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Moto Guzzi V8: Most Innovative 500cc Grand Prix Motorcycle Ever?

The Moto Guzzi V8 is a legendary motorcycle that has a special place in the history of motorcycle racing. The V8 engine was designed by Giulio Cesare Carcano for Moto Guzzi’s Grand Prix racing team and was used from 1955 until the 1957 season.

Few motorcycles have made an impact on the Grand Prix circuit as the Moto Guzzi V8.

The Moto Guzzi V8 was able to achieve remarkable speeds for the technology of its time, reaching 187 mph at the UK MIRA test track. The V8 engine was a 500cc twin cam with water cooling and 8 Del Orto carburetors.

The bike had a full nose and body cowling so you could not actually see the engine. The machine is a testament to the innovative spirit of the company and its engineers.

The Moto Guzzi brand stands out worldwide when it comes to racing and innovative products and the V8 motor is a prime example of the brand’s commitment to pushing the limits of what is possible.


Moto Guzzi V8
Serge PIOTIN aka Sergio,, via Wikimedia Commons


In the 1950s, Moto Guzzi was one of the leading manufacturers of motorcycles in Italy. During this time, the company developed the Moto Guzzi V8, also known as the Otto motorcycle. The V8 was designed by Giulio Cesare Carcano to be used by the moto Guzzi GP racing team for the 1955 to 1957 seasons.

The engine was a unique and historically significant engineering milestone, as it was the first time a motorcycle had been fitted with a DOHC V8 engine.


In the 1960s, Moto Guzzi continued to produce motorcycles, but the company faced stiff competition from other Italian and German manufacturers. The company’s racing team had some success during this time, but it was not as dominant as it had been in the past.

In 1963, Moto Guzzi merged with rivals Gilera motorcycle company, which helped the company stay competitive in the market.

Despite the challenges of the 1960s, Moto Guzzi continued to innovate and develop new technologies. In 1967, the company introduced the V7, which was the first motorcycle to feature a longitudinally-mounted V-twin engine.

This design became a hallmark of Moto Guzzi motorcycles and is still used in the company’s current models.

Overall, the Moto Guzzi’s V8 was a significant achievement in motorcycle engineering, and it helped establish Moto Guzzi as a leading manufacturer of high-performance motorcycles. The company’s success in the 1950s and 1960s laid the foundation for its continued success in the decades that followed.

The Design


The V8 engine was a 90-degree V8 with dual overhead camshafts per cylinder bank, a total of 32 valves and separate exhaust pipes were used. The transverse mounted engine had a displacement of 499cc.


The V8 engine was mated to a six-speed transmission, which was a significant departure from the four-speed transmissions that were common at the time. The transmission was designed to handle the high RPMs that the V8 engine was capable of producing.


The V8 was equipped with eight Dell’Orto carburettors, which were specially designed for the V8 engine. The carburettors were positioned in pairs on each side of the engine and were fed by two fuel pumps.

Initially all the carbs shared 2 large float bowls mounted on the left but this proved troublesome so was dropped and each carb was given their own individual float bowl.

Cooling System

The V8 engine was water-cooled, which was a departure from the air-cooled engines that were common at the time. The design allowed the engine to produce more power and run at higher RPMs without overheating.

In summary, the Moto Guzzi’s V8 was unique. The V8 engine was liquid-cooled and had a displacement of 499cc, producing 78 horsepower at 12,000 RPM. It was equipped with eight Dell’Orto carburettors and mated to a six-speed transmission designed to handle the high RPMs.


V8 rear view
Moto-gundy at German Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons


The Moto Guzzi V8 produced 80 bhp at the crankshaft at 12,000 rpm and was capable of reaching 16,000 rpm.


The Moto Guzzi V8 was a lightweight motorcycle, weighing only 297lb or 135kg. This made it a formidable contender on the racetrack, allowing it to reach speeds of up to 178mph. It would regularly clock the fastest laps in races.


The V8 was equipped with high-performance tires that were specifically designed for GP racing. These tires provided excellent grip and stability, allowing riders to maintain control even at high speeds.


The V8 was fitted with large, powerful drum brakes that were capable of bringing the bike to a stop quickly. This setup provided excellent stopping power and allowed riders to brake late into corners.

Rider Aids

The Moto Guzzi V8 did not have ABS as it was designed and built in the 1950s, long before ABS technology was developed. However, the V8 was equipped with advanced suspension and steering systems that provided excellent handling and stability, even at high speeds.

Racing Legacy

Overall, the Moto Guzzi V8 was a remarkable motorcycle that pushed the boundaries of what was possible in terms of speed and performance. It was ridden by some of the greatest racers of its time, including Ken Kavanagh, Dickie Dale and Keith Campbell and participated and performed well at prestigious events such as the Isle of Man Golden Jubilee TT, the Dutch Grand Prix, and the Syracuse and Imola races.

