1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121

This lot has been removed from the website, please contact customer services for more information

Lot 18
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle

Sold for £ 126,500 (US$ 157,597) inc. premium
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle
Frame no. *21601003*
Engine no. 121
• Last of MV's three-cylinder 500cc racers
• Known ownership history
• Formerly part of the Roberto Anelli Collection
• Paraded by World Champions Giacomo
Agostini and Angel Nieto

Arguably the greatest team in Grand Prix racing history, MV Agusta won everything that was worth winning at world level from the early 1950s to the late 1960s and beyond. Machines raced by the legendary Italian works team are among the rarest and most desirable racing motorcycles ever made. All surviving examples are held either in museums or private collections and only extremely rarely is one ever offered for public sale.

The MV (Meccanica Verghera) story began in 1945 when Count Domenico Agusta was forced to seek an alternative means of utilising his family's aero engine factory at Gallarate. Forbidden to manufacture aircraft engines following Italy's defeat in WW2, the Count turned to motorcycle production, commencing with a 98cc two-stroke lightweight, exactly the kind of utilitarian transport that Italy needed to re-mobilise in the aftermath of war. Within a few years a 125cc model had been added to the range, the racing version of which would bring MV its first major competition success when Franco Bertoni won the 1948 Italian Grand Prix. It was the birth of a legend; MV went on to win no fewer than 37 World Championships between 1952 and 1974, more than twice as many as closest rival Honda achieved in the same period.

The racing 125cc two-strokes were a major success, winning the arduous Milan-Taranto road race in 1950, '51, and '52, but at World Championship level the MVs were outclassed by the four-stroke FB-Mondial with its twin-overhead-cam engine. Count Agusta's response was to hire Gilera's chief designer Piero Remor together with its chief mechanic, Arturo Magni. However, the new Remor-designed 125cc four-stroke was not an immediate success, and it was only following Mondial's withdrawal from racing that MV bagged its first 125cc World Championship, in 1952.

MV first fielded a 500cc four at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1950, Arcisco Artesiani finishing fifth. A development of Remor's Gilera design, it followed the same basic layout but in some respects took a step backwards, most notably in the use of only two carburettors and the adoption of shaft drive. The frame and suspension likewise departed from orthodox practice, the former consisting of a mixture of tubes and pressings while the latter featured blade-type girder forks at the front and a friction-damped 'parallelogram' arrangement at the rear. Step by step these eccentricities would be removed, often at the instigation of the team's No. 1 rider, Les Graham, whose 1951 season was disappointing to say the least.

Misfortune dogged the team for the first part of the following season, before Graham scored a breakthrough victory aboard the MV 500 four in the Grand Prix des Nations at Monza, which he followed up by winning the Spanish Grand Prix. Despite his earlier setbacks, Graham finished second to Gilera's Umberto Masetti in the 1952 World Championship. Graham's death at the Isle of Man TT the following year dealt MV's hopes in the 500cc class a devastating blow. The next few seasons would be relatively lean ones for the team, only Carlo Ubbiali's victory in the 125cc World Championship in 1955 providing a glimmer of satisfaction.

It all changed for the better in 1956. By this time Remor had departed, leaving Magni in charge of the race team. A 350cc four had been introduced (in 1953) but by far the most significant development was Count Agusta's signing of John Surtees, who rewarded the Count's faith in his abilities by taking his first 500cc World Championship that same year. At the end of the 1957 season MV was the sole Italian manufacturer left in Grand Prix racing following the withdrawal of Gilera, Morini and Moto Guzzi. It was the dawn of a 'golden age' for the Gallarate firm, which took the 125cc, 250cc, 350cc and 500cc World Championships for the next three years.

Following Surtees' departure, Rhodesian Gary Hocking continued MV's domination of GP racing's premier class, taking the World Championship for them again in 1961, while the arrival of Mike Hailwood in 1962 only consolidated MV's grip. The Englishman left MV at the end of 1965 having brought them four consecutive 500cc World Championships, his place as No. 1 rider being taken by erstwhile team-mate Giacomo Agostini.

