Italy, 1946. It’s less than 12 months since the Italian Republic’s defeat at the hands of the allied troops. The sight of Mussolini’s battered body hanging from a Milanese Esso gas station is still fresh in the country’s mind. Any rich industrialists in their right mind should have been lying low and avoiding marauding communist partisans. But not Giuseppe Gilera. In fact, he was about to release a motorcycle that would prove Italian engineers could match anything Germany or England could produce, and all while the country was still occupied and in ruins. Viva l’Italia.

Of course, the bike didn’t just appear out of thin air. On the contrary, Il Duce’s war chest was used to fund Gilera’s development with the express intention of mobilising the Italian Army, especially in the North African Desert. From 1940 onwards, the company worked hard on an update of their 1930s 500 LTE model. In a surprising mix of sturdy tradition and groundbreaking innovation, the sidecar variant entered service in 1941. Gilera called it the ‘Marte’, Italian for ‘Mars’.

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