Thoroughly Italian and delightfully undigitised, this is old-school big-bore streetﬁghter bliss
2018 Moto Morini Corsaro 1200 ZT
Italy’s smallbuthistoric Moto Morini brand is continuing its steady ride along the comeback trail under the sole ownership of 57-yearold Milan-based investor Ruggeromassimo Jannuzzelli. The 13 full-time employees at its small but well-equipped factory in the risotto rice fields south of Milan, produced 140 hand-built motorcycles in the whole of 2017, but this year they have delivered more than 100 bikes in the first six months, each powered by the unique 1187cc 87º V-twin CorsaCorta engine.
These comprise mainly the latestZZandZTvariantsof the Corsaro streetfighter, the company’s core model, which entered production in 2006 and later spawned a family of spin-off models including the Granpasso adventure tourer and the Scrambler – well, street scrambler – which, like the Corsaro duo, are also now Euro 4-compliant. To fuel Moto Morini’s resurgence, Jannuzzelli has invested substantially in both product and personnel, introducing four new models in just two years while still focusing on the madeto-measure nature of the company’s creations.
“We are the only manufacturer in the world which assembles our completemotorcycle, engine and chassis, entirely by hand in-house,” Jannuzzelli says proudly. “We don’t purchase engines from someone else and install them in our frames – everything in the entire Moto Morini 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 themhand-assembled to the highest standards of quality. “Andwe are now selling our products through dealers established in each country, and no longer on the internet, as was the case before.” This commitment to the cause has entailed spending themoney needed to upgrade the Corsaro to Euro 4 compliance, while also refining and refreshing its looks via detail changes courtesy of noted designer Rodolfo Frascoli.
The first fruits of this was the Corsaro 1200 ZZ performance model launched at the 2016 EICMA Show, ABS-equipped for the first time and fitted with twin ellipsoidal headlights, and selling in Italy for 19,990 Euro, including tax. This has now been joined by the less-costly ZT variant that debuted at EICMA last November, and has now been in production sinceMay, with 60 examples already delivered. This retails in Italy for 15,900 Euro and,while the exact samemechanical package as the ZZ, it’s been significantly revamped to deliver a more user-friendlymachine that is certainly almost as good as its ZZ sister – in some ways a little better.
As regular readers will know, I’maMorinista by conviction, as the satisfied owner of an original Corsaro 1200 that’s still just asmuch fun to ride as it was when I rode it home fromBologna to Britain in the summer of 2007. So I was particularly interested in evaluating the 1200 ZT, because this is intended to beamore rideable version of the decidedlymuscular and relatively imposing ZZ streetrod. The difference comes not only in revamped fuelling for the CorsaCortamotor, but also in subtle changes to the riding position and the overall architecture of the bike – all aimed at deliveringamore friendly motorcycle to ride, while retaining the samemuscular appeal as the ZZ for the simple reason that the two bikes share the samemechanical package.
Only the ECU mapping has been altered. Themost notable aesthetic change on the ZT is its smaller 14-litre fuel tank, nowmade in plastic rather than the ZZ’s larger 19-litre aluminium item. The twoweigh the same, but have a quite different shape, with the ZT’s being amore compact and especially both slimmer and lower receptacle.With the same tall 860mm-high seat, this allows you to put your feet on the ground more easily. This, combined with taller, wider grips than on the ZZ, deliver amore relaxed yet upright riding stance, which carries over into the way you ride the bike, even if the frame geometry is unchanged.
Fuel tank – The Corsaro ZZ features a larger 19-litre fuel tank compared with the ZT on the right, which has a 14-litre capacity. The tank is also made of aluminium while the ZT’s is plastic, but they weigh the same
Power boost – Moto Morini has achieved the unusual by getting more power and torque out of the engine in the process of meeting Euro 4 compliance. The V-twin has 5kW and 3Nm more than the Euro 3 model from the same 1187cc capacity
Exhaust – Although the more userfriendly ZT has the same twin megaphone-shaped underseat exhaust design as the sportier ZZ, tech boss Massimo Gustato says a new exhaust was developed specifically for this bike
Handlebar – A reshaped one-piece handlebar with taller and wider grips than on the ZZ, combined with the same quite tall 860mm-high seat, delivers a more relaxed yet upright riding stance on the ZT
The Morini motor is a little-known technical tour de force
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
ORIGINALLY DESIGNED by the now retired Franco Lambertini, the Corsaro 1200 ZT’s liquid-cooled 1187cc V-twin eightvalve CorsaCorta motor has heavily oversquare dimensions (107x66mm) and weighs just 69kg. It features a cassettetype six-speed gearbox, DOHC cylinder heads, and composite chain/ gear cam drive. It revs to a maximum of 9300rpm and delivers 102.5kW at 8500rpm and 125Nm at 6250rpm. Unusually, that’s more than the previous Euro 3 version, thanks to new electronics and a revised exhaust system.
