MOTO GUZZI V50

Buy­ing a cheap old bike with a mys­te­ri­ous mis­fire might be a recipe for dis­as­ter, or it could be a savvy way to snap up a cut-price clas­sic. Stu­art Urquhart meets an en­thu­si­ast of the Guzzi mar­que with a soft spot for the small-block V-twins…

Real Classic - - What Lies Within - Pho­tos by Stu­art Urquhart / RC RChive

Buy­ing a cheap old bike with a mys­te­ri­ous mis­fire might be a recipe for dis­as­ter, or it could be a savvy way to snap up a cut-price clas­sic. Stu­art Urquhart meets an en­thu­si­ast of the Guzzi mar­que with a soft spot for the small-block V-twins...

One of the abid­ing plea­sures of be­ing a mem­ber of the Scot­tish Clas­sic Mo­tor­cy­cle Club (SCMC) is the ca­ma­raderie and eclec­tic mix of mo­tor­cy­cles and char­ac­ters that swell our ranks. Young and old rub shoul­ders and swap mo­tor­cy­cling tales in our club’s buzzing car park. The same can be said of their steeds – all sorts at­tend our events and pro­vide your hum­ble scribe with an end­less sup­ply of ex­cit­ing and un­usual pick­ings. Cov­eted ma­chines like Vin­cents, Broughs and Gold Stars might not be so com­mon, but it is the every­man’s RealClas­sic that I per­son­ally find ex­cit­ing. These are the bikes on which I long to bag a ride.

In this case I should say ‘ev­ery­woman’ – for the el­e­gantly ag­ing mil­i­tary Guzzi V50 that is fea­tured here­abouts be­longs to Cather­ine. It’s a NATO ma­chine that is as splen­did in its pati­nated matt green and white sten­cilled paint­work as Cath is in her rid­ing leathers, full-face hat and plaited pig­tails. Both cre­ate a strik­ing pose when en­coun­tered on the road or grac­ing SCMC’s car park with their pres­ence.

Cath caught Guzzi­tis when she met her ‘in­tended’ at the ten­der age of 21. To­day Cath has an im­pres­sive score of five V50s un­der her belt... plus two T3s, a Spada, a Le Mans and a Ne­vada 750 and, dare I men­tion pos­si­bly not one of the pret­ti­est Guzzis ever, a Ses­santac­inque GT. So Cath can right­fully claim to be a bap­tised Guzzi dis­ci­ple. Over to her:

‘My in­tro­duc­tion to the se­duc­tive world of Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cles hap­pened in my 21st year. Hav­ing re­cently moved to the High­lands I hap­pened to visit a lit­tle folk mu­seum in Kin­gussie. My guide was a very charm­ing young man called Rod, who seemed to fall in­stantly for my con­stant com­pan­ion, my col­lie Ben. We soon es­tab­lished that Rod and I had a com­mon in­ter­est in dogs and mo­tor­bikes. Rod then in­trigued me by ask­ing if I would like to see his Du­cati Desmo. Of course I said yes – though I was com­pletely ig­no­rant as to what I was go­ing to see.

‘So Rod ap­peared with this gor­geous, cus­tard yel­low, 450 Du­cati Desmo and I was com­pletely se­duced. 30-odd years later I am still hooked on Ital­ian ma­chin­ery. Rod has owned a suc­ces­sion of bikes af­ter the Du­cati was sold on; sev­eral of them were Moto Guzzis. I loved all the Guzzis, and as our kids grew up it fi­nally dawned on me that I should have a Guzzi of my own. Rod sug­gested the most sen­si­ble op­tion would be a V50 but I wasn’t tempted, un­til I dis­cov­ered that there was an ex-mil­i­tary ver­sion in all over matt green. No shiny bits at all – a ma­chine made just for me!

‘Find­ing the de­sired op­tion was the stum­bling block. There was an Ital­ian im­porter in Lon­don who brought over exmil­i­tary/po­lice mod­els so we got in touch, only to dis­cover he was not ex­pect­ing de­liv­ery of any mil­i­tary V50s in the near fu­ture. He did how­ever have a black and white Polizia Ur­bana V50, com­plete with fully work­ing siren and pan­niers with ma­chine­gun shaped pock­ets.

