HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OF AGV
Original AGV Italy Letter 1975
Within months of the ending of World War II thousands of “cottage industries” sprung up all over Italy. AGV was born in Valenza Italy in 1946 as a maker of leather seats, saddle covers, and helmets for bicyclists. Its key founder Gino Amisano (1920–2009) was young and an accountant by education. The AGV name is an acronym for “Amisano Gino Valenza”.
In post-war Italy, there was an explosion of two-wheeled motorcycle production and sales – scooters, mopeds, motorbikes, and motorcycles. To take advantage of this fast-growing market Gino quickly realigned AGV’s focus from bicycles to scooters, starting with saddles and backrest pads for Lambretta and Vespa scooters.
Gino soon managed AGV on his own when he separated paths with the other two original partners. With just one employee, sales from saddle covers increased from 20 to over 700 per week.
It was around this period when Luciana Morando came into Gino’s life. They were married in 1947 and Luciano got heavily involved with AGV. She became a major driving force behind the continued success of the company.
The first-ever AGV motorcycle helmet was made in 1947. This came about from Gino’s observation of motorcycle racers. He noted that they were equipped in the early post-war races with their leather caps and crude helmets. The more fortunate ones were wearing Cromwell “Pudding Bowl” helmets manufactured in England.
Gino saw a huge commercial opportunity and he realigned the focus and energy of AGV into the motorcycle helmet niche.
So, taking the cue from the Cromwell helmets, the first AGV motorcycle helmet was created out of leather and cloth and shaped over a wooden mold. They were handmade, with production limited to only 5 units per week.
Gino was a pioneer in helmet design, and he put his heart into the craft. He had the time and opportunities to experiment with various materials for better helmet quality. Tests and product standards were unheard of concepts during this time, but Gino was already immersed in this passion of his.
Italy was extremely aggressive as a nation to rebuild its economy after World War II, and so were Gino and Luciana. They strengthened the foundations of AGV at every level. They spent more time in the factory, arriving at 7 am and working until midnight. Ideas and innovations flowed freely within the AGV culture, both in technological advances and marketing strategies.
The first mention of the modern Italian motorcycle helmet made of fiberglass was in 1954. During this time, soft helmets were the norm, so this was an innovation that took the motorcycle industry by storm.
The AGV model that was created from this idea was model 160, which continued to be shaped in the classic pudding bowl shape. What made it different was the fiberglass material and had an inner harness webbing that crisscrossed the inside top of the helmet.
This harness secured the helmet to the rider’s head. The first fiberglass shell for a European helmet was available to motorcycle riders. It was a huge commercial success.
The AGV fiberglass helmet, proved itself as a safer and lighter alternative, compared to leather and other heavy materials previously used to make motorcycle helmets.
Carlo Bandirola was the first motorcycle racer to use the AGV Helmet model 160 on the track when he was representing MV Agusta (Meccanica Verghera Agusta)
JET HELMETS (3/4 helmets)
Gino Amisano studied the helmets being used by jet fighter pilots at the time and noticed that they provided more protection and they also had an appealing modern design. AGV launched its first jet-style helmet model in 1955 at the London International Motor Show and it was an instant hit.
The result was that in 1956, the pioneering AGV jet helmet with a more protective and enveloping design began production and distribution.
MOTORCYCLE RACING ENDORSEMENTS
In 1958, AGV began an aggressive marketing strategy. It was the first company to use motorcycle races and racers for their advertisements. Gino had AGV banners placed around bends and curves on the track that he knew spectators’ eyes and senses would be focused on.
The AGV name, logo, and products were everywhere. In Italy, AGV was getting to be a household name.
By the mid-1960s Italian phenom, Giacomo Agostini was well on the way to becoming the winningest Grand Prix Motorcycle Road Racer in history.
In 1967 the new superstar Agostini, from Bergamo, Italy, was paid 3 million lira (more than $30,000 USD in 2020). He was the first-ever pro racer to endorse AGV and likely AGV was the first helmet company to officially sponsor professional racers. Well into the ’70s many racer’s sponsorships consisted of getting some free helmets and shields but were not paid to wear the helmets.
Gino struck a deal with Agostini and the names AGV and Agostini became inseparable. AGV made a personalized classic pudding basin helmet for Agostini painted in this theme colors – the Italian flag green, white and red. It had a checkered band on the bottom. His World Championships on MV Augusta 350 cc and 500 cc motorcycles increased brand awareness for AGV globally.
