Ridden: Moto Morini Corsaro ZZ

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Moto Morini Corsaro ZZ

Moto Morini has risen from the dead more times than Dracula. While it’s latest incarnation is very much at the boutique end of the market the latest Corsaro ZZ shows buyers shouldn’t dismiss it just because production numbers are small.

The background

Even by Italian standards Moto Morini has had a chequered history. It’s had more lives than a cat. In modern times Morini has gone through the hands of the Castiglioni brothers, back when they owned Ducati. They shut it down to make a real estate killing by bulldozing its factory and redeveloping it. The firm was revived in 2003 via a joint venture between the Morini family and the cash-rich local Berti brothers. This led to the company’s former chief engineer Franco Lambertini designing the 1,187cc  CorsaCorta engine powering the Corsaro. It entered production in 2006, starting a family including the 9½ and 11.5 roadsters, Granpasso and Scrambler.

Having re-established the Moto Morini marque with a sound product and a solid corporate structure, the Bertis accepted an offer to cash in their share of the business in January 2007. They transferred their half of the JV partnership to the Morini family, and exited the motorcycle industry. Good timing for them, but disastrous for the Morinis, as the global downturn one year later sent the company into the red. Moto Morini was shut down again in 2010. It was sold by the liquidator in 2011 for Euro 1.96 million, minus the freehold of the MFM/Motori Franco Morini factory in Bologna which had been its base ever since it was revived.

The new owners were two Milan businessmen, investment banker Sandro Capotosti, then 58, and corporate investor Ruggeromassimo Jannuzzelli, 51. Each owned a Morini; Capotosti a new Granpasso 1200 adventure tourer, and Jannuzelli one of the classic Morini 3½ V-twin models. As part of the sale package they obtained two years’ free use of the cavernous old Morini factory, and began working to restart production. This kicked off in April 2012, but rose to a mere 180 bikes in 2013, all sold via the internet. The partners moved the company to a new, much smaller 3,000m² base at Trivolzio, near Pavia, south of Milan. There, they struggled to lift production much beyond the 140 bikes claimed to have been sold in 2016, leading to Capotosti’s exit last year from the company.

Boutique bikes

Ruggeromassimo Jannuzzelli has restructured Morini as a boutique business, with every bike essentially hand-built according to the demands of the customer. “We are the only manufacturer in the world which assembles our complete motorcycle, engine and chassis, entirely by hand in house,” he proudly states. “We don’t purchase engines from someone else and install them in our frames – everything in this entire motorcycle is created here in Trivolzio, and each bike is assembled by a single person, whose name is attached to it. Our objective is to raise production to never more than 400 bikes a year by 2020, each of them hand-assembled to the highest standards of quality. And we will in future only be selling our products through dealers established in each country, and no longer on the internet, as was the case before.”

But passion doesn’t exempt the firm from rules, so with the introduction of Euro 4 emissions regulations and mandatory ABS brakes rules in January this year the firm needed to invest yet more. The result is the ABS-equipped Corsaro 1200 ZZ launched at the 2016 EICMA Milan Show. Now fitted with twin ellipsoidal headlights while preserving the same overall aesthetics, it sells in Italy for Euro 20,150, including 22% local tax. But key to the technical update this incorporates was hiring Massimo Gustato as R&D Manager in October 2015, a role he previously held with Bimota. This is a man who knows how to develop small-volume models cost-effectively without sacrificing quality. He also knows how to ride hard and fast, as I found for myself during a 190-mile/300km day aboard the company’s Corsaro 1200 ZZ development bike.

Riding the Corsaro ZZ

Moto Morini Corsaro ZZ

I’m a Morinista by conviction, as the satisfied owner of a Corsaro 1200. It’s still just as exhilarating as it was when I rode it back to Britain from Bologna in 2007. I like it so much that  I bought another to be sure I wouldn’t run short of spare parts. Everyone I’ve ever lent my bikes to has come back smiling, asking why they never knew how good they were.

So I was particularly interested in evaluating the 1200 ZZ to discover how much engine performance had been sacrificed in obtaining Euro 4 compliance. Well, there’s an easy answer to that, which is – none at all!  It has way more meaty a midrange than either of my Euro 3 bikes. Massimo Gustato and his team have pulled off quite a trick here. He modestly puts it down to a switch in ECU suppliers along with a new Zard exhaust. Whichever way he did it, it’s a real technical tour de force.

Cleaner, more powerful

Moto Morini Corsaro ZZThe secret of how to combine a claimed 7 bhp increase in top end power with a wider, 3Nm fatter spread of torque is something I’m sure other engineers would like Gustato to share with them. In every case of meeting Euro 4 with existing models, it’s meant sacrificing performance in favour of increased torque. Either that, or cubing up the motor to increase capacity in order to compensate for lost peak power. I’m perfectly positioned to compare and contrast with my older Euro 3 bikes with identical engine architecture. There’s a really noticeable improvement on the ZZ when actually riding it, not just on paper.

You can gas the ZZ’s CorsaCorta engine in sixth gear at 2,200 rpm. It’ll pull hard and strong all the way through to the fierce-action 9,300 rpm rev-limiter. This is quite unexpected for such a format. You’d normally figure to have to rev quite hard to obtain this kind of performance. The motor apparently has a serious appetite for revs – designer Lambertini has claimed it runs safely to 13,000 rpm. But t’s also content to lug along off the cam in traffic. Ask it to deliver with a twist of the wrist and it does with greater punch than on older versions. Almost-inadvertent third-gear wheelies a fact of life when riding the ZZ.

This flexible and potent engine character means you needn’t use the gearbox nearly as much as you might expect. The CorsaCorta is especially happy to operate in the 4,000-7,000 rpm area. You find yourself surfing the torque curve to hold third or fourth. There’s an average of 1,200 rpm between each of the evenly spaced top three gears. With this kind of performance there’s really no need for closed-up ratios in the six-speed extractable cluster. That’s a pity in a way, considering how smooth and precise the Moto Morini’s Japanese-quality gearchange is. It’s now fitted with a sweet-action wide-open powershifter for upward gearchanges. There’s no clutchless autoblipper system for downward shifts since the ZZ still doesn’t have a ride-by-wire throttle.

No riding modes

Moto Morini Corsaro ZZThat means there’s no choice of riding modes. Instead the ZZ has a delicious feeling of connectivity between your right hand and the tarmac. There’s no digital filter to dilute your desires, just an analogue link between the throttle and the rear tyre. It’s refreshingly old-school.

On a dusty surface it was all too easy to get the rear wheel scrabbling for grip. The addition of traction control that’ll be installed shortly as standard will be very welcome. According to Massimo Gustato it’ll be retro-fitted to bikes built previously. Apart from that there are no plans to invest in RBW technology; lots of customers are happy to ride products embodying the axiom that simple is best. The new Morini ZZ will continue to offer that alternative route to sporting satisfaction. You don’t need to switch off electronics to wheelie the bike.

ABS a plus

Moto Morini Corsaro ZZThe addition of ABS is a definite plus, though. It doesn’t cut in too early or abruptly, but it’s there to provide a safety net. On clean surfaces the Brembo radial brake package hauls the Corsaro ZZ from high speed with lots of feel. There’s a decent amount of engine braking dialled in to the APTC slipper clutch’s operation. The clutch lever action is stiffer than on my bikes, presumably thanks to the ZZ motor’s greater torque. It has a rather sudden bite towards the end of the lever travel.

The light-action throttle bodies give a smooth, controllable pickup from 3,000 rpm upwards out of tight turns. It’s now with not too jerky a response from a closed throttle, thanks to updated mapping. You soon learn to appreciate how much confidence the well-sorted, balanced-feeling chassis gives you. More compliant Mupo suspension replaces the stiff Marzocchis used until now on all Morini V-twins. This prevents the Corsaro skipping around on rougher surfaces.

The 860mm seat height will be a little daunting for shorter riders. Matched with the handlebar from the Scrambler model it delivers an upright posture that’s pretty comfortable. The footrests are ideally positioned, high enough to avoid dragging your toes without cramping a normal-sized rider’s knees. You snuggle into the Corsaro, rather than sit perched aboard it. Thanks to it narrowing where it meets the fuel tank I could touch down both feet at rest.

Morini fits a 190/55-17 rear Pirelli Diablo Rosso III, up from 180-section on the older bike. But the wide handlebar gives leverage to keep the agility that’s always been a feature of the Corsaro. The 10mm longer 1440mm wheelbase helps keep the front wheel a little closer to the tarmac under hard acceleration. In spite of quite conservative steering geometry the ZZ is pretty responsive and light-steering.

Where next?

“Capotosti and I spent €1.96 million to acquire Moto Morini. We then invested over €6 million more to start transforming it into the kind of company we could be proud of, and wanted to run,” says Ruggeromassimio Jannuzelli. “But if it takes more than that to do the job right, the money is there – and it’s important to stress that there is zero outside debt. All the funding comes from me personally – this is my project, and I will see it through. Look, Moto Morini is a hidden secret that everyone who discovers it falls in love with. It’s a genuinely historic Italian brand, with a successful road racing history, and we have to make it more widely appreciated, not only for its traditions, but for the excellence of its products today.“

Under such enlightened ownership with deep pockets, Moto Morini has picked up where it left off, making great real world motorcycles that are full of personality, and are rewarding and entertaining to ride. Let’s hope that this time around their appealing character won’t be such a secret as before….


Photos: Beppe Vertemati

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