The austerity of post war Italy provided an ideal environment in which to launch a low cost motorcycle and the entrepreneurial Francesco Laverda was well placed to take advantage of the situation. Francesco had proved himself to be a talented designer in his father’s agricultural manufacturing company and in 1948 he started work in his spare time on an innovative four stroke 75cc machine.
Having studied thermodynamics at Padua University, Francesco put his experience to good use and one of the hallmarks of his creative genius was that despite the extremely high specific outputs these tiny motorcycle engines produced, they still ran cool enough to cope with the intense heat of an Italian summer. This endowed Laverdas with a rugged dependability which soon won favour amongst a rapidly growing customer base eagerly looking for cheap, reliable transport . The efficiency of Francesco’s design was also reflected in the miserly fuel consumption of these tiny four strokes which could return over 200mpg in the right circumstances, a major selling point at the time.
These small but exquisitely made motorcycles provided the foundations upon which Laverda’s enduring reputation for quality was built. Production commenced in 1950 and within 5 years the Moto Laverda marque was a household name in Italy. The publicity came from numerous high profile sporting achievements in long distance road races such as the Motogiro d’Italia and the Milan-Taranto. Off road derivatives were also manufactured and ‘Regolarita’ versions became a favoured clubman’s choice for the regularity trials which had become a popular sport in Italy.
‘L’utilitaria che vince le corse!’, was the factory’s 1950s sales slogan which, loosely translated, means ‘the commuter which wins races’ Throughout the 1950s Laverda stayed true to its philosophy of building high quality, economical commuter bikes and during this period the 75cc and 100cc machines remained the mainstay of the company’s product catalogue with over 38,000 units being produced.
It wasn’t until 1961 that the company offered a larger capacity model; in fact as the 1950s drew to a close the company went in the other direction and launched its Laverdino range of 49cc four stroke machines in a bid to boost the flagging sales of the 100cc range which, from a peak production of 9,000 units in 1954, had dwindled to just 200 units in 1958.
The Laverdinos were the first sign that Laverda had, for the time being at least, started to lose the momentum which had been built up in the first decade of the company’s existence. As the swinging sixties dawned the company found itself manufacturing a limited range of motorcycles which were struggling to attract customers in a rapidly changing market place.
Luciano Zen had been with the company since its inception and he had become Francesco Laverda’s right hand man, eventually becoming the company’s chief design engineer. Lacking formal qualifications, Zen was nonetheless a talented engineer but perhaps lacked the flair necessary to create trendsetting products which would project the Laverda name onto the international market.
Export sales were vital to Laverda’s survival if ithey were to compete against the significant domestic competition provided by Vespa and Lambretta. The company needed a visionary and an injection of fresh blood and enthusiasm. This responsibility fell onto the shoulders of Francesco’s eldest son, Massimo, who would eventually take the company on a course which would see Laverda make the unlikely transition from frugal commuter bike manufacturer to world-renowned producer of high performance superbikes.