Inside the Morbidelli V8
By any estimation, Giancarlo Morbidelli dreamed in epic proportions. A self-made businessman with a passion for motorcycles, he used his entrepreneurial spoils to finance a race team and achieved impressive results: His race bikes won three consecutive 125cc world titles in the mid-1970s, a coveted 250cc title in 1977, and another 125cc championship the following year.
Morbidelli’s fortunes waned, however, when his 4-cylinder 500cc entries proved less triumphant, and by the early 1980s his name vanished from racing. Perhaps Morbidelli had become accustomed to the taste of victory, or maybe his relentless ambition overpowered his ability to grow old peacefully, but it appeared that time away from the limelight galvanized his efforts to create a bike of supreme power and stately presence in the 1990s. The expensive 8-cylinder motorcycle proved to be unlike anything seen before. The Morbidelli V8 was intended to challenge household names like Ducati and Bimota with an unparalleled combination of sportiness and comfort.
Motorcycles with more than four cylinders are often considered exercises in excess, muscle-bound bikes that surrender function to form. But the elegance of Morbidelli’s 8-cylinder approach transcended the novelty of over-endowed motorcycles; it involved shrinking a Cosworth V8 design—already a landmark high-performance engine—to a mere 848 cc of displacement. The Lilliputian 90-degree longitudinal 32-valve engine produced an intriguing blend of power and balance. The bike also created misleading spatial dimensions with delicately entwined exhaust headers that appeared to be smaller than they should have been, and a muffler of relatively small diameter that made the bike seem even larger than it actually was. Morbidelli tuned the engine more like a gentleman’s sport tourer than an all-out superbike. Its 120 hp output at 11,000 rpm was a high—but not earth-shattering—figure, and its 60 ft lbs of torque decently matched the bike’s dry weight of 441 pounds.
Though the jewel-like qualities of the Morbidelli V8 engine impressed enthusiasts when unveiled in 1994, the prototype’s Pininfarina bodywork failed to impart the bike’s importance or sophistication. Its overall look had something of an early Star Wars aesthetic, as though a Storm Trooper had mated with a Jet Ski. Perceived almost universally as an ugly duckling design, the first bike also featured a face with close-set, twin headlights wrapped in white molding and set against a black fairing that bore an unfortunate resemblance to a raccoon. Other body panels were similarly undistinguished, with flat expanses that unfortunately drew attention away from the exquisite engine.
The Morbidelli V8 had a $60,000 price tag that proved fatal for sales—there were only four prototypes. “I was attracted to its uniqueness,” says collector and Morbidelli V8 owner Robert D. Arnott, whose decade-long quest for the rare bike ended recently, and he passed up three opportunities to buy different versions of the bike while waiting for the non-Pininfarina incarnation. “This is the style I prefer,” he says. “It’s more understated and beautiful.” As with the first prototype, Arnott’s Morbidelli has burled walnut on the dash, and side mirrors operated by toggle switches. But its lines are more sculptural than the original prototype, flowing more convincingly in concert with the bike’s centerpiece engine. According to Arnott, his Morbidelli feels somewhat heavy by today’s standards, but is “absurdly light” for a V8. He describes the engine as effortless, quiet, and eerily smooth. Bike expert John Pera says, “Blipping the throttle from idle produces a rotational force, like a BMW boxer engine.” Pera views the mechanical quirk as an attribute rather than a liability. In fact, it is that sort of quirkiness that distinguishes the Morbidelli V8 from other mega-powerful, larger-than-life two-wheeled conveyances.
While the Morbidelli V8 was overpriced for its era and did not develop the audience needed to become a production motorcycle, it did become an instant, 6-figure classic. As with any visionary concept, time will ultimately determine its true worth. Discreet, finely tuned, and innovatively engineered, the Morbidelli is one of a handful of bikes so elusive that it can inspire an exhaustive search by a seasoned collector.
Photo by Cordero Studios
Morbidelli V8 Specs
848cc. Liquid cooled, 90º longitudinal V-8.
DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder. Weber Marelli fuel injection, 25mm throttle bodies.
120 hp @ 11,000 rpm
60 ft lbs @ 9500 rpm
5 speed (shaft drive)
43mm GCB forks,
compression and rebound damping adjustable
Single GCB shock, compression and rebound damping adjustable