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MAGNI MV AGUSTA FILOROSSO | Bike Tests | Latest Tests

A modern machine in a classic package, the Filorosso pays tribute to Agostini’s title-winning MV Agusta triple through its timeless poise and racetrack performance

A modern machine in a classic package, the Filorosso pays tribute to Agostini’s title-winning MV Agusta triple through its timeless poise and racetrack performance

One problem with modern-day retro bikes is that in trying to combine ancient with modern, they often risk embracing the worst of both worlds, and the best of neither. In trying to re-create all our yesterdays in a modern context, their builders sometimes end up with too much engine for the chassis, or insufficient poke to pull the skin off a rice pudding. Better to stick the result on display and simply look at it – reflecting as you do how far and how fast the world has moved on since the bike it’s trying to honour first did its thing.

But every so often one comes along that is so totally right, and so luscious to look at as well as fun to ride, that you forget all the times you’ve been disappointed, and start looking at yesterday through distinctly rose-tinted spectacles. That’s definitely the case with Italy’s Magni MV Agusta Filorosso triple that’s now being handbuilt in limited quantities by Giovanni Magni in the Moto Magni factory north of Milan at Samarate. That’s a stone’s throw from MV’s former race HQ at Gallarate, where his late dad Arturo – who passed away in December 2015 at the age of 90 – led the historic Italian trophy marque’s grand prix team, bankrolled by the profits of Count Agusta’s helicopter factory, to a remarkable haul of 75 road racing World Championships in 26 years.

Sir Al tested the Filorosso at the Pirelli test track near Malpensa Airport, Milan

It’s hard to think of any company more entitled than Moto Magni to use a current MV Agusta model to produce an authentic retro-racer, and that’s what the firm’s director, Arturo’s youngest son Giovanni, has done. The Filorosso – Italian for ‘redline’, as in taking it to the limit – is an exquisitely designed, superbly executed and classically striking road-legal three-cylinder racer with lights that looks for all the world like the 500 triple that Giacomo Agostini took to seven successive 500GP world titles from 1966-72. But it’s actually a cleverly concocted creation that uses an unmodified modern liquid-cooled Brutale 800 engine, together with an Eldor ECU and wiring harness sourced directly from the MV Agusta factory some 40km away.

“I always dreamed of making a modern Magni MV, in the same way as my father did 40 years ago when he started our company,” says Giovanni with a shy but passionate smile. “And many of our existing customers were asking us to make an MV Agusta-based bike that was a blend of today’s engineering with traditional aesthetics – a bike that recalls MV’s glorious history but in a modern context, with today’s performance. I was always reluctant to do so because of the responsibility of living up to the expectations created by such a historic marque. I mean, you can’t dare to even think of building a bad MV, a bike that doesn’t meet the high standards set by that badge on the tank, can you? But then Claudio Castiglioni [MV’s owner] passed away in the summer of 2011, and he’d always been such a strong supporter of what my father and I were doing, and I wanted to recognise that in some way.”

Giovanni’s first Magni MV tribute bike was the four-cylinder Storia, a classically restyled stock-framed Brutale 1090 that was unveiled at the 2013 Milan Show, and continues in production. But although he’s delivered over 30 such bikes, and has more orders coming in all the time, Giovanni was criticised by some for just offering a change of clothes with the Storia, and not a Magni frame. So without telling anyone else, not even their dad, he and Carlo decided to make a three-cylinder bike using the 800 Brutale F3 engine in a purpose-built period-style Magni frame.

“The Filorosso started almost as a joke,” Giovanni admits. “I was so annoyed about the criticism I’d got for the Storia that I decided to do something I never thought I’d dare to do, and make a modern three-cylinder Magni MV, not a four. I mean, Agostini’s triple was the ultimate MV Agusta, so you can’t risk making something that’s supposed to be in the spirit of such an iconic bike and fails to live up to expectations. But I was so cross I decided to design it almost as therapy, and to make a bike that pleased me personally rather than worry about what other people said. Plus my father had been MV’s Direttore Sportivo all through the triple’s racing career, and I knew it would please him if I did it.

