road testing the Kay MV three




The Kay MV three at the Isle of Man


Malc Wheeler travelled to the Isle of Man to ride the Kay MV three

The Manx MV


(An article by Malc Wheeler for Classic Racer, Dec 2008)



The Meccanica Verghera project to build a race-ready MV three, a faithful reproduction of the all conquering fire engine red Grand Prix bike of the 60s, using as many original components as possible, was an ambitious one, but after four years the challenge was completed. And wanting to put their product to the ultimate test, engineers Mark Kay and father Dave, chose the Senior Classic Manx Grand Prix as a debut, and came oh so close to pulling off a fairytale victory. Expectedly practice, as only practice in the Isle of Man can, threw up a few teething problems, despite the fact that both Spa Francorchamps and the long circuit at Chimay had been used as shakedowns, with Brian Richard's (the man heading up the MV race project), regular runner Phil Sharpe in the saddle.

Pilot for the Manx Grand Prix effort was rising TT star, 27-year old Gary Johnson, a man more at home on a 1000cc superbike than anything classic. But with the experienced Brian Richards to offer guidance, he quickly adapted to the MV. The gearing the MV was pulling at the Chimay test equated to 165mph and for the Manx it was raised by a couple of teeth. But the extra speed didn’t come and it was when Brian realised that by hanging on for 12 000 rpm, which is maximum revs, Gary was actually going slower than if he had used 11,500rpm as a limit, which is where the dyno says maximum power is developed.

The Manx MV - An article for Classic Racer, road testing the Kay MV three



That same dyno shows BHP figures already ahead of the MV factory bikes of the 60s. (MV claimed 78 bph), and Brian is confident that there is another five or six to be had without risking reliability. And reliability is something that the team are keen to maintain. the engine fitted for the Senior Classic has now done more than 600 miles and given no problems; in fact the cylinder head hasn’t been lifted since Chimay. History says that the MV factory worked to 500 miles as a maximum mileage for the crank when they were being raced in the period.


The carburation is set slightly on the rich side at the top end, something that Brian sees as no bad thing at this stage, although it wasn’t evident from riding the bike. The main teething problems, while on the Island centred around the ignition system, with a couple of sensors failing, which which dropped the motor on to two cylinders. Gary says that in the saddle, the symptoms feel much like fuel starvation.


Using the weather-limited practice sessions as testing time, Gary didn’t post the super quick lap everyone was expecting, saving that for the race. And he obviously had a lot in hand during practice. During the race, Gary lifted the filler cap in case there was an air lock, and in doing, lost the rubber sealing ring. From then on all he could do was tour back to the paddock, as fuel sloshed out of the cap each time he braked or accelerated. A philosophical Richards is already talking about next year.. “This has been a useful exercise, but yes we’ll be back, we haven’t done what we set out to do,” he said with a wry smile, “but we’ve learned a lot. The motor has proved to be totally reliable, there have been issues with the gearbox, and we now wonder if we need to have seven speeds (by 1970 MV only ran six gears on the 500 three) and we may change that.” With a year of development ahead of them, the Kay MV three, with a team headed by Brian Richards, will be the outfit to beat in the 2009 Classic Manx Grand Prix.

road testing the Kay MV three

Gary Johnson on the Kay MV three at the Isle of Man

By the Creg, Gary's race was run and the nine second lead he enjoyed at the Bungalow had gone.




“Awesome” was the only word Gary Johnson could use to describe his first taste of of classic racing aboard the MV three. And from a talented young TT racer, who just missed a podium with fourth place in this year’s hard fought Senior TT, in just his second year at the TT, that is compliment indeed.
The 27-year old Lincolnshire electrician’s offer of the MV ride came about after the original rider was unable to commit, and after being introduced to Brian Richards by Lincolnshire collector and sponsor John Chapman, he proved an inspired choice.

His first taste of riding a classic, a test run to see how he would cope with right foot gear change, something he hasn’t experienced before, was on Chapman’s Petty Manx at a track day at their local Caldwell Park. Within six laps, and while dodging track day superbikes, he was lapping at classic race winning pace.

Although more used to the 200bhp plus of a modern Superbike, Gary quickly adapted to the MV, once he figured that nothing happened below 7000rpm. And once Brian Richards had the suspension sorted, Gary says the handling was fine. When asked how it felt on the Mountain circuit compared to the modern stuff he was more used to he said, “You just sort of adjust and once I got used to it and we got the shockers sorted out it felt just as good. And as long as you keep it in that 9000rpm and above range, it feels like a (modern) 600 and I could pass lads on 250s and 400s (in practice) easy in a straight line.”

The major issue Gary had was getting comfortable on the bike. Tall and with long legs, a problem made worse by the fact that he was carrying a knee injury from a Superbike crash, it was impossible to sit on the bike without four inches of extra seat padding, which pushed him even further above the screen and out into the air. But this didn’t seem to slow his progress in the race. Despite claiming to have been too careful during the first few miles, he sussed out where the damp patches were, he had pulled over eight seconds on nearest rival Ryan Farquhar within nine miles.