Gino Amisano was a keen observer of trends. He saw the first full-face helmets coming out in the USA. He almost immediately manufactured them in Italy, initially with motorcycle racing.
The first AGV full-face helmet was worn by Alberto Pagani at the Nations GP at Imola in Italy in September 1969. This was the first time the Italian tri-color AGV logo was first used. Gino and his team used these early racers to improve on the aerodynamics, field of vision, and comfort of the early full-face helmets from the United States.
Full-face integral helmets significantly increased safety over open-face or jet-style helmets and led to their fast adoption not only by motorcyclists but also Formula 1 racer as well.
Gino was always looking for new and creative ways to promote the AGV brand name and in 1968 he arranged for product placement in the movie “A Place for Lovers” shot in Italy and starring Faye Dunnaway.
The 70s was a decade of the success of the AGV full-face integral helmet. It went into mass production and was distributed worldwide. AGV working closely with Giacomo Agostini’s designed and developed the X-80 and the X-3000 with a sculpted chin bar that allowed the rider to tuck in closely behind the windscreen with their chin against the gas tank.
It also had a recess in the rear of the helmet at the nape of the neck to keep the rear edge of the shell from contacting the back of the neck while in a full tuck. The X-3000 “Ago” integral helmet became one of the bestselling models in AGV’s s history and a model was worn by many professional riders of the time.
AGV produced an X-3000 Ago Replica model in the early 70’s decades before race replica helmets. Giacomo went on to win a total of 15 world championships a feat that has never been repeated to this day.
During this period, AGV continued innovating by being the first creator of a two-layer ridged fiberglass full-face helmet, the X-3000/S
The familiar AGV logo with the green, white and red of the Italian flag first saw victory in Formula One racing in 1974. Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi driving for the McLaren F1 team won the Formula One using an AGV helmet X1 helmet made especially for Formula One Auto racing. With his AGV X1 One helmet protecting him, Fittipaldi became the world champion for the second time (the first in 1972).
From the mid-1970s and going forward, AGV became a sponsor not only of racers but of race series. Gino created the AGV World Cup consisting of three prestigious 200-mile races.
“WHERE I CAME FROM, THEY USED WOODEN LASTS TO MOULD SHOE UPPERS, BUT I NEEDED TO MOULD MY FIRST HELMETS IN THE SHAPE OF HEADS, NOT FEET. SO I APPROACHED BORSALINO OF ALLESANDRIA, THE FAMOUS HATTER. AND HE LENT ME THE MOULDS I NEEDED.”
– GINO AMISANO – FOUNDER OF AGV HELMETS 1947
This started when Gino observed the frenzy generated in the 100,000 strong crowds that witnessed the historic duel between Giacomo Agostini and Kenny Roberts (both on Yamaha TZ 750s) in the 1974 Imola race in Italy.
AGV was a partial sponsor of this 1974 race but the race the next year was aptly called the AGV Imola 200 Mile as AGV was the title sponsor. In 1975 the Daytona 200 in the US was added and the Paul Ricard circuit in France creating the AGV World Cup Series.
1975 was the year when one of Formula One’s greatest helmets, the AGV X1, made its debut in the Spanish Grand Prix worn by Leila Lombardi, the only woman to earn points in Formula One. Leila hails from the same area as the original AGV factory was located.
The AGV X1 was advanced for its time, it was unique looking because of its very visible raised duct and air vent on top of the helmet shell
Austrian Niki Lauda won the second Formula One championship wearing an AGV helmet in 1975. This was an eventful year for AGV in Formula One racing. Austrian Niki Lauda, who was not yet 30 years old, drove the new Ferrari 312T with an AGV X1 helmet on the way to victory to become the new World Champion. It was Niki’s second championship with Ferrari. And as history shows Niki went on to become one of the most legendary Formula One drivers of all time.
In 1977, AGV also sponsored the first racetrack Mobile Clinic (AGV Clinica Mobile) in coordination with Dr. Claudio Costa. This trackside medical mobile hospital concept saved many lives.
In the spring of 1977 AGV Helmets becomes the first helmet company to sponsor a then relatively unknown rider from Shreveport Louisiana – Freddie Spencer. Freddie’s first race with AGV was in Hallett Oklahoma. He wore an AGV X-3000 the same model worn by Giacomo Agostini.
