1954 MV Agusta 175 CS: Disco Volante

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks

Peter Calles, a noted international collector of classic motorcycles, recently finished a full restoration of this rare 1954 MV Agusta motorcycle. The saga behind the MV Agusta marque, however, began on February 12, 1945, when the company was founded. Prior to that time, the Agusta family’s primary enterprise was aviation, but being on the losing side of the Second World War had put an end to airplane manufacturing by Italian companies, at least for the foreseeable future.

After the war, Italy was on its economic knees. Its citizens desperately needed jobs and cheap, efficient transportation. The Agusta aviation factory had largely escaped the ravages of Allied bombing and could be retooled to manufacture a new product to help meet the country’s needs. Count Vincenzo Agusta and his brother Domenico had a passion for machines and were keen on the idea of producing and racing motorcycles in competitive events. They named their new company MV Agusta—“M” for Meccanica (Mechanical) and “V” for Verghera, which was the town where the first bikes were made.

Much like the car racing legend Enzo Ferrari, the Agusta brothers produced and sold their street motorcycles largely to fund their racing activities. The company’s first bike had only a 98cc motor, but it did well both on the track and in sales volume. Over time, larger displacement models were produced for the track and street. Between 1958 and 1974, MV Agusta dominated Grand Prix racing, which included 17 back-to-back world championships in the premier 500cc class. And, the MV bikes were piloted by a cadre of riders who would become racing legends in their own right, including John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, and Phil Read.

In the early 1970s, MV Agusta developed an in-line four-cylinder 750cc powered bike for the street, which was largely patterned after racing models. Although this sportbike sold well, it was mostly hand built and expensive to produce. Although MV Agusta had become a worldwide motorcycle racing icon, it began experiencing financial problems at home. By 1977 the family had lost control of the business, which finally closed its doors in 1980.

In 1992, the MV Agusta brand re-emerged in the worldwide motorcycle market under the leadership of Cagiva. The new 750cc F4 model, designed by Massimo Tamburini, was a stunningly beautiful bike and a highly capable performer. Today, MV Agusta offers a whole line of bikes to the motorcycling public, including the three-cylinder 675cc F3, four-cylinder 1000cc F4, Brutale 1090cc, and several other models. And just recently, Mercedes-AMG acquired a 25 percent ownership interest in MV Agusta, and the two companies signed a cooperation agreement on a long-term partnership.

Now that we’ve explored the life history of the MV Agusta marque, let’s back up to November 1952 when the single overhead cam 175 was introduced. The 175 CS was important because it was the first four-stroke Agusta developed for high volume production. The bike’s design emphasized performance, some say at the expense of reliability. Produced in various configurations from 1954 through 1958, the lightweight 175 became both a racing and sales success. The bike became known for its “fragile brilliance.”

The early CS model, restored by Peter Calles, has the curvaceous gas tank, which protrudes elegantly at its sides. MV 175s with this tank design became known as the Disco Volante or “Flying Saucer.” The 175 racing configuration had a narrower tank, which was better suited for a rider’s crouched racing posture. The racing bikes also had a cone-shaped silencer rather than the attractive fishtail shape found on the street models. And, the later models also came with the “Earles forks,” which further improved handling.

When Peter acquired his preproduction 1954 MV Agusta 175 CS Disco Volante from another collector, it was complete but needed a full restoration. Because replacement parts are virtually nonexistent for these MVs, the engine proved to be the major restoration challenge. The camshaft and rocker arms required resurfacing and several other parts had to be fabricated from scratch. Buffing out the engine cases and side covers required many hours of Peter’s time. The seat was shipped to a friend in Italy who recovered it to look identical to one fresh off the production line back in 1954.

After three and a half years of restoration work, Peter’s MV Agusta 175 is a spectacular work of mechanical art. It attracts crowds of admirers wherever it appears, as proven by the many folks who stopped to chat during our photo shoot—Viva Italia!