Moto Guzzi wouldn’t be around today had it not taken the gamble to tool up for their big capacity V-twin which emerged in 1967 as the V7.
And the V7 itself may not have lasted long had it not been enthusiastically adopted by law enforcement agencies in Italy and particularly USA. Of course, the Guzzi v-engine had its origins not in a motorcycle, but in a three-wheeler designed primarily for military and civil use; hence only 20hp at 4,000 rpm. With a bit of work, that basic engine, reduced from 754cc to 703cc, became the V7 which first appeared at the Milan Show in late 1965. In the States, Moto Guzzi had a smart marketing team at Mike and Joe Berliner’s off-shoot the Premier Corporation, and legend has it that a couple of V7s were sold to the California Highway Patrol for $1 each for the purpose of evaluation. Evaluation against the traditional Harleys, that is. The men in uniform lapped up the Italian twins, which were better in virtually every respect than the Milwaukee iron, and sales rolled in, initially from the Los Angeles Police Department and soon from other states across the country. Pretty soon the 703cc and the later 757cc versions were tooling around everywhere, bedecked with sirens, extra lights, and special fittings for their workaday use. Moto Guzzi claimed the motorcycle would cover at least 100,000 kilometres without needing major servicing, and the shaft drive was certainly a big factor in this. Along with the police market, the Guzzis found a growing audience with the touring set, and the aftermarket accessory trade leapt upon this as well. The 750 V7 Special was marketed in the US as the Ambassador (Berliner’s choice of name, as was the Eldorado) – a four speeder with plenty of torque and reasonable handling. The sales momentum that continued to gather encouraged Moto Guzzi to go a step further, punching out the Ambassador’s dimensions to 844cc via a longer stroke, higher compression pistons, and with a 5-speed cluster sourced from the V7 Special added – hey, presto, the Eldorado (marketed in Europe as the 859 GT) which took its bow in 1972. The engine mods resulted in a 4hp boost to 64hp, not huge on paper but very noticeable on the road. The Eldorado sold well – reportedly around 5,000 a year for the three years of production, at a time when Moto Guzzi desperately needed the capital. The 850 managed to eat into the market previously shared by two major players; Harley-Davidson and BMW, but the Eldorado had several desirable features that the marketers exploited well. It was considerably lighter than the H-D, and faster than the BMW, and at $1,985 when it was introduced into the US,
cheaper than both. It also had shaft final drive – a most desirable feature for tourers that had been heavily expounded by BMW. Shortly before the model’s end – to be replaced by the 850 T – the front end was changed with revised front forks and a single disc front brake. The subsequent 850 T3 sported twin front discs and a single rear disc. Moto Guzzi had given plenty of thought to the practicalities of the 850 in both workaday (police) and touring modes. The mudguards are deep and wide and do an admirable job of keeping water away from the rest of the bike and notably the rider. The battery is a substantial 30 amp/hour job designed to easily cope with the effort required to electrically crank the engine into life. This occupies a fair amount of midriff space, but there are still a couple of toolboxes for spanners and other odds and ends.
Our featured model, Andre Deubel’s 1972 Eldorado, is such a stunner that Australian distributors JSG used it as a backdrop for their recent launch of the all-new California and Eldorado 1400 models. Andre was born in Germany but has lived in Australia for 20 years to pursue his career as a cinematographer. “I literally tossed a coin to decide whether I would work in film or become a motorcycle mechanic,” he says. Film won, and he has since worked on features, documentaries and television commercials, but his passion for bikes remains undiminished, with a nice collection of Moto Guzzis that includes a Period 4 racer based around the V7
that Jack Findlay rode at the 1972 Imola 200. His Eldorado was a US model that came to Australia in 1985, but at that point the fun begins. “When this guy brought the bike in from the US, he pulled it completely apart – right down to the bare frame – and never did anything with it. I bought it as the bare frame and all the rest in six milk crates. I paid $1,000 per milk crate, but these 850s are now quite rare. The earlier 4-speeders are more plentiful and cheaper, but they’re not as nice to ride. These are the best ‘rides’, with the five speeds – the four speed was a really clunky gearbox. I have also modified the front forks to improve the damping and used progressive rate springs. Ikon made up some shocks for me with a black body and chrome spring, so all of these things combined really make for a surprising ride! You wouldn’t believe how this thing handles through corners, and once you get on the cam with a bit of air flowing through you
can feel how it wants to go. I think it has 70 horsepower at the crank, and that’s good for an old ’72 touring bike.”
Under the front timing cover is the belt-driven Bosch generator, with the camshaft below that, gear-driven to the crank, with the oil pump at the bottom, also gear-driven. For cost saving, later models went to chain and tensioners in the timing chest. The arrangement keeps the weight, and centre of gravity, as low as possible.
“For the rebuild, I worked from the crank upwards. I balanced the crank but left the capacity at 850, and I ported the heads myself with some helpful advice from Sprintcar legend Ivan Walker, who also balanced the cranks for me. I changed the carbs from 29mm to 30mm square slides and matched the inlet ports to suit and also reshaped the ports. The ports from the factory are shocking – the castings are very rough with a hump in the inlet tract. When all that is cleaned up they flow a lot better, especially with the hot cam that Barry Jones in Melbourne made for me.
The old barrels have chrome plated bores and when the chrome flakes off it goes all through the engine and does a lot of damage. The barrels were wrecked so I replaced those with Gilardoni Nikasil plated barrels which are available off the shelf in Italy.”