1. Modern MV Agusta dash 2. One-down five-up, street style 3. Hand-beaten aluminium tank 4. Triple treat – the Brutale 800 engine

“So I bought a used Brutale 800 F3 engine from an MV dealer and Carlo and I measured everything up. That’s when I realised not only what a beautiful-looking engine it is, but also how compact it is, too. It became obvious what I had to do: make a modern version of Agostini’s GP racer.”

Working flat out for three months, the two brothers finished the prototype Filorosso three days before the opening of the 2014 EICMA Milan Show. “It was complete but not running, so we just took some photos of it and posted them on our website with a few words explaining what it was, then went to bed,” recalls Giovanni with a smile. “Next morning, we found the website had crashed, and we had a dozen orders for the bike without anyone knowing the price. We hadn’t decided on the price yet ourselves!”

One year later the definitive version was displayed at EICMA 2015, having been extensively road-tested to iron out any problems. Production kicked off with the bikes built in batches of five at a tax-free price of 29,500 (A$41,230), and a six-month lead time before delivery. Hurry, hurry…

But there won’t be any kits available from Magni for customers to build up a bike at home, as with the company’s other products. “We’re only going to be selling complete bikes,” says Giovanni Magni, “because we have no problem with sourcing brand-new engines from MV Agusta. When he came to see the finished bike, Giovanni Castiglioni [Claudio’s son and MV Agusta’s new owner] stood looking at it for some moments. Then he turned to me and said: ‘Whatever you need from me to manufacture this motorcycle, just ask.’ So we have direct support from the MV Agusta factory, which is very reassuring.”

I’ve been privileged to ride many wonderful racers down the years, but the one that gets my blood racing and my heart soaring is the MV Agusta triple, because no other motorcycle so completely captures the sound as well as the substance of two-wheeled exotica, of the kind of engineering mystique that wins serial world titles. It’s The One. I’m fortunate to have ridden one of the 16 genuine three-cylinder GP racers that Count Agusta’s race team built in total down the years, as well as the last of the six Evoluzione bikes produced by Claudio Castiglioni before he died. So I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to sit on the classic racebike – and the Filorosso is uncannily similar, right down to its deceptively diminutive stature.

It’s so perfectly proportioned, however, that until you sit aboard the Magni MV you’ve no idea it’s relatively tiny – quite low, but also pretty short, with a compact 1370mm wheelbase (against 1310mm for Ago’s GP racer) removing all sense of bulk. Only when you see it without the fairing do you realise how perfectly packaged it is. Thanks to the F3 engine being painted in eye-catching silver, you hardly notice the low-mounted stock Brutale water radiator. There’s just enough space for a 1.80m rider, though the footrests are very high – Giovanni Magni says he had to raise them, because his youthful Supersport test rider kept decking them! You’re also pretty much wedged in place, seated quite far back on top of the rear suspension.

This gives you room to stretch out along the fuel tank to the low-mounted, steeply dropped clip-ons, thereby giving space to crouch behind the screen, as well as take a stab at tucking your knees inside the fairing in a straight line. You’re discouraged from moving about the bike due to the cramped riding position, but that’s okay because the way to ride a motorcycle like this is definitely not to hang off it and stick your knee on the ground. Instead, you must try to keep tucked in and use the sharp steering geometry to flick the Filorosso through tighter turns while you stay glued to the seat.

Moreover, I found you must keep up turn speed in faster fourth-gear bends, by relying on the good grip from the skinny Metzeler Roadtec Z8 front. Riding the Filorosso is just like racing a classic 500 single – only with a lot more power, and heaps more music! The bodywork is just wide enough to give good streamlining, with your shoulders adequately protected by the broad screen as you wrap yourself around the tank, and allow your eyes to peer at the rather cluttered stock MV dash – sorry, no period-style white-faced Veglia tacho here! – into which the Eldor ECU is integrated.

Giovanni Magni has jettisoned the traction control and anti-wheelie control programs by simply not installing the requisite sensors, and there’s no ABS, either. But he has thankfully retained the powershifter on the street-pattern
six-speed gearbox.