A great footnote to the story comes from Gary’s father Trevor, who has backed his son’e race career to the hilt. Trevor takes up the tale... “When Gary came home and told me he had been offered an MV three to ride in the Manx, I didn’t believe him. He’s a bit of a joker. So I went off and found the model I had of the MV three, the only model bike I have, as it happens, and blowing the dust off I said this is what an MV three looks like. But it was true and I’m really chuffed he was given the chance to ride it.”



road testing the Kay MV three




Experience tells Brian Richards that racing is a real team effort and he would like to thank the following people for making the Manx MV effort possible.
He is indebted to Dave and Mark Kay for including him in their racing team, and would like to congratulate Mark on the skill and dedication he has shown in re-creating such a wonderful machine, which after only a few short weeks testing came so close.
He is also at pains to thank Gary Johnson and his team, John Chapman and Mick Grant, and from the trade, Phil Sharpe and Graham Elliot, FCL Motor Cycles Limited, Cranleigh, Tony Salt of TST Racing, Avon Tyres, Arai Helmets, Arlen Ness Leathers, Paddock Engineering, Race Paint, Interspan Ignition, Roger Titchmarsh Frames and Angilo Guadagnio Tanks, and hard-working apprentice, Mitchell Kay.





Malcolm was invited to ride the MV three on the Isle of Man. This is his response after having taken the bike out on the Jurby circuit:


"While it was the generosity and trust of Brian Richards, and Mark and Dave Kay that made the MV available, and fulfilled a lifetime fantasy for me, it wouldn’t have been possible without help from one or two other people".


"David Harding and Caroline Etherington, of the Manx Motor Cycle Club, pulled out all the stops to make use of Jurby possible for the test and the ACU took a sensible approach to sorting out the insurance issues. Thank you, one and all, you’ve made an old man very happy".


Read below an account of his experience....


road testing the Kay MV three


A bleak and featureless Jurby airfield wasn’t the venue that popped up in my regular boyhod fantasy. That’s the one when I replaced Giacomo Agostini in the MV team. It was usually Monza or Spa Francorchamps when I stood in for the injured Italian after getting a last minute call from Count Agusta. Then someone usually woke me up! But real life is rarely like our dreams, except in this case, it came close. Having been privy to the Manx Grand Prix project for some time, but sworn to secrecy by Brian Richards, the experienced sponsor and former top road racer, tasked with managing the race effort of the Kay Engineering built MV three, Brian’s call was almost as good as the fantasy one from Count Agusta. “Can you get over to the Manx?” was the question Brian opened his call with. “Only if the MV three is still running after the Senior Classic I’d like you to have a ride on it at Jurby.” Almost before the phone was down, I was cancelling meetings and chasing flights to the Isle of Man. And this time, no-one woke me up. Despite the fact that the race didn’t go quite as planned it was an upbeat Brian Richards who met me in the Island. With less than three months track time before the team had reached the Manx Grand Prix, progress was impressive. After a 3am start from Lincolnsire, to catch the first flight from Liverpool to the Isle of Man, landing at Ronaldsay in pouring rain wasn’t what I had in mind for my big MV moment. But by the time I had completed the obligatory paperwork at the MGP race office, and driven north to Jurby the sun was almost out and the runway drying nicely. Brain already had the MV out of the van and warmed up. First impressions count for a lot and sitting on the MV for the first time the physical size , or rather lack of it, was a surprise. The riding position put me in mind of a 350 Aermacchi, a bike I have done thousands of miles on, which although small always had a roomy feel to it, a real bonus as I am less petite than I was in my Aermacchi days. With only a small time window in which to play it was quickly into leathers and out onto a drying Jurby circuit. Brian’s only instructions were simple. “You need 7000rpm to pull away cleanly, and you can run it up to 11 500 rpm.” the rest was up to me. After one tentative circuit, which included a couple of clumsy missed gears, thankfully at relatively low revs, I settled to the job in hand. Brian was right, on the lop at the far end of the long Jurby straight letting the revs fall below 6000rpm resulted in the bike dropping right off the mega, but above 7000 it was possible to drive away as cleanly as any road bike. And with the seven-speed box to play tunes with out on the Mountain Circuit, Gary Johnson must have had a gear for every corner. Once settled in coming onto the main straight in second gear, and winding on the power, acceleration was like no other classic four-stroke race bike I have ridden. From eight through to 10 000rpm the power is strong and linear, but at ten it kicked again, with a real surge through to 11 500 and beyond. During practice for the Manx, rider Gary Johnson had been using 12 000, but as Brian explained both maximum torque and power are both made around 11,500, so hanging on for those extra revs made no gain. That seven-speed gearbox required a positive approach. the change from fourth to fifth seemed to have a bigger step, and although the changes were clean when you hit the pedal with the right amount of pressure. It was so easy to miss a change, again, something Gary had struggled with.


Malcolm Wheeler rides the Kay MV three for Classic Racer


I blamed an old TT ankle injury for my missed changes but as Brian said, “This bike had had so many missed gears this week, most of them at much higher revs than yours, at least we have proved the motor can take it.” With only the main runway and just part of the Jurby race circuit to use as a return loop to play with, assessing the handling wasn’t possible (although another ride on a GP circuit in Europe is already planned for the next year - I can’t wait) but Gary Johnson, a man used to high tech superbike suspension, had no issues, once Brian, using his years of TT and Manx Grand Prix experience, had convinced him that the shock needed to be jacked up and not softened.


One thing that it was possible to experience, however, thanks to the surface change and bumps half way down the runway, just at the point that fifth gear was selected, was how true the chassis tracked. With the wheel in the air for a split second a quick nod of the bars as it touched down was all that was felt before normal service was resumed. So was reality anything like those boyhood fantasies? You bet it was! The sight, sound, especially the sound, and the feel of riding such an iconic race bike is hard to describe. I fear I’ve failed in these few short paragraphs. Two weeks later, I’m still buzzing and I have added something very special to my “I rode that” list.


road testing the Kay MV three cylinder bike

a thrilling road test of the Kay MV three