http://www.bikepoint.co.nz/ September 2003
Ghezzi's gutsy Guzzi
Words: Alan Cathcart
Alan Cathcart tests the MOTO GUZZI MGS-01 CORSA - a satisfying, stimulating sportbike.
No contest for the accolade of star of the show at Intermot 2002, a historic Italian marque whose display was by general acclaim the hot exhibit - certainly among the European manufacturers. Moto Guzzi, purchased by Aprilia three years ago, has had 120 million Euros invested in it, not including the 40 million Euros that Aprilia owner Ivano Beggio spent on acquiring the company.
"Restoring Moto Guzzi to its former glory is a duty, as well as a commercial challenge - and I'm confident that we're on the right road, and running to schedule," says Beggio.
This was evidenced by the array of three new models on display at Intermot, each very different. Smallest in capacity was the Breva, with the other two showbikes powered by an eight-valve Daytona engine currently out of production while Guzzi/Aprilia completely re-engineers them in liquid-cooled form. One of these was the latest product of Luciano Marabese, whose Centauro 8V musclebike gave rise to the even more aggressive-looking Griso "Tecnocustom" Guzzi-with-attitude streetrod. The other was the aesthetically beautiful MGS-01 sportbike constructed on behalf of Moto Guzzi by nearby marque specialists Ghezzi & Brian, on the basis of their acclaimed existing Supertwin model. This was a guaranteed showstopper, as evidenced by the plastic fence that Moto Guzzi management had to hastily build around it in order to afford show goers a proper view of the bike.
The rapturous public acclaim for the MGS-01 (as in Moto Guzzi Sport, model no.1) convinced Guzzi CEO Roberto Brovazzo to fast-forward the bike into at least limited production, without waiting for the completion of the liquid-cooled eight-valve V-twin engine. Brovazzo enticed the bike's technical creator, Giuseppe Ghezzi, to work in the Guzzi factory, helping the youthful team of top-flight engineers he had assembled at Mandello in developing a 1225cc Corsa racing version of the MGS-01, which will go into limited production in February next year. The bike will have nominal street equipment, and designer Alberto Cappella, responsible for the bike's delicate, flowing lines, still hasn't figured out where to place the headlamps so as not to interfere with the wide duct in the fairing nose behind the oil cooler - expect a pair of ellipsoidal lights flanking the mesh covering the intake slot. Additional production of the 1225cc Corsa presently producing 122bhp at the crank will follow, before the debut as a 2005 model-year product of the volume-production MGS-01 Serie, likely to be downsized slightly in capacity and delivering around 95bhp.
The chance to join a small group of journalists at the tight but grippy Adria test circuit near Venice to ride the prototype Corsa was the continuation of a personal pilgrimage that began in 1988, when I first rode the Dr John's Guzzi 8V BoTT racer built by American dentist John Wittner. The fact that the Dr John's 8V finished third at Daytona in its first race without ever having turned a wheel until the second day of practice, and with a prototype road engine installed, may augur well for the MGS-01 Corsa's likely race debut next March, on the same Florida speedway!
In 1989, I rode the prototype Guzzi 8V Daytona streetbike and was impressed how the qualities of the Dr John's racer had been transferred to the customer model - even if the chronic lack of investment in the coming decade meant that the 1000cc Daytona motor was starved of development.
Sitting aboard the prototype MGS-01 Corsa in Adria's pit lane for the first of my two sessions on the bike, I found an excellent riding position with comfortable 820mm seat height, and not too much weight on my wrists. The airbox shroud (fuel is housed in the frame) seemed quite wide at rest, but it is carefully shaped to let your elbows and knees tuck in, and isn't an impediment. The riding stance is quite close-coupled, but well thought out, with wide, flat-set handlebars for maximum leverage. I was able to tuck behind the screen for an instant riding down Adria's short straights, and with none of the nuisance of having my knees making friends with the sticking-out cylinders as I moved from side to side on the bike, as is the case with many Guzzi racers. That's surely due to Ghezzi's rational chassis design, conceived on the basis of his Italian ProTwins title-winning Ghezzi & Brian Supertwin model, with a box-section steel backbone frame incorporating (for the first time on a Moto Guzzi) a fully progressive rising-rate rear suspension linkage, and top-level Ohlins suspension to boot.