In 1980, 1982, and 1987, AGV won Formula One titles with drivers wearing its helmets proudly. 1980 saw the domination of Australian Alan Jones in Formula One while driving a white Williams FW07 and donning an AGV helmet. Other drivers who won titles wearing an AGV helmet in the 1980s were Keke Rosberg (Finland) in 1982 and 1987 with Nelson Piquet (Brazil).
In 1985 AGV made an aggressive move into the North American Market by creating AGV USA headquartered in Frederick Maryland. This same year Gino authorized the management of AGV to create and license a line of AGV branded apparel with Intersport, Inc. (which later became AGV Sports Group, Inc.)
In 1988, AGV acquired MDS an Italian Helmet company near Padova Italy that specialized in manufacturing thermoplastic (Polycarbonate and ABS) helmets. MDS is an acronym for “Misura di Sicurezza” (Measure of Security) AGV, being a medium to high-end motorcycle helmet manufacturer, wanted to capture a piece of the rapidly growing entry-level thermoplastic helmet market.
THE 2000s AND 2010s
2001– AGV was acquired by Belgian investment capital company Atenor who also purchase Lazer helmets and creates the IMAG group. At this same time, AGV and AGV Sports Group signed an agreement that transferred the ownership of the AGVSPORT brand name to AGV Sports Group.
2007 – AGV was acquired by Italian motorcycle and sports clothing company Dainese in July 2007. Dainese is also an uncompromising innovator and like Gino Amisano, has research and design expertise that provides safety and performance solutions to riders and motorists, from head to toe.
2007 – Development of AGV Extreme Standards Integrated technical design and construction approach. AGV, just fresh in the hands of Dainese, continued to innovate through the AGV Extreme Standards, a new integrated technical design, and construction approach. Their designs are based on what’s needed around the rider’s head, and not based on the helmet shell.
2008 – The intensive involvement of iconic world champion Valentino Rossi made AGV decide to make him Honorary President of the company in 2008.
Valentino Rossi earned multiple Moto GP titles starting with his first world title at the age of 18. It is a little-known fact that Gino Amisano had known Rossi since he was a small boy and believed in his racing capabilities. Gino even provided Rossi with AGV helmets when he started racing. To this day, Rossi still wears the Italian tricolors of AGV.
2009 – THE PASSING OF GINO AMISANO.
The founder of AGV died due to bronchopneumonia just less than two years after the sale of AGV to Dainese. A glorious era of motorsports faded away with his passing. He was passionate about the sport.
He was also a believer in corporate sponsorships of motorsports races and of motorsport personalities to promote the AGV brand worldwide. Thus, he believed in both technology and marketing. He was affectionately called Ginetto by everyone in the motorsports industry, especially the racers.
Many of them may not have survived some of their crashes were it not for their AGV helmets.
When his passion for producing wine in his later years took his quality time, he sold AGV to the Belgian IMAG Group. But in two years before his death, it was returned into Italian hands when AGV was acquired by Dainese. This gave great satisfaction to Gino Amisano. The King of Helmets has passed on.
2015 – Investcorp Joins the Team.
In 2015, Investcorp, a top global provider, and manager of alternative investment products acquired an 80 percent stake to support AGV’s continued global expansion and product innovation.
AGV: SPONSOR OF RIDERS AND RACES
Many of the most famous even legendary motorcycle racers and car racers have worn AGV Helmets during their careers.
These motorsport champions have won more than 130 titles for AGV. 15 time world champion Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi, Barry Sheene, Kenny Roberts, Johnny Cecotto, Angel Nieto, Marco Lucchinelli, Randy Mamola, Fausto Gresini, Franco Uncini, Randy Mamola, Steve Baker, Luca Cadalora, Marco Simoncelli, Troy Bayliss, Sean Giles, Miguel DuHamel, Mat Mladin, Loris Capirossi, Ben Bostrom, Guy Martin, Troy Corser, Doug Polen…
2020 – Valentino Rossi, Pol Espargaro, Jack Miller, Franco, Joan Mir
For over a decade AGV was The Official Helmet of Keith Code’s California Superbike School.
About the author: Michael Parrotte was the Vice President of AGV Helmets America, and a consultant for KBC Helmets, Vemar Helmets, Suomy Helmets, Marushin Helmets, KYT Helmets, Sparx Helmets. In addition, he is the founder and owner of AGV Sports Group.