Ace Tester Miles gets to grips with Morini’s ubiq­ui­tous 3½, and pon­ders whether the pint-size V-twin re­ally is a pocket su­per­bike – or the Ital­ian equiv­a­lent of the Su­per­dream…

Real Classic - - What Lies Within - Pho­tos by Paul Miles

Ace Tester Miles gets to grips with Morini's ubiq­ui­tous 350, and pon­ders whether the pint-size V-twin re­ally is a pocket su­per­bike - or the Ital­ian equiv­a­lent of the Su­per­dream...

The clas­sic world is di­vided be­tween those who like or loathe Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cles. I can see their re­spec­tive points of view. Italy is ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing mo­tor­cy­cles that not only look won­der­ful, but also sound fan­tas­tic and per­form bril­liantly. It’s also fair to con­demn the Ital­ian in­dus­try’s at­ti­tude to­wards re­li­a­bil­ity, fin­ish and espe­cially electrics. The old joke about why Ital­ians build beau­ti­ful bikes – so that you have some­thing to ad­mire while sit­ting wait­ing for the break­down truck – has a ring of truth to it. Then there’s Morini. This mi­nor player in the grand scheme of things ap­pears to be granted spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion when it comes to mat­ters of Ital­ian qual­ity and en­gi­neer­ing. We will laugh at ‘Ital­ian spaghetti electrics’ on a Du­cati, but a Morini gets a free pass. A Laverda is ‘harsh and un­com­pro­mis­ing’ to ride, but the lit­tle V-twin is ‘in­spir­ing’. Even vi­bra­tion, al­ways ‘in­tru­sive’ on a 350 MV, be­comes ‘charis­matic’ on a 3½. It just so hap­pens that the eclec­tic shed would cur­rently ben­e­fit from some­thing smaller but in­ter­est­ing enough to use on a wet VMCC run, when the posh­est bikes are too shy to come out and play and I need some­thing for a 100 mile trip at low-ish av­er­age speeds. I was idly look­ing at early 1980s Ja­panese mid­dleweights when this be­came avail­able. It’d been a while since I’d owned a Morini, so… Like most Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cle com­pa­nies, Morini never had any spare money, so the fa­mous 3½ ap­peared wear­ing sev­eral out­fits, but was fun­da­men­tally sim­i­lar un­der­neath. This ex­am­ple, an im­port, is sup­pos­edly from 1979 but looks a lit­tle later. The softer and clas­si­cally pretty pro­file of the early wire-wheeled ma­chines has been up­graded to bet­ter rep­re­sent the com­pany in the funky new decade of the 1980s. Al­loy wheels re­placed the spokes, with a longer and leaner look to the body­work plus, of course, that all-im­por­tant rec­tan­gu­lar head­light. Noth­ing screamed 1980s like a TV set head­lamp, af­ter all; very Space 1999.

Black paint re­placed much of the chrome or pol­ished al­loy of the ear­lier ver­sions and the Strada now even came with that great nov­elty, an elec­tric start. This and the other later vari­ants aren’t as de­sir­able as the early mod­els and, as a con­se­quence, can be had for less money to­day – which sug­gests they’re an af­ford­able and in­ter­est­ing Ital­ian clas­sic. This seemed to fit my re­mit per­fectly: quirky, Ital­ian, had less chrome to try and keep at­tached, boasted an elec­tric start and came with that sparkling prom­ise of ex­otic fun at a sur­pris­ingly mod­er­ate price.


The Morini ar­rived and yes, I think it looks pretty good. The Ital­ians have al­ways known how to style a mo­tor­cy­cle and on the rare oc­ca­sion when they get it wrong (MV Agusta 600 any­one?) I still sus­pect them of do­ing so de­lib­er­ately. This ‘new style’ Morini dis­tanced it­self from the ear­lier de­sign, which was then some eight years old and look­ing dis­tinctly old fash­ioned. As well as fresh­en­ing up the lines, the new ma­chine proudly dis­played the an­gu­lar ac­cents – squared-off in­di­ca­tors, shoe­box head­light, and even the (round) clocks were em­bed­ded into square hous­ings. It doesn’t quite work to­day, but at the time I think I wore a lu­mi­nous green head­band when I went club­bing, so all is for­given. With an easy to use cen­tre­stand, side­stand, elec­tric start, huge mir­rors and com­fort­able rid­ing po­si­tion, the fac­tory had made a se­ri­ous at­tempt to pro­vide the rider with use­ful crea­ture com­forts. Even the CEV switchgear worked well and op­er­ated in an al­most log­i­cal man­ner, de­spite be­ing Ital­ian. The speedo nee­dle flapped around through­out the test, of course and re­plac­ing the cable made only a mi­nor dif­fer­ence.

The rid­ing po­si­tion was per­fect for me, the 3½ pulling off the trick of be­ing small yet roomy at the same time. This Strada vari­ant was in­fin­itely more com­fort­able that the Sport ver­sion I’d pre­vi­ously owned, com­plete with for­ward footrests and clip-on bars forc­ing the rider into a foetal crouch.

