Monday, 1 February 2016

Gilera: A trip to Arcore

Arcore is a small town to the east of Milan in Lombardy, Northern Italy and is famous for two very different reasons.
The first is that it was home to Moto Gilera, legendary manufacturer of World Championship winning motorcycles. The second that it was also home to that other Italian legend, Silvio Berlusconi.

It is relating to the former on which this blog is based.

In 1909 Giuseppe Gilera, an ambitious young engineer from Milan, started the production of motorcycles bearing his name.  The factory he created after WW1 was in Arcore and went on to produce some of the greatest motorcycles the world has ever known.

Gilera factory Arcore

The factory he built was to be fully self-sufficient and was located on Via Cesare Battisti, Giuseppe and his family lived in the villa next door. Both buildings are still here to this day and completely unspoiled and unaltered. Even the famous water tower is still here, although sadly no longer bearing the Gilera name.

Gilera factory gates

Giuseppe Gilera's villa

It is hard not to be moved when you think of all the wonderful machines that have passed through these gates over the years. The great engine designers like Ing. Remor, Columbo and Passoni had their offices in this building, the mechanics Magni and Fumagalli worked in their race shops and it was from here that Team Managers Piero Taruffi, Giuseppe’s son Ferruccio and Roberto Persi planned their World Championship campaigns. Sadly Giuseppe lost his only son from a heart attack at the tender age of 26 and never came to terms with this loss.

Slowly his interest waned in the sport and along with other Italian motorcycle factories, withdrew from the World Championships and motorcycle sport in general at the end of 1957. As a factory they had produced the most successful Senior or 500cc class racing bikes of the period. Although there were a number of racing ‘come-backs’ between 1963 and 1966, these were half-hearted attempts and lacked the commitment that had previously made Gilera such a force to be reckoned with. There was also a shift in the demand for lightweight motorcycles, it was the time for the scooter and small car to have their day. This coupled with increasing unrest in the home labour market during the late 60s and throughout the 70s, resulted in endless strikes and a loss of production. Gilera were in terminal decline and it would only be a matter of time. In 1969 Piaggio took over Gilera and the factory closed it’s gates for the very last time in 1993.

Enough of this.
If we cast our minds back to the mid/late 1950s, how different it all must have been. This was the zenith for Gilera and you can imagine the vibrant town of Arcore benefitting from an association with the factory and all who worked there. In that way I suppose the naming of one of the town’s main thoroughfares as Via Ferruccio Gilera is a lasting tribute to one of it’s most famous families.

Before we close I would like to leave you with a photograph of how it was back then. This photograph was taken by Joe Potts, friend and Business Manager to the great Bob McIntyre.

Maserati 3500GT - Arcore

Joe and Bob became great friends with Giuseppe and would stay many times with the family at their villa or in his hotel in Milan. Unfortunately it was from this hotel that Alistair King’s winnings were taken following his magnificent ride on a Potts manx in the 1961 500cc Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

The Bellshill brigade would always stop with Mr Gilera when racing at Monza, with Joe and Giuseppe continuing to be good friends until his death in 1971. It was out of friendship and respect that Gilera sent the ex-McIntyre 500cc bike with Giovanni Fumagalli to the Bob McIntyre Remembrance Race at Oulton Park in October 1962, following Bob’s fatal accident earlier in that year. 

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