< AllMoto's Motorcycle Investor mag


allmoto logo

Motorcycle Investor mag

Subscribe to our free email news


Moto Morini 350 & 500 twins

(by Ian Falloon, Mar 2022)

Moto Morini 500



All too often over-looked, the Morinis offer a sweet ride

During the 1970s Italian motorcycles were best suited to romantics, and enthusiasts who not only rode their motorcycles, but also had a relationship with them. Italian machinery suffered from mechanical schizophrenia, an intriguing blend of the excellent and awful, the brilliant and dim-witted, and good ideas poorly executed. Some Italian motorcycles exhibited these characteristics more than others, and none more so than the Morini 500 Sport.


The 500 began its life back in 1971 as the 350cc 3 ½. From the outset this was a design of contradiction. Created by Franco Lambertini, the 72-degree V-twin was intentionally designed to reduce manufacturing costs.


72-degrees was a compromise between the perfectly balanced 90-degree and high vibration 45-degree layouts and Lambertini chose a Heron cylinder head layout. This featured an easily machined flat cylinder head with parallel valves and the combustion chamber incorporated in the piston crown.


During the 1960s the Heron head found favour as it allowed a very high compression ratio (11.2:1 in the 500 Sport) with good flame travel as the valves were unshrouded. The disadvantages were only small valves could be fitted (31.8mm intake and 26mm exhaust). These valves were operated by pushrods, the camshaft driven by a toothed rubber belt.


Every aspect of the design indicated economy. The rubber belt didn’t include any tensioning system, and as the cylinders were offset 50mm almost all the rear cylinder components from the con-rod up were identical to the front, simply rotated 180-degrees. And although the crankshaft and con-rods ran in plain bearings only a wire mesh oil filter was provided.


Further adding to the confused specification were a dry clutch and electronic ignition, both extremely unusual in 1971.


Although the Heron design was successful in the Jaguar V12, Rover’s 2000 and the ubiquitous Ford Kent engines, it always struggled to make sufficient power in smaller capacity motorcycle engines.


The original Morini 3 ½ produced a feeble 35 horsepower, and even in later Sport trim was underpowered. For 1977 Morini enlarged the bore to 69mm, and lengthened the stroke to 64mm to create the 500. With a pair of 26mm Dell’Orto carburettors the claimed power was 46 horsepower at 7500rpm. Unfortunately this was an optimistic claim and the 500 was little faster than the considerably lighter 3 ½, and considerably slower than any comparable Japanese 500.


But no one bought a Morini purely for engine performance. A Morini was about balance, handling, and manufacturing quality; something it had in abundance. From the exquisite engine castings to the Marzocchi suspension, Grimeca brakes, and Fiamm horn, a Morini exuded quality.


By the time the 1979 500 shown here appeared, 18-inch cast alloy wheels had replaced the Borrani wire wheeled type, and black highlighting was strongly evident, but the basic formula was unchanged. This was a formula that emphasised handling.


Although the double cradle frame was a conventional design, the wheelbase a longish 1443mm, and the steering slow (with a 29 degree steering head angle), the Morini’s handling was superior to just about anything in the late 1970s. The weight was only 167kg and initiating turns and making transitions was an absolute delight.


This was a bike on which the rider was in absolute command at all times, and one that could show a clean pair of heels to bikes with considerably more power. The handling ability of Morinis was made evident to me many times when I couldn’t match them on a Ducati Pantah on fast tight downhill rides. Only going uphill, when even judicious use of the Morini’s five-speed gearbox couldn’t disguise the power deficit, could the Pantah make amends.


Living with a Morini required dedication. Although the 500 did have a kickstart, generally it was easier to start with the left side lever.


Ergonomics were not really part of the package. The ignition key was awkwardly mounted under the tank, the seat low with very forward mounted non-folding footpegs, and the gearshift vague with missed shifts. These were mainly due to the clumsy left-side conversion from the original right side shift.


The 500 remained in production until the end of 1981 and was updated to the six-speed SEI-V for 1982. This soldiered on until 1985.


Morini 3 ½ s and 500s were never big sellers. They were far too idiosyncratic for that and consequently are rarely seen today. But if you do come across one ridden in a spirited fashion on a twisty back road, be prepared to be surprised.



Falloon on Facebook

Falloon website

More features here

See the bikes in our shed


Produced by AllMoto abn 61 400 694 722
Privacy: we do not collect cookies or any other data.

allmoto logo

Try our books...

Travels with Guido

twitter allmoto








Email newsletter


News archive


Our Bikes stories

Travels with Guido columns


About AllMoto

Email me