Claudio Castiglioni decided...
Claudio Castiglioni decided that the F3 should be a 675cc triple following not only in the more recent tire tracks of Triumph’s successful 675 Daytona, but in the tradition of the 500cc and 350cc three-cylinder MV Agusta GP racers that won ten World Championships in the hands of Giacomo Agostini and his teammates.
No motorcycle in recent years has made such a universally positive first impression as the new three-cylinder MV Agusta F3 675 launched at the 2010 EICMA Show in Milan. The F3 made its debut on an ultra-minimalist stand celebrating the Art of the Motorcycle hastily arranged by a company which, three months earlier, had been part of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. But in the meantime, MV Agusta had returned to Italian handsin fact, for the third time in two decades, it had been acquired by the Castiglioni family!
That deal saw MV president Claudio Castiglioni, 65, and his son Giovanni, 29, repurchasing 100 percent of the shares of MV Agusta Motor S.p.A., which they had previously sold to Harley in July, 2008 for $108 million. Harley’s exit came after making a further significant investment of around $60 million in MV Agusta, devoted to cleaning up the balance sheet and underwriting development costs of the two models announced for 2010the heavily revised F4 and 990R/1190RR Brutale duoplus the forthcoming F3. Claudio Castiglioni continues as President of the company, with Giovanni as CEO in charge of day-to-day operations.
The F3 was created by MV Agusta’s British design chief Adrian Morton at the company’s CRC (Centro Ricerche Cagiva) product development base at San Marino. Morton graduated in 1995 from the prestigious industrial design course at London’s Royal College of Art. He then went straight to Italy to work as one of the 50 R&D staff employed at CRC, apprenticed to the venerated Massimo Tamburini. But 18 months later Morton was headhunted by Andrea Merloni, the millionaire former Supersport racer who’d acquired Benelli and wanted Morton to design the new range of three-cylinder sportbikes he planned to develop for sale. The Tornado 900 was entirely Morton’s own work; unfortunately, Merloni sold Benelli in December 2005 to Qianjiang, one of China’s largest motorcycle and scooter manufacturers.
Morton left Benelli in the wake of the Chinese takeover and returned to MV Agusta, rejoining CRC and Tamburini in the summer of 2006. He’s been there ever since, working as the iconic Italian brand’s product development bulwark first alongside Tamburini, then since January, 2009 as chief designer under the overall direction of Claudio Castiglioni after Tamburini opted for retirement following the Harley-Davidson takeover.
Alan Cathcart: Why did you leave Benelli and return to MV Agusta and CRC?
Morton works on a clay model...
Morton works on a clay model of the restyled F4 at CRC. “[It] was like committing sacrilege every day of my life, because it’s not just about re-doing any old motorcycle, but a design icon.”
I worked at Benelli for seven years in total, which was a long time but a happy time. There was only one designer, and that was me, so I was involved with everything there from designing every aspect of each new bike down to the company’s graphics and letterheads and the World Superbike race team livery. So I think the experiences I had there were much more than just as a designer sketching motorcycles, hence it was very rewarding and enjoyable. I found it hard to believe in a future for Benelli in the hands of the Chinese, and events so far have proved me right. But I was promised an interesting future at CRC, because Tamburini told me he was going to retire, that he wanted somebody to continue with the company’s design traditions, and that he felt I was the person who could provide that continuity. I found it rather difficult to readjust, because I’d since been involved with a company where every day you could see what you’d designed appearing on the production line, and now I found myself in a design studio isolated from motorcycles, which were actually being made 250 miles away at the Varese factory.
AC: On your return to CRC, what did you start working on first?
A fully adjustable Marzocchi...
A fully adjustable Marzocchi inverted fork is fitted along with a similarly adjustable Sachs shock, while the Brembo brakes feature radially mounted four-piston calipers gripping 310mm front discs via a Nissin radial master cylinder.
The first project I worked on with Tamburini was a restyle of the F4 Brutale, which was incredibly difficult—how to make it look fresh and different without losing its essential character. Working as a designer at Benelli I’d had so much freedom to do completely new things, and now I found myself in a very restricted conceptual space, working on something that needed to be refreshed without actually changing very much, with the guy who designed it the first time around looking over my shoulder! I didn’t want to change anything fundamental like the frame, and so it ended up being quite a difficult project. Tamburini wanted the bike to return to its origins, so all the things that made it different were almost taken back a step, whereas I thought it would’ve been better to push it forward a bit more.
AC: Your next project was presumably the revamped F4.
AM: Yes, but again it was a huge fight to incorporate the changes that were actually made, although Tamburini had left by the time this project was finalized so it’s much more my own work. However, the new F4 was significant because it was the start of a transition period within MV Agusta after Harley-Davidson came in and Tamburini had announced he was retiringbut in the midst of all this we had a project to do, after eleven years of not touching the F4 visually.
Massimo Bordi (right) is best...
Massimo Bordi (right) is best known for creating the desmoquattro engine that helped make Ducati what it is today. He left Ducati in 2000 to join Same Deutz-Fahr, an Italian-based manufacturer of agricultural equipment, but has now returned to the motorcycle industry at MV Agusta as Chief Operating Officer, thus renewing his previous decade-long collaboration with Claudio Castiglioni (left) that proved so successful in turning Ducati around.
The F3 was straight afterwards, so we were right out of one project and straight into another onebut to fill the big void that Tamburini left behind him after retiring, I now had Claudio Castiglioni as design director. Claudio had stayed out of hands-on involvement with CRC, with all the upheaval after Harley took over and with getting things moving again in Varese. But now he wanted to become more involved with product R&D, and so every couple of weeks he was in San Marino and we’d sit down together to discuss the project in detail, which was really nice.
