Note: Another motorcycle history by my friend, Lee Wilcox, of Texas. Republished here with his permission. Enjoy. -TK
Why is the Harley Davidson Sprint such a contradiction? In the hands of a slug like me they become a heavy, somewhat awkward, vibrating, slow, and uncomfortable machine. In the hands of some of the guys that grabbed U.S. and World titles, the bike was a champion. You know how some machines just make the rider better? Well, this was not one of them. But it said Harley Davidson on it, and they did sponsor racers. You get the picture. How Harley Davidson (and I) came about to have this little Italian one-lunger is a bit of a longer story.
Aermacchi is shortened from Aeronautico Macchi. For you folks that don’t speak Italian I am told that means Macchi’s Aeronautical company. They made airplanes. Still do. Their first planes were in 1917 and they were flying boats. As I recall (no I’m not that old, but I can read) they were on our side in that war and came out fairly prosperous.
Between the wars they continued to grow and then in a fit they picked the wrong side in the second war. While it paid off in the short term, in the long term it proved very detrimental.
Actually all of Europe was in the same boat no matter which side you had been on if you were a civilian trying to feed yourself. At any rate, Aermacchi and everyone else knew that fuel was precious and that motorcycles would sell. They found an engineer named Lino Tonti who had been at Benelli and worked on aircraft engines during the war. Tonti designed and built a 50cc bike that set the land speed record for it’s size. While it’s not their first bike this is a good example of Italian bikes in 1950.