A significant friendship developed during the First World War between flight engineer Carlo Guzzi (Milan, 1889-Davos, Switzerland, 1964), whose father was an engineer, and pluri-decorated aviator Giorgio Parodi (Venice, 1897-Genoa 1955), the son of a Genoese shipowner. With their friend, Giovanni Ravelli, an experienced pilot, all three were fascinated by engines and motorcycle racing. The story goes that Carlo Guzzi proposed to Giorgio and Giovanni, who enthusiastically agreed, that they should design a new concept in motorcycles once the war was over. After demobilisation, the three young men created an extraordinary business adventure, whose success continues today, 95 years later.
The first prototype: the Guzzi-Parodi motorcycle.
The first motorcycle they developed was the G.P. (from the initials Guzzi-Parodi) in 1919: the model remained a prototype due to the high production costs of a project employing a series of aeronautical solutions, such as dual ignition. It was built with the help of Giorgio Ripamonti, who had employed Carlo Guzzi as a mechanic in his workshop before the war. A commemorative plaque can be seen in Mandello del Lario (see photo below).
Nevertheless, the design quality of the prototype was convincing, and on 15 March 1921 the “Società Anonima Moto Guzzi” company was established, for “The manufacture and sale of motorcycles and any other activity relating to or associated with the metalworking industry”. The company founders were Emanuele Vittorio Parodi, a well-known Genoese shipowner, his aviator son Giorgio and their flight engineer friend Carlo Guzzi. Giovanni Ravelli had died in an aircraft accident. It was in his memory that the Moto Guzzi logo featured the spread-winged eagle, the symbol of the Italian Royal Navy’s Naval Aviation arm at the time. The initial share capital of the company, established immediately in Mandello del Lario (where the Guzzi family had moved), on the banks of Lake Como in the province of Lecco, was approximately two thousand liras (about as nowadays 2,000 euros). From the start, Carlo Guzzi involved his older brother (known as “Naco”), an engineer and passionate motorcyclist, in the adventure.
The first mass produced Moto Guzzi motorcycle: the “Normale”.
A simplified version of the first prototype, known as the “Normale”, with 8 Hp and three-speed gearbox, was put on sale and 17 were produced in the first year. This was the first motorcycle, produced from 1921 to 1924, with the Eagle logo on the fuel tank and the name Moto Guzzi (a decision made as a token of respect for the designer Carlo Guzzi by Giorgio Parodi, who wanted to avoid the name G.P. being confused with his own initials). Under the technical lead of Carlo Guzzi, Moto Guzzi enjoyed unstoppable growth, producing dozens of highly successful models. Carlo Guzzi was an innovator who developed motorbikes of all types and explored advanced engine configurations; he was the first to build a wind tunnel, in 1950, to test motorcycle aerodynamics.
An archive photo of the wind tunnel at the Moto Guzzi factory in Mandello del Lario; below, the model on display in the Moto Guzzi Museum.
The Moto Guzzi name is a milestone in world motorcycling history, also thanks to its many racing triumphs: the company boasts an impressive 3,332 wins in official competitions, the first in the prestigious Targa Florio in 1921, which was the precursor of an outstanding series of victories: when Moto Guzzi retired from racing in 1957, its track record included 14 world speed titles and 11 Tourist Trophy titles.
Left: Giorgio Parodi shakes the hand of the winner of the Tourist Trophy 250 (Isle of Man, 1935), Stanley Woods on a Moto Guzzi racing bike. In the photo on the right, Carlo Guzzi can also be seen.
Giorgio Parodi was a devotee of motor-racing: he would appear at the race tracks under a pseudonym, as many riders from aristocratic or well-known families did at the time to keep their anonymity. Giorgio chose “Lattuga” [lettuce] as his name, because it was unremarkable and underscored the principle of essentiality that was a distinguishing feature of his entire life.
In motorcycling, it was Parodi who represented the racing soul of Moto Guzzi, whereas his partner Carlo Guzzi would have preferred to devote his technical expertise exclusively to improving the reliability, performance and comfort of the company’s mass production. Under Parodi, Moto Guzzi’s motor-racing activities were guided by a healthy competitive spirit: when his team won, he would have the rider accompanied to the podium by just one company representative, chosen in turn from among the most deserving members of his staff. When an opponent won, the entire Guzzi team of riders and engineers would stand around the podium to applaud the winner.
The monument to Carlo Guzzi, in the centre of Mandello, and the mural with the eagle at the Moto Guzzi factory.
The story of Moto Guzzi continues, today as yesterday, in the historic factory in Mandello del Lario, which is also home to the company museum, offering thousands and thousands of visitors from all over the world an unforgettable parade of motorised “beauties” with the spread-winged eagle logo.