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email: Mitch Kay
MV Meccanica Verghera Ltd repairs and restores MV Agusta and Gilera motorbikes
In a Classic Racer exclusive, Meccanica Verghera throw open the doors to the workshop that gave birth to the British built MV triple
Mark Kay with the MV triple frame
The Kay Built MV triples
An article by Malc Wheeler for Classic Racer (2010).
For the last two seasons, classic enthusiasts have been able to enjoy the sight and perhaps more importantly sound of the three cylinder 350 and 500 cc MV being raced in anger once again, thanks to the skill and dedication of British engineers par excellence, Mark and Dave Kay.
Despite delighting thousands of fans as has always been the way in motorcycle racing, the MV race effort, headed by former race ace and long time classic sponsor Brian Richards, has attracted its share of doubters and critics. In an effort to put the myth and rumour to bed, the father and son Kay equip opened the doors to their workshop and gave Classic Racer unrestricted access to the reincarnation of the legendary MV.
Mark and Dave Kay show ua their workshop to dispel the myths surrounding the British built MV triple
THE ULTIMATE TEST
Mark Kay could be Italian. When he talks about the MV three built in his small, but superbly equipped workshop, his eyes sparkle and a satisfied smile is never far from his lips.
And when he lifted the lid on his creation for Classic Racer, his enthusiasm goes up three gears.
The first outing in anger for the 500cc version was at the 2008 Manx Grand Prix, with TT rising start Gary Johnson aboard and despite not making the finish, it acquitted itself very well.
Despite the lanky Johnson carrying a knee injury, which necessitated four inches of extra padding on the seat making for a very un-aerodynamic combination, he shattered the classic lap record in practice, after very few miles on the MV, and was leading the race comfortably when the ignition failed. For 2009 Manx GP regular and one of the UK’s top classic racers, Alan Oversby was enlisted to pilot not just the 500 but also the newly finished 350-3.
In fact so new was the Junior mount that Brian Richards collected the bike from the Kay workshop on Wednesday morning, put 20 laps on it around Mallory Park in the afternoon before heading for the ferry to the Isle of Man the next morning. After a hectic and weather-blighted week of practice, which involved Mark making a dash back to his Midlands based workshop to rebuild a motor, Mona’s Isle did its worst. With both the 350 and 500 classic races being run together, due to the loss of roads closing time, the team had to make the aonising decision of which of the triples to run. Choosing the smaller of the two, Oversby led the Junior race from the start and looked set for a fairy tale victory until the frame boss broke around the right hand footrest and rear brake pivot broke at the bottom of Bray Hill on the final lap. With his foot wedged on the exhaust, and no rear brake, Oversby rode on until a sharp eyed marshall spotted the dangling brake pedal and he was black flagged at Sulby while still leading. With Manx Grand Prix 2010 already the focus of the Kay team’s attention, and Alan Oversby signed to ride both bikes once again, work is already in hand on preparation for what Mark Kay describes as the ‘ultimate test bed for any racing motorcycle’.
Mark and Dave Kay open the doors to their workshop to dispel the myths surrounding the British built MV triple
Alan Oversby riding the MV triple on the Isle of Man. Photo - Dave Kneen
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Finding a 1970 500cc MV three to replicate, was a five year mission for Dave Kay. Eventually a wealthy collector and existing customer of the Kays agreed to allow them to strip amd measure his genuine ex-Agostini MV in return for a complete engine once the project was completed. Work started by stripping the original to its very last nut and bolt. Then came the painstaking task of measuring and making drawings of literally every one of those nuts and bolts. It’s only when you see the stripped engine and gearbox laid out on the bench, or study the photographs on these pages, that you even start to appreciate the time and skill involved before a single manufacturing process could begin. An amazing percentage of the new MV is manufactured in Britain with only ancillary parts such as forks and front brake, which the Kays say needs some attention to get it working at its best, and handlebars, levers and footrest assemblies coming from Italy. Even the rear brake, which was a one-off, built just for the MV in the period, is replicated in the Kay workshop. Magnesium castings, and there is a lot of magnesium on the bike, are made in the south of England, while anything in aluminum is cast just down the road from the Kay workshop. With these back in the Kay workshop, the time consuming and skillful process of machining begins. The crankcases alone take four weeks to finish and this is no nine to five operation. Mark estimates he works 10 to 12 hour days, and the cylinder head two weeks longer to complete. The Kays take great pride in the fact that every one of the parts manufactured for the 500 would fit straight in the genuine 1970 ex-Agostini bike. In fact there are only a couple of small deviations from the original MV factory specification. The pistons, which run in cast iron liners, and are produced by yet another skilled local engineer, have three rings as opposed to the original machine’s two. and the valve guides have a small rubber seal fitted.
A look at the Kay workshop to dispel the myths surrounding the British built MV triple
Access to modern material and has extended the life of parts, while remaining true to the original drawings. The camshafts are identical to the original, but Formula 1 technology means that after 180 racing miles, they still look like new. The four piece crankshaft, which is pressed up by Alpha Bearings and runs true to within half a thousandth of an inch, has done the same miles. It will be replaced as a precaution before the bike is run again, but when you consider the MV factory changed their cranks in period after just 500 miles, you get an idea of the quality of the engineering coming out of the Walsall workshop. Valve sizes too are as on the original bike, but run on modern material valve seats fitted directly into the cylinder head. The head on the original machine had a bronze skull shrunk into it, but to replicate that would have been unnecessarily costly and less efficient too. The gearbox, which Mark admits to having a love-hate relationship with, is truly a mechanical marvel.
The original ran seven speeds, as did the 2008 Manx Grand Prix machine with a dispensation from the Manx Motor Club, but the 2009 500 and 350cc bikes had just six ratio fitted. The photographs on these pages only give some idea of the complexity of the beautifully engineered cassette gearbox, which Mark claims takes a week of painstaking work to assemble from scratch. On the MV triple it isn’t only the engine that is complex: the frame is a work of art in its own right and required equally complex drawings to to be made to allow it to be replicated. Not only do the front down tubes arch in opposite directions to clear the three header pipes, the front section, which has to slide one within the other, unbolts to allow removal of the motor industry standard 531has been used on the bikes built to date, with the latest arrival, again produced locally, using T45.
the Kay workshop is opened up to dispel the myths surrounding the British built MV triple
IN THE GENES
Dave Kay, 70, is a lifetime motorcyclist, who all the time he was riding Japanese and German bikes, always hankered for an MV. And it was only when MV looked like they might go under that he decided it was now or never, and bought a Monza. With his ambition fulfilled, the former heating and ventilation engineer helped the MV Owners Club and was soon putting his obvious engineering skills to good use producing unobtainable parts for club members’ machines.
By the mid 1980s Dave decided to turn his hobby into a business, much to the consternation of the club who liked the ‘amateur’ service Dave provided but frowned on the ‘professional’, leading to Dave’s departure from the club. So quickly did Kay Engineering’s knowledge and reputation grow that by 1988 they were turning out British built MV road bikes. Having grown up with MV, in fact he claims to have been working on them since he was seven years old, it was almost inevitable that Mark would become an engineer. But he did it what he says was the ‘proper way’ and went to work for a local tool company at 16 to serve his apprenticeship.
Inevitably father and son who are two very different characters, but obviously have great mutual respect and enjoy each other’s company, ended up working together in the family business. Both have had very successful sidecar road race careers, with Mark winning the classic sidecar road race at the Southern 100 in the Isle of Man, when he still only 20 years old on, yes, you’ve guessed, an MV. The same outfit and with the same passenger that father Dave used. In fact, Mark has the distinction of being the last person to win a race on the Isle of Man on an MV.
The Kay’s move into building race bikes, the six stunning Gilera four replicas to have passed through the workshop, came thanks to an Italian customer for their road MV service, who rolled up at their workshop one day with an original in the back of his car, with the request to replicate it.