It’s ultracompetitive real-world performance a dozen years after this highly individual engine ﬁrst entered production and, by any standards, the Morini motor is a little-known technical tour de force for the way it delivers such signiﬁcant torque with such a short stroke. The engine boasts several other innovative features, starting with the use of a nowadays unique one-piece crankcase casting. Engine internals are assembled through the left side.
“The great advantage is that, once mounted in the frame, it’s extremely stiﬀ and can be used as a fully load-bearing chassis component, allowing for a reduction in overall weight, as well as delivering a more rigid motorcycle,” Lambertini says of the one-piece block. “It also reduces machining and assembly costs, as it’s cast in a single piece.” Unlike any vertically split Ducati Testastretta engine, this format also permits using a sideloading cassette-type six-speed gearbox.
A further unusual design feature is that the cylinders are cast integrally with the crankcase, but rotated backwards in order to permit a shorter wheelbase. The reason for its 87° cylinder angle is packaging; reducing the angle by three degrees at the crankcase saves 30mm between the heads, without having to use a counterbalancer to smooth out vibration. Engine length is just 350mm, with the swingarm pivoting in the crankcase as well as the frame.
The smaller tank ought to make more ofa visual feature out of the good-looking CorsaCorta engine, but thanks to the fact that this is entirely smothered in black paint, it’s completely anonymous – especially since the ZT’s frame is also painted black. Frankly, the ZT is an aesthetic own goal for Moto Morini – if they’d only left the engine castings unpainted, as on the ZZ I rode a year ago, or painted the frame red, as on some versions of the ZZ, it would look heaps better instead of just fading into the background. The ZT’s round headlamp, which replaces the ZZ’s twin ellipsoidal affair, has a classic appearance that is in keeping with the bike’s more usable, everyday nature.
The ZT still has a few carbon-fibre parts scattered around it, like the very distinctive rear numberplate holder, and the bike as a whole is a claimed six kilos lighter than before, at 190kg (kerb). A key addition to Moto Morini’s technical team has been Massimo Gustato, who was hired in 2015 by Jannuzzelli as R&D manager, a role he previously held with Bimota, where he was responsible for putting an array of bikes into smallscale production, from the DBX Supermoto to the BMW-powered BB3.
Before that, he spent fouryears working for Aprilia Racing on the world title-winning RSW125/250 GP racers and RSV4 Superbike, so this is a man who knows how to develop small-volume models cost-effectively without sacrificing the quality coupled with individuality that is a small manufacturer’s USP. Gustato is responsible for the remarkable achievement of actually gaining power and torque in making the Corsaro motor Euro 4 compliant. In this guise, it delivers 137bhp (102.5kW) at 8500rpm – a claimed seven horsepower more than theprevious Euro 3 version – and has 125Nm of torque on tap at 6250rpm.
That’s 3Nm more than before, and the complete reverse of what other manufacturers have experienced. In every other case that I’m aware of, meeting Euro 4 with existing models has meant sacrificing outright performance in favour of increased torque – either that, or cubing up the motor to increase capacity in order to compensate for lost peak power. And compared to my older Euro 3 Morini 1200 with identical engine architecture, there’s a really noticeable improvement on the ZT when actually riding it, notjust onpaper.
While sharing those same impressive absolute numbers with the ZZ, the Corsaro ZT’s ECU has been completely remapped to deliver a wider spread of power, and especially torque, than with the Magneti Marelli electronics used previously. “After oneyear of experience with this engine management system on the CorsaCorta motor, the ECU of the ZT has been improved by our calibration expert to deliver a more fluid power output from the engine,” Gustato says. “We also have a very effective new exhaust system from our supplier. Our intention is to offer a bike that’s more comfortable for daily use or touring, while retaining the ZZ version for absolute performance.”
Can’t argue with that, as you quickly realise when gunning the ZT’s CorsaCorta engine wide open in sixth gear at 2000rpmexiting a turn, relishing in itsmeatymidrange as it pulls hard and strong in completely linear mode all the way through to the fierce-action 9300rpm revlimiter, without a trace of transmission snatch. This is not only unexpected for such a shortstroke engine format, which you’d normally expect to have to rev quite hard to obtain this kind of performance, but while themotor apparently has a serious appetite for revs – designer Lambertini has claimed it runs safely to 13,000rpm(some going with a 107mmpiston!) – it’s also content to pootle along at very low revs in traffic.
Front and rear suspensions are made by Mupo, a brand new to motorcycles that hired some of its technical staff from Marzocchi
Then, when you spot a gap, you can just twist your wrist and that distinctive-sounding engine will deliver. However, it does so in a smoother, less brusque way than the ZZ variant I rode a year ago, onwhich third-gear power wheelies were a fact of life in such circumstances. Not on the ZT – the rear Pirelli just hooks up and drives the bike forward, with the handlebar waving slightly in your hands as the front wheel lightens a smidge, and hovers slightly above the ground – it’s addictive! The broader spread of torque fromthis flexible yet potent motormeans you needn’t use the gearbox as much as on the ZZ, which admittedly wasn’t a lot, evenwith such a short-stroke engine.
The CorsaCortamotor is now happiest operating in the 3500-7500rpmzone, so you find yourself surfing the torque curve to hold third or fourth over a twisty stretch of road interspersed with short straights. There’s an average of 1200rpm between each of the evenly spaced top three gears, and with this kind of engine performance there’s really no need for closed-up ratios in the six-speed extractable cluster – just point and squirt.
However, I didn’t think the actual gearchange was as smooth as before, so that it was quite hard tomake clean upward gearshifts either with or without the clutch. It’s a shame there was no powershifter as fitted standard on the ZZ – it’s only available as an option – and there’s no possibility of a clutchless autoblipper systemfor downward shifts even as an option, since the ZT still doesn’t have a digital throttle.
This alsomeans no choice of ridingmodes on a bike that is inmany ways a throwback to the analogue era. A time before the latest specced-up supernakeds from other manufacturers got so thoroughly kitted out with electronics that some owners risk feeling it’s the computer riding the bike, not them. There’s no such concern on Moto Morini’s latest model, because it has a delicious feeling of connectivity between what your right hand is doing and the way the bike puts the power to the tarmac. T
here’s no digital filter to dilute your desires, just an analogue link between the throttle and the rear tyre that’s refreshingly old school, but direct – although the addition on the ZT of traction control operated by retarding the ignition is very welcome, alongside the Bosch ABS tomeet Euro 4.
The Brembo radial brake package is its usual peerless self, hauling down the ZT fromhigh speed with heaps of feel as you work the clutch lever to back down the gears and access the decent amount of engine braking the technical gang have left dialled into the slipper clutch. The CorsaCortamotor’s lightaction 54mmsingle-butterfly throttle bodies give a clean, controllable pickup froma closed throttle, and thanks to the updatedmapping there’s a muscular yet smooth rush to that revlimiter, resulting in a definite improvement in acceleration versus the ZZ.
The well-balanced chassis with its 52/48 weight distribution gives you heaps of confidence, especially with the compliant suspension that was specially developed for Morini byMupo, offering a greater 135mmcushion of front wheel travel compared to themore stiffly sprungMarzocchi fork used until a year ago on Morini V-twins. This prevents the Corsaro chattering unduly on rougher surfaces, and you can use the engine’s meaty torque to hold third and fourth gears to cruise that 3500-7500rpm comfort zone for long periods along winding roads, using the excellent leverage fromthe wide handlebar to flick fromside to side, then powering effortlessly out of turns in away that’s both thrilling and fun.
And, despite quite conservative steering geometry (24.5? rake with 103mmof trail), the ZT is pretty responsive and light steering. It was hard not to be impressed with the new model, mainly by the way Moto Morini has retuned that wonderfully torqueymotor to be so flexible and forgiving; it is fast as well as friendly. The Corsaro ZT is an extremely satisfyingmotorcycle to ride hard, because of its thrilling acceleration and outstanding responsiveness across a broad spectrum of revs, but always in a controllable and controlled way, evenwithminimal electronic intervention.
This is no nanny state bike, but one that’s so gloriously non-PC you’re practically surprised that anyone is actually allowed to build bikes like this for sale any more. “Capotosti and I spent 1.96million Euro to acquire Moto Morini, and we then invested over sixmillionmore to start transforming it into the kind of companywe could be proud of, andwanted to run,” Jannuzelli says. “But if it takesmore than that to do the job right, themoney is there – and it’s important to stress that there is zero outside debt. All the funding comes fromme personally. This is my project, and I will see it through.
“Moto Morini is a hidden secret that everyone who discovers falls in love with. It’s a genuinely historic Italian brand with a successful roadracing history, and we have tomake itmore 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 well-kept secret as before.