1966 Motobi Zanzani Works Racer
Frame no. 440237
A simple family squabble led to one of Italian motorcycling's most interesting sidelights. In 1949 when eldest sibling Giuseppe Benelli disagreed with his five brothers about the running of Benelli Motorcycles, he took his engineering prowess across town and started his own company, Motobi. In 1953 came the "power egg" style of engine with its forward-facing laydown cylinder that the brand would become known for. Giuseppe passed away in 1957, leaving the company to his two sons, Luigi and Marco. Both were enamored with racing and hatched a plan to get Motobi into the headlines. They hired Primo Zanzani, a former racer and brilliant self-taught tuner, to turn their 125 and 175cc models into production roadracers for Italy's Formula 3 class, an important stepping stone to national and international competition. The results were impressive: In 1965 alone, with a 250cc model joining the mix, Motobi riders took a total of 16 Italian Junior championships!
Many Americans first learned of Motobi in 1962 when rider Jess Thomas used a Zanzani-tuned 207cc version to good effect on the twisty Daytona Speedway infield course, hounding two factory Honda four-cylinders into submission on his way to a dominating win at the USGP. Thomas, impressed by his bike's sandcast engine cases, roller-bearing bottom end and needle-bearing gearbox, campaigned it to 26 wins during the season.
By now, family bridges were mended and Motobi had been reabsorbed into the Benelli empire, but financial times turned tough and in 1970 the race shop was closed. Zanzani, an early adopter of disc brakes, opened his own machine shop in Pesaro and developed a plasma iron spray that could be applied to aluminum brake rotors, giving good performance and light weight. Machines with Zanzani rotors took 24 GP world championships between 1978-92. By popular demand, he also continued making limited-production Motobi-based racers, which are bikes to be reckoned with still in vintage competition.
This particular machine, an original 1966 works Motobi 175 with alloy fuel tank and magnesium front brake, is surely one of the brand's best examples. It was rebuilt, tuned and vintage-raced in the 1990s by marque specialist Norbert Blasius, who claimed more than 20 European victories and held the 175-class track record at Germany's Schotten circuit for many years. Blasius restored the Motobi after purchase by the current owner, who reports that the bike is fully ready for concours or competition.