeds. MV Agusta sold a total of more than 1,700 of these mopeds. The ‘Germano’ was made in two versions, one seen here with a pressed-steel frame and another with a tube frame. MV brought the motors in from DKW.

’64 Germano – 48cc, 2-stroke, three speeds. MV Agusta sold a total of more than 1,700 of these mopeds. The ‘Germano’ was made in two versions, one seen here with a pressed-steel frame and another with a tube frame. MV brought the motors in from DKW.

 ’68 600 4C6 – This 600cc road bike was made with a shaft drive in order to ensure that it would not be raced by customers! It was not particularly successful, with only 127 machines known to have been made between 1968-’71.

’68 600 4C6 – This 600cc road bike was made with a shaft drive in order to ensure that it would not be raced by customers! It was not particularly successful, with only 127 machines known to have been made between 1968-’71.

 ’69 Prototype Hovercraft – This 1969 full working prototype was powered by a 300cc two-stroke boxer motor.

’69 Prototype Hovercraft – This 1969 full working prototype was powered by a 300cc two-stroke boxer motor.

 ’73 350-4 ST76-35 – This 350cc four-cylinder machine is of the type raced by Giacomo Agostini from 1972-’76. DOHC, six-speeds, 74.2 hp @ 16,500 rpm. (Yes, over 200 hp/liter specific output; nearly the equal of a modern MotoGP bike!)

’73 350-4 ST76-35 – This 350cc four-cylinder machine is of the type raced by Giacomo Agostini from 1972-’76. DOHC, six-speeds, 74.2 hp @ 16,500 rpm. (Yes, over 200 hp/liter specific output; nearly the equal of a modern MotoGP bike!)

 '73 500 triple

'73 500 triple

 ’75 750 America – 750cc, DOHC, five speeds. The shaft drive and electric start were attempts to position this as a viable choice for a gentleman’s road motorcycle. About 500 were sold.

’75 750 America – 750cc, DOHC, five speeds. The shaft drive and electric start were attempts to position this as a viable choice for a gentleman’s road motorcycle. About 500 were sold.

 Sorry, I can’t find my notes on this very stylish disc-valve two-stroke twin. IIRC, Cesare told me that the machine never had any internals; MV showed it at EICMA but didn’t get enough orders to justify continued development.

Sorry, I can’t find my notes on this very stylish disc-valve two-stroke twin. IIRC, Cesare told me that the machine never had any internals; MV showed it at EICMA but didn’t get enough orders to justify continued development.

 Undated microcar prototype!

Undated microcar prototype!

 The museum includes several elegant little scooters – an aspect of MV Agusta’s production I knew nothing about.

The museum includes several elegant little scooters – an aspect of MV Agusta’s production I knew nothing about.

If you dug this deep dive into moto-history, you'll probably also like my book, 'On Motorcycles: The best of Backmarker' available here on Amazon.

 
 If you love the history of our sport, you'll find a lot to enjoy in this book, and by buying a copy right now, you'll help me to continue creating new content. Click the cover image to go straight to my Amazon sales page,  or read it for less than $10 right now, by downloading it on Kindle here.

If you love the history of our sport, you'll find a lot to enjoy in this book, and by buying a copy right now, you'll help me to continue creating new content. Click the cover image to go straight to my Amazon sales page, or read it for less than $10 right now, by downloading it on Kindle here.

W.W.V.B. do?

HARLEY-DAVIDSON BARELY REMARKED ON THE DEATH OF ITS SAVIOR. BUT LEVATICH & CO. SHOULD TAKE INSPIRATION FROM VAUGHN BEALS.

 The Harvard Business School lists Vaughn Beals as one of its "Great American Business Leaders of the 20th Century". Harley-Davidson's ex-CEO and Chairman died April 19, at the age of 90.

The Harvard Business School lists Vaughn Beals as one of its "Great American Business Leaders of the 20th Century". Harley-Davidson's ex-CEO and Chairman died April 19, at the age of 90.

