One Man’s Laverda – Vintage Motorcycles Online

1 Feb 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on One Man’s Laverda – Vintage Motorcycles Online
Laverda 750 Formula S

One Man’s Laverda

N o matter how reliable, sorted or mechanically excellent today’s motorcycles are, there are still plenty of owners who worry about buying a clinkerAs far back as the 1920s manufactures were keen to advertise their machines as fit for duty. Case in point was  Giuseppe Guzzi; brother of Moto Guzzi founder Carlo.

In 1928 the young Italian rode one of the factory’s production singles to the Arctic Circle and back, testing Guzzi’s new swingarm suspension and proving the machine’s overall toughness and durability. And while we can all appreciate the wartime motorcycles that endured literally, under fire, we remember BMW as the manufacturer who first ushered automotive-levels of reliability and mechanical longevity into a two-wheeled scope.

This was accomplished through a combination of straightforward design, quality materials and aircraft grade tolerances introduced into the bike’s mechanical workings. Many of these are still in regular use today.

So as we pause to marvel at how far motorcycling has come, there exists a remnant of uncertainty. a soiled undergarment so to speak, hidden away until discovered by the unaware. Rare, but nonetheless present, much to the surprise of many who feel modern standards make the existence of such motorcycles impossible. The person who coined the phrase ‘Never say Never’ probably experienced Murphy’s Law, broke a few mirrors and kept a rabbit’s foot handy.

But we make out own luck, right?

The Laverda Formula 750S traces its mechanical roots to the 350/500cc Alpino twin developed at the Bregenze factory during the 1970s. Under Francesco Tognon, the range was otherwise modernized with differing displacements of 650, 668 and finally, a fuel injected, liquid-cooled 750. In fashioning my polished alloy, black and orange 1999 750S Formula, Tognon (who at the time also called the shots at Bimota) saw to it the machine was uprated to a very high degree.

Tiny (414-lb and a shorter wheelbase than any Japanese 600) the Formula wears a premium Paioli Racing USD fork and monoshock, Marchesini wheels, floating iron Brembo brakes and various scattered bits in carbon fiber and magnesium. Very much a mini Bimota, for pure style and visceral substance, few bikes can equal it.

In the summer of 2003 I visited a nearby dealership on assignment. Two Italian journo friends were touring the USA on Aprilia’s new Caponord dual sport, and the importer requested some photos and press coverage of their journey. It was there, on a sunny, warm Thursday afternoon that I first saw her. Dark, flashy but petite.

Impossibly curvy. So sexy and utterly rare was this stunning Latina that everything else dulled in comparison. I was warned, and to be fair I’ll go on record and report that while I was warned repeatedly, the encouragement came in equal measure.

She could be had for far less than I could have imagined, and when my ridiculously low offer was accepted I felt good about the risk/reward. I’d make it work. Heck, I’d made everything else I’d ever owned work. even the junk I’d taken home in boxes.

Moving ahead confidently, I pulled dollars from every orifice and took delivery.

Just a month later, after working the WSB weekend at Laguna Seca my publisher and I are flying south on California’s US 101. Some distance behind us is the staff truck and trailer, with plans in place to meet them later somewhere north of LA. Memory fades, but someone in something fast swooshed by and the chase was on.

With just over 4000km showing I felt safe taking the bike past the ton, and as I powered by my bosses’ MV/F4 and the speeding German coupe both my and the Lav’s fortunes changed forever.

The sound was like a chainsaw ripping through a chunk of aluminum. The cause? A seized main bearing on the engine’s right cylinder. The 100-mph lockup resulted in the cam chain snapping, allowing the pistons to beat the helpless valves into mush.

The top-end was toast, the counter-balance shaft damaged, as were parts of the clutch and transmission. I was grateful to not be tossed off. After, my publisher told of riding through a billowing cloud of blue smoke from the engine and rear tire, which left a 200-ft darkie before I could yank the clutch in. The bike sat until fall, when some connections I met while on assignment in Italy put plans for it’s repair in motion.

Aprilia agreed to honor the warranty if I paid freight, and the bike’s skeleton was shipped to Seattle where it would spend the next 18-months.

Laverda 750 Formula S

I could go on, sharing how the Laverda’s inadequate cooling system wouldn’t tolerate anything over an 85-degree day, that its low-end torque made an MB5 feel muscular, or that the Laverda’s tightly packed chassis turned a simple battery swap into an hours-long ordeal. Perhaps worst of all, I never got to ride the bike enough to get a real feel for it. a lasting impression.

It lived on the lift ( as illustrated, left ) always waiting for some new part to arrive or for the time required to fit it all in. After its nearly two year hiatus I did one track day, riding the bike so carefully down the straight an instructor pulled me off to ask if everything was OK. The handling was splendid and spun past 6500-rpm the engine had teeth.

This however, worked against the Formula’s fragile main rollers (even with the new spec ‘Type II’ crankshaft) and the noise -like a high speed blender full of nuts and bolts- discouraged that practice.

I’ve been told Tognon and the management at Laverda planned to develop a superbike-spec, liter-sized triple then like rival Ducati, use factory-backed racing to market the brand. The Formula’s parallel twin was viewed as a compromise by Laverda’s engineers and it showed. Too bad, because the rest of the machine deserved a lot better. My bike?

With only 600-miles on the rebuild and while fitting a new TPS sensor, it spit the cam chain, damaging the exhaust valves on the right cylinder and possibly the cam. I tried, but bits of the chain dropped into the dark depths of the engine. That was it for me.

I sold the bike using VMOL’s classifieds in 2008 and used the money on a 1996 Guzzi 1100 Sport. Tognon and Laverda didn’t fare much better. By 2001, the brand was parked under the Aprilia umbrella and Tognon was facing serious legal challenges.

A tragic fate for one of motorcycling’s proudest names, the wheels came off Laverda.

Life is for learning and if we’re smart, we never stop. The Laverda was a cruel mistress; a mechanical tease, but my experience with the Formula served as a reminder that it takes an extraordinary amount of money, effort and talent to produce good motorcycles. Perhaps, that is something we’ve all taken for granted.

Next time you’re out in the shed, give that R50/2, GL1000 or whatever has your trust an extra coat of polish. The good ones are worth it and life is too short for anything else. Nolan Woodbury

Laverda 750 Formula S
Laverda 750 Formula S
Laverda 750 Formula S

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