Don’t touch me!

Old Bike Australasia - - LAVERDA 1000 3C -

To find a mo­tor­cy­cle sold new in 1974 that is still in ab­so­lutely im­mac­u­late con­di­tion, just as it was when it rolled off the show­room floor, is rare, con­sid­er­ing that (gasp) 43 years have since passed. But this Laverda 1000 3C is just such an an­i­mal, and Elvis Cento­fanti, whose Du­cati 750 Sport we fea­tured in OBA 66, needed no time for thought when the op­por­tu­nity arose to ac­quire it.

The Laverda was pur­chased new in 1974 from All­makes Mo­tor Cy­cles in Pirie Street Adelaide by the late Paul At­tard. Paul had orig­i­nally in­tended to buy a Du­cati, but when told there was a lengthy wait­ing list for the model he de­sired, his at­ten­tion shifted to the Laverda. And so the green ma­chine took up res­i­dence with Paul at New­ton in the Adelaide foothills. Paul was a long time mem­ber of the Clas­sic Own­ers MCC, and a keen clas­sic rally goer. Al­though the Laverda sports a badge from the Clas­sic Own­ers Mil­dura Rally of 1975, the Laverda was not there – Paul took a cou­ple from his own clas­sic col­lec­tion. He and his wife Mar­garet at­tended the Isle of Man TT in 1984, al­though not on the Laverda, which is where the sticker on the rear num­ber plate bracket came from.

Af­ter Paul’s pass­ing, his fine col­lec­tion of clas­sic bikes was split up and found new homes, and the Laverda went to Chris Wil­liams in Vic­to­ria, who noted that it had cov­ered only 9,500 miles and was last reg­is­tered in South Aus­tralia in 1989, and had not been started for five years. Chris was as­tounded at the orig­i­nal­ity, say­ing “it took about a week of pol­ish­ing and tweak­ing to bring it up to scratch.” How­ever Chris de­cided against keep­ing the Laverda, which is where Elvis steps in, and upon an in­vi­ta­tion we took the op­por­tu­nity to in­spect the Latin lovely.

Big­ger and bet­ter

At this point it is timely to swat up on just how the 1000cc three-cylin­der Laverda, and the 3C it­self, came into be­ing. While the world was go­ing gaga at the an­nounce­ment of the new four-cylin­der Honda CB750 in 1969, across in Italy Mas­simo Laverda was hard at work on a mega ma­chine of his own. His big twin, in its var­i­ous it­er­a­tions, had first ap­peared in pro­to­type 650cc form in 1966, and Mas­simo openly ad­mit­ted that he had been in­spired by Honda’s best­selling 305cc CB77. The new 650cc Laverda drew heav­ily on many of the Honda de­sign fea­tures, but Mas­simo was un­abashed by this ‘in­spi­ra­tion’, say­ing that Honda him­self had been sim­i­larly in­flu­enced by the NSU Ren­n­max. Like the CB77, the 650 Laverda fea­tured horizontally split crankcases, with a 180de­gree crank­shaft (which be­came 360 de­grees by the time pro­duc­tion com­menced), as used on the early CB72 and CB77 mod­els. The wet sump en­gine used a chain-driven sin­gle over­head camshaft and acted as a fully-stressed chas­sis mem­ber. Even be­fore the 650 man­aged to reach the pro­duc­tion stage in 1968, Laverda had stretched the pro­to­type de­sign to 750cc by in­creas­ing the bore to 80mm. As it turned out, the 650 was short-lived and soon re­placed by the 750, which made com­mer­cial sense in the wake of the ex­cite­ment cre­ated by the CB750 – a de­ci­sion heav­ily in­flu­enced by Laverda’s US dis­trib­u­tor, the McCor­mack Cor­po­ra­tion. Only a hand­ful, per­haps as few as 150, of the 650s were made be­fore the de­ci­sion to move to the 750. In fairly short or­der, the 750 range grew to two, to in­clude the base model 750 GT, and the more sporty 750 S, which came on stream for 1969 and fea­tured a more pow­er­ful en­gine pro­duc­ing 60 horse­power, as well as a frame with in­creased rigid­ity and dif­fer­ent steer­ing head di­men­sions. In 1971 the 750 SF ap­peared, with a new frame and new brakes, pro­duced by Laverda them­selves, to re­place the orig­i­nal Grimeca drums. The GT/SF range con­tin­ued, with de­tail im­prove­ments, through the early ‘sev­en­ties, ac­quir­ing Brembo disc brakes with the SF2 model for 1974. In 1972, the sporti­est Laverda of all the 750s, the beau­ti­ful 750 SFC ap­peared and is to­day re­garded as a highly-col­lectable clas­sic. While the 750 range went through its process of evo­lu­tion, Mas­simo Laverda had al­ready fore­seen the even­tual need to up­scale the de­sign, and as early as 1969 was work­ing on a three-cylin­der ver­sion. By graft­ing an ex­tra 75mm x 74mm cylin­der onto the 650 twin, he came up with a 980cc triple, with a crank­shaft throw of 120 de­grees – the same as the Bri­tish BSA/Tri­umph triples and the rac­ing MV Agus­tas. The twin car­ried its pair of con­tact break­ers on the end of the crank­shaft, but in or­der to keep the width of the new unit as low as pos­si­ble, the nowthree sets of points were moved to the left side of

