Alan Cathcart reviews Wim Raeymaekers’ book on Moto Morini, the forgotten face of Italian motorcycling.
Alone among today’s survivors of Italy’s rollcall of historic trophy brands, nobody has yet written an in-depth history of Moto Morini. It’s been the forgotten face of Italian motorcycling, despite an honorable record on the race track, and the development of an early ’70s benchmark model, the popular 3 1/2, which was the first Morini model to be exported in any quantity, and is today globally recognized as a trend-setting design—the first volume production motorcycle in the world to feature an electronic ignition, toothed-belt camshaft drive and a six-speed gearbox.
But now Belgian morinista Wim Raeymaekers has rectified that omission, with the massive 554-page large-format self-published volume, Sempre Piú Forte – The complete history of Moto Morini, that’s written in both English and Italian, and is now available by mail order. The book’s title means “Ever Stronger”—Morini’s motto since its foundation in 1937—and it’s illustrated with a superlative array of photos from a variety of sources as well as Wim’s own extensive collection built up over the past 30 years ever since 1988.
For that’s when Raeymaekers purchased his first Morini, a ’76 3½ which he still owns, and soon after discovered the picaresque origins of the brand. Moto Morini was always the Cagney-esque little guy, punching above its weight in standing up for itself against the major-league hitters of the Italian motorcycle industry, whether Gilera, Moto Guzzi or Bianchi in the pre-WW2 era, or the likes of its former Bologna neighbor Ducati, in the present day. “I was astonished to see what [Moto Morini] had produced in the pre-1970 years,” says Wim in his foreword. “Several visits to Italy followed which produced the purchase of several fine single-cylinder Moto Morini bikes. My interest and affection for the Bolognese brand was growing, and besides motorcycles I also started to collect magazines, original brochures and photos. While my collection of information was growing, I found out that…. a lot of articles already written about Moto Morini were incorrect, or not complete. Compared to other illustrious motorcycle brands, a book on Moto Morini was not yet available—at least not what I had in mind what the story of Moto Morini should be.” So, though not a professional writer, he decided to produce this himself, taking three years of night classes to learn Italian, in order to be able to converse with key players in the brand’s history. So, it’s no exaggeration to say that this book is a labor of love, the work of a lifetime that’ll be welcomed by any fan of Italian bikes.
One reason is because its outstanding design sets new standards for the presentation of such a marque history, and that rich selection of 588 photos covering the period from 1924, and Moto Morini’s antecedents in the MM company, captures in atmospheric detail the Italian love affair with motorcycles over the past century, especially sporting ones.
Raeymaekers has organized the book well, with around 40 percent of the pages each devoted to production and racing (including both on- and off-road), and the remaining 20 percent to early chapters setting the scene. These include a profile of founding father Alfonso Morini, a summary of Bologna’s rich contribution to motorcycle history since the early ’20s, and a history of the Moto Morini company from its foundation in 1937 up to the present day, and its purchase in 2018 by its present owner, Chinese manufacturer Zhongneng. Perhaps surprisingly, there’s much more detail about the various shenanigans which Alfonso Morini went through in starting the company just before WW2, and his daughter Gabriella’s tenure after he passed away in 1969, before the quite unreasonable behavior of the trade unions forced her to sell the company to the Castiglioni brothers in 1987 (whereupon most Morini workers lost their jobs), than of the revival of the company in 2003 under the Berti family. The three Berti brothers’ reasons for investing in restarting Moto Morini, and how they revived the company are not covered, and nor is the story of how, after it was rescued from bankruptcy in 2012 by himself and a partner, Ruggeromassimo Jannuzzelli rebuilt the firm to the point at which it could be sold to the Chinese, and its future guaranteed.
But the several chapters on both road bikes and racing are detailed and informative, especially coverage of the quixotic campaign by Tarquinio Provini on the lone 38 bhp Morini single, running to an astronomical 14,000 rpm, in the 1963 250GP World Championship against the might of Honda. Provini was only bested by Jim Redman on the four-cylinder Japanese bike by just two points, each of them winning four races in the nine-round series, with the Morini team missing the ninth race after being refused entry to Communist East Germany, on the grounds of inadequate paperwork! Raeymaekers also covers Morini’s effectiveness as a training ground for future stars, which saw it produce future world champions like Umberto Masetti, Provini and Giacomo Agostini, before losing them to bigger, richer factories like Gilera and MV Agusta.
There’s also interesting coverage of the Moto Morini prototypes that never reached production, like the 350 Turbo, the supercharged 125cc four-stroke and the liquid-cooled 720cc V-twin which was inherited by the Castiglionis, and outperformed the equivalent Ducati 750/900 desmodue V-twin engines in direct comparative tests, whereupon it was “disappeared” by Ducati factory management, for fear it would replace their desmo V-twins—as it should have done. This was the work of arguably the greatest man in Moto Morini’s history, its chief engineer for two key periods, Ing. Franco Lambertini. He was the designer of the Heron-headed 72° V-twin air-cooled hi-cam pushrod 3½ engine, as well as the current Corsaro 1200 range’s 1187cc 87° V-twin CorsaCorta motor, with its one-piece crankcase and ultra-short-stroke engine dimensions which paradoxically deliver heaps of torque. A modest but truly gifted engineer whose succession of innovative designs created during a career leading from Ferrari to Morini, then Piaggio and back to Morini again, Lambertini’s achievements are well covered in this book.
Moto Morini was until now, even by Italian standards, never more than a small, though admittedly prestigious, family concern, whose products’ sporting flair brought it widespread respect as an underdog capable of defeating much larger and more prestigious marques, and hence achieve commercial success. Wim Raeymaekers’ magnificent book tells a story that’s been long overdue telling—and only someone truly passionate for the brand could have succeeded in creating such a complete and exquisitely-presented title. But now with the job of writing it finished, he’s planning to restore his 3½ to bring back his first Moto Morini, which has meanwhile evolved to a family heirloom, to its former glory! CN
Sempre Piú Forte – The complete history of Moto Morini
By Wim Raeymaekers
Published by Wim Raeymaekers