REAL RACE REPLICA
The track success of Dr John led directly to the Daytona 1000 – the sportiest and most exotic Moto Guzzi road bike ever produced
Living out a lifelong ambition on Moto Guzzi’s rare Daytona superbike
First of all I should declare an interest. I’ve always had a soft spot for Moto Guzzi’s charismatic V-twins and their occasionally stubborn approach. I’m also afflicted by a craving for unexpected machinery, so the idea of a fuel-injected, eight-valve Guzzi sports bike got me in a dither when the Daytona appeared in 1992. A period road test in Performance Bikes secured the unlikely creation’s place in my dream garage.
Shell suit-hued Japanese sports bikes were getting ever lighter, faster and easy to ride silly-fast, yet the Guzzi test carried the headline ‘A Proper Motorbike’ and declared it was ‘nice to get off a bike with the feeling you’ve actually ridden the damn thing, rather than just been along for the ride’. Traditional Guzzi charm, character and beauty, with serious performance and exclusivity? I’d fallen in lust.
Two-and-a-half decades later, that old review is still wedged in my memory and the desire hasn’t dwindled, despite never having sampled a Daytona. Until today. So, if the following paragraphs are less than objective, I apologise.
It’s easy to be less than impartial when presented with a Daytona, though. Here is a rare bike that’s a direct descendant of the giant-slaying racers of Dr John Wittner. The American tuner moved to Italy and worked at the factory on the road version, and a prototype shown at Milan in 1989 used an eight-valve motor and box-section spine chassis based on his racer.
Guzzi intended to build 500 examples for 1990, as a range-topper to shake off a fusty image and re-establish the brand (they’d sold just 5900 bikes worldwide in 1988, compared to well over 14,000 in 1980). In fact it was 1992 before the completed road bike finally went on sale, although thankfully the finished bike lost none of Dr John’s design – the Daytona 1000 isn’t a road bike influenced by the race bike, it’s a genuine replica.
The production delay gave Guzzi time to polish the product, and the 1000 uses refined Weber injection, adjustable Marzocchi forks and Brembo Goldline brakes – like Ducati’s rival 851. Teasing this lovely, clean example away from the caring hands of Made In Italy Motorcycles (01449 612900, made in italy motorcycles.com) it certainly feels classy. Attractive white Veglia dials peek from behind a yoke embossed with the firm’s logo, arms spread round the deep red gloss of the 23-litre tank to the broad clip-on ’bars, and neat thumb-wheel adjusters on the hand levers offer ergonomic fine-tuning.
The Daytona feels long and low in the Guzzbox tradition, and reaffirms its manufacturer as it cranks into life – the starter steadily wakes the motor, rather than whipping it into life. At idle the ’bars lazily waggle, and a sniff of gas rocks the bike to the right. Yes, it’s a Guzzi.
And the Mandello del Lario experience continues, toeing-in first gear with a silent nudge and releasing the weighty clutch. The sound and feel of the V-twin will be familiar to anyone who’s sampled a 1980s Le Mans – or pretty much any largecapacity Guzzi, for that matter. Having a throttle that doesn’t require both hands is indication there’s more on offer here than with traditional Guzzis, however, and exploring the top half of the revs reveals an entirely different character. Straight-line performance is the same as a Japanese sports 600 of the era, but spec sheet numbers never matter with a Guzzi – it’s about feel and involvement. From 4000rpm the Daytona strides for the horizon with a wonderful sensation of constantly-building speed. Valve gear rustles, the note of its Lafranconi pipes hardens, and the Daytona romps forward with a long-legged delivery that gives a sense of relentless acceleration.
The motor isn’t identical to Wittner’s bikes. His rapid racers used a V7 Sport crank and measured 95.25 x 70mm, but Guzzi opted for the proven crank from the Le Mans MKV in the Daytona – which made sense, given that it uses Le Mans crankcases. Bore and stroke of 90 x 78mm gives 992cc, and with 10:1 compression and Weber injection the eight-valve motor has around 61lb ft of torque. This is about the same as the 948cc Le Mans it was designed to replace; however, peak grunt arrives 2000rpm later in the multi-valve engine, boosting power from 62bhp to 85bhp at the rear wheel (against a claimed 92) and giving a 135mph top speed.