the camshaft in the cylin­der head. The 750’s sep­a­rate dy­namo and starter dis­ap­peared, re­placed by a sin­gle Bosch AC unit run­ning onto the right side crank­shaft and do­ing dou­ble duty as a starter mo­tor. A key fig­ure in the de­sign of the new one-litre model was Lu­ciano Zen, who had been as­so­ci­ated with the Laverda com­pany from the very be­gin­ning and was a close friend of Mas­simo’s fa­ther, Francesco.

Ini­tial tests of the new triple were how­ever, dis­ap­point­ing, the unit be­ing un­der­pow­ered and the whole pack­age some­what over­weight. It was de­cided to ad­vance the spec­i­fi­ca­tion to in­clude dou­ble over­head camshafts, and a pro­to­type was built us­ing a toothed belt to drive the valve gear. This rather ugly de­sign, with the belt run­ning in a sub­stan­tial tim­ing case on the right side, was soon dis­carded and a fur­ther new de­sign, us­ing chain drive to the crankshafts, ap­peared in time to be dis­played at the Mi­lan Show in Novem­ber 1971. Power was stated as 80hp at 7,000 rpm, and this ver­sion, which bore a close re­sem­blance to the one that fi­nally went into pro­duc­tion, also fea­tured an en­tirely new full cra­dle frame us­ing a large sec­tion tubu­lar back­bone with twin front down-tubes where pre­vi­ously (on the 750) there had been none.

It was a time of fren­zied ac­tiv­ity at Laverda, which was in the process of trans­fer­ring pro­duc­tion to a new 12,000 square me­tre fac­tory, still in Bre­ganze but now out of the cen­tre of town, about 150 km north west of Venice at the foot of the Dolomites. It was mid-1972 be­fore the first of the pro­duc­tion 1000s ap­peared, at a point where much of Italy’s man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try was in the grip of strikes, which meant sup­plies of var­i­ous com­po­nents were dif­fi­cult and in some cases, im­pos­si­ble to ob­tain. In pro­duc­tion form, the DOHC triple had re­verted to a 180-de­gree crank­shaft, achieved by the ex­pe­di­ent of plac­ing the cen­tre cylin­der 180 de­grees out of phase with the outer two which ran at the same 360 de­gree lay­out as the 750. The camshafts, driven by a sin­gle-row chain, ran in plain bear­ings in the heads, while the crank ran on two outer ball and two in­ner roller bear­ings. Al­though many of the com­po­nents were sim­i­lar to the 750, few were iden­ti­cal. The cylin­der head was re­designed to in­cor­po­rate a nar­rower valve an­gle, with (like the 750) a cast iron “skull” com­bus­tion cham­ber which in­cor­po­rated the valve seats. Strictly speak­ing, all the 750 and 1000cc Laver­das were hand-built, as there was no pro­duc­tion line as such, even at the new fac­tory. Bikes were con­structed in batches, with each en­gine built by a sin­gle em­ployee. But de­spite the at­ten­tion to de­tail, the 1000 was not with­out its share of prob­lems. In cold and wet con­di­tions, ig­ni­tion fail­ure was not un­com­mon, which fur­ther strength­ened the rep­u­ta­tion of ‘Ital­ian electrics’ which was a lit­tle un­kind as it was not the elec­tronic unit it­self that gave trou­ble, but the in­suf­fi­cient at­ten­tion to

