Alfonso Morini, the owner of the little Italian manufacturer from Bologna, started out in the motorcycle business in 1924. Together with businessmen Massi, Mattei and Mazzetti, he founded the “Fabricca di Motobiciclette Brevetti M.M. di A. Mattei & Co.” M.M. for short. In the beginning they produced 125 and 175cc two strokes, and in 1930 they began to produce four strokes. Alfonso himself won the 125cc class at the GP of Monza in 1927. In 1937 Signore Morini left the company to start his own enterprise: Moto Morini.

Alfonso Morini died in 1969, leaving the business to his daughter, Gabriella Morini. It was time for a change. At the Milan show in 1973 Morini presented a brand-new 350 with a compact, V-twin, four-stroke engine, called the 3-1/2 Strada. The parallel valves were operated by pushrods and rockers, the OHV cam was belt driven. The Heron combustion chamber was integrated in the pistons. From this bike other models like a 3-1/2 Sport developed that were responsible for the make’s success in the 1970s. A 500 version (478cc) came in 1978, later on 125 (H) and 250 (T) singles, as well as a 250 V-twin (J) were added to the line-up. The first enduro model was the 500 Camel in 1981, followed by a 350 Kanguro in 1982, and a bigger 501 Camel (507cc) in 1985. In the U.S., Herman Baver, the proprietor of Herdan Corporation, imported and distributed these bikes from Bologna.

In 1986, Morini was purchased by the brothers Claudio and Gianfranco Castiglioni. Morini, from then on, belonged to their brand, Cagiva, which at the time also included Ducati and Husqvarna (even MV Agusta, but there weren’t any bikes produced at that time).

In 1999, the little Italian make, Motori Franco Morini (founded by a cousin of Alfonso) bought the rights to the name Moto Morini and Franco Lambertini, the engineer who developed the 3-1/2 engine and its sisters, was hired. Lambertini is also responsible for Franco Morini’s new small capacity four-stroke engine, currently used by the German manufacturer Simson in their 125 standard and 125 RS sportbike.

The Moto Morini 350 X 3 Kanguro was a V2, four-stroke produced by Moto Morini between 1983 and 1990. It could reach a top speed of 76 mph (123 km/h). Claimed horsepower was 26.42 HP (19.7 KW) @ 7800 rpm. The engine incorporated one-piece forged steel crankshaft, ball main bearings, plain big end bearings (second series engines), and the con-rods that ran on a common pin, desaxe crank, and offsetting the rear cylinder to the front by 50 mm (2.0 in). Front and rear barrels and heads are interchangeable. VBH Dell’Orto (25 mm VHB 25 BS) square-slide carburetors were fitted to the 350, with air fed via airbox with two filters. Bore and stroke was 62 mm × 57 mm. Early models had kick-start only but later ones also included a starter motor using three centrifugal friction shoes engaging the alternator rotor cover. The CDI ignition was powered by a coil in the alternator and using the kick-start a bike could be started and ridden with a flat battery.

Coupled to a six-speed gearbox, this superb engine’s performance belied its lack of capacity, endowing the lightweight, nimble-footed Morini with a top speed of around 100mph. Following the works prototypes’ successes in the Paris-Dakar Rally and ISDE, Morini introduced its first off-road v-twin – the 500 Camel (or Sahara) – in 1981. A 350 version arrived the following year and soon became Morini’s best-selling model in its home market. Early versions were characterized by round-tube frames and drum brakes while later ones had a square-tube chassis and disc brakes.

The 350 Kanguru shown here was built by Rodolfo Covallero in 2019 as a resto-mod motocross version using a 1983 Kanguru as a starting point and adding modern touches. The photos are by Justyn Norek.

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