‘Rod duly set off for Lon­don with car and trailer to view the bike, only to call back with

his opin­ion that the bike was hor­ri­bly shabby and over-priced, and wouldn’t I re­ally pre­fer some sen­si­ble mid-weight Honda that he had spot­ted in some nearby dealer’s show­room? Hav­ing firmly re­it­er­ated that it was the lit­tle Guzzi, ir­re­spec­tive of its scruffy ap­pear­ance, that I wanted – noth­ing else would do, Rod handed over the money and brought the bike home for me.

‘I loved that lit­tle Guzzi from the mo­ment it ar­rived and it gave me a lot of fun over the years. I felt wedded to it! It might have been shabby and oc­ca­sion­ally un­re­li­able, but it was bril­liantly easy to ride and a treat to work on. It came through quite a few win­ters of reg­u­lar rid­ing with noth­ing more than lash­ings of WD40 and some sturdy crash bars to pro­tect it. Re­mark­ably its ap­pear­ance never changed from the day I bought it.

‘OK, it wasn’t very fast, but it did han­dle small twisty high­land roads with aplomb and was guar­an­teed to make me smile every time we ven­tured out. The work­ing siren was an added bonus and cer­tainly added to the fun. It pro­duced a wicked drone of mourn­ful wail­ing but was spar­ingly used, lest it got me into trou­ble with the real Bob­bies. Even­tu­ally I moved on to the big­ger Guzzis and sold on the V50, and since that day it’s the one bike I re­gret part­ing with.’

Con­se­quently our pin­ing Cath de­cided the time was right for an­other V50 in her life, and of course it had to be a mil­i­tary model...

‘Real­is­ing I wasn’t 21 any­more, I fan­cied a lighter mo­tor­cy­cle. I’m not one for pol­ish­ing, but mo­tor­cy­cle me­chan­ics no longer posed a prob­lem for me, hav­ing learned so much sort­ing faults on my pre­vi­ous Guzzis. They re­ally are sim­ple to work on.

‘So I turned to the in­ter­net and Mark Wilmink who sup­plies ex-NATO ma­chines from Hol­land. I even con­sid­ered trav­el­ling there, but the dis­tance and the added has­sle of reg­is­ter­ing any mo­tor­cy­cle in the UK put me off. As my search con­tin­ued, an­other NATO ma­chine popped up on Gumtree with only 17,000km recorded on its orig­i­nal speedo. It had al­ready been im­ported into the UK from Hol­land and was up for sale for £900, with only two pre­vi­ous own­ers.

I snapped it up, espe­cially when I con­sid­ered that Wilmink-sup­plied NATO ma­chines nor­mally go for three times as much! How­ever the Gumtree Guzzi was ad­ver­tised as “suf­fer­ing from an elec­tri­cal fault” and the seller couldn’t di­ag­nose the prob­lem. Both orig­i­nal si­lencers had also rot­ted through – hence the at­trac­tive price!’

Nei­ther is­sue posed a prob­lem for Cath, even though she was lo­cated near Dundee and the bike was in Berk­shire. Hap­pily, her friend Ivan was an old school me­chanic who lived in the neigh­bour­ing county and he of­fered his help. So the bike was duly de­liv­ered to Ivan’s home and he soon had the lit­tle Guzzi run­ning. Cath sourced UK-made stain­less si­lencers for half the price of orig­i­nal matt black si­lencers, then sim­ply sprayed them matt black.

Mean­time Ivan was strug­gling to sort the mys­te­ri­ous and per­sis­tent run­ning prob­lem he de­scribed as a ‘mys­te­ri­ous elec­tri­cal fault’. The prob­lem could not be traced to the car­bu­ret­tors, or to the V50’s tra­di­tional points, plug or coil. A slip­ping clutch also

com­pli­cated mat­ters. Then a con­cerned Cath sud­denly lost touch with Ivan al­to­gether. En­quir­ing phone calls and emails were unan­swered and Cath con­sid­ered trav­el­ling south be­fore Ivan’s wife called with the shock­ing news that he was se­ri­ously ill and con­fined to hos­pi­tal. Cath re­signed her­self to leav­ing the V50 in limbo.