seal­ing the com­part­ment in which it op­er­ated, and in any case, the unit came from Bosch in Ger­many. De­spite the labour and com­po­nent prob­lems, the 1000s con­tin­ued to be built in small num­bers, and in late 1973 a re­vised ver­sion, the 3C, ap­peared. Up front, the drum brake had given way to twin 280mm front discs with Brembo calipers, al­though the Laverda drum re­mained at the rear. Other small changes in­cluded the use of Nip­pon Denso switches on the han­dle­bars in place of the pre­vi­ous Lucas switches, ac­com­pa­ny­ing the Nip­pon Denso speedo and tachome­ter that had been used on all the 1000s. Han­dle­bars were an ad­justable rac­ing style made by Brevet­tato, which could be al­tered to change the an­gle of the han­dle it­self. The front fork was still the 35mm Ce­ri­ani, which was scarcely up to the job of han­dling the weight and power and was even­tu­ally re­placed by a 38mm ver­sion. Two Vox­bell horns relaced the sin­gle horn on the orig­i­nal 1000. No fewer than six­teen colours were listed for the 1974/75 1000 3C, which car­ried a price tag in USA of $3,400 – or around dou­ble that of a CB750 Honda. Reg­u­la­tions were be­com­ing stricter and more uni­ver­sal, and for 1975 the 3C com­plied, with the gear change mov­ing from right to left, via a cross­over shaft be­hind the en­gine. The 1000 had en­joyed con­sid­er­able en­durance rac­ing suc­cess in Bri­tain, with en­er­getic sup­port from the Bri­tish im­porter Roger Slater, and it was largely at his be­hest that in 1976, Laverda pro­duced the most fa­mous 1000 triple of all, the Jota, named af­ter a lively Span­ish dance. With the spe­cial 4C camshafts fit­ted as stan­dard and a Bri­tish made ex­haust sys­tem, the Jota was tested in Eng­land at 140 mph, mak­ing it the fastest “stan­dard” mo­tor­cy­cle avail­able, but at £2300, also amongst the most ex­pen­sive. From ini­tially be­ing a UK-only model, the Jota grad­u­ally be­came avail­able in other mar­kets. Later mod­els were fit­ted with an hy­drauli­cally-op­er­ated clutch in place of the ca­ble. The triple con­tin­ued in 1000 3CL and Jota form, with cast al­loy wheels re­plac­ing the spoked items and a rear disc brake, un­til 1981, when the 180de­gree crank­shaft de­sign was laid to rest and re­placed with a new 120-de­gree de­sign which also had the ca­pac­ity punched out to 1200cc, but that’s another story.

Laverda in the colonies

In Aus­tralia, two com­pa­nies in par­tic­u­lar, Stan Evans’ Stanco in Melbourne (the of­fi­cial Aus­tralian dis­trib­u­tor) and Jim Eade Pty Ltd in Syd­ney (the NSW agents), were the main­stay of Laverda sales and pro­mo­tion through­out the life of the 1000cc mod­els, which ini­tially (in 1973) car­ried a price tag of $2,700. Its triple-cylin­der com­peti­tor, the Tri­umph Tri­dent, was priced at $1,795. As early as 1973, Stanco pro­vided a new 1000 for hard rider Jeff Cur­ley to use in the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar Pro­duc­tion races. For the 1975 Cas­trol Six Hour race at Ama­roo Park, Stanco en­tered a 1000 for Bob Rosen­thal and Ross Barelli, while Jim Eade did like­wise for the pair­ing of John Hughes and Greg Byrnes. But even be­fore the race be­gan, there were dramas, af­fect­ing not just the pair of Laver­das, but the two Du­cati 900SS mod­els and the three Tri­umph Tri­dents en­tered. The reg­u­la­tions stated that 20 of the model to be raced had to be reg­is­tered in NSW by Oc­to­ber 1, 1975, and none of th­ese com­plied. The pro­mot­ers, Wil­loughby Dis­trict MCC, were un­der­stand­ably con­cerned at the prospect of los­ing a large chunk of the en­try, and took the mat­ter to the Auto Cy­cle Union, who ruled that the reg­u­la­tions would be amended to re­quire 20 of the model to be reg­is­tered in the whole of Aus­tralia, not just NSW. As it turned out, the Laver­das were off the pace in the dry, but in the sec­ond hour of the race, it be­gan to rain. In the slip­pery con­di­tions, the Stanco Laverda be­gan a march through the field that had it up to fourth place, but alas, the sky cleared and as the track dried, the faster ma­chine once again took over the pace-mak­ing. Ad­ding to their prob­lems, the Stanco bike’s ex­haust sys­tem be­gan to dis­in­te­grate af­ter the pipes (which con­verged from three into one and then into two muf­flers be­low the en­gine) cracked and be­gan emit­ting quite a racket.

