Born in 1947, the same year as I was, Motom didn’t prove to be quite as resilient, even if I do say so myself. It died in the early 1960s, but then again there was a pretty good chance that I was going to go around about that time myself. The combination of a hot CB72 Honda and a somewhat irregular lifestyle was not what you’d call auspicious.
One other major difference between me and the Italian marque with which I share a birthday is that Motoms were really good-looking. Weird, with their pressed-steel frames and futuristic-looking enclosures around the engine, but good looking.
This particular motorcycle, which was designed by the often-ignored engineer Piero Remor, still amazes people today. The description below comes mainly from sources at the CMM Collezione Motociclistica Milanese, which is where the bike is. The photos are from CMM’s MAD exhibition in Milan in 2007.
“The aesthetics are incredibly innovative and very distinct from any other previous model. The line is characterized by a centrally positioned oval outline, which appears initially to be the fuel tank, but in reality the fuel is only present in the left side, as the right side serves as a storage area for tools (complete with a fuel cap).
“On both sides of the 98T there is an identical circular opening with slits: one is the horn and the other is the vent for the air filter. If the Motom amazes people for its aesthetics, the mechanical features are no less surprising. The front suspension, for example, is of the swinging arm variety and also includes the mudguard. As far as the damping element is concerned, the far more original rubber discs that work through torsion replace the traditional springs.
“The engine, hidden beneath the central tunnel, is a 4-stroke single cylinder. The public was both intrigued and confused by these futuristic features and the 98T was not successful commercially and was only produced for a few years.”
A total of only 1,736 of these little 98cc gems was built, and wouldn’t you like one today? It has a kind of Honda agricultural bike aesthetic, but it’s so much classier. Look at that front suspension! Who else thought to incorporate the mudguard as a working part, and so elegantly? Years later, this intriguing design was to be vindicated in the eyes of the public when it was chosen as an exhibit at New York’s Museum Of Modern Art.
Motom produced a bewildering variety of small motorcycles, ranging from 48cc up to 163cc in the popular Delfino. It was one of Italy’s most prolific manufacturers in the middle of the past century, although the company was little known elsewhere. It also racked up countless successes with its 50cc production racers. In Italy, Motom became the third-biggest producer of motorcycles in the mid-1950s, after only Moto Guzzi and Garelli.
Initially, Motom’s success was led by the 50cc Motomic, despite early problems with reliability. In 1953 the company temporarily recruited the renowned Piero Remor, and styling and mechanical details were revised to make the little bike more effective. While the engine still only had 48cc, it put out more than two horsepower, the sort of performance that you would have expected from a much larger engine. The Motomic’s engine was easily tuned to give even more power, and was soon being raced. In 1953, it averaged almost 40mph as it covered nearly 2,000 miles in a week, and spectacularly won its class in the Giro d’Italia.
Despite the Motomic’s victories (and those of many other models – Motom also built bikes with automatic gearboxes and even motocross machines), the bike the marque is best remembered for is the memorable 98T.
Piero Remor deserves to be better known. He designed the famous 4-cylinder dual overhead cam Gilera racing motor and was a mentor for the equally famous Arturo Magni, who began his distinguished career in the Gilera racing division in 1947 under Remor’s guidance. In 1950, when Arturo Magni was poached for the newly formed MV Agusta racing division, he took Remor with him. Magni was the chief mechanic and Remor was chief designer, and the team they built went on to win no fewer than 37 World Championships between 1952 and 1974 for MV. Mind you, a lot of Remor’s more exotic ideas (like shaft drive – on a racing bike!) were discarded bit by bit as the racing MVs became more competitive.
Nail me to a convenient cross if you wish, but there is an elegance to motorcycles like the 98T that is simply not matched by modern Transformer-like designs. Motom may not have lasted as long as I have, but I dip my lid to its creative style.
(Photos The Bear)