1938 Moto Guzzi 498cc GTC/L to Condor Specification
Registration no. LFF 997
Frame no. 9181
Engine no. 43163 (see text)
Carlo Guzzi's first prototype motorcycle of 1919 was unconventional in so far as its single-cylinder engine was installed horizontally, and by the end of the 1930s the 'flat single' had established itself as a Guzzi hallmark. The importance of racing as a means of publicising Carlo Guzzi and Giorgio Parodi's fledgling marque had been recognised right from the start, at least by the latter, but it would be several years before the firm offered versions of its works racers for sale to the public.
Moto Guzzi's first attempt at a customer race bike was the pre-war GTC, a development of the GTV, which although reliable was handicapped by its roadster origins. The GTC was superseded in 1938 by the GTC/L (L = Leggera = Lightweight) which used cycle parts similar to those of the works team's supercharged 250 Grand Prix racer. First seen in 1939, the successor Condor model was Guzzi's first successful purpose-built production racer and would be revamped after WW2 as the legendary Dondolino (rocking chair). Although the GTC/L was lighter than the GTC the Condor took the process a stage further, aluminium alloy being used for the cylinder barrel and head. The GTC/L had won the production class on its debut outing at the Circuito del Lario in 1938, rider Ugo Prini setting a new lap record. For the 1939 race the improved Condor was entered in the competition class against pukka Grand Prix racers, including Dorino Serafini on the blown Gilera four. Ridden by future World Champion, Nello Pagani, the works Condor ran out the winner despite having less than half the total horsepower of Serafini's Gilera, an astonishing victory that emphatically demonstrated the Condor's potential. In total, 69 Condors were built prior to the cessation of production in 1940.
This rare pre-war Moto Guzzi comes with a letter from the factory (dated December 1993) stating that it was manufactured in October 1938 as a GTC/L for use by the Italian highway patrol police. This letter goes on to say that it was probably a demonstrator and was first delivered to Moto Guzzi's agent in Milan before being returned to the factory in December '38 and delivered to the firm's agent in Trieste in March 1939. It was finally sold to Moto Guzzi's distributor in Ethiopia in December 1939. (Ethiopia, or Abyssinia as it then was, had been invaded by Mussolini's Italy in 1935 and annexed as 'Italian East Africa').
When the current vendor discovered the Moto Guzzi in 1990 it was in India, almost certainly taken there by returning British forces after Italy's defeat in WW2. The Guzzi was purchased from its owner, Captain Joshi, an ex-Indian Army artillery officer, who revealed that the Condor, together with a Moto Guzzi Albatross, had previously been owned by the Maharajah of Patiala.
As discovered, the Guzzi had an aluminium cylinder barrel and head, magnesium crankcases, engine covers and hubs/brakes, and 21" alloy-rimmed wheels all hallmarks of the exotic Condor production racer. The aforementioned correspondence speculates that the machine could possibly have been transformed in this way on its return to the factory in 1938/39, as the GTC/L was already close to the Condor specification. The Condor had almost certainly never been raced, for it had retained all its original road equipment - lights, toolboxes, kick-start, baffled silencer, etc - that normally were stripped off for competition.
Brought back to the UK and fully restored during the early/mid-1990s, the machine was taken to Moto Guzzi's home at Mandello del Lario in September 1996 for the firm's 75th anniversary celebrations where it was the only Condor present other than the (less original!) one in the factory museum. Back in the UK the Condor went on to secure a number of prestigious concours awards, including 1st in class for pre-war motorcycles at the Scottish Vintage Vehicle Federation's 'Champion of Champions' event on two occasions. No further work has been required since restoration, other than a magneto overhaul in 2008, and the machine remains in excellent condition. (It should be noted that the engine number was mistakenly re-stamped '43463' during restoration, the vendor having discovered that number stamped on the flywheel assembly).
Offered with old Indian registration papers, sundry restoration invoices and Swansea V5C, this Condor represents a rare opportunity to acquire one of these limited edition pre-war production racers, which most unusually retains all of its factory fitted road equipment.