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Mark and Dave Kay are building new Gilera 500 GP replicas
Father and son team, Dave and Mark Kay have a dream. To win Daytona. Not only to win, but to do so on a machine created by themselves.
In an article which featured in Classic Bike (Feb 2000), Brian Crichton witnesses the dream revving to reality.
Mark Kay on the Gilera 500 GP replica
The first part of the Kay’s dream is complete. It’s in the glorious shape of a works 500cc Gilera-4 replica based on the Bob McIntyre 1957 model, the first machine to achieve a 100mph lap at the TT.
The first Kay Gilera-4 is a stunning piece of work. Eight times world champion, Phil Read has looked it over and is highly impressed. Now that it is complete, the Kays intend to start on a special lighter weight model for today’s highly competitive classic road race scene.
The father and son team would love to have their lighter weight model ready for Daytona in March (2000), but other commitments mean the lightweight (300 lb as opposed to 325lb) will not be ready until later in the season. At least it will give them plenty of time for a thorough shakedown before Daytona 2001.
Winning the 500cc Daytona Classics is seen as an ultimate test of success by those who have the talent to re-energise the past by creating exotic masterpieces anew. The Manx Classic figures highly too. This event in late August/early September could be the first major Kay Gilera test. Pat Sefton is being offered first refusal as rider. The Kays also hope to to contest the George Beale InCA series, Dundrod and the Southern 100.
“Our race bike will be identical to the one you see here, but it will be a lot lighter and with some trick bits inside”, says Dave. “We have parts to make five replica machines in total plus a sixth machine using original 1957 crankcase, barrels, head and frame. We hope this model will be eligible for the Classic MC series.
Dave and Mark Kay have a dream to win Daytona on a Gilera motorcycle of their own making
Dave and Mark Kay are making Gilera GP 500 replica motorcycles
“We have all the chassis ready and we may be able to complete all the Gileras during this year, but we also have to keep the MV thing going." (Meccanica Verghera’s main source of income is making MV parts). “It has taken us a year to put this Gilera together. Now we are starting on the other examples,” added Dave.
Pat Sefton raced the Kay’s MV 750-4 in the 1995 Manx GP and is likely to be the man who will do all the development riding. “Pat helps us to set them up. He knows suspension settings and is good at understanding how a machine works and how it needs to be changed. He has got the first option as our rider,” confirms the Gilera creators.
"We are serious about winning,” emphasises 59-year old Dave, adding that the racer will have a bikini fairing. He then looks over the lines of his first Anglo-Italian beauty and says, “Made in Brownhills!” with a look that encapsulates the whole glorious irony of the project.
The original was born of Latin temperament and genius 50 years ago in the sunny climes of Arcore, and here it is reincarnated in the often overcast but never daunted West Midlands by a father and son working from home.
On a fine point of geography the Gilera is actually made in Sandhills, just down the road from Brownhills. But we get the point and we’re not the only ones to be mightily impressed.
The bosses at Piaggo (they own Gilera) have given the nod to the project because they admire what can be done by Britich craftsmen working from home-based workshops. Their own country has also traditionally been full of such individual enterprise. The fact that the Kays like turning out exotica to the nearest micron is well-established. They are best known for the work they have done with regard to MV machines (see CB May 1993), making many replacement parts and creating an MV influenced four cylinder special which Dave called the Ferrari. He was able to get permission from the Italian car manufacturer to use this name, so long as it was the only example built. Through similar powers of persuasion Dave and Mark have been able to get Piaggio to agree to them making their handful of works Gilera-4 replicas. But the Piaggio top brass stress it can only be a handful.
Once this Gilera project is seen through in its entirety, the Kays intend to start on their next dream - recreating a grand prix MV which they also want to race and win with. This project is even dearer to their hearts than the Gilera. There are significant hurdles to overcome before they can get this one into gear, but achievements so far tell us it’s another goal they will reach.
Meanwhile, they hope that buyers of their Gileras will race them. They would rather see them on the track, either being raced or at least paraded, rahter than them being hidden away. But of course, it’s the buyer’s prerogative to do as he wishes once he has bought one.
The project was first announced in a Classic Bike news story published in 1999. The picture used in that article was of an original 1957 model they restored for an Italian owner. During the restoration they were able to get their engineering references for their scratch built versions.
In the workshop
Spark plugs are pocketed, allowing
large valve area in deep hemispheres
Formula One car specialists, Kent Motor Sport
cast the one-piece magnesium crankcase
Dave and Mark Kay are preparing new Gilera GP 500 replica motorcycles for racing
Mark Kay is hoping to race new Gilera GP 500 replica motorcycles ready for sale
The Kay family is making new Gilera GP 500 replica motorcycles ready for sale
The Kays are now accepting orders for new Gilera 500 GP replicas. For further details of the engine specifications, please click here
For the restored machine they built a brand new engine and front brake and part of the payment for their work was being allowed to keep an original 1957 frame and crankcase. This forms the basis for the aforementioned period racer they hoped will be given CRMC type approval for racing. Both Dave and Mark are former road racers, their raceware included MV solo and sidecar machinery. They no longer compete because the time required for all the special engineering work soaks up all their hours and energy. Mark, 32, is effectively taking charge of their company, Meccanica Verghera Ltd, named in honour of MV and because most of their engineering skills over the years have been dedicated to making MV components. Dave is proud that his son is gradually taking over the reins, and that he is a perfectionist who will scrap anything that is substandard. And in Mark’s six year old son Mitchell they are confident they are looking at the third generation of Kay engineering talent. Mark and Dave have a compact and neatly kept engineering room next to the workshop where the other Gileras will be put together. In the workshop lie four other completed crankshafts. Going back to the machine that started it all off, Dave says: “Four years ago and Italian gent came to us with a 1953 Gilera to help renovate. We did it and that gave us the chance. Later he turned up with a 1957 example for us to work on and we thought it would be an ideal model to replicate. That 1953 Gilera by the way is the only working original works 500cc Gilera-4 in the world,” declares a man who is forthright in his statements on Gilera matters. “The crank is two inches higher than this engine (his 1957 replica). The 1953 model is like a very early MV, with single sided front brake and pipes with no megaphones.
“About six Gileras remain from the factory days - most of them in Italy - but only one of them is an all original pukka racing bike,” he declares. Umberto Masetti (500cc word champion on Gilera 1952 has one - not the pukka racer - which he paraded at Assen (Centennial TT 1998) and Montlhery (1999). The original is owned by Piaggio.”
Dave has done much homework on Gilera and is adamant about these matters. Certainly there is no doubting the Kay engineering expertise that has gone into creating the superb homage to the past pictured here.
From Arcore to Brownhills - who can beat the combination of three dimensional Italian art and British enthusiasm, skill and determination?!
As a corollary to this article, Peter Howells wrote this tribute to the Gilera
Mark Kay is making new Gilera GP 500 replica motorcycles ready for sale
Dave and Mark Kay are making new Gilera GP 500 motorcycles for racing
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Mark and Dave Kay are building new Gilera 500 GP replicas