by Shawn Downey
Minneapolis has got to be the Moto Guzzi capital of the free world. Swing your most memorable road kill in any direction and I guarantee you will hit a Moto Guzzi.
Out-of-town guests are always quizzing me on the venerable Guzzis, as they seldom see any in their own point of origin. My initial response during the first couple of years of living in the Minneapolis area was one of self confidence, poise, and affirmation, “I dunno know.” In an attempt to alleviate you from that same embarrassment, please allow me to offer you a crash course in Moto Guzzi. Intro To Guzzi 101 if you will.
Based upon years of research and a multitude of focus groups, I have found that the first question typically revolves around the name itself. What does Moto Guzzi stand for? This particular inquiry strikes a rather violent discord within my typically calm stature. Think about it people, what does Benelli stand for? Harley-Davidson (don’t get me started)? Guzzi happened to be the last name of one of the original creators, okay Mr. Bottom Ten Percenter?
Now, let’s get to the important stuff…make all checks payable to CASH and send them to…oops, wrong column. Okay, for identification purposes there are three main models still attacking the tarmac in resounding numbers. The V7, the T Series, and the Le Mans. I know, I know, all the Moto Guzzi-philos out there will assail the editor with claims of sacrilege due to the absence of the landmark earlier models but hey, read the course description. This is Intro To Guzzi 101, or more apropos, Guzzi For The Commoner.
The early V-twin Guzzis were direct descendants of a military tractor. They produced a maximum of 20 bhp at 4000 rpm but exhibited stump pulling torque popular with all the military branches. In 1964 the engine was placed in a motorcycle frame and offered to the government in hopes of lucrative military and police contracts. By 1965 the Chianti was flowing freely and Ing. Giulio Carcano (like I can pronounce that) was producing civilian models that exhibited the same features found so attractive by the military, i.e. long maintenance-free thump thumping lives. The only major documented drawback was that the cylinders had chrome plated bores. This method insured close tolerances and an extended running life but expiration of the cylinder bore meant a complete replacement of the cylinder and the piston, versus the standard boring and fitting of a bigger piston.
In 1969 the Special was introduced to the United States under the name the Ambassador–oh, what prestige. Engine capacity was increased from 700 cc to 750 cc (Oh, okay Mr. Perfectionist, 703.717 to 757.486–happy?). Valves were increased in diameter and gained small internal valve springs in the main coils. Beefed up clutch springs, a revised gear ratio, and an increase in oil pressure marked the new strata. Then in 1971 the engine size was increased to 850 cc with an increase in stroke to compensate for the overly square design. An additional gear and an increase in power to 50 bhp earned the model a new name–the 850GT if you were eating pasta and floating a boat, or the Eldorado if you were growing your hair and preaching tie-dye here in the United States.
Whereas the early Vees were known for their stable touring capabilities, the V7 Sports were known for long low lines due to a new frame. The revolutionary frame of the 1970’s was so far ahead of it’s time it is still being used in their sporting models today. Wow. To take advantage of Formula 750 racing regulations, the engine capacity was reduced to 748 from 757 and exhibited a hotter cam, 30 mm Dell Orto carbs, and a rear wheel horsepower of 52 bhp. Most notably of all, the tank and side panels were painted in Lime Green contrasting the Italian Red (I did not know that Italians were Red) frame. Fully adjustable swan neck clip-ons provided variations for rider stance on the sport bike and maximum speed was claimed to be 120 m.p.h. In 1974, the V7 Sport was replaced by the 750S–in Europe that is, here in the United States the V7 Sport maintained its existence with some being sold with a left-side shift, timing chains, dual front discs, and a 750 bum-stop saddle. Bum-stop saddle? I wonder if it works like Welfare Reform…
The final stage of the 750 Sport clan was launched in 1975. Aesthetically, it looked like a 750S but in reality it shared many components from that of it’s touring counterpart the 850T3. The entire engine except the cylinder barrels, carbs, crank, and clutch were lifted directly from the 850T3. Press Agents everywhere were amazed that neither bike had the standard air filter element. A large rubber hose connected the two carbs which could often be heard inhaling massive quantities of air. Maximum speed was reduced to 116 m.p.h. and a revolutionary linked braking system assisted in no-hand stops–which could be very useful if one were a…were a…no handed motorcycle rider?
Unfortunately, this model never made it to the States either. Surprise.
In an attempt to take advantage of a “retro” market , Moto Guzzi introduced a 1000S in the late 1980s that metamorphosed into the 1000SE which could be recognized by the Le Mans I type bikini fairing. Cast alloy wheels were an option, but the revised 948 cc engine, upgraded lighting and electrics, and quieter mufflers were standard. The last ones rolled off the production line in 1993, sniffle.
On an up-note, the company experienced a great deal of success with the T Series. This model range would strike a close comparison to today’s VFR. The initial Sport-Tourer noted for a well padded dual seat, comforted riding position, and five gallon gas tank. Engine components were lifted from the 750S while instilling a high compression ratio of 9.5:1. These factors in conjunction with a much improved power-to-weight ratio enabled top speeds of 115-118 m.p.h. Lockable side panels were available on this model only. Why? What am I, Nostradamus?
The 850T3 is known for what, class? Come on, you know it…the 850 T3 was known for employing a linked braking system. Much like Honda’s system today, applying the back brake would activate not only the rear pads but also the one on the left front. Other noteworthy additions included a disposable car-type oil filter and an actual air cleaner element. The handlebars saw a greater rise and the clutch included a cut out switch to prevent the rider from starting the bike when it was in gear–between that and the linked braking this thing was almost foolproof. Unfortunately, the T3s are also noted for a substandard quality of finish. Paint, chrome, and the rubber components (i.e. fork seals, gearbox drive shafts, and hub oil seals) had a tendency to deteriorate rather quickly. And there were those little problems with the rusting discs, failed universal joints, and weak switch gear.
By 1980 Moto Guzzi was producing the T4 characterized by Nikasil-plated bores in place of the chrome bores and several components from SP. But who cares? The T4 never made it to the United States.
The T5 was launched in the Spring of 1983 and proved to be a complete sales disaster. It was the “Frankenstein” of Moto Guzzi, siphoning parts from the T3 and T4, the Le Mans, and the V75. It came shod with 16 inch wheels which detracted from adequate ground clearance. This was corrected in 1985, things move slowly in Italia, when an 18 inch rear wheel replaced the 16. But what about the front wheel? Can you say Laissez Faire? Can you say the last year of production?
Well, class, we are almost finished with the course on Guzziology. One last chapter and you can begin studying for the final or paying off the teacher…whichever works best for you and your parents. The Le Mans model was named after the French racing circuit. Just because. The MK I was introduced in 1975 and drew heavily from other Guzzi models. Relying on an 850 motor with larger carbs, valves, and lumpier cam profile, the Le Mans was supposed to be able to achieve speeds in excess of 134 m.p.h.
Truth be known it could do 124 m.p.h. and earned the name “Lemon” in place of “Le Mans”. Clip-ons, rear-sets, a racing bum-stop saddle, matte black frame and exhaust which usually turned to rust. Guzzi-philes tend to beat their chests and proclaim this the most prestigious Guzzi due to this model signifying the beginning of a street racing tradition. Some Guzzi-philes proclaim nothing and still beat their chests. It’s like a secret handshake among Guzzi people.
The MK II was introduced in the Fall of 1978 with different fairing. Reports of an updated exhaust system and increased horsepower proved to be untrue, but a more practical seat and beefier battery were obvious. Other minor changes were evident as well: relocation of front brake calipers, idiot lights were incorporated into master cylinders, and the friction steering damper was replaced by a not-so-user-friendly hydraulic unit. But who cares? The MK II’s did not make it to the United States either. A special CX1000 was sold here from 1980 to 1981 which was basically a MK II chassis with a 1000 cc SP engine.
Introduction of the Le Mans III saw an increase of 3 bhp and an engine torque increase while the compression went down from 10.2:1 to 9.8:1. This feat was accomplished by improving tolerances during machining, aluminum rocker supports, and an improved air filter and exhaust system. Testing in the wind tunnel mandated a smaller fairing and a glaring headlight claimed to make night riding or deer shining an absolute pleasure. The new seat was about the only element not characterized as a welcomed change.
Top speed was increased to 141 m.p.h. on the Le Mans 1000 in 1984 (unofficially known as the MK IV) using the larger 948 cc engine. Styling cues were taken from the V65 Lario including the direct descendent from hell 16 inch wheel. Magazine testers often described the handling as “feeling like there is a tire puncture.” Other changes such as the switch gear, foam-rubber grips, and dog leg control levers were in line with the Lario. Question from the reader in the back? Yes? What does Lario stand for? Does anyone have a gun?
No changes were made until the 1987 Special Edition which saw the granting of the ever-lusted-for 18 inch wheel. A very distinctive red and white paint job unfortunately gave way to rust due to a great many of the bikes being subjected to salt water that leaked into the shipping containers. The bikes corroded to various states and were sold at reduced prices without a warranty. I refer to this as the Titanic Fire Sale.
So there you have it, the culmination of Intro To Moto Guzzi 101. Feel confident when approaching those obscure Guzzi owners because you now possess just enough information to be dangerous. I usually start the conversation with, “How much did you pay for that bad Moto Guzzi?” Then give them a little air guitar. They love that.