Listening to the three gracefully tapering megaphone pipes’ slightly muted (via internal silencing) but still gloriously evocative exhaust note change just an octave or so as you hit a higher gear rounding a wide-open sweeper is two-wheeled audio paradise. So is the suction roar coming from the trio of 50mm Mikuni throttle bodies when you crack open the throttle.

We’d come to Pirelli’s test track for me to ride the bike because, ahem, it isn’t road legal in Italy, in spite of being supplied with full lighting equipment. The turn signals and other such hardware come courtesy of the Rizoma factory close by Moto Magni’s base. The reason the Filorosso isn’t homologated for the street is simply one of cost, plus the time needed to add ABS, sanitise the exhaust system via a catalyst, and figure out a way of wrapping the throttle bodies in some kind of airbox.

However, there’s a good reason for that. “We have many orders for the bike in spite of the fact it’s not road legal in Italy,” says Giovanni Magni. “We leave it to our customers in whichever country they live in to get it registered there if they wish to. But I know some of them prefer just to ride it on the track – it’s their choice.”

The result is a motorcycle that’s as authentic a modern-day tribute as possible to arguably the most iconic Italian racebike ever made. The only thing missing is the tennis ball with the top cut off that Ago used to mount on the left clip-on – in it he carried a damp sponge that he used to wipe insects off his goggles during the hour-long GP races or two-hour TTs of the day.

While not inexpensive, the Magni Filorosso costs a fraction of a genuine factory MV-3 racer. That means you can ride it in something approaching anger in a way that would be unthinkable today on a period bike – the MV triples you see racing today in the Goodwood Revival and Classic TT are all replicas. Pushing the Filorosso hard at the Pista Pirelli revealed a bike that feels small, light, low slung and very well balanced, with light, agile steering and good feedback from the front Metzeler. The twin rear shocks are period kit and not very sophisticated in damping terms, but there weren’t enough bumps on the track to deliver a proper examination of their capability.

1. Arturo Magni with a Magni Guzzi Classic 2. With son Giovanni in 1987 3. Magni Guzzi Classic 1100 4. Arturo Magni on left holding helmet with Ago after victory in 1965 East German GP 5. Arturo Magni checks out original 1950 MV Agusta 500-4 in Monza pits

In spite of being so short, the Magni Filorosso was super stable round a fast fifth-gear sweeper, and it not only steers well but stops brilliantly too. The twin 320mm Brembo front discs gripped by axially mounted four-pot calipers are heaps more effective than the drum brakes fitted to the early GP triples, or the plasma-sprayed aluminium Hunt discs which replaced them and didn’t really work any better. The Filorosso’s Brembo package is more than good enough to haul a bike weighing 167kg dry down hard from high speed – though you must be careful about squeezing too hard on the adjustable lever, else with that short wheelbase you risk street-sweeping the tarmac with the back wheel in the air. You must make a point of using the rear 230mm brake with its twin-piston caliper a fraction before you brake really hard with the front, to preload the suspension on such a short bike, and get the 49.5/50.5 per cent weight bias to work in your favour.

Another big difference between the Filorosso and the classic MV racebike is the Brutale 800 engine’s electric leg. So instead of the bump start that Ago was so adept at on the GP triple, to start the Filorosso’s motor you just thumb a button. You’ll still invariably find yourself sitting there for a moment relishing the rasping offbeat engine note, before you pull in the light action clutch lever, hit bottom gear, and suddenly the trombone exhausts are playing their melody as the revs rise and you head out onto the track. The three-cylinder Brutale 800 engine pulls strongly from low down, and you can accelerate wide open in sixth gear from just 2000 revs without a hint of transmission snatch. At 3000rpm it starts to take off, and you can feel the extra kick at around 7000rpm when you hit maximum torque, then surf the curve all the way to the 13,000rpm limiter, accompanied by that deep, sonorous exhaust note that’s good enough to bottle. Magic!

Riding the Magni MV Filorosso was an emotional trip down memory lane, complete with all mod cons – well, except TC and ABS, I suppose. I bet Arturo Magni went to meet his maker suitably content with the ultimate creation of the brand he founded 40 years ago. Retro bikes don’t come any better than this.