The Mighty Twins and Triples
Depending on which country they lived in at the time, Laverda enthusiasts will have different recollections of which machine was the factory’s most significant model during the 1970s.
European enthusiasts will remember the mighty twins dominating endurance races, battling against the onslaught of the Japanese factories and their sophisticated multi cylinder machines. American enthusiasts might recall the abortive attempt of the McCormack corporation to launch the brand under the American Eagle banner, or perhaps they will have come across one of the 100 or so late model SFC 750s which found their way across the Atlantic to newly established American dealers.
In the UK there is one model which defines the heyday of the Breganze factory – the mighty Jota.
THE LEGENDARY JOTA
At its launch in 1976 the Jota made an incredible impression in the UK. The origins of the model started out as an evolution of the company’s wire wheeled 3C, which had been breathed-on and marketed as the 3CE [for England] by the UK’s enthusiastic Laverda importer, Roger Slater. The Jota came of age when Laverda launched its cast wheel model, the 3CL, into the UK . Roger Slater, spotting an opportunity to market a hot version of the 3CL as a no-holds barred hyper-bike launched the tuned version, cleverly naming it the ‘ Jota’ and thus the legend was born. For the next few years, the Jota dominated production based racing in the UK and was tested by various publications which proclaimed it to be the fastest production bike in the world.
CAPITALISING ON SUCCESS
The factory capitalised on the Jota success story and its credentials as a manufacturer of ultra high performance bikes became firmly established, this was further reinforced by the introduction of the 1200cc triple which, at the time, was the largest capacity motorcycle available in Europe. The distinctive styling of Laverda bikes was consolidated in the seventies and Laverdas became instantly recognisable. Simple, mono- colour paint schemes, neat engine castings and crisply elegant, distinctive cast wheels became a standard look across the 500, 750 and 1000cc model range. The introduction of the technically advanced 500 with its four valve head and six speed gearbox suggested that Laverda were starting to design bikes targeted at customers who had hitherto purchased Japanese bikes. Unfortunately the Alpino 500 was extremely costly to produce and was a commercial flop for the company, despite receiving critical acclaim in the biking press which liked most things about the bike except for its relatively high purchase price.
V6 ENDURANCE RACER
On a broader technical level Laverda had astonished the biking world with the debut of its V6 endurance racer ‘the world’s fastest laboratory’ at the 1978 Bol d’Or. Famously timed at 176mph on the Mistral Straight, the V6 sent shock waves through Honda and the other Japanese factories. Somehow the tiny Breganze factory had upstaged the world’s largest motorcycle producer. Honda were famous for their multi cylinder engine technology and they had been clearly outgunned by the V6’s impressive debut. Sadly, things were slowly beginning to unravel for the Laverda factory and the V6 project became stillborn, seen by many as a magnificent folly.
FAILURE & COLLABORATION
Another notable commercial failure of the 1970s was the 250cc two stroke Chott, a high specification off-road machine. The Chott was poised to take advantage of the boom in off-road trail type bikes which had been pioneered by Yamaha and Suzuki.
Unfortunately it was never the hot seller the factory had hoped for and must have contributed to the financial difficulties which were starting to befall Laverda as the 1970s came to a close. The failure of the Chott was offset slightly by the Laverda’s collaboration with Swedish manufacturer Husqvarna. 125 and 250cc enduro machines were produced using the tried and tested Swedish powerplants, tuned by Laverda technicians. The 125cc machine had a brief but successful competition history. At this time Laverda also created a range of lightweight 125cc roadsters based on a Zündapp motor.
Although the company could boast a fine and highly desirable model range as the decade came to a close, the financial strains of the costly V6 programme had left the company short of cash. The V6 costs, plus the expensive 500cc programme, coupled with the unfulfilled promise of the Chott were all starting to create a serious problem for the company. To compound this, in 1979 expensive warranty claims beset the 180 degree triple which not only hurt finances but also damaged the former good reputation of the product. As the 1970s came to a close the company’s founder Francesco passed away and the factory’s chief design engineer, Luciano Zen retired from active duties.
The company bravely moved into the 1980s with some exciting new products in the offing, but with writing very clearly on the wall.