Then and now, Aermacchi was famous for producing aircraft. But they made some lo…
Then and now, Aermacchi was famous for producing aircraft. But they made some lovely motorcycles as well.
Aermacchi, at least on this side of the pond, is probably best known for a well-intentioned, but unsuccessful joint venture with Harley-Davidson. H-D dropped a significant investment with the Italian company in the 1960s and ultimately took over the entire operation in 1974. Immediately after WWII, Aermacchi had some racing success and their forward-looking designs were epitomized by the svelte Chimera which was available in 175 and 250 cc versions.
Right after the war, Aermacchi began a search for a designer capable of producing an attractive, lightweight motorcycle to feed the growing demand for such bikes in Europe. Ultimately, the firm settled on one Lino Tonti. Tonti, who made his bones with Benelli and had worked on aircraft engine designs during the war, came up with plans for a 50 cc motorcycle which went on to break land speed record in its class. He also went on to develop the V7 motor for Moto Guzzi, and was perhaps best known among race aficionados for his Tonti Frame.
Success in the postwar Italian motorcycle market during the 1960s led Harley-Davidson to begin eyeballing the company as a potential acquisition, and H-D initially to a 50% stake in Aermacchi. Harley-Davidson wanted to produce a line of motorcycles to compete with Japanese models at an assembly plant at Schiranna. As a result of the partnership, several models with engine displacements between 125cc and 350cc were produced for the American and the European markets. After acquiring complete control of the Italian company in 1974, Harley began re-badging Aermacchi bikes as ‘Harley-Davidsons.’ Racing success followed as bikes developed during those years won the 250 cc Roadracing World Championship three years in a row in 1974, 1975 and 1976 and a 350 cc World Championship was added to the list of titles in 1976.
When the Italian machines failed to capture the imagination of US buyers, Harley-Davidson sold all Italian operations to the Castiglioni brothers, of the Cagiva motorcycle company, in 1978. The Castiglioni’s kept producing bikes branded “HD Cagiva” until 1980.