AC: Was Tamburini involved in any way with the design of the F3?
AM: Absolutely not. He saw it for the first time the day before the EICMA show last November, when I had the honor of showing him an MV Agusta motorcycle that he’d never seen before, that he had essentially brought me to CRC to design. We’ve got some really great engineers at MV Agusta, and I believe they’ve been more involved in creating the F3 than any other model the company has ever made since it was resurrected, because I worked closely with them in designing the bike rather than presenting them with a fait accompli and telling them that’s the way it has to be.
Tamburini wandered around it, lit up a cigarette, walked around it again. He said, Well, I have to start by saying something negative about thisand then he didn’t really say anything negative about it at all! He made a few technical comments about the swingarm, but honestly, he was really positive—though he did say he didn’t think I would have pushed the design envelope as much as this, which is interesting because I don’t think it’s gone far enough!
“Claudio Castiglioni has been...
“Claudio Castiglioni has been heavily involved all along the way,” says Morton of the F3’s design. “Right from the beginning he insisted on having the triple exhausts stacked on the right side, as well as having a very specific list of other things he wanted. He wanted the bike to have a strong family feeling, and especially the face of the bike, the front fairing.”
“I had to use the same frame...
“I had to use the same frame plates concept again, because that’s an MV trademark,” says Morton. “But I had to do something a little bit different, so I ended up wrapping them together in the middle. They were getting so close to one another for a small bike, so I thought — let’s make two separate plates and join them together.”
The F3’s extremely compact...
The F3’s extremely compact 12-valve three-cylinder motor with 120-degree crank and composite gear/chain camshaft drive does not have the radial valves of the F4 engine — there simply wasn’t the space available. The motor is more compact than the comparable Triumph 675 design and has its cylinders inclined more steeply forward.
Giovanni Castiglioni is a graduate of the London Business School who joined MV Agusta in 2002 as Director of Communication after working in the USA for a year with the company’s importer, Eraldo Ferracci. But this has now been sidelined in favor of his new full-time responsibilities in charge of day-to-day operations for MV Agusta, and the chance to talk to him revealed a man with a clear idea of where the company is headed.
Alan Cathcart: At what stage did you become involved with your family’s dealings with Harley-Davidson about repurchasing MV Agusta from them?
Giovanni Castiglioni: I was involved from stage one. I was the one who dealt directly with Harley-Davidson over a nine-month period—and it was quite a tough nine months, but we managed to succeed in taking MV back again, on terms that were satisfactory for us.
AC: Viewed from outside, it seems surprising that Harley management agreed to sell the company to the Castiglioni family in a deal which did not bring them as much money as they could have got by selling it to a private equity finance house—one like TPG, for example, which was certainly interested. Why do you think they chose to sell it back to you and your father, rather than one of these?
Well, the contract we made with Harley at the moment of the sale back in 2008 was quite strict; therefore they would have had problems in selling the company to somebody else in a way that was anything but expensive for them.
AC: Was this because Harley still owed you money under the original contract of sale?
GC: Exactly—we still had yet to receive part of the deferred payment.
AC: But, is it true that when you reacquired MV Agusta, it was with a clean balance sheet?
GC: Yes, indeed, the company has zero debt today, and we also have good working capital, and cash in the bank. We also don’t have any assets used as collateral against a mortgage or other kind of loan, and so there is no cash flow problem at the moment. Of course, the company is still losing money and has yet to invest a lot of capital for future growth, but I am quite positive because we have a solid structure, a good brand, and new products generated via substantial investment from Harley-Davidson. The F4, the Brutale and the F3 are all paid for in terms of development costs to date, and thanks to that we can look forward to making the necessary profits for investing in further new products. I’m not worried about our cash flow; I’m more concerned about the global market, which is quite difficult at the moment—both for MV Agusta and for other manufacturers which have much more to lose than we do.
We are just now completing a thorough overhaul of the company, which was seriously over-structured in terms of personnel and costs. We have reduced our overhead by about 40 percent, not only by downsizing our workforce by about 45 percent, but also by creating efficiencies in the supply chain and streamlining our production process to make it quicker and leaner. By doing this, we have taken one million Euros ($1.4 million) per month out of the operating costs of MV Agusta without sacrificing quality.
We have a really conservative approach to the growth of the company. In 2011 we produced around 3500 motorcycles, and our plan is to increase that gradually to a ceiling of 11,000 bikes a year. We’ll do this by consolidating the existing product range with the new models that we are putting into the market now, starting with the Brutale 920. Later this year, we are also producing the F4RR which will actually be a 2012 model, and the complete opposite of an entry level bike! In fact, it’ll be a higher level F4R Superbike weighing 210kg (463 lb) with a full tank of fuel, with a still more powerful engine giving 203 horsepower in street-legal form, top quality hlins suspension, Brembo monobloc brakes, and a complete set of electronic rider aids including traction control, anti-wheelie control and so forth. That’ll cost 22,990 ($32,100), and we’ll also have a track day or Superstock race version.
AC: When will the F3 Brutalina arrive?
We’ll display the Brutale 675as it will be calledat EICMA in November, and plan to enter production with it in spring 2012. At the end of 2012 we will present a Supermotard version of the F3, and these three variants should be enough for us to cover all the market segments we want to attack. That said, we may eventually consider making a sports-tourer or an adventure-tourer, or even a street enduro comparable to the small Tiger 800 that Triumph has made. But first we must concentrate on what we’re best at, and that’s the pure sports models. SR