Best fire it up, then. Be­ing aware of the the­o­ret­i­cally frag­ile elec­tric start, some­thing sup­pos­edly cob­bled up in a hurry to sat­isfy de­mand, I at­tempted to use the kick­start. It’s on the left, of course; these Ital­ians have al­ways en­joyed that par­tic­u­lar lit­tle joke. There was some­thing I couldn’t quite re­call about start­ing them bub­bling un­der in my mem­ory, but af­ter one swing it all came flood­ing back – along with the blood.

The Morini kick­start is a truly poxy piece of de­sign. It’s too close to the mo­tor and folds at the bot­tom, so any­thing other than the per­fect prod re­sults in it tuck­ing it­self un­der the footrest as your leg con­tin­ues down­wards while hav­ing large chunks of flesh gouged out by var­i­ous en­gine pro­tru­sions. It then jams it­self un­der the heat­shield that at­tempts to pro­tect the rider’s leg from the ex­haust which is so badly placed that burns are al­most in­evitable. At least the ex­haust cau­terised the wounds, I sup­pose. Take a look at one next time you see a 3½. They’re al­ways bent and bat­tered, just like my leg. It has to be one of the worst de­signed kick­starts in his­tory. Luck­ily for me, the no­to­ri­ously un­re­li­able (I read it on the in­ter­net, so it must be true) elec­tric start per­formed fault­lessly through­out the test.

Once started, the 3½ ran… badly. It was the car­bu­ret­tors, it al­ways is on old Ital­ian clunkers. A tip: if you own a bike fit­ted with orig­i­nal Dell’Or­tos, change the choke plungers, they’re al­ways worn out. That bit that looks like a tiny O-ring in the end? Should be flat. The carbs were treated to a clean and re­build kits and I tried again. This time the ‘wee vee’ (al­ways hated that ex­pres­sion) fired up and sound much bet­ter. A quick spin re­vealed a nice ex­am­ple of a Strada, beg­ging to be thrash… erm, eval­u­ated.

A six-speed gear­box, with the change still on the right, was a nice sur­prise. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing any great is­sues with the gear­box, and it didn’t dis­ap­point. The lit­tle twin needs all six ra­tios as it’s only a pushrod 350cc mo­tor­cy­cle yet begs to be recog­nised as a sports bike. This is re­ally where I seem to de­vi­ate from most of the Morin­isti; the bike’s per­for­mance re­ally isn’t very fast.

Fans of the mar­que speak lov­ingly about its will­ing­ness to rev and ex­hil­a­rat­ing per­for­mance down a twisty road. I can only as­sume they’ve never rid­den a Ja­panese 250 two-stroke of the same era, or even, dare I say it, a 400 Su­per­dream. The truth is that the 3½ isn’t a very pow­er­ful mo­tor. The fac­tory claimed 35bhp, but it feels more like 25-27 at the rear wheel. At low revs it lacks the torque of, say, a Tri­umph 500 twin and needs to be howled to make any se­ri­ous progress, us­ing all six ra­tios en­thu­si­as­ti­cally while set­ting your teeth against the vi­bra­tion.

And this is the truth about them. For all the cute­ness and sup­pos­edly clever en­gi­neer­ing, the Morini is just a 350 twin and sim­ply can­not com­pete with the big­ger stuff, or much of the bet­ter smaller stuff, ei­ther. I won’t cover old ground by speak­ing of the in­ge­nious Heron (cheaper to pro­duce) heads, or the tiny belt that drives the cam, you’ve doubt­less read it all be­fore. But, de­spite all this bril­liant en­gi­neer­ing, they still didn’t see fit to in­cor­po­rate a proper oil fil­ter; the Morini owner had to make do with the usual Ital­ian fudge of a cou­ple of tea strain­ers, de­spite buy­ing a 350cc ma­chine that cost as much as a 750cc of­fer­ing from Ja­panese ri­vals.

The mo­tor looks great, though, a cute lit­tle V-twin with elec­tronic ig­ni­tion, twin car­bu­ret­tors and ex­hausts. I even think the abun­dance of black paint on this model suits it well. The clutch is dry, which makes it easy to work on. Just as well, be­cause it’s not that great. If you’re a fan of find­ing neu­tral at a stand­still, look else­where. Every Morini I’ve ever rid­den has been the same; they all do that, sir. Once rolling, it nei­ther slipped nor dragged, so it’s re­ally a mat­ter of find­ing neu­tral be­fore you roll to a stop at traf­fic lights.

The front Grimeca disc brake and rear drum do a fine job of stop­ping the bike, although the disc brake feels very wooden; per­haps new pads would help. The whole pack­age of light weight, qual­ity Mar­zoc­chi sus­pen­sion and good bal­ance re­sults in a fine-rid­ing ma­chine. I’d ex­pect noth­ing else, frankly; if an Ital­ian man­u­fac­turer fails to make a light­weight and un­der­pow­ered ma­chine feel sure­footed they need ex­il­ing to Si­cily. On bal­ance, I guess that there are worse places to spend your ex­ile.