However, the Corsa's enhanced suspension compliance and improved ride isn't the first thing that impresses you most when you notch bottom gear on the street-pattern gearshift. What's most noticeable is that the engine feels much quieter than previous eight-valve Guzzis, with fewer rattles, no vibration worth mentioning, far less general mechanical clatter as you blip the throttle, and not a whole lot of sideways movement from torque reaction at rest. The whole mechanical package feels more refined, with better build quality.
Same thing when you scoot through the gears down to the tight first turn - well, except the change from bottom to second, which is still pretty slow. The six-speed gearbox now fitted for the first time to the 8V motor is slick-shifting and smooth, so much so you can almost think about not using the clutch for upward shifts, previously a Guzzi no-no. But this still takes practice, so after a handful of laps I gave up and used the clutch, which made gear changing faultless. However, I don't think the stock V11 Sport ratios presently used are suitable for the Corsa's power characteristics, especially with the Monza overall gearing/final drive unit fitted for our Adria test on a much slower circuit. This meant I could only get a sort-of fourth down the front straight, and needed to use bottom gear five times per lap! Guzzi will offer alternative overall gearing as part of the customer racekit they'll be marketing alongside the bike, but even so, bottom gear needs to be much higher, there's too big a gap to second (which stops you keeping up turn speed without falling off the cam), and the top four ratios need to be closed up. In other words, it needs a proper close-ratio racing gearbox.
This is especially noticeable when, after muscular acceleration from low revs on the Digitek dash-mounted Italian copy of a MoTeC digital infocentre, there's a noticeable dip in the power curve between 3500rpm and 4800rpm, when acceleration levels off and you lose momentum. Ghezzi says they've spent a lot of time chasing down the problem, and are convinced that rather than the mapping, it's an inherent fault of the 8V engine design, which they're going to engineer out via a mixture of camshaft/valve timing and exhaust mods. But with a fierce-action 9000rpm revlimiter, and power peaking at 8500 revs, you haven't got a lot of revs to play with, even on a relatively slow-accelerating V-twin. Needs fixing, although the inexorable build of power thanks to that meaty torque is very impressive, even now. You can't help but pop a power-wheelie out of any of those slow corners if you crack the throttle hard open around the 6400rpm peak torque mark, and doing so will have the front wheel hovering above the ground while Ghezzi's gutsy Guzzi thunders off down to the next turn at impressive speed and purposeful intent.
The Guzzi hooks up the rear tyre really well, although suspension at both ends was set too soft on compression, which meant a good bit of weight transfer under hard acceleration and especially braking hard into a turn. That's in spite of the fact that the radial Brembo brake package fitted to the bike was frankly a disappointment, rather dead and wooden-feeling with not nearly as much bite as on the Aprilia Tuono Racing it was lifted from. Braking as hard as I could into a turn on the angle left me fighting the Guzzi's definite desire to fold the front wheel on me as I reached the apex, which was both distracting and tiring. Here the cause was easier to define, thanks to the rubber band marker on the Ohlins forks, which showed they were set up much too soft for track use on such a grippy, tight circuit. Nothing some proper work on sorting the settings couldn't fix, but even so, it was noticeable how stable the Corsa was under hard braking up until turn-in, even when you had to lean away from the apex then flick back into it while still braking. In spite of the soft rear shock setting, it didn't understeer accelerating round the sweeper on to the pit straight, and flicking it from side to side in a chicane was acceptably easy by Guzzi standards. The MGS-01 feels a short bike with its RSV-R Mille wheelbase and reasonable agility, even if you still need a bit of muscle to move it around.
On Adria's billiard-table surface, there wasn't really any chance to properly assess the Corsa's suspension package, although the fact I could actually feel the rear Ohlins shock working under me was some sort of a first for any Moto Guzzi V-twin. There's lots of work still to do on this working prototype, but Moto Guzzi's confidence in letting a bunch of journalists loose on its work in progress proved to be justified. This is a bike that was born well, and will be a satisfying, stimulating sportbike for Guzzi's customers to ride on road or track next year. The 50-100 Corsa versions expected to be built will go on sale in February at around Euro 19,000, ($NZ36,663) with the first of the 1000 projected versions of the lower-performance Serie street version coming on line in October at around Euro 12,000 ($NZ23,152).