Al­though the Laver­das had plenty of ground clear­ance on the left side, Ama­roo’s cor­ners were pre­dom­i­nantly right handers, and the al­ter­na­tor cover pro­gres­sively wore it­self away. Still, Rosen­thal and Barelli came home in eighth place, while the Hughes/Byrnes 1000, which was orig­i­nally listed as fin­ish­ing sixth, dropped to 13th af­ter the lap scor­ing charts were re-checked.

The fol­low­ing year, Rosen­thal paired with Paul Gray­don on a new 1000 3C en­tered by Stanco, while Lind­say McKay joined John Hughes on a Jim Eadeen­tered 1000 3C. Bob Rosen­thal re­calls, “The bike we rode in 1975 was a spoked wheel model. The 1976 bike had al­loy wheels, which I think was about the only dif­fer­ence. I think the wheels were made by Cam­pag­nolo and were ul­tra-soft; tyre chang­ing with­out a ma­chine re­sulted in bent wheels. We also had prob­lems with the hy­draulic brake light switches im­part­ing sponge into the sys­tem, so we cheated and by-passed them! But the 1976 bike didn’t re­ally stand a chance and al­though we did two more laps (327) than in 1975 we fin­ished way down.” The Hughes/ McKay faired bet­ter, clock­ing up 340 laps to be placed 12th, nine laps be­hind the win­ning Team Avon Kawasaki Z1B rid­den by Jim Budd and Roger Heyes. That wasn’t quite the end of Laverda and the Six Hour how­ever. In 1977 Greg McDon­ald and Owen Hughes brought the Stanco 3CL in 13th, al­though the Jim Eade en­try of John Hughes/David Braha failed to make it to the fin­ish.

Isle of Man sticker from 1984 graces the rear num­ber plate bracket. ABOVE Ca­ble op­er­ated Laverda rear brake. RIGHT New for ’74 – twin disc front end.

Nip­pon Denso in­stru­ments, sim­i­lar to those on the Honda CB750. ND switches re­placed ear­lier Lucas items.

Twin Vox­bell horns do the squeal­ing.

Choke lever un­der the front left side of the fuel tank. Three Dell’Orto PHF32A carbs, with ac­cel­er­a­tor pumps, sup­ply the mix­ture. There’s a fam­ily re­sem­blance to the 750, but only su­per­fi­cial. Note the right foot gear change. MAIN Owner Elvis Cento­fanti en­joy­ing a spin. LEFT Hand­some cover hides triplex chain pri­mary drive. RIGHT The Laverda’s dis­tinc­tive ex­haust note comes out here.

Lind­say McKay on the Jim Eade Laverda at Ama­roo Park.

TOP Stanco ad­ver­tise­ment from 1974. ABOVE Pit stop for Lind­say McKay in the Surfers Three Hour Race where he rode with Owen Hughes. BE­LOW LEFT Jeff Cur­ley on Stanco’s Laverda 1000 at Calder in 1973.

Owen Hughes on the Stanco 3CL in the 1977 Cas­trol Six Hour.

Lind­say McKay on the way to 12th place in the 1976 Cas­trol Six Hour Race.

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