Increasing competition from Honda had prompted MV to withdraw its un-competitive 350 four at the end of 1962, and the Italian manufacturer ignored the Junior category for the next two years, returning to the class in 1965 with a lighter and more compact three-cylinder machine. Following Honda's withdrawal from Grand Prix racing at the end of 1967, the 350 triple proved good enough to secure the World Championship for Ago and MV the following year. Increasing competition from Yamaha's two-stroke twins eventually forced MV to introduce a four-cylinder successor, which made its debut at the Italian Grand Prix in 1971, by which time the 350 triple had secured two more World Championships for Agostini.

It had also spawned an almost identical 500 version, which had progressed from 377cc to 433cc and finally to 497.6cc. The combination of Agostini and MV's 500 triple proved good enough to take every Senior-class World Championship from 1966 to 1972 inclusive, an unprecedented achievement. In 1973, Ago had to give best to his new team-mate, Phil Read, though he still managed to secure another World Championship in the 350 class. By this time, MV also had a four-cylinder 500 available, its design again following that of the 350 version. Riding the four-cylinder 500, Read took the World Championship again in 1974, Ago having moved on to Yamaha. It would be the Italian company's final Grand Prix title, the Japanese two-strokes having by now gained the upper hand.

Dating from 1973, the machine offered here represents MV's three-cylinder 500 in its final incarnation, featuring the so-called testalarga cylinder head with steeper inlet ports and relocated camshafts. Unfortunately, no records exist relating to MV's Grand Prix machines, so it is not known what races this particular motorcycle contested, though as the more competitive four-cylinder 500 was already in existence they were probably confined to the early part of the 1973 season. The engine is numbered '121' while the frame has been stamped with the serial number of a 350 roadster, this being a not uncommon practice intended to smooth a racing motorcycle's progress through customs checkpoints. We are advised that, apart from the front fork and front brake, which are relatively new replacements, the machine remains largely original.

According to a letter of authentication on file, Count Corrado Agusta personally donated this motorcycle, together with a 1971 500 triple and a six-cylinder prototype, to former MV race-team mechanic Lucio Castelli, who had become a close friend of the Agusta family. The letter goes on to state that Mr Castelli paraded this MV at events throughout Europe for several years before selling the machine to prominent Italian collector Roberto Anelli, who continued to parade the machine until it was sold to the current vendor. Events and venues attended include the Isle of Man TT, Spa Francorchamps, Assen, ASI Motor Show, Jarama, Goodwood, etc. Riders have included World Champions Giacomo Agostini and Angel Nieto. Throughout this time, essential maintenance was carried out Lucio Castelli and another well-known Italian mechanic, Mr Domenico Pettinari. This MV 500 triple was also displayed at the world-famous MAD (Moto, Art, Design) exhibition in Italy in 2007, and is featured in the associated MAD book. Offered with the aforementioned letter of authentication, this ultra-rare and historic MV represents an all too rare opportunity to acquire one of these legendary Grand Prix racers.

Saleroom notices

  • Prospective purchasers should be aware that there is a considerable divergence of expert opinion with regard to the origins and age of this motorcycle's components. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should satisfy themselves with regard to its originality and correctness prior to bidding.
Contacts
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
1973 MV Agusta 497.9cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle  Frame no. *21601003* Engine no. 121
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations

ALL BIDDERS MUST AGREE THAT THEY HAVE READ AND UNDERSTOOD BONHAMS' CONDITIONS OF SALE AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THEM, AND AGREE TO PAY THE BUYER'S PREMIUM AND ANY OTHER CHARGES MENTIONED IN THE NOTICE TO BIDDERS. THIS AFFECTS THE BIDDERS LEGAL RIGHTS.

If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For Motorcycles a 15% Buyer's Premium is payable on the first £500,000 of the final Hammer Price of each Lot, and 12% on any amount by which the Hammer Price exceeds £500,000, VAT at the standard rate is payable on the Premium by all Buyers, unless otherwise stated.

Payment Notices

For payment information please refer to the sale catalog.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.