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MV Agusta's 600 grand tourer

(by Ian Falloon, Mar 2022)

MV Agusta 600



Silk purse or sow's ear?


Count Domenico Agusta was well known for appreciating the value of publicity and getting things done. In 1949 he poached Piero Remor from Gilera and instructed him to build a 500cc racing four-cylinder engine. This made it from the drawing board to test bench in less than 15 weeks and did so because it was a virtual copy of Remor’s Gilera design.


Then at the Milan Show at the end of 1950 MV displayed the R19, a 500cc street version of the racer. At the time an overhead camshaft single was considered exotic so a production double overhead camshaft four was remarkable. But the R19 was purely a publicity exercise and by the end of the 1950s even the most ardent enthusiast became tired of waiting and the R19 was largely forgotten.


It took several years for MV to develop their 500 into a consistent race winner but for 1956 they hired John Surtees and he rewarded them with their first 500cc World Championship. Surtees went on to win the 350 and 500cc World Championships from 1958 until 1960, Gary Hocking taking over in 1961 after Surtees retired.


Mike Hailwood won the 350 and 500cc Championships for MV from 1962 until 1965 but with his departure to Honda the venerable four was pensioned off in favour of a new triple.


As there was no longer a racing use for the four, Count Agusta deemed the time was right to introduce another production four-cylinder. First displayed at the Milan Show at the end of 1965, MV again astonished observers. The expected road-going version of the Grand Prix racer didn’t eventuate, Count Agusta instead deciding the new 600 four would be an expensive grand tourer, a two-wheeled Rolls Royce. His intention was to make the production four so unsuitable for racing that they wouldn’t end up as competition for the factory machines.


Only the engine of the 600 was really related to the factory racers. The displacement was raised to 592cc using a 58mm bore and 56mm stroke, but the double overhead camshaft cylinder head, and straight cut gear camshaft drive remained. The crankcase was a one-piece casting, and the crankshaft and big-ends were all supported by roller bearings.


The widest part of the MV engine was the outer cylinders and in the adaptation to street use a generator and electric starter were positioned at the rear of the engine underneath the swingarm pivot, both driven by one-way rubber belts.


The compression ratio was a high 9.5:1, and the racing design could spin safely to 9000rpm, but the carburetion was by a pair of Dell’Orto UBF24mm carburettors more suited to a 250. The result was an unremarkable 52 horsepower at 8200rpm, only enough to power the 221kg 600 to 170km/h.


Further distancing the 600 from the racers was a heavy shaft final drive, and unusual styling. Even in the 1960s this was described as weird, as were the cable-operated Campagnolo disc brakes. These early motorcycle disc brakes were hopelessly ineffective, even compared to the marginal drum brakes of the day.


A large rectangular headlight was incorporated in a moulded fibreglass shell and a pair of huge air horns mounted on the standard crash bars. A low seat and cow horn-style handlebars all made for one of the ugliest Italian motorcycles ever.


It took a couple of years for the 600 to make the production line and although it was built from 1967 until 1972 only 135 600s were produced. By that stage MV recognised their lost opportunity and created the sporting 750S. The 600 may be the ugly duckling of MV fours, but there was silk under that sow’s ear exterior.



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