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.
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.