Af­ter a six-month de­lay, she de­cided to ride the bike home her­self. Fol­low­ing a se­ries of road tests she de­cided to risk the 496 mile jour­ney. Cath and the V50 ended up stuck for hours in Ox­ford’s swel­ter­ing nose-to-tail Bank Hol­i­day traf­fic. In­evitably the V50 be­gan to mis­fire in the hot con­di­tions and then it sud­denly broke down, re­fus­ing to start again. But her prob­lems were only just be­gin­ning. Be­ing a Bank Hol­i­day week­end it took the AA a fur­ther eigh­teen hours and no less than eight dif­fer­ent drivers to re­cover Cath and her stricken Guzzi from Ox­ford to Scot­land…

Once back home and re­cov­er­ing from her or­deal, Cath dis­cov­ered that the V50’s new coils were cooked and that the over­heat­ing en­gine had also dam­aged the valve guides. Re­plac­ing the coils, con­densers, points and valve guides had the bike up and work­ing again, but un­for­tu­nately did not bring any im­prove­ment to the per­sis­tent and er­ratic run­ning. So Cath turned to a lo­cal me­chanic and SCMC mem­ber for help. Was the at­trac­tion of V50 own­er­ship now be­gin­ning to wear off? Cath takes up the story...

‘My friend and ex-TT racer/me­chanic Tom Wil­li­son was amaz­ing. As soon as Tom checked the ig­ni­tion tim­ing he iden­ti­fied that the tim­ing marks were in­cor­rect. Tom set the tim­ing by in­stinct and by the use of his well­trained ear, and my V50 has run beau­ti­fully ever since. The hes­i­tant start­ing, poor run­ning and bland per­for­mance were trans­formed overnight. I was so pleased to have a lively, light­weight and re­spon­sive V50 back in my garage. I couldn’t have thanked Tom enough and now I look for­ward to rides on my lit­tle NATO Guzzi at every op­por­tu­nity.’

Cath’s re­fusal to lose faith with her mo­tor­cy­cle is im­pres­sive, to say the least. Why is she so loyal to Guzzis and in par­tic­u­lar to the V50 model?

‘I’ve al­ways had a soft spot for twins, espe­cially Moto Guzzi and BMW twins, but there is some­thing about a Guzzi that gets un­der your skin. All Guzzi fans know this. Through long-term own­er­ship they be­come for­ever bikes. If prop­erly ser­viced, Guzzis rarely let you down. They are also easy to work on and kind to the home me­chanic, as well as be­ing sim­ple to un­der­stand both me­chan­i­cally and elec­tri­cally – un­like BMWs,

FROM THEN TO NOW

Con­ceived in the late 1970s by renowned Guzzi de­signer Lino Tonti, the mid­dleweight V50 was a scaled-down ohv two valves per cylin­der, 90-de­gree V-twin with shaft drive and patented linked brak­ing sys­tem. Moto Guzzi boss De To­maso wanted chief de­signer Tonti to come up with a mid­dleweight model that would de­liver much needed sales and com­pete ad­mirably with the class-lead­ing Honda CX500 and Yamaha XS500 of the time. When launched at the 1976 Cologne Show the new V50 was an in­stant hit for Guzzi and soon es­tab­lished it­self as a niche model in a very com­pet­i­tive mar­ket.

Dur­ing the early days of V50 pro­duc­tion a se­ries of elec­tri­cal and me­chan­i­cal faults un­for­tu­nately cur­tailed sales. Then just as Guzzi had sorted out their pro­duc­tion prob­lems a global re­ces­sion hit the mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try. This un­fore­seen event, in com­bi­na­tion with the firm’s poor mar­ket­ing of its mid­dleweight mod­els, fur­ther sti­fled sales. Yet the lit­tle Guzzi en­dured – helped along by a loyal fol­low­ing, com­pet­i­tive pric­ing, com­pact size, clever de­sign and its ex­tremely low weight. A strik­ing re­sem­blance to their big­ger sib­lings was an­other con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the V50’s suc­cess, espe­cially when the mid­dleweight be­gan to claw back a rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity.

By the early 1980s an­other mid­dleweight model was in­tro­duced; the V65, which evolved into sports, trail and cus­tom vari­ants. The pop­u­lar V65 Lario soon earned press plau­dits as a very cred­i­ble sports bike, but never quite achieved the sta­tus of the leg­endary Le Mans.

