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Bike Profile - Posted 12th November October 2010

1975 Garelli 50cc Tiger Cross
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Back in the 1970s, teenagers dreamed of wild sixteener special sports mopeds like this one. Richard Brown has just restored one...

The very first Garelli was built in 1913 and was an extremely advanced 350cc split-single (one with two pistons) two-stroke motorcycle. It featured many technical quirks, such as different piston configurations - one piston was domed while the other was flat - and very early use of internal expanding brakes. Adalberto Garelli's expertise and innovative flair was rewarded with a war-time contract to supply machines to the Italian army.

Only an Italian could get away with wearing that suit... 1919 Garelli 350

During the 1920s Garelli experimented with a separate oil supply, linked to the throttle action, which gave his machines a considerable performance advantage and hence the first three places in the 350 class of the 1922 French Grand Prix. The Garelli 350s finished ahead of many 500s (the classes were combined in many races at that time) thanks to their light weight and excellent handling. Garelli's engines were also famed for their reliability at high revs for extended periods; unlike many, his design was happy with running hot over long distances. However, by the late 1920s the racing competition had caught up and the marque's single appearance at the Isle of Man TT races ended in a disappointing retirement. Instead, Garelli pursued world records to maintain a public profile, setting an astonishing 193 world records in a single year.

After WW2 Garelli went back into production with a clip-on engine called the Mosquito, and built a variety of other ultralight motorcycles following a merger with the Agrati component-manufacturing concern. By 1963 the marque had created another amazing racer; a 50cc water-cooled two-stroke racer which revved to nearly 15,000rpm.

Times were different back then... Advert seeking American distributors for Garelli

From the late 1960s a range of very lightweight mini-sportsters were offered to the public. These frequently benefited from a high specification for a moped which included a tidily designed, tubular steel, duplex cradle frame; electronic ignition, and Ceriani forks. A Garelli moped would frequently amaze other riders with an astonishing turn of speed for a 50cc engine and a chassis which could cope with cornering at sustained high speeds. The five-gear version of the Tiger Cross 50 was capable of hitting 58mph solo and would even maintain reasonable speeds when two-up (provided the couple in question were a pair of lightweight youths!).

Avec bobine HT exterieure... Garelli: French catalogue entry

In the UK, the high-piped Tiger Cross was legally classified as a moped thanks to its pedals - which were almost useless at propelling the bike but allowed a 16 year old to ride it. A typical mid-1970s Tiger Cross cost £325 new. Its air-cooled 49cc engine produced a startling 6bhp, but the whole bike only weighed 72kg. The 40mm by 39mm engine was fed by a 20mm Dell'Orto carb, and transferred power to the rear wheel via chain drive and a proper gearbox; with four or later five ratios. The front wheel was a 19-inch item in keeping with the off-road styling, while the rear was a 17-incher. The 28mm forks offered no scope for adjustment, and the Tiger Cross was stopped by a pair of 90mm single-leading shoe drum brakes.

Its teenage hooligan heyday lasted for just a few years in the middle of the decade, because the UK law changed in 1978 and new mopeds were then restricted to just 30mph. Garelli went on to return to road-racing in the 1980s and scooped a series of 125cc championships, but the marque is best remember by many riders for the sports mopeds of the 1970s.

Note the 'chip pan' headlight grill... 1975 Garelli 50cc Tiger Cross

Richard Brown worked like a trooper to return his Tiger Cross to something far beyond its original condition, and the judges at the 2010 RealClassic Stinkwheel Show were thoroughly impressed by his efforts. He went home with an RC award, and his Tiger Cross now gets its moment of glory in the spotlight.

'I purchased the bike from a friend in March 2009' says Richard. 'It was a bit of a mess -- most parts were in a box and it was partly stripped.'

So Richard set to work and, apart from the painting and wheel building, painstakingly reconstructed the Garelli with his own two hands.

'The frame was shot-blasted and powdercoated, the wiring replaced and re-sleeved, and all the nuts and bolts were cleaned and zinc plated along with the other zinc plated parts.

'The front forks were hard-chromed as these were badly pitted -- and one was bent! A replacement seat cover was found and fitted to the repaired and repainted seat base. The engine and carb were stripped, inspected, cleaned and new clutch plates fitted.'

All of which takes not very long to say, but an awful long time to do…

Sports Mopeds on Right Now......

Richard also had to reclaim and restore as many components as possible. You tend not to find too many Garelli spares at local autojumbles! 'Parts availability is very poor,' he confirms 'so you have to re-use as much as possible. Bob Wright Motorcycles have helped with some parts, and eBay has also been a help.'

The stuff of dreams in 1975... 1975 Garelli 50cc Tiger Cross

The result is a really smart-looking little machine, one capable of whisking Richard up to the giddy heights of 50mph or more. Thanks for bringing it along to an RC event so that everyone could see it, Richard, and congratulations on winning your award!

Impossibly spindly... 1975 Garelli 50cc Tiger Cross


The next RealClassic-sponsored event is the 2011 South of England Show in March. See for details of how to enter your classic bike for the concours display

Details of the 2011 RealClassic Stinkwheel Show will be announced in due course. See for the date and details

For more info on Garelli bikes see

There's also interesting history details at


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