The motorcycles that come out of Italy are simply unlike any other type of motorcycle made in any part of the world. Regardless of what company or what model is in question, when you see an Italian motorcycle you simply know it for what it is. From the elegant and regal way that the companies handle small details to the overall inventive compact designs, Italian motorcycles stand out extremely well from their international counterparts.
Malaguti was originally imported into the United States during the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. At one point the small factory in Bologna had up to three daily flights sending mopeds to its five different importers who were paying more in air shipping than what the mopeds cost to make. This was the first major boom for Malaguti since the end of the Vietnam war. Malaguti’s sales skyrocketed as it sent thousands of mopeds to California and other states. Not since its first moped had Malaguti had such a hit with a new product. An assembled moped would be sold in America the following week. The demand was high and orders continued to be placed well into months after the OPEC crisis ended, but this sales boom did not last and Malaguti’s sales went down. Malaguti survived when many of its competitors were going out of business due to over expansion and over extended credit.
In the early 80s there were over 82 moped / scooter manufacturers in Italy and most of these had made their fortunes in the early 70s thanks to the needs for new mopeds in Italy. By the late 1990s only a handful of companies remained who had converted to scooters to take advantage of the scooter boom. The main scooter makers were Beta, Benelli, Italjet, Aprilia, Malaguti, Lambretta and Piaggio. Malaguti at this time and for much of the late 1990s was ranked as third based on sales and production for Italian owned factories for small displacement scooters. Its much bigger rivals were Aprilia and Piaggio, both which were engaged in some type of motorcycle production. Despite all these changes, Malaguti, which had been in business longer than its rivals, kept the company 100% family owned during these turbulent times. Often the company reached out for promotional and marketing opportunities to its sister company Ducati Motor Spa.
Malaguti watched as Piaggio Group (owners of Vespa) and Aprilia were entering the US market and decided as the third largest company in Italy that they could not afford not to expand. Working with the Malaguti family for two years, an intern at Malaguti Italy hired to do market research finalized his proposal by late 2000 to be the official Malaguti importer for the US. The college student’s family had been involved in the scooter industry as retailers and importers with a small shop in Miami.
Malaguti’s cooperation with Ducati North America and the Ducati replicas allowed the company to quickly expand its brand presence. In early 2001 the high demand for European scooters, the high value of the dollar, and the increasing European dealer base in America made Malaguti an instant hit.
In late 2004 a change in licensing laws and an easing of government subsidies created the worst bust in the history of Italian scooter sales. The crisis got worse in 2005 as more and more Italian moped and scooter companies began to close their doors. Malaguti was hit on all fronts as its European importers began to feel the weight of the influx of inexpensive Chinese imports. Once again the Italian moped scooter market was in a state of flux and would have to adapt and change as its smaller displacement units gave way to inexpensive imports. This fall in sales and the overexpansion into America by the big three Italian scooter makers also added to Aprilias problems leading them to file for bankruptcy protection. Malaguti unable to sustain its US importer or lower its prices had to bow out of the market. The competitive nature of the European market was further troubled by the rising influence of the Asian tigers. New brands from Asia were taking market share once held by the European brands. Talks between Malaguti and Ducati’s owners Texas Pacific Group for a possible merger between the two Bologna firms were unsuccessful. Malaguti was also unable to find an Asian partner to expand its production or sales in Asia.
Piaggio decided to focus on survival by acquisition and began the first round of European mergers to decide the fate of European made scooters. Beta and Benelli stopped manufacturing scooters, ItalJet closed its doors and its designs purchased by Kinetic of India (though ItalJet has now been revived in Italy), Aprilia was purchased in bankruptcy by Piaggio.
As a result, Malaguti was classified as Italy’s second largest scooter manufacturer and remained family owned and operated until its closures. The company in its last days was run by the grandson of the founder, Antonino Malaguti II, after Learco Malaguti had retired. This was something of a rarity in the powersports business world and in Italy for this sector. The company would be run by Antonino Malaguti II President and Marco Malaguti Vice President. The two brothers were responsible for the family company until its closure.
Ducati is best known for high performance motorcycles characterized by large capacity four-stroke, 90° V-twin engines, with a desmodromic valve design. Ducati refers to this configuration as L-twin because one cylinder is vertical while the other is horizontal, making it look like a letter “L”. Modern Ducatis remain among the dominant performance motorcycles available today partly because of the desmodromic valve design, which is nearing its 50th year of use. Desmodromic valves are closed with a separate, dedicated cam lobe and lifter instead of the conventional valve springs used in most internal combustion engines in consumer vehicles. This allows the cams to have a more radical profile, thus opening and closing the valves more quickly without the risk of valve-float, which causes a loss of power that is likely when using a “passive” closing mechanism under the same conditions.
While most other manufacturers use wet clutches (with the spinning parts bathed in oil) Ducati previously used multiplate dry clutches in many of their motorcycles. The dry clutch eliminates the power loss from oil viscosity drag on the engine, even though the engagement may not be as smooth as the oil-bath versions, but the clutch plates can wear more rapidly. Ducati has converted to wet clutches across their current product lines.
Ducati also extensively uses the Trellis Steel Frame configuration, although Ducati’s MotoGP project broke with this tradition by introducing a revolutionary carbon fibre frame for the Ducati Desmosedici GP