Laverda V6

Agent Or­ange

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Alan Cath­cart Pho­tos Ky­oichi Naka­mura

The pro­to­type V6 Laverda 996cc en­durance racer which made a sin­gle brief but mem­o­rable ap­pear­ance in the 1978 Bol d’Or 24-hour race, is widely ac­claimed as the ul­ti­mate Ital­ian two-wheeled tour de force of the Post-Clas­sic era. Although rid­ers Nico Ceregh­ini and Carlo Perug­ini were forced to re­tire after eight hours with a bro­ken fi­nal drive cou­pling when ly­ing in a re­spectable 23rd place out of 80 starters, it pro­vided a rare glimpse of a near-myth­i­cal mo­tor­cy­cle whose fame has far ex­ceeded the sum to­tal of its achieve­ments – which are, ba­si­cally, zero! For after that soli­tary out­ing, when its unique ex­haust note thrilled spec­ta­tors and was aptly de­scribed by one ob­server as sound­ing like ‘rip­ping silk’, the V6 Laverda was re­tired to the fac­tory lobby as silent tes­ti­mony to the com­pany’s tech­ni­cal skills, as well as the Ital­ian abil­ity to har­ness en­thu­si­asm and ded­i­ca­tion in the cause of en­gi­neer­ing in­no­va­tion. Un­like the big­ger Du­cati or Moto Guzzi firms, Laverda was never a stand­alone mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer, with its bike di­vi­sion very much a spinoff from its core agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery busi­ness, now owned by Fiat. But thanks mainly to the pas­sion of Mas­simo Laverda, who took over Moto Laverda in 1964 at the age of 25, the fam­ily com­pany pro­duced a stream of high per­for­mance mod­els, of which the 1000 Sei – the V6 Laverda’s of­fi­cial ti­tle – was the most pres­ti­gious. Two chas­sis were made and four en­gines, but just a sin­gle com­plete bike. Laverda SpA be­gan life in 1873 as a man­u­fac­turer of farm­ing im­ple­ments, and it even­tu­ally be­came a lead­ing agribusi­ness ma­chin­ery pro­ducer, joined in 1949 by a sep­a­rate mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany. With the chronic need for per­sonal trans­porta­tion in post­war Italy fu­elling a boom­ing mar­ket for small-ca­pac­ity mo­tor­cy­cles, Laverda be­gan work on de­sign­ing its own such bike in 1947. Suc­cess fol­lowed in the show­room as well as the race­track, es­pe­cially in En­durance rac­ing which dis­played Laverda prod­ucts’ in­her­ent qual­i­ties of dura­bil­ity cou­pled with per­for­mance. But the cre­ation of the Laverda 1000 Sei came prin­ci­pally as an en­gi­neer­ing ex­er­cise, as Mas­simo Laverda once told me be­fore he sadly passed away in Oc­to­ber 2005. “Hon­estly, we never had any in­ten­tion to de­velop a V6 road bike,” said Mas­simo. “But we wanted to re­search new so­lu­tions that might be ap­plied to the next gen­er­a­tion of Laver­das. The water-cooled four-cylin­der pro­to­type we de­signed in 1983 in­cor­po­rated

many of the lessons we learnt in the course of de­vel­op­ing the 1000 Sei. It was al­ways in­tended as a mo­bile test­bed, and while of course we all said to our­selves how nice it would be if we ended up mak­ing a street ver­sion, there was never any real ques­tion of it. It would have re­quired a far greater fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment than a small com­pany like ours could ever af­ford.” The leader of the 1000 Sei de­sign team, work­ing with long-time Laverda chief en­gi­neer Lu­ciano Zen, and Mas­simo Laverda – him­self a Mech.E grad­u­ate – was one of the most re­spected names in Ital­ian au­to­mo­tive en­gi­neer­ing, Ing. Gi­ulio Al­fieri. Cre­ator of the iconic Maserati Bird­cage sports car and 3500GT road mod­els, and also re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing the fab­u­lous 250F For­mula 1 racer, he’d worked for Maserati since 1953. When Al­fieri left the com­pany, Laverda hired him as a con­sul­tant with the aim of breath­ing new life into his com­pany’s prod­ucts. Al­fieri had over­seen the Merak V6 project at Maserati, and brought his ideas and ex­pe­ri­ence to Laverda. Hence the first Laverda 1000 Sei en­gine was run­ning less than six months after the project was ini­ti­ated, and with its first dyno run yield­ing 118 bhp, the team knew their tar­get of 140 bhp was within reach. The com­pact four-cam dry-sump 996cc V6 en­gine sees the cylin­ders mea­sur­ing 65 x 50 mm ar­ranged in two banks set at 90º for per­fect pri­mary bal­ance. The four valves per cylin­der em­ployed a very flat in­cluded an­gle for the time of 28º, with a sin­gle cen­tral 10mm plug, and an un­usual ver­ti­cal in­let port de­sign for a mo­tor­cy­cle per­mit­ting max­i­mum down­draught from the six cen­trally mounted 32mm Dell’Orto car­bu­ret­tors car­ry­ing long ve­loc­ity stacks reach­ing ver­ti­cally up­wards be­neath the 24-litre fuel tank. The twin over­head camshafts per cylin­der bank are chain-driven off a jack­shaft run­ning the whole length of the en­gine, it­self also chain driven off the front end of the length­ways-mounted forged one­piece crank­shaft, with each pair of forged steel con­rods shar­ing a com­mon plain-bear­ing big end. The dry sump mo­tor’s five-litre oil tank is lo­cated un­der the seat, with a sin­gle large oil cooler com­pli­ment­ing the two large water ra­di­a­tors.

