Article – Bold Precision Inc.
Vol. 47 No 23, May 15-28, 1998
Crazy Albert’s MV Racer Test
By Alan Cathcart
Albert Bold is one of those do-it-yourself engineers who borders on the edge of eccentricity.
I wouldn’t call Albert Bold eccentric, more just plain crazy. How else can you explain that messianic light shining in those deep, blue eyes – proof of his abiding love for all things red, loud and Made in Italy.
A John-Boy Walton lookalike, some years on and thin on top, Albert’s craziness manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and is mostly to do with two wheels.
Not many people in the USA use the bike they go vintage racing with to commute to work on a daily basis, still less when it’s a tricked-out four-cylinder MV Agusta special with open megaphones and a first gear high enough to break the speed limit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike without shifting up. Crazy Albert does.
Equally few people are such committed street squirrels they’d rather ride everywhere at full tilt, even in a land like radar infested USA. Crazy Albert does.
Still fewer people are skilled enough machinists to scorn the idea of buying hardware like brake discs or exhaust pipes off the shelf, preferring to manufacture them themselves – like Crazy Albert does. Which is how come the city of Philadelphia came to find itself short a few cast-iron manhole covers, which Albert gradually ground down into brake rotors for his MV.
As for the MV’s exhaust headers, they come courtesy of some tubular ladders from the local swimming pool.
LARGER THAN LIFE
When I first wrote about Albert Bold after testing his MV Agusta vintage racer more than a decade ago, I know many people who’d never met him were convinced I was exaggerating: This guy’s not for real, surely?!
Those who know him on the other hand thought the story rather understated – Albert is one of those genuinely larger than life characters America seems to produce.
Well, some years on, Albert’s moved onwards and upwards. He and his long-suffering partner no longer live on the wrong side of the tracks in one of the more questionable neighborhoods of Philly, complete with TIG-welder, tube-bender and other engineering equipment crammed into the basement.
Albert has now relocated to a small farm in the rural Pennsylvania countryside, but he still produces metalwork that can only be described as an art form.
He has earned a top reputation among that most demanding of engineering fraternities, the drag racing establishment – as well as amond many North American Superbike teams, and historic racing pacesetter Team Obsolete.
He still has the remains of half-a-dozen late ’60’s MV 600cc fours littering his storeroom, including that unloved and unlovely square-headlamped model, which may well have been the first four-cylinder across-the-frame motorcycle to be offered in series production form for the street.
GRAND PRIX ROOTS
Underneath that ugly duckling exterior, though, lay some GP-class engineering. The mid-60’s MV Agusta 600 was hand-built by the same team that brought Count Agusta so many race wins and world titles over a quarter-century of competition, and defeated Honda’s best efforts to win the 500cc world title.
Such heritage explains Bold’s fanatical desire to go racing with a more modern MV – the same desire that drove Clausio Castiglioni and his brother to found the Cagiva operation 20 years ago and build their own red and silver 500cc racer after failing to acquire the defunct MV Agusta race team.
The MV has so much mystique attached to it, says Albert, whose passion for the marque first saw the construction of the 600-based MV Agusta special that took him to two successive Vintage racing titles in the mid-80’s.
You can pull a stock MV out of the truck in any race paddock and people will flock to it, just because it’s an MV.
After I built the first one and did some good with it, I always had the idea to go a stage further and build my own chassis, maybe a little more modern and a lot lighter. It’s kind of like my own rolling calling card, to show the work in various metals that I can do.
Originally I was going to buy all the good stuff from Italy, but then people kept coming by and saying why didn’t I make my own brake calipers and exhausts, stuff like that. So I did!
LONG TIME COMING
It took far longer than I intended – but I’ve had a real good time creating my own personal motorcycle around the engine I respect most in the world – an MV Agusta.
His old title-winning racer scaled a massive 215kg dry, while the stock 600 MV frame it used kept cracking the front downtubes under the braking forces generated by the combination of modern sticky tyres and those manhole-sourced brakes.
This time I used 4130 chrome-moly steel tubing with as much triangulation as possible, and tried to run the frame tubes close to the engine to give it more rigidity, says Albert. The frame doesn’t flex like before and at 6.8kg it’s a lot lighter.
At the same time, he increased the wheelbase from the stubby 1370mm of the first bike to a longer-legged 1450mm, though without really improving the very cramped riding position – something I found for myself when I came to sample the Bold MV Agusta Superbike on only its second visit to a racetrack, at Loudon, New Hampshire.
Considering Albert’s even lankier than I am, I can’t quite figure out how he gets all his limbs in the right places. However you do it you can’t help but end up with your chin over the triple clamps and your knees up around your ears.
The bike is very small and low compared to other four-cylinder MV roadster-derived bikes, but Albert’s succeeded in putting his new creation on a diet compared to the old one – it weighs 151kg with a 50/50 weight distribution, a massive 40 percent lighter than the old bike.
Slashing the weight has been achieved (in spite of the heavy sandcast crankcases and other tooroom components in the MV engine) thanks to Albert’s use of some pretty exotic metallurgy for what is after all a home-built special.
The rods and torque arms for the MV’s mechanical anti-dive system – first used in the mid-’70s on the Geitl/Schuster BMW Superbike (and later copied by Kawasaki on its 500cc GP bike) – are made in titanium, as are the jackshafts driving the oil pump and Scintilla Vertex magneto, and the front and rear brake assemblies, including the self-made titanium calipers.
It doesn’t end there. Bold also painstakingly milled the clutch and brake levers, the brake master-cylinders and the 35mm Marzocchi forks’ triple-clamps all from solid billets of aircraft alloy, as well as the front hubs, to which he laced a pair of 18-inch Akront rims, again to comply with Vintage racing rules.