Dave is, he says, semi-retired these days, but looks as busy as ever on the day of Classic Racer’s visit, with his focus on the re-manufacture of original specification carburettors, the stock of original items in the Kay store is dwindling and they refuse to fit modern alternatives.
Mark can’t be drawn into how many man hours go into building exotic race bikes, only commenting that ‘if he ever added them up, I am probably on £4 an hour” The third generation of the family, Mark’s son Mitchell, is training to be a chef, but helps out at meetings and obviously has the family engineering gene.
Mark and Dave in the Walsall workshop
The Kay family open the doors to their workshop to dispel the myths surrounding the British built MV triple
When the decision was made to build a 350cc version of the three cylinder MV, Mark thought they would have a head start with the work they had already put in on the 500. Wrong! It was quite literally back to the drawing board, as the only things interchangeable are the five speed gearbox and the clutch.
Even those these items can be swapped, the crankcases they sit in are very different, as is the way the engine is mounted in the frame, something that is an easy way to differentiate between them.
There is no plan to build another 350 with the existing one being retained and upgraded in readiness for next season’s effort. Despite the lack of track time, or for that matter, Dyno testing ahead of the 2009 Manx Grand Prix, the Junior mount is putting out a healthy 55bhp with safe maximum revs set at 13 000, against the 500’s 75bhp and 11 800.
INTO THE FUTURE
With an estimated six months of 10 to 12 hour days needed to build a Meccanica Verghera 500 MV, the hand built bikes will never be mass produced. In fact, Mark has made the decision to stop at just six. It’s clear when talking to Mark that he is a proper engineer, always looking for a new challenge to test his skill and he has no desire to buld bikes production line fashion, no matter how exotic the end result might be.
For those that are used in anger, and to date it appears that only the manufacturer plans to race, there will be technical and spares backup. The next 500, nearing completion, to leave the Kay workshop was on the bench in all its naked glory but this one differed from those that had gone before. Specified by the customer, this bike boasted a frame with the right hand lower frame rail missing, just as on the one-off prototype built for Agostini to allow him to tuck the exhaust in tighter.
You still have time to place an order for the remaining couple of 500 triples, pricedepending on specification.
And the next project on the Kay radar? Dave describes the cast wheel 500cc four cylinder MV, raced to World Championship glory by Phil Read, as the ‘ultimate incarnation of the racing fire engines, and work starts early in the new year on building a small batch, perhaps just three.
Mark and Dave Kay open their workshop to dispel the myths surrounding the British built MV triple
Mark and father Dave are happiest grafting away in the workshop, rather than organising the logistics of going racing. In fact Dave has never watched one of his bikes in serious race action on track, which is where the experienced hand of Brian Richards comes in.
A chance meeting at the Bob Mac meeting set the foundation on what has become a good friendship and perfect working partnership. Team Kay had travelled North with Pat Sefton, to race the Gilera four, a faithful replica of the machine that broke the 100mph barrier on the TT course in 1957.
When Mark Kay offered Brian Richards’ rider Phil Sharp a run on the Gilera in a parade at the meeting, he was very impressed. A similar offer to Brian the following year, at the same meeting, fulfilled a lifetime ambition and reduced him to tears.
It was then that the MV three project was mentioned and Brian jumped at the chance to run the race effort and the riders. Just 12 months later, again at the Bob Mac meeting, Brian Richards became the first person to ride the completed and race-ready MV.
Both Dave and Mark have nothing but praise for the dedication of both Brian Richards and Delia, and with Alan Oversby signed for another Manx Grand Prix campaign in 2010, and with the aim of bettering Agostini’s MV fastest lap a target, the whole team are looking forward and not back at what might have been during the last two visits to Mona’s Isle
Mark and Dave Kay sho us their workshop to dispel the myths surrounding the British built MV triple
Mark and Dave Kay open their workshop doors to dispel the myths surrounding the British built MV triple
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Mark and Dave Kay open the doors to their workshop to dispel the myths surrounding the British built MV triple