A skew gear off the jack­shaft drives the large Marelli dis­trib­u­tor mounted be­hind the steer­ing head. Cou­pled with an ul­tra-costly Di­naplex elec­tronic ig­ni­tion unit from the same sup­plier, which was orig­i­nally de­vel­oped for the V6 Fer­rari 246 F1 racer be­fore be­ing used in mod­i­fied form on the Fiat Dino V6 coupé, this pro­vides a high-in­ten­sity spark for 10,000 rpm-plus run­ning. An elec­tric starter is fit­ted, which to­gether with the elec­tric fuel pump and en­durance race light­ing, re­quires a hefty gen­er­a­tor to charge the large bat­tery mounted be­side the oil tank on the right, un­der the seat. Ig­ni­tion ad­vance is a con­ser­va­tive 38º, and com­pres­sion ra­tio 10.5:1, with ex­cel­lent fuel econ­omy. The five-speed gear­box is en­closed in its own sep­a­rate cas­ing bolted to the rear of the crank­case, orig­i­nally with the shaft fi­nal drive run­ning within the right side of the BMW-type swingarm. Rear sus­pen­sion orig­i­nally came via a long monoshock mounted length­ways be­neath the gear­box, and

op­er­ated via a bell-crank sys­tem. But whereas the en­gine proved im­me­di­ately suc­cess­ful in dyno test­ing, as soon as it was fit­ted into a chas­sis which em­ployed the power unit as a fully-stressed mem­ber, with a tri­an­gu­lated tubu­lar sub­frame bolted to the front of the mo­tor to carry the 38mm Mar­zoc­chi fork, and the swingarm piv­ot­ing in the gear­box cas­ing, the team’s prob­lems be­gan.

“Our dif­fi­culty wasn’t with the en­gine’s power, but with its trans­mis­sion and the prob­lems of torque re­ac­tion,” re­called Mas­simo Laverda. “There were two hur­dles to over­come. First was that if you have a length­ways crank­shaft in any bike, you in­evitably suf­fer ad­verse torque re­ac­tion as the en­gine ro­tates across the frame. That’s not much of a prob­lem with a 70 bhp BMW or Moto Guzzi, but with twice that out­put on our V6, we ini­tially ex­pe­ri­enced ter­ri­ble han­dling prob­lems. The so­lu­tion was to place the gear­box to one side, and fit a re­duc­tion gear to the clutch which ro­tates in an op­po­site di­rec­tion to the crank. We also fit­ted a counter-bal­ancer on the gen­er­a­tor shaft, and the ef­fect was that all the forces can­celled each other out. That was one prob­lem solved – but the other one was much more dif­fi­cult, be­cause we had the same torque re­ac­tion prob­lem at the rear wheel, which would rise and fall sharply on the sus­pen­sion un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion and de­cel­er­a­tion. Again, this isn’t a prob­lem on less pow­er­ful bikes with shaft drive – I’ve been a BMW owner for years, and you just learn to live with it. But with 140 bhp, such a ma­chine be­comes un­ride­able, and I’m afraid that’s what the 1000 Sei was at first.” After some head-scratch­ing the de­sign team came up with an an­swer, namely to re­vert to a then-con­ven­tional twin-shock rear end, and to re­design the trans­mis­sion cas­ing so that the now much longer swingarm could pivot about the cal­cu­lated cen­tre of grav­ity of the en­gine – which proved to be the rear of the crank­case. This meant the forces were thus trans­mit­ted to the most per­fectly bal­anced cen­tre point of the bike, but the trou­ble was that this was so far from the fi­nal drive pin­ion that a two-piece drive shaft was now re­quired, with a UJ cou­pling the two halves. Test­ing seemed to con­firm this would hold up OK, so the team got down to com­plet­ing the de­tail work be­fore the bike’s de­but at Paul Ri­card in Septem­ber 1978. En­gine de­vel­op­ment had fo­cused on yield­ing a wide and us­able power­band, and the dyno sheets Mas­simo showed me dated Sept. 4, 1978, ten days be­fore the race, in­di­cated that with us­able power com­ing in as low as 4,000 rpm, the mo­tor used in the Bol d’Or yielded 138.7 bhp at 10,500 rpm, with max­i­mum torque of 95.5Nm at 9,500 rpm. Weight was a hand­i­cap, though, be­cause it had been de­cided not to use ex­pen­sive mag­ne­sium cast­ings while the bike was still be­ing de­vel­oped. So the com­plete 1000 Sei scaled 238kg ready to race with oil, water and half a tank of fuel, of which the en­gine/gear­box unit alone rep­re­sented 175kg. But with a 1500mm wheel­base and 740mm seat height, the Laverda was as com­pact as any of its ri­vals, and at just un­der 530mm wide ac­tu­ally nar­rower than many of four-cylin­der Ja­panese bikes. Al­most in­evitably, it was the one part of the 1000 Sei which the team were less than 100% con­fi­dent about, which let them down, with the drive shaft UJ break­ing after 8½ hours of what amounted to a