Vaughn L. Beals, Jr.'s passing went unremarked, as far as I can tell, on web sites from Cycle World, Motorcyclist, and Asphalt & Rubber, to HarleyDavidson.com. That’s in spite of the fact that Beals had an enormous impact on the company; he is nearly as important a figure in Harley's pantheon as any of The Motor Company's founders.

 “During some of the most challenging times in the long legacy of Harley-Davidson, Vaughn Beals brought vision and powerful leadership to this great company. We’ve carried his leadership lift under our wings ever since and we always will.” – Matt Levatich

“During some of the most challenging times in the long legacy of Harley-Davidson, Vaughn Beals brought vision and powerful leadership to this great company. We’ve carried his leadership lift under our wings ever since and we always will.” – Matt Levatich

I’d argue that as the leader of the employee group that bought Harley-Davidson from AMF in 1981, that he was the most important American 'motorcycle guy' of the post-WWII era. He steered the brand from losses to profitability, took the company public, and dramatically increased its value.

For most of its history, Harley-Davidson was closely held, and controlled by the founders (and later, their heirs). It was acquired by AMF in 1969. While I think it’s an oversimplification to portray the AMF period a wholly unmitigated disaster, by 1981 the motorcycle business was losing money – and market share to Japanese companies that were still going from strength to strength. When AMF decided to sell Harley-Davidson in 1981, Vaughn Beals organized a group of senior managers; they borrowed $85 million from Citi and took the company private again.

The purchase price, about $250 million in today’s money, was relatively paltry. It’s interesting to imagine what another buyer might’ve done with the brand. I can easily picture an American car company picking it up; there would have been some economies of scale and advantages to a broader dealer network. A company like Kawasaki Heavy Industries probably could have adopted Harley and done well with it.

One way or another, there would’ve always been a Harley-Davidson company. But I think the most likely scenario was that Harley-Davidson would continue to be gradually run down – as it had been by AMF – and that it would have become a zombie brand like Indian. An editorial in British Dealer News called Vaughn Beals Jr. Harley’s “savior” and I don’t think that was an exaggeration.

Beals was not a motorcyclist. He’d been trained as an aerospace engineer and rose through the management ranks at Cummins before being hired to run Harley-Davidson. He immediately cut the workforce, and took steps to improve product quality. (Immediately before the buyout, more than half the Harleys that came off the assembly line needed remedial work before they could be shipped!) The revived Harley-Davidson company quickly set about making a new and much-improved ‘Evo’ motor.

For an MIT trained engineer, he either had natural marketing savvy or knew who to listen to; he green-lit the creation of Harley Owner’s Group clubs and Carmichael-Lynch’s dramatic repositioning of the brand. And he was savvy about finance, leading the company through its IPO and getting the stock onto the ‘big board’ at the New York Stock Exchange in 1987.

 The company that Vaughn Beals bought from AMF for $85 million has a market cap of over $7 billion today – even at the currently depressed share price. That's some ROI, and should inspire the current management.

The company that Vaughn Beals bought from AMF for $85 million has a market cap of over $7 billion today – even at the currently depressed share price. That's some ROI, and should inspire the current management.

I guess I don’t blame Levatich and Harley’s PR department for soft-pedaling Beals’ death. Making a bigger announcement would have distracted from the 115th Anniversary celebration and the company’s recent and spectacular new product announcements. Since one of the things Beals is best remembered for was pressing the Reagan administration for trade tariff protection, it might’ve opened the company up for more criticism from Donald Trump, too.

Still, Levatich would not be remiss in pointing out that Harley-Davidson was on much weaker footing in 1980 than it is today. I've had people tell me that Harley’s recent announcements, of a Livewire, electric bicycles, an adventure-tourer, etc, are too little too late. But maybe they should ask, “What would Vaughn Beals do?”

Beals’ leadership was not faultless; he killed an expensive R&D project that would have yielded a much more modern four-cylinder bike; one that might’ve positioned H-D better against high-performance Japanese and European rivals.  But during his tenure, early investors of Harley-Davidson shares saw about a 2500% ROI.

That alone should serve as an inspiration for Matt Levatich and the current management team.