This Moto Guzzi Grillo And Its Garage Are Perfectly Preserved
Photography by Federico Bajetti
“Want to hear the ‘Grillo’? Give me a good push, c’mon you, let’s go!”
With this typical Northern Italian mannerism, Bruno Borghi, the owner of this wonderful 1932 race spec Moto Guzzi 250-cc brought his dad Angelo’s motorcycle back to life again on a cold winter afternoon. I pushed him through the gravel of the old courtyard until the distinctive “thump-thump” of the horizontal single echoed on the century old walls surrounding the garage.
“The redline is 4500 rpm!” screamed Bruno: still, the bike was really loud. The level of decibels drastically increased when he jumped on the bike, engaged first gear, and gave the old girl the berries. It’s natural to fall in love with these old motorcycles.
This peculiar and remarkably red piece of machinery is known locally as the “Guzzi Grillo”, aka, “The Cricket”. It’s not the name of any bike produced by the factory in Mandello, as it is a pure creation from the mind and racing expertise of Angelo and Vittorio Borghi.
First, it is a period racer, and it has a strong racing pedigree, great competition history, and has been in the hands of the Borghi family its entire life. The holes you see in the chassis, fork, pedals, and brakes were all done in the same shop where the bike is still kept…more than 80 years later. The bike is now restored, but it is 100% original and it is still campaigned regularly in local events.
“The Cricket” used to be a Guzzi P250 from 1932: it is so-called thanks to its extraordianary lightness and agility in cornering. The Borghi Brothers brought the weight down to 198 lbs from the original 285 of the road-registered bike. In other words, this is a proper ‘ton-up’ girl. Back in the day, it was a wonderful piece of kit. It raced a ton in Italy on both gravel and tarmac roads, and as a result, it’s one of the most successful privateer Guzzis around.
The engine has been extensively modified for racing, and it is loud as hell. The exhaust note is deafening and the engine blows puffs of smoke which would hit any unwary person standing behind the bike with wraith-like ferocity: this comes from an insanely high compression, I’m told.
It has been given the full horsepower treatment back in the day, and it proved successful especially against works Guzzi bikes, winning many races in Northern Italy throughout the ’30s and ’50s. Each time the brothers would score a win, there’d often be a crowd waiting for them at their garage, cheering their heroism. The Grillo has remained in the same garage ever since, and it was still there on a stand under a wall full of pictures from the good old racing days.
Back in the day, it was actually part of a two bike team: Bruno’s father, Angelo raced it while the other bike, which is sadly now lost, was the machine of his brother Vittorio. In these old times, there was no van available to transport these two motorcycles to the race. It sure was no issue for the Borghi brothers: they simply used another motorcycle!
They used an old Indian Scout with a specially modified sidecar, made to fit two bikes and the two mechanics who sat on them. The two brothers sat in tandem on the Indian…often on their way to the next win. Unfortunately, that bike is now gone.
Thanks to some strange coincidence, Bruno has in his garage a gorgeous Guzzi Sport 15 sidecar, perfectly restored: “One of these days I am going to do just like my father did!” He wasn’t kidding at all: a pair of wooden axes and some steel tubes were lying close to it. I believe that he knows how he’s going to spend the cold months of winter…
This garage drips with history, as two Fiats, one 509 and a Balilla Spider—still in Bruno ownership for many years. In such context, time seems to have rewound to 1935. Even today, it doesn’t take a great effort to imagine people gathered outside, cheering, and waiting for the winners to arrive.