“... it had proved the ef­fi­cacy of its en­gine de­sign by record­ing a then-in­cred­i­ble speed of 283 km/h through the speed trap at the end of the mile-long Mis­tral straight...”

“The Laverda’s unique ex­haust note, deep at low revs then grad­u­ally be­com­ing shriller as the en­gine speed mounts, cer­tainly lives up to ex­pec­ta­tions as much when you’re on board it as stand­ing track­side.”

cer­tainly have cured the Laverda’s trans­mis­sion prob­lem. But by then the de­ci­sion had been made to re­tire the bike to the fac­tory foyer, and em­ploy the lessons learnt from build­ing and run­ning it on the com­pany’s next gen­er­a­tion of pro­duc­tion mo­tor­cy­cles. The fact that, al­most 40 years after it first ap­peared in public, the Laverda 1000 Sei still seems as tech­ni­cally avant­garde and in­no­va­tive to­day as it did back then, is tes­ta­ment to the far­sight­ed­ness of the men who pro­duced it. My chance to sam­ple the Laverda ‘Sei in Vu’ from the hot seat came after I man­aged to per­suade Mas­simo Laverda to stop rid­ing it around the fac­tory test track with his trousers tucked into his socks! It’s get­ting dark, and any mo­ment now we’ll have to see if those fat CEV-Mar­chal head­lamps re­ally work. Even­tu­ally Mas­simo pulled in, and handed the bike over. “Watch out for those tyres,” he warned, “they’re the same age as the bike, and the rear slick is the one from the Bol d’Or. Be care­ful – this is the only Mille Sei we’ve got!”

Al­fieri’s V6 en­gine is prac­ti­cally bul­let-proof, a so­phis­ti­cated, re­li­able, ba­si­cally un­der-stressed power unit that if it were to have been un­veiled last month in­stead of 38 years ago, would still be hailed as a gen­uine ad­vance in two-wheeled tech­nol­ogy, es­pe­cially with the me­chan­i­cal fuel in­jec­tion Laverda ex­per­i­mented with in 1977. On to the wide, comfy seat, flick the ig­ni­tion switch to set the fuel pump tick­ing, thumb the starter but­ton, and the V6 bursts into life in­stantly, to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of a glo­ri­ous wall of sound from the lightly-muf­fled six- into-two ex­hausts. The idea of coun­ter­bal­anc­ing the crank with the gen­er­a­tor and ig­ni­tion com­bin­ing to pro­duce the iden­ti­cal cen­trifu­gal weight, but ro­tat­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, re­ally works. The Laverda’s unique ex­haust note, deep at low revs then grad­u­ally be­com­ing shriller as the en­gine speed mounts, cer­tainly lives up to ex­pec­ta­tions as much when you’re on board it as stand­ing track­side. Thanks to the wa­ter­cool­ing there’s not much me­chan­i­cal noise for a late-’70s racer, though when you crank the throt­tle wide open, there’s no­tice­able

in­duc­tion roar from the six-pack of Dell’Or­tos. Equally sur­pris­ing is the power curve, for to get al­most 140 bhp at the rear wheel from a one-litre four-stroke was al­most un­be­liev­able in 1978. The en­gine re­ally is so tractable that you can’t help but dis­be­lieve Mas­simo Laverda’s fer­vent as­ser­tion that it was never in­tended to make a road bike from it – be­cause that’s al­ready prac­ti­cally what it is! The V6 pulls cleanly off the mark with only a lit­tle slip of the very light-ac­tion clutch, drives cleanly from as low as 2,000rpm, hits a hic­cup at 3,500rpm thanks to the re­verse-cone ex­haust, then cleans out at 4,000 revs and runs ef­fort­lessly up to the 10,500 rpm red­line.

