By John Lawless

Team Obsolete, the Brooklyn-based classic racing team, owns some of the most desirable motorcycles of the mid- to late-20th Century. Robert Iannucci, owner of Team Obsolete, has never been content to just own and display these machines; his passion lies in hearing and seeing them in action. To that end, he and his crew have travelled the world, putting some of the greatest riders of the machines back on track to the delight of motorcycle fans everywhere they go. They’ve raced and paraded the glorious MV Agusta racers, the incredible Honda 250/six and others from the period nearly everywhere, including the Isle of Man, England, Italy and the USA.

Movie star handsome: Giacomo Agostini captured during practice for June 1968 Assen TT in Holland. [Jack de Nijs for Anefo / Nationaal Archief]
One of the last remaining riders from the Golden Era of Grand Prix racing is 15-time World Champion Giacomo Agostini. Rob and Ago have known each other for 40 years, since team Obsolete purchased several ex-works racers from MV Agusta in Cascina Costa, Italy. These machines include the 350cc and 500cc three- and four-cylinder racers, as well as the ill-fated ‘Boxer’ water-cooled flat four prototype that wasn’t completed before MV Agusta abruptly pulled out of racing. Suffice it to say that without Rob Iannucci keeping the fires going and wheels spinning, most of us who are too young to have witnessed the halcyon days of Grand Prix wars would never hear or see these motorcycles in action. For that, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

Rob Ianucci and Giacomo Agostini with one of his former racers: an MV Agusta 350cc triple. [John Lawless]
Ago, as he’s known to his fans worldwide, was invited to visit Team Obsolete (TO) headquarters recently for a dinner to celebrate his accomplishments and their partnership together. The next evening was the invitation only TO Christmas party, where Ago could relax and enjoy an evening in a more casual setting. I was attending with Albert Bold, the MV Agusta guru and machinist who keeps the multi-cylinder roadbikes going and knows them inside out. He’s done considerable work for Team Obsolete over the years keeping these priceless machines going. After being shown in, we stepped into the tiny elevator only to be told to wait, there’s someone else coming. In steps Giacomo Agostini and his travel companion. They’d just returned from a visit to Dainese /AGV flagship store in Manhattan for a little Christmas shopping. We introduce ourselves and make our way to the fourth floor. When the elevator doors open and we arrive, the party guests stop in their tracks and suddenly there is a hushed moment while Ago made his way in. The Legend had arrived.

The annual Christmas party at Team Obsolete is usually a fine affair, with celebrity riders and an exceptional array of rare racing machinery. [John Lawless]
I had a chance to sit down with the multi-time World Champion for an interview during the party. Before we began our taped interview, Ago told me about his museum in the medieval town of Bergamo, Italy. The one-room museum is housed on a property run by his daughter Vittoria. Reservations can be made via Although it only opened in 2019, he’s already making plans for a new and larger museum. Because of historical property limitations, he cannot expand the current property, so another property has been obtained and he has begun to formulate the layout. He tells me, “Imagine a single spotlight focused on just two trophies, his first and last. From there, a photo gallery will help visitors understand the full span of my career.” He still has nearly every boot, glove, helmet and trophy (over 380) as well as innumerable press clippings of his years spent at the top of the racing world. For the TO dinner, Ago dressed casually, wearing a button-down shirt with the top two buttons undone. Around his neck is a gold necklace from which hangs a small medallion with the letters FIM. I ask him about it and he tells me proudly that it is from his first 500cc World Championship in 1966. Our time was short, and the party goers were getting louder and eager to spend time with him as well. Not wanting to monopolize his time, I turned on my recorder and got to work.

Giacomo Agostini being interviewed by John Lawless at Team Obsolete HQ. [Team Obsolete]

Interview with Giacomo Agostini:

John P. Lawless [JL]: Giacomo, in your 12 years of top-level international racing, you scored 123 Grand Prix Victories, 15 World Championships, 10 Isle of Man TT wins, 18 Italian National Championships, just amazing. Tell us, what drew you to motorcycle racing? You weren’t allowed to race because your father was against it. How did you convince him to allow you race?

Giacomo Agostini [Ago]: My family was against it. They said, Giacomo, our family business has nothing to do with motorbikes, why do you want to do this?

JL: Alfonso Morini gave you your first big break riding a Moto Morini in Grand Prix racing. How did that come to be?

Ago: I bought a 175cc Moto Morini on installments from a local dealer, a few dollars a month and started to race. As I became better and started to win on my own bike. Mr Morini saw me race in San Luca and said ‘you can race a factory bike for us.’

JL: Who were your heroes at that time?

Ago: My heroes were Tarquino Provini, Carlo Ubbialli and Gary Hocking. I wanted to be like them.

JL: The 1965 season you were surprisingly able to keep pace with the world’s best riders on multi-cylinder MVs and Hondas on the single-cylinder Moto Morini. How did you do that with so little experience and a less powerful motorcycle?

Giacomo Agostini in 1964 with the Moto Morini OHC single that proved fast enough to be multi-cylinder factory racers. [Wikipedia]
Ago: When I started to win; 1961, 62, 63, 64. In three years I won the [Italian HillclimbChampionship] title, I got the ride for Morini. My first ride on Morini was 1963 at Monza; I was racing behind Yamaha and Honda and I had to stop because the bike broke the footpeg (due to vibration). After that everybody was looking at me, saying who is this? In 1964 I was the Italian champion. Count Agusta called and asked for me to come for a meeting. He made me wait five hours outside of his office before we spoke. So I start with MV Agusta and stay for many, many years, winning world titles for them. This is my dream, to race with the best riders of the world.

JL: Gilera wanted you as well, why MV?

Ago: Because Gilera wanted me, at double the money MV was offering, but my father and I think about the companies. He said MV Agusta is a big company, building helicopters and has 3500 people working for them. Their technology was very high. And Gilera was not like that, just motorcycles. So I decided to sign for half price but the company can give me the machines to win.  So I had a good choice because I became world champion 13 times for them.

JL: Once you’d become the teammate of the more experienced Mike Hailwood at MV, how did he feel about you joining the team? Did he see you as an equal once you beat him at Riccione (Italy) in 1965 for the first time? Did that change your relationship once you were able to beat Mike?

Ago: No, because Mike was more experienced than me, especially on the big bikes. It was my first season riding the 500s and I tried to learn from him because he was a very good rider. The first time I beat him, I thought, “I beat Mike Hailwood!” Because I think it was easy for him to win with other riders. But when I beat him, the next race, I didn’t see him for one week, he prepared and he beat me. Because I think he did not have to go 100% until I beat him. We had a good relationship though. He wanted to win and I wanted to win so we couldn’t be too friendly though.

Giacomo Agostini [1] leading Mike Hailwood [2] at the 1967 Dutch TT at Assen. [Anefo / Nationaal Archief]
JL: June 1967, your birthday as I recall, you had one of your toughest races on the Isle of Man that ended when you suffered a broken chain on the last lap in the Senior TT. Did you feel the MV 500 Triple was a better choice than the Honda 500/Four for the Island?

Ago: Very, very hard race. I was leading and then Mike was leading. At the end of the race we both had white scuff marks on our arms and shoulders from scrubbing against the stone walls. So the last lap, I was thinking I won, I won, and then the chain broke. After the race, I was crying and Mike came over and said, “Ago, today you are a Champion”, but I said, yes, but you are in first place. But he was very nice to me and we celebrated even though I did not win. People appreciated and remember this race because it’s impressive how hard we raced.

JL:  When Honda pulled out of Grand Prix racing in 1968, you won everything you entered the next two years but still made time to race at International short circuit races in the UK as well as winning the Italian National Titles. Why did you want to race in the UK, at Brands Hatch and Mallory Park?

Ago: And Oulton Park and Cadwell Park…

Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini at the 1967 Dutch TT at Assen. [Anefo / Nationaal Archief]
JL: One of the most talked about races in the UK was the “Race of Year.” You had an epic battle with John ‘Moon Eyes’ Cooper at Mallory Park where he narrowly beat you. He was on the BSA 750 Triple and you were on the MV 500. Were you surprised by the speed of the BSA Rocket III Triple and the intensity of the competition?

Ago: I know this before race it would be very difficult because Brands Hatch is very, very short, and before the last corner there is a hairpin and on the 500 you sometimes you must use the clutch because the redline is higher and he used a different line. The BSA is more easy through there. So he always had an advantage over me at this corner, but after that there is a short straight just 200 meters to the finish line. If it was at another place, a faster place like the back of the circuit, I was in front. But this is very slow and he got by.

JL: The spectators in the England loved you and very much appreciated you coming to do those races.

Ago: Lots of time and a lot of travel but we make a show. People loved the show, they like the close racing. With Hailwood, Cooper, Smart, Read.

JL: Speaking of Phil Read, who was your teammate for two years on the MV. Did you leave because they weren’t giving you the full support now or did you see Yamaha as the future?

Ago: Yeah, I did this because I could see during the wintertime MV Agusta was not getting much more horsepower but the two-stroke was getting better and better, and so I said okay, it was time to change if I wanted to win. So I decided, but it was a very difficult decision, very hard decision, because MV Agusta was my second family. So it was good because we had a fantastic relationship with Yamaha. I decided to race for Yamaha. I then spent two weeks in Japan testing 250, 350, 500 and 700 cc because I must learn the two-stroke.