Sadly, some of Guzzi’s mid­dleweight mod­els con­tin­ued to be spoiled by me­chan­i­cal prob­lems. A lack of ser­vic­ing – chiefly miss­ing reg­u­lar oil changes and tap­pet ad­just­ment – could lead to head gas­ket fail­ures and burnt-out ex­haust valves. Car­bu­ret­tors re­quired reg­u­lar balanc­ing to main­tain smooth run­ning and it was not un­known for the rear bevel drive to fail on higher mileage ma­chines. All tar­nished the mid­dleweight Guzzi’s rep­u­ta­tion.

For­tu­nately, Guzzi had nur­tured a long and prof­itable as­so­ci­a­tion with both po­lice and mil­i­tary ser­vices around the globe and Guzzi be­gan to de­velop mod­els specif­i­cally tar­geted at both groups. The fac­tory de­signed cheap, prac­ti­cal and ro­bust­lyengi­neered ma­chines by clev­erly adapt­ing and con­vert­ing sev­eral of their civil­ian mod­els into ex­cel­lent mil­i­tary ma­chines. By 1985 Guzzi had de­vel­oped a line-up of four dis­tinct ser­vice mod­els, all in­flu­enced by the com­pany’s civil­ian mo­tor­cy­cles – the ac­claimed V7, V1000, T3 and lat­terly the V50.

These civil­ian mod­els were trans­formed by the ad­di­tion of ac­cou­trements es­sen­tial to po­lice and mil­i­tary forces. They were then mar­keted as the 1000 Cal­i­for­nia Polizia and the 850 Cara­binieri, be­fore two V50 ma­chines fol­lowed – the 500 Polizia and the 500 NATO model.

Since 2008 Moto Guzzi have ex­ploited a global in­ter­est in retro-styled road­sters. They suc­cess­fully launched a range of new mid­dleweights that be­gan with the in­tro­duc­tion of the V7 Clas­sic and V7 Sport, both of which can be traced back to the ven­er­a­ble V50.

which are more com­plex (I have owned sev­eral box­ers).

‘Guzzi V-twin cylin­der heads are easy to ac­cess and tap­pet ad­just­ments are a dod­dle with the heads “hang­ing in the wind”. Points are also in a handy lo­ca­tion at the front of the en­gine; even the electrics are all con­ve­niently housed within the RHS tool­box. Lo­cat­ing and re­plac­ing a blown fuse for in­stance, couldn’t be sim­pler.

‘Mid­dleweight Guzzis also of­fer ex­cep­tional han­dling and you can stay in top gear and sim­ply ride the throt­tle all day long, cour­tesy of the en­gine’s torque. The softly-tuned en­gine is smooth but pow­er­ful enough to cope with A-road gal­lops (you can tell I own a horse), but back road can­ter­ing is re­ally the V50’s forte. I also like the fact that “a get you home” kick­start is lo­cated be­neath the left foot­peg, should the Bosch starter ever let you down.

‘This NATO model is an ac­com­plished tour­ing ma­chine with easy to re­move pan­niers – made from what I can only pre­sume is 4mm bron­tosaurus hide; tough as old boots, just like the bike. But should you be un­for­tu­nate enough to drop her, she’s easy to pick up, weigh­ing half as much as the av­er­age BMW.

‘The stan­dard sin­gle sad­dle, which makes room for an ab­sent NATO ra­dio at the rear, is plush and comfy on longer runs – again a boon to tour­ing. Also an up­side for me with fam­ily and friends spread all over the UK. I didn’t bother with a car li­cence un­til I had passed my half cen­tury, so mo­tor­cy­cling is my first choice mode of travel (af­ter a horse, of course!).

‘ The only down­side to V50 own­er­ship is per­haps the light­ing, which I am re­li­ably in­formed is im­proved by fit­ting mod­ern LED bulbs – I fully in­tend to in­ves­ti­gate this pos­si­bil­ity. But the up­side of this NATO model is the thick matt green paint­work that is splashed all over, so I never need to clean or pol­ish the brute… as I do tend to ride all year round.’

My proper in­tro­duc­tion to Cath’s lovely NATO V50 came when we headed into the green and pleas­ant (in this case the blue and pleas­ant) to take some pic­tures, so that you gen­tle geezers can ap­pre­ci­ate what a crack­ing lit­tle bike this Moto Guzzi re­ally is. My first im­pres­sion was how pur­pose­ful and mus­cu­lar the NATO V50 looked in the flesh, espe­cially when you re­call Guzzi’s svelte and sparkly show­room mid­dleweights.

