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 mo­tor­cy­ 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


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.


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

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