Hands up if you’ve never heard of Cagiva and its incredible feats in the 500 class in the 80s and 90s. Driven by the passion of brothers Claudio and Giancarlo Castiglioni, and following years of disappointment, the red bike was finally able to fight the Japanese on equal terms and on their preferred battle ground: the 500 world championship.
But how many have heard the brief but touching story of Cagiva in the 125 category? For those who don't know, in 1988, the racing department developed a 125 GP that was a scale copy of the C588, the four-cylinder that Randy Mamola rode in the top class.
The dreams of Milani and Mascheroni
Not just for its typical red colour, but also the lines of the fairing and the engine, which exploited its bigger sister’s thermal advantages.
A bike that the team’s engine builder Ezio Mascheroni and frame builder Gilberto Milani were all for. With a single-cylinder engine, frame and swingarm in extruded aluminium, the Cagiva 125 took to the track during the 1988 world championship, managed by Team Elit and ridden by three-time world champion Pier Paolo Bianchi, a very experienced, fast rider who was coming to the end of his career but who could nevertheless make a significant contribution to the development of the firm’s latest creation.
The bike had a short and troubled life, mainly due to chassis set-up issues. It placed just three times in the championship, but scored an encouraging fourth place finish in the Nations GP at Imola, finishing between the Hondas of Hans Spaan (5th) and Ezio Gianola, who reached the podium less than eight tenths ahead.
A one-off result sadly, which was followed up with two DNFs, a ninth place at Assen and twelfth at the Belgian track of Spa-Francorchamps.
“Chuck it in the lake!”
Still in the early stages of its development, the little Cagiva could probably have done well in subsequent seasons. Carlo Pernat, who was Sporting Director of the Schiranna team at the time, explains why the bike never got that chance: “Gianfranco Castiglioni called us (the CEO of Cagiva together with brother Claudio) and basically told us to throw it in the Varese lake”.
“I didn’t want to believe it at first - says the Italian manager - I thought it was a joke. But he was deadly serious. I tried to change his mind, also talking to his brother Claudio, but there was no way. Despite us having a rider with a contract…. He wouldn't budge. Cagiva only races in the 500, he said, and with no sponsor on the fairing”.
"Unfortunately that’s how it went, and it was a pity because the bike had potential despite the chassis issues, it just needed development”.
A sad end for the little red bike, or was it...? Reliable sources tell us that one night, so as not to risk being discovered, Mascheroni and Milani fished the bike back out of the lake. A bike that now enjoys life as part of a private collection in the UK.
A note for enthusiasts: frame builder Gilberto Milani went on to follow the race development of another Cagiva 125, one that was decidedly luckier: the 125 Mito, in the SP championship. And who knows, perhaps part of the warrior spirit of that 125 GP ultimately got its own back...
Translated by Heather Watson