The im­preg­nable mil­i­tary matt green paint­work and white iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sten­cilling

en­hances its ma­cho im­age. It looks like it should be in the com­pany of front line hard­ware such as tanks, ar­tillery and even bat­tle­ships – this NATO in­car­na­tion of Robo­cop cer­tainly ap­pears to be in­de­struc­tible. Its durable de­sign be­came more ev­i­dent when we re­moved the leather pan­niers to pho­to­graph the Guzzi’s shaft drive and ex­posed the sturdy and ov­erengi­neered pan­nier frames. I was cer­tainly hooked by its ap­pear­ance, but could the same be said of the ride?

When I swung my leg over the diminu­tive V50, its en­gine was al­ready warm, and on my first stab at the starter but­ton she fired up in­stantly, with a gently thrum­ming en­gine. There was no char­ac­ter­is­tic side shuffle as with larger ca­pac­ity Guzzis or BMWs. I can remember my sur­prise at how small the bike felt be­neath my thighs – much like a 250 it was very easy to ma­noeu­vre and push around for the photo shoot.

The en­gine re­sponds well to the (heavy) throt­tle and revs in­stantly with­out lag or vi­bra­tion, sug­gest­ing that Tom had in­deed set up the V50’s ig­ni­tion tim­ing and twin Dell’Orto car­bu­ret­tors per­fectly. The sin­gle plate clutch felt a bit grabby as I se­lected first gear and shuf­fled in the power, but both the throt­tle and clutch ac­tion im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing the road test, sig­ni­fy­ing that I just needed to be­come ac­cus­tomed to a bike that I had never had the plea­sure of rid­ing be­fore.

The gear­box is a one-down and four-up con­fig­u­ra­tion and it’s a bel­ter, of­fer­ing fluid gear changes with no false neu­trals. Ab­sent too are clunky gears that spoil some big­ger ca­pac­ity Guzzis and BMW box­ers. Sev­eral miles in, I be­gan to re­lax and ap­pre­ci­ate just how smooth, silent and well-en­gi­neered this mid­dleweight Guzzi re­ally is. The 490cc ohv pushrod en­gine with its Heron heads and Nikasil bores de­liv­ers 45bhp at 7500rpm and I soon be­came en­thralled with the V50’s punchy and revvy na­ture. Equally im­pres­sive is the quiet and smooth shaft drive.

Although there may be less power at your fin­ger­tips than when rid­ing a litre-class V-twin, the famed char­ac­ter­is­tic Guzzi growl and de­light­ful rolling surge is un­mis­tak­able in this mid­dleweight de­sign. In fact the ex­haust note is un­ob­tru­sive, but un­mis­tak­ably Guzzi

On the move, Cath’s well-bal­anced NATO ma­chine im­presses too. Tip­ping the scales at an anorexic 345lb (claimed) the han­dling is ex­tremely light and nim­ble. The slim tyres and low cen­tre of grav­ity also add to the lit­tle Guzzi’s re­spon­sive steer­ing. Of­ten crit­i­cised as the V50’s Achilles heel, I found the skinny 32mm front forks to be per­fectly damped. They paired up well with the qual­ity rear shocks and Tonti’s taut frame to pro­duce a sure­footed ride over any road sur­face we en­coun­tered. Even a se­ries of deep pot­holes we clat­tered over did not de­flect the lit­tle Guzzi from its course, or from mak­ing steady progress. In my opin­ion this NATO V50’s road man­ners are noth­ing short of re­mark­able.

The han­dle­bars, con­trols and seat po­si­tion were per­fect for my five-ten frame and 29” pins. The com­fort pro­vided by the thickly-padded, if tat­tered, sin­gle seat is mile-crunch­ing mag­nif­i­cent. Cath, at fivesix and 32” in­side leg, rates V50 com­fort as ex­em­plary too. So we can as­sume Guzzi got the er­gonomics right first time for beast or

beauty – which is much as one would ex­pect from a mil­i­tary bike de­signed for polic­ing du­ties in a trou­bled world.

An­other Guzzi plus is the linked front (left) and rear Brembo discs, op­er­ated by the foot pedal. The front brake lever op­er­ates the re­main­ing (right) front disc, which when used to­gether, ef­fort­lessly dump ex­ces­sive speed. