Aeronautica Macchi was founded in 1913 as “Societa Anonima Nieuport-Macchi” for the manufacture of seaplanes, later on changing their name into Aermacchi. During the WWI the company grew but continued to concentrate its attention on aircraft. During the Second World War, Aermacchi built the finest of all fighters used by the Italian air forces. Anticipating the motorcycle boom and intending to take advantage of it, Aermacchi’s chief looked for an established designer who could produce an attractive lightweight motorcycle, eventually called Aermacchi motorcycle. Their choice was Lino Tonti, who had been atBenelliand had worked on aircraft engines during the war. Tonti designed a 50 cc motorcycle that broke the land speed record for the displacement.
The first Aermacchi motorcycle, designed in 1950, and was an open-frame lightweight with a 125 cc two-stroke engine in post-war Italian market, partly due to their use on race tracks. The machine was very popular and a sports version of it, which had the frame “closed” by a real tank, was used in trials, including the International Six Days of 1951 and 1952. All the bikes produced by Aermacchi incorporated the Italian words “Ala Verde”, “Ala Blu” and “Ala d’ Oro” (“green wing”, “blue wing” and “golden wing”) and were successful.
First Aermacchi Motorcycle Designed in 1950
Their twin 250cc produced in 1953 to 1954 was not as successful. In 1955 they produced a machine powered by double engines of 48cc and 75cc capacity. One of these “flying cigars” as it was called, because it was very low and nearly 10 ft. long.
After that much change hands with designers, Aermacchi continued its adventure with the Chimera 175cc and 250cc introduced and in 1957. A model with 16 hp was available for races. Soon, the horse power on the 175cc model increased to 20 making its début in 1960. This was a huge success causing the company to release a 250cc version, the Golden Wing, which produced 22 bhp at 8000 RPM.
Aermacchi Began Producing Motorcycles After World War II
In 1960, US business Harley-Davidson motorcycles purchased 50% of Aermacchi’s motorcycle division. The remaining motorcycle holdings were sold in 1974 to AMF-Harley-Davidson, with motorcycles continuing to be made at Varese. The business was sold to Cagiva in 1978.
In the 1960s Harley-Davidson produced the Harley-Davidson Aermacchi at the plant Schiranna (near Varese). They created several models of small bikes (displacement between 125cc and 350cc) for the American and the European markets.
This was an attempt to take back market sectors that were at the time being taken over by Japanese manufacturers such as Honda and Yamaha.
In 1962, the power of the well-known 250cc model increased to 28 bhp and three years later it increased to 30 bhp @ 10,000 RPM. This was considered quite excellent for a push-rod production racer!
Year after year, new models were released and in 1963 there was a 293cc road racer, then one year later it changed to a real 350cc with 33 bhp at 8000 rpm.
Aermacchi went on to have success in the Grand Prix motorcycle racing world with rider Renzo Pasolini finishing 2nd in the 1972 250cc Road Racing World Championship.
After 1974, when the American manufacturer acquired complete control of the Italian company and Aermacchi bikes were rebadged as Harley-Davidson’s. They went on to win the 250cc Road Racing World Championship three years in a row: 1974, 1975 and 1976. They also won the 350 cc World Championship in 1976.
Upon acquisition of Harley-Davidson by AMF in 1978, the Italian operations of the firm sold to the Castiglioni brothers, founders of theCagivamotorcycle company, which continued to produce bikes branded as “HD Cagiva” right up until 1980- truly not long ago. But sadly, no more.