The un­suit­abil­ity of the Laverda fac­tory track as a venue in which to ride such a bike soon be­came ap­par­ent. How­ever, there was one lovely, long sweep­ing right han­der where I could wind the V6 up into third gear at about 8000 revs, which pro­voked a sense of déjà vu as the es­sen­tial un­der­steer­ing qual­i­ties of the long wheel­base chas­sis as­serted them­selves. Just like the old Dukes, the Laverda is a bike you need to send a tele­gram to when you want it to change di­rec­tion on fast sweep­ers, a trait de­rived not only from the long wheel­base, but also from the wide 30-de­gree fork an­gle and undis­closed but sub­stan­tial trail – I’d guess around 120mm. This cock­tail does make for a very sta­ble ride at the ex­pense of it be­ing quite hard to change di­rec­tion with the bike, which is also in­evitably cum­ber­some in tight turns. You need a lot of phys­i­cal ef­fort to lug it round such bends, in spite of the con­sid­er­able weight be­ing car­ried pretty low down.

Rid­ing a bike like the Laverda round a glo­ri­fied car park is like tak­ing a Lam­borgh­ini shop­ping – it’s prac­ti­cally an in­sult. Yet the en­gine was so smooth and for­giv­ing, with such a wide power band and flat torque curve, that it put up will­ingly with do­ing so. Ex­cept for a notchy change be­tween bot­tom and sec­ond, which I put down to the typ­i­cal prob­lem of go­ing through neu­tral on a shaft-drive bike, the left-foot gearchange with its evenly-spaced ra­tios was pre­cise and ac­cept­ably smooth, and thanks to the res­o­lu­tion of the torque re­ac­tion prob­lem, there was no pogo­ing up and down on the sus­pen­sion when I changed up, nor did the gy­ro­scopic ef­fect of the crank­shaft af­fect the steer­ing. Still, you have to give the throt­tle a good blip chang­ing down through the gears, but that’s no hard­ship with that glo­ri­ous ex­haust note! How­ever, the one thing I re­ally hated on the bike was the pe­riod Ital­ian rocker-pedal shifter, which is sup­posed to let you use your heel to change up with, but only al­lowed my boot to get wedged in­side it, pro­vok­ing a cou­ple of false neu­trals. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, I was glad to be re­as­sured later by Ing. Al­fieri that his en­gine ac­tu­ally has a safe red­line of 12,500 rpm, rather than the 10,500 em­ployed for the Bol. But all too soon it was time for the con­cert to end. As I cut the en­gine and coasted to a stop, the crowd of on­look­ers burst into ap­plause, salut­ing the ge­nius of watch­ing Al­fieri and Zen, and the en­thu­si­asm of Mas­simo Laverda, in cre­at­ing this two-wheeled mas­ter­piece, a mile­stone in mo­tor­cy­cle de­sign. After rid­ing the V6, I’m not sur­prised to learn that it’s done sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­tres on the street as raced, but with a Prova li­cence plate fit­ted. Pity the poor Cara­binieri who’d have to try to catch it with their Alfa Romeos....

Mas­simo Laverda with the first pro­to­type V6.


ABOVE In­ter­nal work­ings re­vealed. ABOVE RIGHT De­signer Gi­ulio Al­fieri (rt) and Laverda en­gi­neer Lu­ciano Zen test­ing the V6 en­gine on the fac­tory dyno.

BE­LOW Gi­ulio Al­fieri with his cre­ation. RIGHT Pure art. One of the four en­gines built sat in the Laverda foyer.

TOP & ABOVE LEFT The V6 at the 1978 Bol d’Or 24 Hour Race at Cir­cuit Paul Ri­card near Mar­seilles. ABOVE RIGHT & RIGHT Nico Ceregh­ini in ac­tion in the Bol d’Or be­fore the V6 was side­lined with drive shaft fail­ure.

Mi­nus the big en­durance rac­ing fuel tank, the V6’s com­pact­ness be­comes ob­vi­ous.

In the fad­ing Ital­ian evening light, Alan Cath­cart plays mu­sic on the V6.

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