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The 1960s saw the advent of mass car ownership, causing a sharp slowdown in the motorcycle market. MV Agusta reacted to this shift in consumer tastes with true enterprising spirit by offering new models that would continue to appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts. Of these, the one that went down in history was the 600, the first maxi motorbike on the market to offer a four-cylinder engine. Derived from Mike Hailwood’s 500 GP, it gradually developed into the high performance 750 S America with a top speed of 220 kph.
The same year saw the introduction of the 125 Disco, so-called on account of the rotary disc timing of its two stroke engine. The late 60s marked the start of the Agostini era, with the three and four-cylinder 350 and 500 models dominating from 1967 to 1973. These two models were produced first with three-cylinder and then four-cylinder engines to hold back the tide of Japanese two-stroke bikes.
After Count Domenico’s death in the early 70s, the company faced severe economic difficulties. This period was marked by a clash between two opposing schools of thought within company management: one believed it best to pursue investment in racing, the other was convinced that only a reduction in racing commitments would help them balance the books. The outcome was a middle-of-the-road arrangement that resulted in limited development of the racing team and a drastic fall in the number of models on offer to just two: the 350 and the 750. The former was available in three different set-ups – “Scrambler”, “GTEL” and “SEL” – while the 750 came in the Sport and Gran Turismo versions.
On the racing front MV continued to keep the Yamaha two-strokes and the Suzukis of Jarno Saarinen and Barry Sheene at bay. Fierce resistance to the Japanese invasion came from the plucky Phil Read, who took two wins in the 1975 season, and, of course, Giacomo Agostini. Agostini had made a surprise return from his spell with Yamaha and it was he who notched up the last MV Agusta victory on the Nurburgring on 29 August 1976.
The company’s precarious economic position forced MV Agusta to seek out a new financial partner. A solution was found in the form of public financing giant EFIM (Ente Partecipazioni e Finanziamento Industria Manifatturiera), which demanded that MV Agusta exit the motorcycle industry if were to have any chance of straightening its finances. The awkward decision to halt motorcycle production resulted in the abandonment of a new generation of large twin cam 16-valve engines (750 and 850 cc) which were to have been launched at the Milan Motorcycle Fair in 1977. The company had even reserved its stand, but simply failed to show up; however, they continued to sell bikes until 1980, when the last machine in the Cascina Costa warehouses was bought up.
The name MV Agusta returned to the headlines in July 1986 when the trade press advertised a sale of bikes, prototypes, frames and engines from the company’s legendary racing division. The news raised such clamour that the leading journalists of the day demanded government intervention to protect what was a part of Italy’s engineering heritage. Unfortunately, not even the historical and technical worth of these superb racing machines was enough to attract the interest of the Ministry of Industry and State Holdings: the entire lot of motorbikes and parts went to Italo-American Roberto Iannucci for about one and a half billion Lire (approximately 750 thousand Euros). And so ended the industrial saga of MV Agusta of Cascina Costa, in an atmosphere of controversy and heartfelt nostalgia for a glorious past.