Gilera 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle Re-creation by Kay Engineering Frame no. 508 Engine no. 508

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Lot 588
Gilera 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle Re-creation by Kay Engineering
Frame no. 508 Engine no. 508

Sold for £ 55,200 (US$ 74,989) inc. premium
Gilera 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle Re-creation by Kay Engineering
Frame no. 508
Engine no. 508
• Faithful replica of the 1957 Gilera Four
• Built in 2004
• Used sparingly
• Signed by Geoff Duke

Gilera first sprang to prominence in the late 1930s, when the Italian firm's supercharged four-cylinder racers trounced BMW in Grands Prix and snatched the world speed record away from the German marque. When motorcycle racing recommenced after WW2, the FIM banned supercharging, thus rendering obsolete the 'blowers' of pre-war days. Thus Gilera's post-war campaign relied on the single-cylinder Saturno while engineer Piero Remor drew up a normally aspirated four.

Although its air-cooled cylinders were inclined at 30 degrees, in most other respects the new four followed the layout of its blown predecessor and was ready for testing by the spring of 1948. With 48bhp available at the rear wheel and weighing a featherweight 270lbs, the new Gilera should have been an instant success but was dogged by lubrication problems and handling deficiencies; rider Nello Pagani described it as 'unrideable', much to Remor's annoyance. With Remor and Pagani at loggerheads, the four fared little better in 1949. Nevertheless, Pagani had bagged two Grand Prix victories by the season's end, at which point the mercurial Remor departed for MV.

Piero Taruffi returned, and for the 1950 season the Gilera four was revised with new cylinder heads, larger carburettors and improved brakes and suspension. Weight crept up slightly but with 52bhp now on tap, the Gilera was easily the most powerful machine in its class. Pagani was joined by Carlo Bandirola and Umberto Masetti, the latter going on to secure Gilera's first World Championship that year. Handling was still far from perfect, so for the following season a new fully tubular frame was produced, equipped with a telescopic front fork and conventional swinging-arm rear suspension damped by hydraulic struts, replacing the friction-damped design. Despite these improvements Gilera were overshadowed by Geoff Duke's Featherbed-framed Norton single in 1951, victory in the 500cc World Championship going to the Englishman, with Gilera-mounted Milani and Masetti second and third.

Honours were shared in 1952; Masetti taking the riders' title while Norton claimed the manufacturers' for the third successive year. At this point Taruffi persuaded the somewhat chauvinistically inclined Count Gilera to swallow his pride and hire Geoff Duke, unquestionably the finest rider of his day, together with Reg Armstrong and Dickie Dale. It was an inspired move, for although success at the prestigious Isle of Man TT eluded him, Duke ended the season as World Champion once again, a feat he repeated the following year. The Gilera had been heavily revised for the '54 season, gaining revised cylinder heads and an altered sump that enabled the engine to be mounted lower in the totally new frame. Maximum power went up to 64bhp at 10,500rpm.

Largely unaltered for 1955 apart from an improved front brake, the Gileras of Duke and Armstrong dominated the season, finishing 1st and 2nd respectively in the World Championship. The pair had finished in that order in the Dutch TT at Assen, scene of a mass protest by privateers over poor conditions and miserly starting money. Although not directly involved, Duke and Armstrong had supported their colleagues and as a result were banned by the FIM from riding during the first half of 1956, thereby effectively handing that year's World Championship to rivals MV Agusta. Designer Franco Passoni continued to improve the Gilera, which now boasted megaphone exhausts and produced 70bhp at 11,000. With its handling problems banished courtesy of a new frame, and equipped with Passoni's 'dustbin' fairing on faster circuits, the Gilera proved superior to the MV when the Italian rivals squared up to one another during the latter half of the season, but by then it was too late.

Rising star Bob McIntyre was recruited for 1957, joining Duke and Libero Liberati. The pairing of McIntyre and Gilera is one of the most famous in motorcycle racing, for it was this combination that passed an Isle of Man TT milestone, when in June 1957 the Scot became the first man to lap the Mountain Circuit at over 100mph on his way to victory in the Senior race. McIntyre's fastest lap of 101.12mph was 29 seconds quicker than MV-mounted John Surtees' best, underlining the Gilera's superiority. With Duke and McIntyre beset by a succession of injuries and other misfortunes, it was the third member of the squad, Liberati, who eventually secured the 1957 riders' World Championship for Gilera, which also claimed the manufacturers' prize.

Gilera, Moto Guzzi and Mondial withdrew from Grand Prix racing at the end of '57 and the fours, including a new 350 that had appeared that year, were mothballed. Six years later, in 1963, Geoff Duke persuaded the Gilera management to release them for a revived campaign under the 'Scuderia Duke' banner. Some of the most talented riders available were recruited - Derek Minter, John Hartle and rising star Phil Read - but the under-financed team suffered a string of misfortunes, Hartle's 1st place in the 500cc race at the Dutch TT proving to be its only classic victory that year. It would also turn out to be Gilera's last. Machines and factory mechanics were loaned to a handful of selected riders, including Minter, during the mid-1960s but the '63 season had been Gilera's final chance of Grand Prix glory.

With the surviving works Gilera fours either in museums or private collections, and thus extremely unlikely ever to be offered for public sale, it was perhaps inevitable that the revival of interest in classic motorcycle racing would lead to the construction of replicas of these precious thoroughbreds.

Constructed for Robert in 2004, the example offered here is the work of Kay Engineering (MV Meccanica Verghera Ltd), a company world famous for its recreations of classic MV Agustas and other exotica. The machine is one of approximately six made by Kay Engineering using a genuine ex-works 1957 Gilera 500 four, on loan from Italy, for guidance. Gilera's Grand Prix four had reached the zenith of its development by 1957, making that year's model the obvious choice for replication.

This particular machine was built for short circuits and delivers a rear-wheel maximum of 53bhp via an integral (same oil) five-speed gearbox. Ignition is by magneto and is timed to 50 degrees advance. The front forks have 35mm stanchions and Gilera yokes, the latter being one-piece fabrications with bearings in the yokes and not the headstock. The front brake is a 4LS of Gilera design.

Kept in the Isle of Man, the Gilera was ridden by Robert at Jurby on a number of occasions and carries IoM TT stickers for 2006 and 2007; it has also been signed by Geoff Duke. In 2007, the sister-bike to this one finished 7th in the Manx GP with a fastest lap of 99.98mph.

Saleroom notices

  • This lot is offered with a full fairing.
Gilera 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle Re-creation by Kay Engineering Frame no. 508 Engine no. 508
Gilera 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle Re-creation by Kay Engineering Frame no. 508 Engine no. 508
Gilera 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle Re-creation by Kay Engineering Frame no. 508 Engine no. 508
Gilera 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle Re-creation by Kay Engineering Frame no. 508 Engine no. 508
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