Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From Dream to Disaster: The Morbidelli 850 V8

The mid-1990s Morbidelli V8. That engine looks awesome!

Pics: Robb Report Motorcycling

Here at Faster and Faster, we’ve often been fascinated with bikes that have six-cylinder engines. Regardless of the fact that they were big, heavy brutes that did not handle very well and offered little or no performance benefits over four-cylinder sportsbikes of the same era, we love six-cylinder bikes. The 1978 Laverda V6 Bol d’Or racer. The 1980s Honda CBX, Benelli Sei and Kawasaki Z1300 streetbikes. And the more recent Honda Evo6 and Suzuki Stratosphere concepts. We think these bikes absolutely rock.

So if six-cylinder engines are good, eight-cylinder engines have to be better, eh? Well, there was the Moto Guzzi V8 racebike in the mid-1950s, but apart from that, there’s just one eight-cylinder motorcycle that we can think of – the Morbidelli 850 V8. Made in Italy in the mid-1990s, the much-maligned Morbidelli 850 V8 was Giancarlo Morbidelli’s dream, a dream that ultimately turned out to be a disaster.

Morbidelli bikes actually won three 125cc and one 250cc motorcycle GP racing world championships in the 1970s. Graziano Rossi (Valentino’s Dad) used to race for the Morbidelli team in the 1970s, and Morbidelli was a reasonably successful motorcycle brand till then. But then the Japanese onslaught happened and Morbidelli, like many other European bike companies, were caught unprepared. Things started going downhill for them in the 1980s.

But then, after a decade of seeing his motorcycle company go down the drain, Giancarlo Morbidelli probably sat up one day and decided that Morbidelli motorcycles must make a big, fat comeback. And what better way to do that than make a motorcycle with an eight-cylinder engine. The Morbidelli V8 idea was born. It would be a bike, dreamed Giancarlo, with which he would be able to challenge the likes of Ducati and Bimota. And, of course, the pesky Japanese.

The first iteration of the Pininfarina-designed Morbidelli V8, unveiled in 1994. Umm... one of the ugliest motorcycles ever made?

At least the 848cc V8 engine was a masterpiece, and the second evolution of the bike (on the right) looked vastly better than the first one!

Though it was a noble dream, things did not exactly pan out the way Giancarlo Morbidelli thought they would. To begin with, the styling – the first prototypes were designed by Pininfarina – went horribly wrong. When it was first shown in 1994, the Morbidelli 850 V8, with its cartoonish twin headlamps and featureless, slab-sided bodywork, was derided for being one of the ugliest, most hideous-looking bikes ever built. (The styling improved with the Morbidelli V8’s second iteration, but by then it was already too late…)

Then there was the liquid-cooled, 32-valve, eight-cylinder, 848cc engine, which was essentially a miniaturized Cosworth V8 design. This complex engine made 120 horsepower at 11,000rpm and pushed the bike to a top speed of about 230km/h – not outstandingly impressive figures even by 1990s standards. In fact, this 200kg bike was tuned like a sports-tourer rather than an all-out performance bike and nobody was very clear about exactly what it was meant to be. Not that many would have cared anyway – the Morbidelli V8 cost a shattering US$60,000 back then.

Like some other rare, expensive and super-exclusive Italian sportsbikes, the Morbidelli 850 V8 was well engineered, and featured cutting-edge technology for its time. The bike was fitted with a Weber Marelli fuel-injection system, shaft drive, five-speed gearbox, tubular spaceframe, Marvic alloy wheels, and Brembo brakes. It also had high-spec suspension components – 43mm GCB forks and GCB monoshock, both adjustable for compression and rebound damping.

Speaking to Robb Report Motorcycling, motorcycle collector and Morbidelli V8 owner Robert D. Arnott says, ‘The Morbidelli feels somewhat heavy by today’s standards, but is absurdly light for a V8.’ Arnott also says that the bike’s V8 engine is ‘Effortless, quiet, and eerily smooth.’ But of course. And ultimately, that a Kawasaki ZZR1100 or Yamaha FZR1000 of that era – bikes that cost a tiny fraction of the V8’s price – would have the Morbidelli for breakfast, doesn’t matter. The Morbidelli V8 may have been too expensive, not very good looking, and not at all practical. But nonetheless, it was an engineering masterpiece, and a testament to the human desire to reach higher, do things better and create something extraordinary…

You can read more about Morbidelli here and here. And take a look at the Morbidelli Museum in Pesaro, Italy, here.

Also see:
Memorable: The 1970s Laverda V6 Bol d'Or racebike...
The mighty Munch Mammut TTS-E
Memorable: The 1950s Moto Guzzi V8 racer!
Blasts from the past: The mighty Bimota YB11 and Bimota YB6 Tuatara
The Bruise Brothers: Suzuki GSX-R1100 and Bimota SB6!
NRV588: The Norton Rotary rides again...

Elsewhere today:
The Boss Hoss V8 motorcycle range...
The Drysdale V8: See here and here!
From Australia: The Barbarian V8...
The Morbidelli Museum...
From Germany: The Mega Machines V8 range!

Okay, the Morbidelli V8 is gone forever, but you can still have one of these Drysdale 1000 V8 machines, built in Australia. More details here


Anonymous said...

You forgot about the drysdale v8... Never really made it into production but a bucketload cheaper than the Morbidelli... The MotoGP version would have been significantly better looking than the Morbidelli...

Check it out on http://www.drysdalev8.com/

the_ioniser33 said...

who needs a big, heavy and massively expensive V8 poser bike when a CBR600 or R1 will give you all the performance in the world..

Anonymous said...

Jesus H Christ! That's one UGLY bike... but I do like the idea of a V8 engine. Imagine a V8 Hayabusa or ZZR... Oooohhhh.... :-D



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