The Gilera story finds its roots in the early nineteen hundreds: the first bike to bear this name, the VT 317, was built in 1909 by Giuseppe Gilera. In the post war period, Gilera produced side-valve 500cc bikes with which it won some of the most important international competitions. From the mid-thirties, models with overhead valve timing arrived, such as the Quattro Bulloni 500 and the Otto Bulloni. 1936 was the year of the Rondine adventure, a racing bike ahead of its time with compressor and an in line 500cc four-cylinder engine. The bike set numerous world records (274.181 km/h on the kilometre launched in 1937: a record which stood for almost twenty years) and allowed Dorino Serafini to win the 1939 European Championship.
After the war, Gilera came back on the scene with the new Saturno 500. In the races, the new 500 four-cylinder bikes dominated in the Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing premier class, engaging in epic duels with Norton, Moto Guzzi and MV Agusta, and winning six rider titles between 1950 and 1957. Umberto Masetti was world champion in 1950 and ‘52, followed by Geoff Duke (who won three championships) and Libero Liberati (one title). And six Manufacturer world titles arrived too, as well as three Tourist Trophy victories, seven Italian titles and an impressive win-record by Bruno Francisci in the Milano-Taranto. In all Gilera, before retiring from competition in 1957, had won 40 world Grand Prix races. Efforts in off-road were also strong, with the Gilera machines dominating in the various International Six Days and the Time trials. Factory production included the medium engine capacity touring bikes – Giubileo, Rossa, Turismo, Sport – the true protagonists; in the high end, in addition to the Saturno (also supplied to the armed forces), the 300 Bicilindrica was born.
In 1969 Gilera became a part of the Piaggio Group. Participation in the Cross and Time Trial races revived the brand's traditional splendour, partially through the edgier innovation, such as the creation of the futuristic 125 Bicilindrica Cross. In the eighties a new four-stroke single-cylinder engine was developed –initially in the factory 350 and 500 versions and later in the 600cc version – which was especially effective in the RC series enduro bikes (600 and 750) that secured two class victories in the Paris-Dakar and an overall in the Rally of the Pharaohs. In the 125 class, Gilera offered cutting-edge machines like the ultra powerful SP-02 and the futuristic CX125. In the 1992 and 1993 seasons, Gilera returned to Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing in the 250 class. In 1993 production was transferred to Pontedera, with the Gilera brand now focused on developing sports scooters such as the Runner, an innovative crossover between a street scooter and a motorcycle. In the 2000 season, Gilera also brought the revolutionary DNA alongside these models, a “naked” with an automatic engine that maximised interaction between the bike and scooter worlds. In late 2003 the Nexus arrived, the maxi-scooter that marked the return of Gilera to the 500cc class. In 2007 Gilera launched the GP 800. This was the most powerful and fastest scooter ever manufactured: 839 cc twin-cylinder, 8-valve, electronic injection, liquid cooled engine with 75 HP. Gilera GP 800 was the link between two worlds: the performance and fun of a medium engine capacity motorbike combined with the practicality of a scooter. The other extraordinary proposal of 2007 was the Gilera Fuoco which, with an entirely new and sporty look and driven by a powerful 500 cc engine, took on the exclusive “three-wheel” technology developed by the Piaggio Group.
In 2016, two small engine capacity bikes made their début on the price list, Gilera SMT and Gilera RCR. Heirs to the brand's sports heritage, they were the ideal bikes for a début in the motard and off-road world. GILERA SMT and GILERA RCR represented a winning combination with their level of equipment and quality finishing. Protagonists in the 50cc class, these new Gileras were synonymous with off-road riding fun and truly interpret the values of the historic brand.
In 2001 Gilera returned to the World Championship in the 125 class. Ridden in the races by the young Manuel Poggiali (Republic of San Marino), Gilera was one of the protagonists in the 125 class. On 20 May 2001, on the Le Mans circuit, Manuel finished the Grand Prix of France ahead of the rest, returning Gilera to the top step of the podium. At the end of the season, Poggiali took another two victories (GP of Portugal at Estoril and GP de la Comunitat Valenciana) and was crowned 125 World Champion, giving the brand its thirteenth world title, 44 years after Libero Liberati's title astride the 500 four-cylinder. 2002 was the title-defending year and Poggiali was once again a protagonist in the battle that came down to the final race, but he had to “settle” for the runner-up title. In the subsequent seasons, the foundations were laid for a rebirth. In 2004, for the first time since their return to racing, Gilera put two bikes on the starting grid from the beginning of the season, entrusting them to Stefano Perugini and Fabrizio Lai.
In 2006, following Aprilia's integration into the Piaggio Group, Gilera returned to the 250 class, ridden by a very young Marco Simoncelli. In the 2007 season, efforts were doubled in 250 and alongside Simoncelli, Roberto Locatelli took his place. The 2008 season marked the first 250 victory in Gilera history: Marco Simoncelli dominated in the Italian GP at Mugello and doubled the success straight away in the next GP at Barcelona. He won again at the German GP, the Japanese GP and the Australian round and with his third place in the Malaysia GP he was crowned 250 World Champion. An Italian was once again World Champion on a Gilera 51 years after Libero Liberati. Marco finished the triumphant season by winning the final race in Valencia as well, riding his No. 58 Gilera decorated with a special livery to celebrate the brand's 100 year anniversary. In 2009, defending the title began as an uphill battle with Marco falling victim to an accident in training that forced him to miss the first round in Qatar and compromised his performance in the first races. In spite of it all, Simoncelli took 6 wins and competed down to the final race for the title. However, a crash while he was leading the last race in Valencia brought his dream of a title brace to an end. 2009 was the final season for the 250 class in Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing. Gilera left the World Championship having given 250 its last Italian World Champion.
GILERA GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING TROPHIES
8 Rider Titles:
1950 - Umberto Masetti, Ita (500)
1952 - Umberto Masetti, Ita (500)
1953 - Geoff Duke, GB (500)
1954 - Geoff Duke, GB (500)
1955 - Geoff Duke, GB (500)
1957 - Libero Liberati, Ita (500)
2001 - Manuel Poggiali, RSM (125)
2008 - Marco Simoncelli, Ita (250)
6 Manufacturer Titles
1952 – 500 cc
1953 – 500 cc
1954 – 500 cc
1955 – 500 cc
1957 – 500 cc
1957 – 350 cc
GP Wins: 59
500 cc: 35
350 cc: 4
250 cc: 12
125 cc: 8