If I seem to be paint­ing this as a dis­ap­point­ing mo­tor­cy­cle I apol­o­gise, be­cause it re­ally isn’t. The lit­tle twin is charis­matic and quite able to whizz the rider be­yond the speed limit, but it’s no fire breath­ing road racer. The Strada is as com­fort­able as you could rea­son­ably ex­pect a small bike to be, with great han­dling and ef­fec­tive brakes. Even the catas­troph­i­clook­ing elec­tri­cal sys­tem should be OK with a mod­icum of water pro­tec­tive screen­ing ap­plied be­fore win­ter, although keep­ing the press-fit id­iot lights at­tached to the panel is a fruit­less ex­er­cise.

I would say that the Morini ful­fils its brief ex­actly. But it isn’t a pint-sized ex­otic su­per­bike. Which is why prices for the wee­vee (there I go again) have con­tin­u­ally lagged be­hind their fel­low Ital­ian sta­ble­mates. A nice ex­am­ple of a Morini Strada like this is around £3500. A 350 Desmo Du­cati sin­gle would be ten thou­sand pounds more than that. It would be rea­son­able to as­sume that if the mar­ket hasn’t wo­ken up to them af­ter nearly half a cen­tury, then the Morini’s cur­rent val­ues are cor­rect. Even the best early 3½ ex­am­ples with wire wheels and drum brakes only fetch around £4500-6000, a price which would buy you lit­tle more than a pile of rusty metal pur­port­ing to have once been a 250 Du­cati.

So, if you want to run a pretty lit­tle Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cle with fan­tas­tic spares back-up cour­tesy of com­pa­nies like NLM, and are pre­pared to ac­cept the re­al­is­tic lim­i­ta­tions of the per­for­mance, a cutesy Morini might just be the bike for you. They have a fan­tas­tic own­ers’ club with very en­thu­si­as­tic, de­voted mem­bers. Be pre­pared to spend time fix­ing bizarre elec­tri­cal is­sues and lower your ex­pec­ta­tions about the func­tion­al­ity of id­iot lights, in­di­ca­tors and rear lamp clus­ters. The en­gine is sim­ple to work on, re­quir­ing pretty much just a 10mm socket and two screw­drivers to dis­man­tle. Brace your­self for an en­gine that may have been worked on pre­vi­ously by some­body who be­lieved that pre­vi­ous sen­tence; their sim­plic­ity some­times leads to… en­thu­si­as­ti­cally mis­guided span­ner­ing.

Own­er­ship of a Morini opens a win­dow of friend­ship and ca­ma­raderie with fel­low en­thu­si­asts, and the lit­tle V-twin is quite good fun to ride down a twisty lane or two. If you con­sider them as in­ter­est­ing, fun bikes they of­fer fair value. Just bear in mind they do noth­ing which a sim­i­lar era Honda wouldn’t be able to match or bet­ter at half the price. The Morini 3½ – the Ital­ian Su­per­dream…

One of many ad­van­tages of the Vee ohv ar­range­ment is that the en­gine need not be too tall to fit a com­pact frame. As seen here

Some folk con­sider the rec­tan­gu­lar head­lamp to be an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of Ital­ian stylis­tic ex­cel­lence. Other views are avail­able

Below: A fre­quent chal­lenge in an edi­tor’s ar­du­ous ex­is­tence is won­der­ing why no­ble con­trib­u­tors in­clude cer­tain pho­tos. This is a fine ex­am­ple. Does Ace Tester Miles im­ply that the Morini would strug­gle to over­take a laden trac­tor? We may never know

Racer fan­tasies are easy when you have a kph speedo. Typ­i­cally char­ac­ter­ful han­dle­bar ar­chi­tec­ture is as idio­syn­cratic as you might ex­pect

The mi­nor con­trols are fid­dly and can be­come im­pre­cise with age and use. How­ever, they mostly work re­li­ably. Mostly

Mar­zoc­chi forks and a sin­gle Brembo disc. What could be bet­ter? A sec­ond disc, maybe?

Above: Many rid­ers com­plain about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the some­what awk­ward kick­start lever and the ad­ja­cent ex­haust heat­shield. The moral is: if there’s an elec­tric starter fit­ted … use it

Left: This is it: the fa­bled ‘wee-vee’ en­gine. Neat, com­pact and stylish, but not en­tirely burst­ing with pep, claims Ace Tester Miles

Mr In­scrutable. We sus­pect that the Ace Tester ac­tu­ally en­joyed his time with the 3½ more than he’d ad­mit, although we could be wrong… Does our noted con­trib­u­tor truly com­pare this hand­some Ital­ian pony with Honda’s Su­per Dream? He does. He is plainly very brave

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