Aermacchi Chimera History

Feature Article from Hemmings Motor News, November, 2011 by Jim O'Clair

Aermacchi has a long history in aircraft manufacture, Giulio Macchi formed the company in 1912 and the company built military aircraft for both World Wars. They did not start building motorcycles until 1951. One of their first forays into bike building was to hire Lino Tonti, formerly of Benelli and later, F B Mondial, Bianchi, Gilera and Moto Guzzi. Some of the first bikes Tonti built for Aermacchi proceeded to break the world speed record for 50cc and 75cc motorcycles in 1956. That same year, Aermacchi released the Chimera (or Dream) 175cc motorcycle, designed by Albert Bianchi, with its enclosed engine compartment and futuristic jet engine-like appearance.

The small four-stroke 172.4cc displacement engines were mounted horizontally and used an OHV cylinder head. Fueled by a 22mm Dell'orto carburetor and powered by a six-volt Marelli magneto, the engine only generated slightly over 13hp at 6,500 RPM. The Chimera used a four-speed transmission and chain drive to put the power to the rear 17-inch wheel. The front wheel was also 17-inch and the bike had front and rear drum brakes. The Chimera had telescopic front forks and a single rear shock to provide suspension for the rider. Total dry weight was 318 pounds. The bike was the hit of the 1956 Milan motorcycle show, but the accolades it earned from the press did not translate well into actual bike sales. Compared to other models of its day, the front fender looked like it was hanging out in space, about 6 inches too high for the front wheel. The company claimed it was designed this way to afford the suspension additional clearance in the event it was taken off-road.

Although Aermacchi continued to build the Chimera, despite poor sales until 1961, very few were made. Harley-Davidson bought half of the company in 1960 and, under the new ownership group, the Chimera model was discontinued; the engine would later reappear in the Ala Bianca and Ala Rossa 175. This change would eventually lead to the production of successful Aermacchi bikes of the 1960s, including the Ala D'oro and the Ala Verde as well as the H-D Sprint series. AMF/Harley-Davidson purchased the rest of the company in 1972 and Aermacchi went on to win four world championships: three in the 250cc class with their RR-250 and one in the 350cc class, all under rider Walter Villa, in the mid-1970s.

Today, prized as display pieces of design rather than utilitarian scoots, intact Chimeras are rare. Most are on display at motorcycling museums such as the Barber Motorsports Museum. In fact, a 1957 Aermacchi Chimera that is usually displayed at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, was the recent winner of the X-1 class for pre-1979 Italian motorcycles at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours. John Parham, the owner of J&P Cycle and president of the National Motorcycle Museum, owns the Concours-winning example.

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