Motom 98 TS - Classic Bikes

In the Italy of the 1950s, Motom was big, and this beauty shows why, says Roy Poynting

Engine: 98cc single horizontal cylinder with chain driven overhead camshaft
Output: 6.75bhp@ 8,200rpm
Compression ratio: 7.65:1
Lubrication: oil sump integral with engine
Carburettor: Weber
Ignition: coil ignition from points at end of camshaft, automatic advance/retard Gearbox: four-speed in unit with engine
Transmission: gear primary drive
Suspension: swinging forks front and rear, controlled by rubber in torsion
Tyres: 250x17 front and rear Brakes: sls drums, 7in front, 5.5 in rear
Tank capacity: 1.5 gallons
Seat height: 29in
Top speed: 60mph approx
Fuel consumption: 110mpg claimed

For some reason, post-war Italy seems to have had an exceptional number of motorcycle marques whose names start with the letter "M". Moto Guzzi and MV Agusta immediately come to mind, and a bit more thought dredges up Maserati, Mondial, Morini, Morbidelli, Motobi and Motom. Strangely, though, the familiarity of the names bears little relationship to the companies' fortunes.

For instance, everybody has heard of Maserati and MV, but the former was primarily a car manufacturer, and the latter's GP racers were not for sale, so neither company figured among the bigger players in the sales league. In comparison, Motom is little known over here, yet it was one of Italy's most prolific producers half a century ago, and racked up countless successes with its 50cc production racers.

In Italy, Motom became the third-biggest producer of motorcycles in the mid-1950s, only surpassed by Moto Guzzi and Garelli (there's another surprise). The scooter-makers Lambretta and Vespa were bigger than any of these, of course, but that was another market.

Motoms had only come into existence in 1947, when the Lancia factory engineer Battista Falchetto saw the success of Ducati's Cucciolo 48cc four-stroke auxiliary motor, and envisaged a complete motorcycle with a similar engine. Lancia's access to the pressed-steel specialists Farina, plus funding from the factory- owner Ernesto Frua soon led to a model called the Motomic, and – despite early problems with reliability – derivative models were soon selling. The fledgling company was further boosted in 1953, when it temporarily recruited Gilera's celebrated designer – Piero Remor.

Styling and mechanical details were revised to make the little bike more purposeful, and while the engine still only had 48cc, it put out over two horsepower, and gave the sort of performance that contemporary British motorcyclists expected from a much larger machine.

Just as important, in sport-obsessed Italy, the engine was easily tuned to give still more power, and was soon being used as a mini-racer. Just how effective it could be was shown in 1953, when it averaged almost 40mph as it covered nearly 2,000 miles in a week, and spectacularly won its class in the Giro d'Italia.

The styling of the Motom 98 was fantastically futuristic for the mid-Fifties, and even today it looks more like a concept bike than a production motorcycle. Unfettered by the traditional ideas of established manufacturers, Motom appeared to have thrown away the rulebook when it unveiled its new model at the 1955 Milan Industries Fair. And it had.

There are reasons for everything, however, and these are mostly to do with the pressed-steel frame. Italian motorcyclists were obviously more receptive to innovation than British ones, and – unlike Ariel with its later Arrow – Motom didn't feel a need to disguise its chosen method of manufacture. So there is no make-believe petrol tank, and the bulbous side panels are there just to provide a knee grip, and to cover the actual tank, the toolroll and the battery.

A simple push-button inside the front of the compartment also locks the steering, so when the right- hand panel is snapped shut, one turn of a key provides security for the fuel, tools and the bike itself – how's that for intelligent design?

The engine covers are similarly effective, prettying the engine installation, and encouraging a flow of cooling air past the horizontal cylinder. What's more, they are high-quality aluminium castings, whose design was streets ahead of the ungainly steel pressings found on equivalent British machines such as the Excelsior Skutabyk. In fact (and at the risk of offending the Skutabyk's fans, assuming that some of them do exist), there is no better way of illustrating how advanced the TS was than to compare the two contemporary machines.

While the traditional British makers were getting the last ounce of value out of outdated and dilapidated workshop machinery, Motom had a brand new factory with the latest machine tools, and even had its own test track.

As a result, its motorcycles could be made in sufficient numbers to justify aggressive pricing, and straight out of the box, it was near enough right that prospective buyers were encouraged rather than frightened away.

All that is academic, though, because no version of the Motom was ever seriously available as a UK import. In fact, the Italian Owners Club has only one record of a TS being sent to the UK, and I say "sent to" rather than "sold in" because there is no record that it was ever paid for.

Like many Italian ultra-lightweights, the Motom combines practicality with fun to a degree that is unmatched by our domestic products. What a shame that circumstances – including its rather wacky styling – doomed any prospect of it being a big seller here.

It would certainly have given a lot of lads a whole heap of fun, and might even have encouraged those domestic manufacturers to set their sights a little bit higher than just bolting their steel panels on to Villiers-engined commuters.

Extracted from the monthly magazine, The Classic MotorCycle. For readers of The Independent, there's an exclusive offer of six issues for just £12. Call 01507 529529, or visit www.classicmagazines.co.uk, and quote TCMIND

Other Motos...

Moto Galloni

Engines were of the firm's own design and manufacture, with the overhead-valve 500cc version joined by others ranging from a 250cc single to a 750cc V-twin. Made motorcycles from 1920 to 1931, with late offerings having proprietary engines.

Moto Comet

Made motorcycles from 1953-57, which had a good reputation for quality but were considered expensive. Models included a 173cc OHV single as well as 173cc and 246cc overhead-cam vertical twins. Alfonso Drusiani was the designer and manufacturer.

Motobi

The best known of our three. Motobi was the purveyor of two- and four-stroke horizontal-engined machines such as the 175cc four-stroke. Designed by Giovanni Benelli, who had left his brothers in Pesaro to set up on his own.

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