“A couple of extra things that I changed; normally there are two extra cables running from the chokes on the carbs to a lever on the handlebars and it doesn’t look very nice, so I got rid of this choke mechanism and converted the Dell’Ortos to the individual toggle mechanism just by drilling them out so you can put the plungers in – much neater. Normally the twist grip has a single cable running into a splitter box under the tank but it is stiff and not very smooth in operation so I converted it to twin cables, still with the correct looking Tomaselli 2C type twistgrip.” Andre also changed the air filtration system from a bulky dry paper unit that sits in a metal box in front of the battery, to a smaller but more efficient K&N unit. “It’s hidden away so you don’t see it anyway, and this one works better.” He has also completely modernised the electrical gadgetry, with a digital regulator and relays on most other components. He also replaced the wiring harness. “I wanted to use this bike, not just look at it, so I wanted to be sure the electrics were perfect so I didn’t get stuck miles from anywhere.” The paintwork was done in Newcastle by Allan Edwards, with the original swirling pin stripes on the tank, mudguards and the panniers. Fortunately the original chrome plating on the fuel tank was quite OK and did not have to be re-done – always a tricky and costly exercise. The 22.5 litre tank is a very sensible size for a tourer, capable of over 300km between fuel stops. The bags are actually an original item by Wixom Brothers in California that were sold through US Guzzi dealers. “To me, the bike looks like
an early ‘sixties design, not ‘seventies. It has a sort of art deco feel to it.” “The brakes weren’t that good, although they had a lot of weight to stop, but I had Dave Blissett machine the drum and fit the shoes to suit, and then Conwire made up a much stronger brake cable to the right length and that improved the braking enormously. Once you’ve got a few extra horses out of the engine it shows up the handling, so that way the suspension and braking improvements make this bike really rideable. The mufflers are original Lafranconi but these are the ones the police had in the States. They were more free-flowing than the ‘pea-shooter’ mufflers which had quite a small outlet, and for an extra bit of noise I took the baffles out as well.” Andre began the restoration in late 2011 and finished it in May 2014, and it has since won Best Guzzi at the 2014 Guzzi Rally, Best Italian Motorcycle at the Ducati Concours, and again best Guzzi at the 2015 Guzzi Rally. Andre is now dividing his time between working as a cinematographer and restoring/customising old loop frame and Tonti frame Moto Guzzis for a living. He can be contacted via email: an[email protected]
In the saddle
My ride on the 850 was brief, but enough to convince me that this is a well-sorted motorcycle – the product of a fastidious and knowledgeable owner. The policestyle single saddle, which Andre favours as much for looks as for practicality (“I don’t ride with a pillion, so why not, and I think it is more comfortable than the dual seat”), is – well – firm, but it is nicely contoured and holds you in position. Twist the ignition key, car style, (no button here) all the way around and the engine bursts into life and immediately settles into a very regular chuff-chuff at revs that barely register on the tacho. “That ignition switch is my most favourite feature on the whole bike,” Andre says proudly. “At the time, Guzzi was still a government owned factory and they pulled stuff from everywhere. This ignition switch came from a Fiat 500. There’s always a bit of variety with the Italian stuff from this period and some bikes came with a little rubber starter button on the handlebar.” Rock the gear lever back and first gear engages audibly, slide out the clutch and with minimal revs, the Guzzi glides away. Andre’s ‘tuned’ Lafranconi megaphone mufflers emit a very pleasant rasp, and I take his advice and let the revs rise towards the ‘red line’ of 6,500 before changing up. From 5,000, the engine begins to really sing – evidence of Andre’s attention to porting and the warmed up camshaft – and we’re soon motoring along at a pleasant lick, although the route is blighted with speed bumps and other urban nasties. The front suspension copes well with the traffic-calming devices, and the front brake is more than adequate to haul down the bike’s 260odd kg. The gearbox really is quite pleasant to use, not at all clunky as you may expect with a bigflywheel job like this, and I quickly settled into the ride. The handlebars are a bit on the high and mighty side, but that’s the nature of the concept. Surprisingly, nothing seems to scrape as I cranked the Guzzi through the corners, and extra ground clearance is one reason why Andre opted to fit larger section 120 tyres. He also reckons the standard section tyres look too small under the voluminous mudguards. All too soon the experience was over, but I can see how Andre found no issues whatsoever in jumping on the 850 in Sydney and riding to Melbourne (and back) for the Moto Guzzi Rally just a few weeks previously. This is a comfortable, well-mannered motorcycle with plenty of power and refined manners.
ABOVE Andre Deubel’s 1972 Eldorado, is such a stunner that Australian distributors JSG used it as a backdrop for their recent launch of the allnew California and Eldorado 1400 models.
Everything is in place to take a dual seatbut Andre prefers the solo saddle. Timing chest is a feature of the front of the engine. Lafranconi mufflers make sweet music. Snappy side covers hide theelectrics and air filters.Ignition switch sits under neat hinged cover. Wixon panniers were made in USA and sold through Moto Guzzidealers.
Ready to roll. Locally made Ikon shocks look the part. Front brake has been meticulously fettled and works well. 30mm square slide Dell’Orto carbs replace the original 29mm.
ABOVE Original owner’shandbook. BELOW Andre aboardhis Eldorado.