Albert also made and toothed his own range of rear wheel sprockets, and in spite of never having done any panel-bashing before, also made the alloy tank and seat. All that’s before he even took a look at punching out the engine to somewhat more than the 600cc of the old bike.
The stock five-speed gearbox is retained but with a Magni chain-drive conversion replacing the incongruous shaft final drive of the street MVs. The bottom-end of the engine is mainly untouched too, with standard conrods and six-bearing crank.
The engine therefore retains the 600 MV’s 56mm stroke, but combined with a set of MV 750 America cylinders bored out to 10 thou’ first oversize and fitted with 67mm America pistons the capability is now 788cc. Albert then reshaped the combustion chambers and contoured the pistons to suit the larger bore.
Honda racing valves and springs are used, with a Magni racing inlet camshaft and stock MV inlet used on the exhausts, thus offering more lift. The central gear train driving the camshafts has been substantially lightened, but compression ratio is very low – just 9.8:1 – as Bold can’t skim the head with the gear cam drive.
The Scintilla magneto replaces the original heavy and bulky coil ignition, though it too is rather weighty and could surely be replaced with something more modern and electronic.
Every gear in the street gearbox has been painstakingly lightened, while the multiplate oil-mist clutch now consists of a 600 basket with 750 spline gear.
The America has one more plate than the 600, which Albert has fitted (necessitating an alloy spacer on the side cover) to accept the tuned engine’s extra power, estimated to be 95ps at the rear wheel, at 11,500rpm.
A BOLD PHILOSOPHY
The sheer amount of work entailed in creating this motorcycle – more than 2000 hours, according to a rough guess – is a tribute to Bold’s philosophy of no bolt-on parts if he could do it himself.
About the only corner I cut was the brake discs, he said. Those manhole covers worked great on the first bike, and the material was free – but I just couldn’t face the 40 hours of machining work to make each one, so this time I compromised and used Mercedes-Benz’ discs on the front, which I machined down to size, and a Subaru one from the local parts shop on the back.
However, I had figured on using Magni exhausts, with that upswept line modelled on the old GP bikes. But they were pretty much unobtainable, so I thought what the hell, I’ll make them myself. So I used the swimming pool ladder tubing to make the downpipes, then rolled some cones up, packed them with sand and started working on bending them myself.
They came out pretty good, considering it was my first time.
I learned a lot making this motorcycle, but most of all I learned there’s nothing you can’t do if you set yourself a goal and tell yourself you can achieve it.
At the time I rode the bike it was still very new and needed a lot more sorting. That riding position is so weird, it detracts from whatever benefits the chassis might offer, simply because it makes the bike so hard to steer. You can’t ride it with any degree of confidence.
Even Albert admits it’s uncomfortable, so he needs at least to rework the relationship of seat, footrests and hand controls – then serious development can begin.
At that point, the problems posed by having rock-hard suspension front and rear might be resolved, though to be fair there’s not a lot he can do at the back because vintage racing rules require twin-shock rear ends. Still, I never cared much for the piggy-back Marzocchis when I used them on my V-twin Ducati racers two decades ago.
The 35mm forks from the same company, though unsophisticated by modern standards, ought to work better than they do on the Bold MV. Some work needs to be done to dial them in, while at the rear a set of Hagon shocks would not only look more authentically period, but would also work better, too.
Still, on smoother track sections the Bold bike steered well, with the Magni chain-drive conversion removing the weave and power understeer you get with MV shafties ridden hard on the racetrack.
Really though, the imperfect suspension setup denied fair comment on the handling of the Bold chassis, especially as the brakes also felt rather unresponsive.
Part of this is certainly due to the mechanical anti-dive system, which makes the MV brake very flat and eliminates much sensation of stopping, even though the Spanish Galfer pads fitted to the Bold calipers in fact pull the bike up quite sharply.
I’ve ridden bikes fittted with this system before, which suffered from the same problem, and refining the anti-dive by adjusting its linkages would definitely improve this.
But all this is subservient to the main feature of this motorcycle – that wonderful engine with its haunting, evocative exhaust note.
Listening to Albert warming the unsilenced engine, with the basso profundo beat tromboning from the four open megaphones interspersed with the occasional high-pitched wail as he surfed the revs by blipping the throttle, sent shivers down my back in the bright New Hampshire sunshine.
Close your eyes, and it’s Monza ’65 all over again, with Mike the Bike about to embark on another solo run to the chequered flag in another GP, pursued by a phalanx of British singles.
Thanks to those open exhausts and the more extreme valve timing, the Bold MV won’t run cleanly below 5800rpm, popping and banging like a Fiat with a burnt exhaust valve rather than howling like a two-wheel Latin thoroughbred.
But then at just under 6000rpm – especially if you help it get there with a touch of the clutch lever – the MV clears its throat, spits one last time through the pipes, then takes off strongly in a glorious fanfare of sound from the exhausts and engine, which with all the straight-cut gears is far from silent, in best MV tradition.
With the carburation of the four 28mm Dell’Ortos still not yet sorted, it wouldn’t quite pull the 11,500rpm redline, but from 7000rpm to just under 11 grand there’s truly impressive acceleration – even by the musclebike standards of the mid-’70s. Coaxing it even higher proved the power didn’t fall off at peak revs.
Just like the MV Agusta F4, finished only a couple of days before being unveiled at last year’s Milan Show, Albert Bold had only done half the job by the time I rode his US-built MV. Still to be undertaken was the equally time-consuming and laborious process of development.
But just as I’m sure Cagiva’s RD team will get the F4 in fine fettle by the time it enters hand-made production, so too Crazy Albert will have surely ironed out his MV’s youthful inadequacies.
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