The history of the Gilera motorcycle company began in the early 1900s with the launch of the VT 317, the first motorcycle designed by Giuseppe Gilera, in 1909. After the first World War, Gilera’s 500cc flathead motorbikes won the top international races.
The mid-1930s saw the arrival of overhead motorcycles like the Quattro Bulloni 500 and the Otto Bulloni. The 1936 year marked the launch of the Rondine, a futuristic racing bike with compressor and 500cc straight-four engine.
The Rondine set a host of world records (274.181 km/h on a flying kilometer in 1937: a feat that remained unbeaten for nearly 20 years) and took Dorino Serafini to the 1939 European Championship title.
After the war, Gilera returned with the new Saturno 500 and a range of medium-small engines. On the race track, the new four-cylinder 500cc motorcycles dominated the MotoGP World Championship, the stars of epic duels with Norton, Moto Guzzi and MV Agusta, and won six motorcycle rider titles between 1950 and 1957.
Umberto Masetti was MotoGP World Champion in 1950 and 1952, followed by Geoff Duke #57 (three world motorcycle titles) and Libero Liberati (one title). Gilera also clocked up six constructors world titles, three Tourist Trophy (TT) victories, seven Italian titles and a spectacular record-breaking victory by Bruno Francisci in the Milan-Taranto.
Overall, by the time of its withdrawal from motorcycle racing in 1957, Gilera had won 40 World Grand Prix races. It was a redoubtable competitor in off-road motorcycle races too, dominating the International Six Days events.
On the market, Gilera made its reputation with its medium-cylinder touring bikes – Giubileo, Rossa, Turismo, Sport – turning out impressive production figures; its top-of-the-range models, in addition to the Saturno (the choice of Italy’s armed forces) included the 300 Bicilindrica.
In 1969 Gilera joined the Piaggio Group, which re-launched the historic two-ring brand by focusing on production of medium and medium-small motorcycles and a range of road and off-road bikes.
Gilera’s performance in Cross and Regularity races revived the traditional splendor of its name, with the support of leading-edge innovations such as the futuristic 125 Bicilindrica Cross.
With the 1980s came a new four-stroke dual-shaft single-cylinder engine initially 350 and 500cc, later in a 600cc motorcycle which reached its peak on the RC enduro series (600 and 750), with two class victories in the Paris-Dakar and in the Pharaoh Rally. In the 125 class, Gilera led the motorcycle field with the all-powerful SPO2 and the futuristic CX125.
Gilera returned to the 250 cc Moto GP World Championship in 1992 and 1993. Production was transferred to Pontedera in 1993, where the brand focused on development of sport scooters like the Runner, an innovative road scooter-bike, now available in four-stroke four-value 125 and 200cc versions.
In 2000, Gilera expanded its range with the revolutionary DNA, an automatic that took the scooter-bike concept into a new dimension. The end of 2003 saw the debut of the Nexus maxi-scooter, marking Gilera’s return to the 500cc class. More than 40 horsepower, sophisticated design solutions, and easy driving made the Nexus the sportiest scooter on the market.
In 2007, the Gilera GP 800 was the fastest and most powerful scooter seen to date. The scooter had it all: dual-cylinder engine, 8 valves, 839cc, electronic injection, liquid cooled, and 75 horsepower. The Gilera GP 800 was the link between the performance and pleasure of a mid-range model and the practical features of a scooter with loading capacity, aerodynamic protection and driving comfort.
The other outstanding new entry, in 2007, was the Gilera Fuoco: with its striking design and dual-ignition, electronic injection 500cc engine, the Fuoco is the standard-bearer for the Piaggio Group’s exclusive three-wheel technology: a fundamental development in safety and riding pleasure.
In 2001 the two-ring brand made an unexpected move when it entered the 125 class World Championship, a return to racing made possible by the Piaggio Group’ acquisition of Spain’s Derbi. With young driver Manuel Poggiali (Republic of San Marino), Gilera was one of the leaders in the 125 category.
On May 20, 2001, at Le Mans, Manuel engineered a spectacular race to finish first in the French Grand Prix and put Gilera back on top of the podium.
By the end of the season, Poggiali had scored two more victories (the Portuguese GP in Estoril and the Comunitat Valenciana GP) and crowned an extraordinarily consistent performance to become 125 World Champion, adding another title to the Gilera hall of fame, 44 years after the last world title won by Libero Liberati.
In 2002 it returned to defend its title. Once again Poggiali set the pace, with races, like the win at Mugello, that have gone down in motorcycling history. With four victories Poggiali fought to the very last 125cc GP but closed in the runner-up position.
The 2003 year was a season of transition. After two successful years, the team began a difficult process of reconstruction to equip itself for a revival, a painstaking task away from the spotlight of the podium, but one that reaped its rewards in the 2004 championship.
For the first time since its return to racing, Gilera opened the season with two riders: Stefano Perugini and Fabrizio Lai.
Following the integration of Aprilia into the Piaggio Group, Gilera returned to MotoGP in 2006, with Marco Simoncelli, a young rider from the Romagna region of Italy racing in the 250 class. In 2007, racing efforts doubled with Roberto Locatelli, a veteran of MotoGP riding alongside the late Simoncelli.
Gilera’s first ever 250 class win came in the 2008 season when the late Marco Simoncelli rode to victory in the Italian GP at Mugello. He repeated the feat in the very next GP in Barcelona. Simoncelli, who perished in a crash during Sepang MotoGP in 2011, went on to win the German, Japanese, and Australian GPs as well and in the Malaysian GP took the 2008 MotoGP World Championship title in the 250cc class.
Once again an Italian riding a Gilera was the World Champion, 51 years after Libero Liberati. Completing a season of triumphs, Marco Simoncelli also won the last race, in Valencia, on his Gilera 58, sporting a special livery to mark the brand’s one hundredth anniversary.
In 2009 Simoncelli’s defense of the title got off to a difficult start, after an accident during training forced him to miss the first race in Qatar and slowed his performance during the early races.
Even so, he scored six wins and competed for the title right up to the last GP. But a slip during the Valencia round destroyed his dream of a repeat world title. This was also the final year of the 250cc class, but Gilera left the World Championship with the final 250cc title.
Gilera MotoGP | Motorcycle Manufacturer Titles
1952 – MotoGP / 500 cc
1953 – MotoGP / 500 cc
1954 – MotoGP / 500 cc
1955 – MotoGP / 500 cc
1957 – MotoGP / 350 cc
1957 – MotoGP / 500 cc
Gilera MotoGP | Motorcycle Racer Titles
1950 – Umberto Masetti, Italy – 500 cc
1952 – Umberto Masetti, Italy – 500 cc
1953 – Geoff Duke, Great Britain – 500 cc
1954 – Geoff Duke, Great Britain – 500 cc
1955 – Geoff Duke, Great Britain – 500 cc
1957 – Libero Liberati, Italy – 500 cc
2001 – Manuel Poggiali, RSM – 125 cc
2008 – Marco Simoncelli, Italy – 250 cc