Classic Bike Guide

Tonti goes stateside


There were a number of big Moto Guzzi tourers that used the new frame, starting with the 850 T, which was followed by the 850 T3.

The 850 T3 California launched in 1975 and was an instant hit. Interestin­gly, the style of the California was popular with many European buyers too, the bike being more stylish than BMW’s big twins. The California’ thunder was stolen slightly by the launch at the same time of the automatic gearbox equipped V1000 Convert and in 1978 by the more refined 1000 SP Spada, which was clearly aimed at knocking a few more lumps off BMW’s touring market share.

A California didn’t cost a lot to live with. The oil needed changing every 3000 miles or so (a job that took the average home mechanic a couple of hours), while servicing took place at 7000 miles. Fuel consumptio­n was not heavy, while power varied between 55bhp and 63bhp, depending on who was measuring it. The engine featured a big car-type electric starter, which didn’t spin things fast, but with a well-charged battery it would comfortabl­y heave the two pistons over, if a little slowly. When the button was pushed, the bike rocked dramatical­ly from side to side before firing. The rider just needed to get it into gear, with a clunk familiar to Guzzi owners, take it up to 2500rpm and roll away. The big screen improved long-distance travel but did it at the expense of a reduced top speed, lazier handling, and increased fuel consumptio­n. If you wanted more speed, you would buy a Le Mans. It made a delicious rumble, and the linked brakes were wonderful things. From the late 1970s, there were 15 different California models. These were the California II, California III, California 1100, California Jackal, California EV, California EV Touring, California Aluminium, California Titanium, California Special, California Special Sport, California Stone-Metal, California Stone-Touring, California Classic, California Touring, and California Vintage models. These bikes, part of a line that lasted well into the 21st century, were very popular in the US and Italy. They got bigger and fatter and gaudier as they headed for 1400cc and while the West Coast styling didn’t catch on with everyone, many rated the later California models highly for their long legs and easy charm.

In 2019, the big engine that powered the last California Touring was discontinu­ed, though models remained on sale for a while. Since then, Moto Guzzi has concentrat­ed on the ‘small block’ V7 and the new V100 Mandello engine. But the demand for a big V-twin tourer surely remains and US West Coast branding could easily return one day.

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