The Moto Guzzi V8 was used on the Grand Prix circuit from 1955 to 1957, but development was stalled when Moto Guzzi pulled out of GP racing in 1957 along with most of the other motorcycle manufacturers.

It would be 1957 before the V8 finally won a race. It was at Imola Dickie Dale won a Grand Prix and setting the fastest lap along the way. He then went on to ride it in the Golden Jubilee TT on the Isle of Man, where it came a disappointing fourth but set a lap record of 98.6 mph.

Ahead of him on the podium were 3 Italian rivals, an MV and 2 Gilera Fours. Moto Guzzi pulled out of Grand prix racing at the end of that season and the decision was taken to not invest any further in such a complex machine and by the end of the season the V8 disappeared from the race circuit forever.

The eight cylinders machine did, however, make appearances in non-GP events, such as the Dutch Grand Prix, Montlhery, Oulton Park, Snetterton, Syracuse, and Imola.

In 1960 Kev Kavanagh had the privilege of being the last person to race the Moto Guzzi V8.

The Moto Guzzi 250 and 350 GP singles at that time were the slimmest, lightest machines on the track, and yet the V8’s fairing, for all its added complexity, (7 additional cylinders and carburettors) was only 1.1 inches (30mm) wider than the factory 350 single.

source: MCNews

This was thanks to the transverse mounted engine.

If Moto Guzzi hadn’t retired at the end of 1957, most of the remaining teams agreed that the V8 would have made the “nightmare” of all dominant racing bikes.

(source: Motopaedia

The Team

Dickie Dale and Bill Lomas

The Moto Guzzi’s GP team was led by riders Dickie Dale and Bill Lomas, who both had successful careers in motorcycle racing. Dale won the 1954 350cc World Championship and Lomas won the 1955 350cc World Championship.

Murray Barnard

Murray Barnard was the chief mechanic for the Moto Guzzi V8 racing team. He was responsible for the maintenance and development of the V8 engine. Barnard was a talented engineer and was instrumental in the success of the V8 racing team.

Giulio Cesare Carcano

Giulio Cesare Carcano was the chief engineer for the Moto Guzzi V8 racing team. He designed the V8 motor and oversaw its development. Carcano was a talented engineer and was responsible for many of the innovations that made the V8 so successful.


The Moto Guzzi V8 was a unique and historically significant engineering milestone. It was the first V8 motor to be used in motorcycle racing and was capable of speeds of up to 178mph. The V8 engine had a redline of 12,500rpm yet weighed only 135kg.

Eight-Cylinder Engine

Moto Guzzi's V8 engine
Serge PIOTIN aka Sergio, via Wikimedia Commons

The motor featured twin overhead camshafts, an unusual design for the time, and water cooling, which allowed it to generate an impressive amount of power. The motor also had eight Dell’Orto carburetors each with its own tiny float chamber.

Despite its impressive performance, the Moto Guzzi V8’s motor was not without its challenges. It was complex and difficult to maintain, and it was prone to overheating, crankshaft failure and bearing trouble.

It could be argued it was a ‘nearly’ machine as more often than not it was let down by various parts. For example, in 1956 Kev Kavanagh retired when flying with bearing trouble at the Coppa d’Oro race. In the same season at the Dutch Grand Prix both Bill Lomas and Kev Kavanagh both achieved fastest laps before having to retire with mechanical problems.

However, don’t let these issues diminish the significance of the engine’s design and its impact on the world of motorcycle racing.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Moto Guzzi V8 represented a major innovation in motorcycle design and engineering that frankly was decades ahead of its time. Its eight-cylinder motor pushed the boundaries of what was possible in the world of racing.

It was an incredibly compact design capable of remarkable speeds but it was also a complex machine.

There are many bikes that have pushed the boundaries and off the top of my head I’m thinking about:

  • The Honda NR750 with its oval piston

  • The Kawasaki KZ1000 with its electronic ignition

  • The Ducati 1098 using a data acquisition system for the first time that adjusted the bike’s systems on the fly.

  • The Harley LiveWire which made many of us look at electric motorbikes for the first time.

  • and many, many more.

But, when Moto Guzzi pulled out all the stops and built a 500cc V8 engine complete with overhead camshafts, 32 valves, 8 carburettors each with its own individual float bowl and a six speed gearbox some 70 years ago, surely it deserves to top the list of innovative motorcycles?

Today, Moto Guzzi’s V8 remains a legendary motorcycle that continues to inspire motorcycle enthusiasts and racers around the world.

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