Giacomo Agostini won three World Championships riding a Yamaha two-stroke, and three managing their racing team. Here he rides a TZ750. [Yamaha]
JL: You were recovering from and injury as well.

Ago: I crashed (while testing the Mv at Misano in September 1973 [badly injuring his leg], so worked hard and I prepared to win.

JL: Let me talk to you about Daytona. You always prided yourself on being physically fit, very in-shape but at Daytona that year it was 90 degrees. What did you do to prepare for that race?

Ago: Normally, I did not drink that much before races. The race was very, very long – 200 miles – normally I do 80-90 miles. Physically, I am ok, but during the race it was extremely hot and I could not … (motions with his mouth that he could not produce spit). I wanted to stop, so I think this is impossible, but when I think about the people who chartered planes from England, France, Spain, Germany. I said now what do I do? What can I say? I say Okay, Ago now has the power to finish to the race. I come back to. I go back again and I win.

JL: In Daytona 1974  you had you great victory for Yamaha. It was the first time you were racing with a clutch start. The first time you were racing a big two-stroke against the best big bike racers in the country and from around the world. One racer in particular thought he was number one, he was World Champion, but you had to show him that you were the World Champion… Mr. Kenny Roberts.

Ago: Yeah, because when I arrive at Daytona Airport, Chevrolet had brought me one car in white color they but write with “Giacomo Agostini, World Champion” (painted on the door of the car) and I’m very happy to have to use that week. Then I see an article from Kenny Roberts saying, ‘I’m sorry but he (Ago) is not the World Champion, the world is America and I am American champion so I am World Champion. He is European World Champion.’ So I don’t answer because I am a guest in America. When I win the race, I was exhausted, and they gave me an injection because I am dehydrated, so then I see Kenny, I say I’m sorry, but now you understand who is the World Champion. He laughed and after that he was nice to me.

The cockpit of Agostini’s MV three. [John Lawless]
JL: So you stayed with Yamaha for another year and then you made your way back to MV (in 1976). You gave the factory their final victory at the Nurburgring Grand Prix. Tell us about that race. Did you feel you had a chance? I know the MVs were up against their technical limits, the bikes were breaking down more often.

Ago: I was also racing a Suzuki, which was very fast. But before the race it started to rain, and I am allowed to change the bikes, so I thought about it and decided to race the MV, and I won. After that I won at Hockenheim in 1976 [on a Yamaha TZ750].

JL: And then you made a brief foray in car racing – F2 Chevron, F1 Williams – but your heart was always with motorcycles.

Ago: Yes, my heart was with motorcycles.

JL: You enjoyed great success as a Team Manager for Yamaha with three world championships for Eddie Lawson. Did you enjoy the challenge of organizing a team?

Ago: Yamaha asked me to make a team which worked out well for them. I brought the Marlboro money and took care of everything. The team was mine, I hired the mechanics, they, Yamaha, give me the bikes, and engines. After two months of racing in Europe the Japanese mechanics did not like it because the food was different, the sleeping is different. You know now a lot has changed, but before, I remember many times a big box with food inside (for the mechanics) would arrive and that helped. It was good business, they trusted me and we got three wins – World Championships.

One that got away: the MV Agusta Boxer flat-four watercooled racer in development when MV pulled out of racing. [John Lawless]
JL: After that, you stepped back from racing although you were still active, like attending Grand Prix races. This year you saw a young, great Italian talent, Pecco Bagnaia win the championship on a Ducati fifty years after you, the last Italian to win on an Italian machine. Who do you think will win the 2023 World Championship?

Ago: I’m very happy that Bagnaia won with the Italian machine in the World Championship. Because when I raced, I show to the world, the rider wins and MV Agusta wins. It is important to show that the technology is the best. Bagnaia after fifty years did the same. Not only for Ducati, but I think Ducati makes a good bike and beats all the big Japanese companies. So Ducati’s prestige is Italian also. This is why it is a good emotion. To beat these big Japanese companies!

JL: Pecco came back from a 90 point deficit after the summer break and won like a true champion…

Ago: Yeah, because I think that Ducati and Bagnaia start really riding /working hard. Also the people expect from him to win, so he says, I must do this! I must do it.

JL: And he did it.

Ago: The start of the season was complicated but he was very professional. Next year? I think we have a very nice show. Because we have Pecco, Quartararo, Marini, Bastianini, Marquez will come back, Bezzechi- next year will be very good. There’s many talented Italians – Italians and Spanish.

JL: Grazie Mille. Ti Aguro Buon Natale!

Ago: Grazie.

The spectacular double-overhead camshaft 3-cylinder 350cc MV Agusta racer. [John Lawless]



John Lawless is a freelance motorcycle writer. Check out his website here, and his Instagram here.



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