Prone behind the wide and protective fairing, the twin fills you with confidence while exploring the good doctor’s work. It’s a sizeable device, especially with the distinctive humpy seat unit housing the battery and engine management gubbins and, at 215kg (474lb) dry with weighty low-mounted crank and 1480mm (57.7in) wheelbase, is utterly steadfast bellowing down cascading roads. The ride’s firm,
with the Marzocchi forks and WP rear shock pointing out the bigger bumps, but on well-surfaced routes it’s smooth and unflappable when handled with a decisive touch. Point it down a fluid A-road and the Daytona flows with rolling torque and unflappable roadholding. Brakes readily scrub off pace with a good squeeze, too.
Any bike with a sporty riding position will be less enticing at lower speed, and the Daytona’s no different. Its weight is also evident in tight corners, and the chassis doesn’t like it if you’re cruising around pondering what to have for tea – without positive input it can be a tad vague.
I can forgive the Guzzi this, as part of its appeal to me has always been that it’s a little obstinate; I expect to have to work with it to get the rewards. But I also
‘POINT IT DOWN A FLUID A-ROAD AND THE DAYTONA FLOWS WITH ROLLING TORQUE AND UNFLAPPABLE ROADHOLDING’
know there’s sweeter handling to be released. Bikes for most of Europe left the factory with a bit of fork poking above the top yoke, but for some reason UK bikes mostly had theirs flush. Slipping the yokes down the forks by an inch or so stops the twin dropping into low-speed turns and makes the steering even more accurate.
Moto Guzzi redesigned the fairing soon after the Daytona was introduced, with a slimmer, sharper-looking headlight (they’d perhaps got wind that Ducati’s radical 916 was coming). Some had white wheels, some silver, and colour options included yellow. A dual-seat ‘Biposto’ arrived and there were three tuning kits offered with up to 120bhp, fitted as standard to a run of 20 black and gold ‘Dr John’ versions for the UK market.
Yet despite all the options (and memorable road tests) the Daytona wasn’t the success Guzzi predicted. Just 486 were sold worldwide in the model’s debut year, dropping annually until just 100 were flogged in 1995. A higher-spec Daytona RS was launched in 1996, but only 300 or so were sold in two years of production. Ducati’s 916 certainly had an impact, but Guzzi didn’t help themselves – they launched the Centauro naked bike with the eight-valve twin and a version of the Daytona called the Sport with a two-valve motor. Both were cheaper and more accessible – and sold in greater numbers.
It was a shame, but means exclusivity adds to the Daytona’s appeal. The eightvalve twin walks a just-so line between old and new, with traditional weighty handling, character and stability balanced with modern performance and big-lean corner-carving potential. It feels like what it is: a big Guzzi hopped-up by a tuning genius. It’s unlikely and a little strange – yet the Guzzi works. I admit I felt a pang of apprehension before finally riding what has been a dream bike for so long, but it soon disappeared – the Daytona delivers.
‘THE DAYTONA FEELS LIKE WHAT IT IS – A BIG GUZZI HOPPED-UP BY A TUNING GENIUS’
ABOVE: Redline uses an actual red line. Needle has a traditionally Guzzi lazy action BELOW: It needs a firm hand, but confidence finds capable handling ABOVE: Single cam is actually next to exhaust port, but is still ‘overhead’ of the combustion chamber RIGHT: Transverse frame tube handy for storing cheese and ham baguettes
BELOW: About to reach for the horizon in one long elastic stride
As red as a Ducati, exotic as a Bimota and grunty as an adult Tamworth
LEFT: Shock is firm. Vent supplies air to electrics in the seat hump