Guzzis on the green
Whenever I am in Adelaide it’s a great opportunity to visit the team of classic bike enthusiasts at McLaren Vale, the rolling vineyard country south of the city.
Tony Morisset, a serious collector himself, usually organises a bunch of people who bring along their bikes for me to check out, and this visit had a distinctly Moto Guzzi theme. In fact, variations on a theme; four of the big transverse 90º V-twins in civilian and police guise, assembled on the lush lawn adjacent to the historic Oxenberry Farm Wines estate and restaurant, owned by two of the classic chaps, Michael and Filippo Scarpantoni. The engine was largely the work of Guzzi’s famous engineer Guilio Carcano, creator of the company’s allconquering Grand Prix bikes. With the factory’s pullout from GP racing at the end of the 1957 season, Carcano was free to work on other projects, albeit more prosaic than the fabulous racers. We can thank the Italian police for the very existence of the big v- twin Moto Guzzi, for it was conceived in the 1950s as a power unit for light cars and various military uses, the market for large motorcycles having collapsed, particularly in Europe. Up to this time, the Italian police had relied on the venerable Falcone single, but the department called for tenders to replace these, and Moto Guzzi was determined to mount a successful bid. Indeed, the company’s future depended upon it. In a four-way contest between Gilera, Benelli, Laverda and Moto Guzzi, it was the latter who won the contract. So while the carabinieri embarked on comprehensive testing of the pulsating 703cc twins, the buying public, what remained of it, clamoured for a civilian version. However it was not until 1965 that one appeared – the V7 – and then only for
export (US) markets. The locals finally got their V7 in 1967. Within two years, the engine had been enlarged to 757cc to appear as the V7 Special, while US market versions were marketed under names like Ambassador, Eldorado and California.
Initially, the V7 series mirrored the rather robust police styling, but in 1971 the svelte V7 Sport appeared, initially with a drum front brake, and from 1974, twin front discs. Also in 1971, the engine grew further, to 844cc, appearing as the 850 GT in Europe and as the Eldorado in USA, with an expanding range of accessories and options. Eventually the engine became 948cc and gearbox ratios increased to five, and there was even an automatic transmission model, the V 1000 I Convert of 1975, which featured a 2-speed auto made by Sachs in Germany.
Every motorcycle that left the factory in Mandello del Lario was tested for at least 80km before being crated and dispatched. That this basic engine design still powers the Moto Guzzis of the 21st century is testament to the soundness of the original design, and there would certainly be no motorcycles bearing the famous name today without it. So here in McLaren Vale we had a quartet of early ‘seventies models representing police, touring and sporting themes. The first of these to face the OBA camera was the 1973 850 Eldorado that did service with the California Highway Patrol, and is owned by Michael Clarke. It was largely the insistence of the US importer Berliner that saw the V7 engine stretched to 850, a move deemed necessary to compete with the American public’s appetite for large capacity v-twins. Although aimed at sales to US police forces, the Eldorado was also available in civilian form. The early models used the tubular steel double cradle chassis with a single 48mm backbone tube, but this soon gave way to the lighter frame used on the Sport frame designed by Lino Tonti. Michael’s model retains the spring saddle and other police accoutrements like the spacious panniers and radio box mounted on the rear mudguard. Still in place are the police flashing lights, but to satisfy local registration requirement, an ignition switch now sits where the siren was once located. Next up we had another of Michael’s Guzzis, a green 1974 850GT, which uses Amal Concentric carbs instead of the Dell’Ortos on the police model. Replacing the sprung saddle is a very plush looking dual seat, and in place of the giddy array of lights surrounding the massive speedo in the police dashboard is a pair of conventional Veglia instruments;
an electronic tachometer and a speedo which reads to a slightly optimistic 240km/h. This machine was sold new by Junction Motorcycles in Adelaide in July 1974 and Michael is only the second owner.
Bill Turner’s 1973 850 Eldorado also has a police history, doing service with the California Highway Patrol, before being privately imported to Geraldton, Western Australia. However in its original life, rather than chasing felons down freeways, this one was used mainly for parade duties, and was hence fitted with special ratios in the differential more suited to low speed running, and which limited top speed to around 100km/h. When Bill acquired the bike he replaced the crown wheel and pinion with a higher ratio to restore the Guzzi’s highway cruising speed. VHB30C Dell’Ortos carbs are fitted. Although Bill has replaced much of the police fitment with more practical gear, including the dual seat, the police dashboard with its collection of warning lights is still in place.
Contrasting with the trio of beefier models is Bill’s V7 Sport, dating from 1973, which was imported from USA. Most of the V7 Sports imported into Australia were green, while the US bikes had a wider colour choice including black.
This model made its debut as the Telaio Rosso (red frame), perhaps the most desirable and soughtafter of all the ‘seventies twins. Up front is the same double-sided twin-leading shoe front drum brake on the other three bikes, which replaced the earlier single-sided version. The silencers are the correct ‘shark grill’ Silentium types – highly prized by restorers. A major difference on the Sport is the frame, with the bottom rails set higher to allow the exhaust pipes to be tucked in for better ground clearance. The handlebars are a unique ‘clip-up’ style which mount directly to the stanchions of the Ceriani front forks and allow virtually unlimited adjustment; up, down, backwards or forwards. It was a delightful setting in which to view a very tasty array of motorcycles – all similar yet subtly different – and all of which played a role in ensuring the survival and prosperity of one of the most famous and venerable marques in motorcycling history. Thanks to the owners for presenting these bikes, and to Michael Scarpantoni for his hospitality and the excellent lunch that followed the photo session. A highly recommended location!
The badge of office. Cockpit view. Obligatory running boards. 1973 850 Eldorado.
Owners Bill Turner (left) and Mick Clarke with their ex-police 850s. LEFT & BELOW 1974 850GT. RIGHT Amal Concentric carbs instead of the usual Dell’Ortos. Veglia twin instruments. Rocking pedal gear change – very Italian.
Let there be lights! ABOVE & BELOW Bill Turner’s 1973 850 Eldorado fitted with Dell’Orto VHB30C carbs.
Frame on the Sport is much slimmer with high bottom rails. LEFT & ABOVE Bill Turner’s 1973 V7 Sport. Silentium ‘shark grill’ silencers.