Behind the scenes at Moto Guzzi HQ

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It shouldn’t exist. Nestled in the alps, on the shores of Lake Como, red tile roofs cover ramshackle buildings that went up gradually sometime between World Wars I and II. It’s not just the dark, cramped buildings that jar with the clinical world of modern motorcycle production either; crack open one of the ancient windows and the view is inevitably of rocky alpine peaks, any way you look. Rather than a sterile industrial park on the edges of a major city, Moto Guzzi HQ exists in a part of the world more often associated with celebrity retreats and pastoral living than it is heavy industry.

Locked in one evening last week, I took the opportunity to have an…unofficial look round, snapping these pictures along the way.

Above: a V7 Racer sits perched atop a display installed for the brand’s 90th birthday celebrations.

Behind head-high gates of the relatively slick or, at least freshly painted, exterior and its modern signage is an eye opening look at a motorcycle manufacturer that’s spent the greater part of the last three or four decades in a decidedly unhealthy state. But, don’t think of what you see here as the slow decay of a once great brand, think of it as a transition between outmoded and modern.

A fleet of freshly-produce Stelvios and Norges is crammed into a nook behind the engine development room. These are the latest 8V models, which combine classic character and modern performance.

Acquired by Piaggio in 2004, Moto Guzzi is set to make a come back. By their own admission, Piaggio’s first thought at seeing what you’re seeing in Mandello del Lario was that there was no way this facility or, maybe even this company, could be made relevant to the 21st century. But after some soul searching (brought on partially by labor disputes with Mandello’s work force and the convoluted world of Italian industrial politics), the Group now plans a significant revitalization for the brand. The old production line has been torn down and, behind the partial wall that’s been retained, they plan to install a completely modern production facility. That’ll help treble production volumes to something in the ballpark of 12,000 motorcycles a year in the near future. It’ll also help Guzzi further pursue its new rallying cry — quality. Already largely hand made, modern equipment and processes should further elevate Moto Guzzis into the realm of luxury goods.

The former Chairman’s office lies empty. Management tasks are now handled at Piaggio HQ in Pontedara.

But, while they plan to modernize, Guzzi plans to retain its heritage, sticking with the 90-degree v-twins and shaft drive even while more power and less weight roll out in new platforms and new engines. In a couple years, Mandello del Lario won’t look like this, but it once did and that’ll inform the direction of all future motorcycles produced there.

Behind this partially destroyed wall will go the new production line. How’s that for a view? It’s what you see in every direction.

  • motomoto

    You lucky dog you. Were you tempted to try and squeeze that MGS-01 body work into your luggage (among a variety of other things that is!). Since I fell in love with Guzzi’s in the late 80′s I’ve always dreamed of going to Mandello del Lario and secretly living in the Guzzi factory. What a blast to meander through at your own pace and soak in the heritage. It’s nice to hear they are going to re-use the factory as much as possible. Is the wind tunnel still there?

    On another note, do you have a hi-res shot of the wall with the engine cut-away on it. Seems like a great desktop to me.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      That shot is 1280px wide (click on it). Big enough?

      I was tempted to drag a whole MGS-01 home, but didn’t want to upset my hosts to that degree. Guzzi’s are neat bikes. Real character and a tangible history in the age of hyper efficient, soulless transportation.

      You probably could live in the factory. There’s at least a dozen empty offices.

      Wind tunnel in a separate article :)

      • motomoto

        Ah, I’ve never clicked on the main pic in the galleries. Yes, thanks.

        And you nailed it “Real character and a tangible history in the age of hyper efficient, soulless transportation”. It’s the soul that I love about them. Luckily I’ve pounded that idea into my sons head. He bought his first motorcycle this year (after many years with mopeds and scooters) and it was a Guzzi. Luckily one that I had built up for a friend and owned for a short time (a 1000sp with a LM 3 tank, LM 1 clip-ons, S3 seat, Dyna 3 and a Bub deep sump – just incase you were wondering).

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Pretty much every image in every gallery is wallpaper sized and always has been.

      • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

        “Real character and a tangible history in the age of hyper efficient, soulless transportation” is on the dot, that’s exactly why my old V11 is still a head-turner, maybe even more now than 3 years ago. In this day and age, a motorcycle that emits so much character and soul, instead of efficiency, stands out. A lot.

        Beautiful pictures, thanks.

  • Jon B.

    I would happily pay $$$ for a few of those coat hanger/hat hooks.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I asked if anyone would notice if I stole them. I was politely informed that yes, they would notice.

    • robotribe

      Hell yeah. Those are the kinds of details that make me all warm & fuzzy. Classy.

  • Thom

    Much as I’m hoping for a good future for M-G , as much as I love their M/C’s , and in spite of the words written here , I have to say these photos don’t leave me with a whole lot of hope .

    More slowly Rotting away than Rebuilding and moving forward .

    I hope I’m completely off base . But I’m not so sure that I am .

    • Jon B.

      Without knowing their financials, I would still say you’re slightly off base. If you ever, or if you have ever, visited the Ducati Factory in Bologna, I think you’d be shocked at the state some of the buildings are currently in. I know that I was initially surprised when I went to the factory for the first time and then later found it to be a warm and happy place which I always looked forward to visiting. Living history and all that.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      They’re owned by Piaggio Group, which is anything but poorly funded.

      • Devin

        Having done inventory counts at various multi-national fabricating company’s over North America… you would be shocked at the amount of big dollar high-quality products that come out of completely derelect looking shops.

  • Cro-Magnon

    Unreal. I hope they make it.

    My brother had an M-G years ago that he tried like hell to bring back to life. I’d love for him to be able to have a modern, well-made (running), example.

  • Charlie

    I’ve always liked the v7 or Mk1 Lemans. But the new Griso SE is the best looking modern bike on the market. I think that’s the bike to own. My local dealer had one, but didn’t last long. He says they are providing virtually no bikes for the floor – all built to order. New V7 with the 8V motor should be good too. Just goes to show you that it isn’t all about weight loss and power. The sum can be greater than the parts

  • slash5alive

    Awesome views…Thanks for that!

  • http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=305107 stickfigure

    “…that went up gradually sometime between World Wars I and II…crack open one of the ancient windows…”

    I’m not sure this really qualifies as ancient, especially considering you’re in Italy.

    But cool post anyways. Gonna have to add a Guzzi to the stable when I have space for/can afford a stable :)

  • Johndo

    http://hellforleathermagazine.com/2010/07/details-moto-guzzi-v12-strada-concept/

    Will they ever start producing these? If it’s under 16000$US, I’m buying.

  • Shaun

    I’m lucky enough to be the owner of an MGS-01 (number 85)and despite having had it for 4 years now, and done nearly 3000 track kms…i still enjoy the thrill every time. You’re never short of friends with a Guzzi. The human in me hopes they survive.

    • motomoto

      Yes, you are a lucky man.

  • Shaun

    …and great shots by the way Wes, I’ve pulled off the close up ones of the engine and logo’s as screen savers.

  • Wereweazle

    If you guys haven’t seen this series, and the one that came before, you are MISSING OUT. That said, the article reminded me of this little bit. When I saw this I really liked the way the factory looked. Lots of busy little motorcycle people working away in an old building. It gave a feeling of heritage and respect.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucESbdvKV8I

  • Eugene

    Thanks for a Terrific pictorial of the MG factory. Clearly MG has a lot of fans myself including that would like to see their expansion plans succeed. As a former guzzi owner I’m looking forward to becoming a future owner some day soon.

  • oldblue

    That might just be the best gallery ever.

  • http://www.anotherdamndj.com evilbahumut

    Great pics! Crazy you went to Italy and only used your phone. I would’ve said that was crazy, but the pics turned out awesome!

  • AHA

    Logic suggests Piaggio should be badge-engineering Guzzi’s from a modern factory – probably in Poland or somewhere else lower cost.

    That just wouldn’t work – ask the Morgan Car Company. They need to keep the brand heritage alive but in competitive new products – like the new owners of Belstaff did.

    Not easy in the rag trade, even tougher in engineering.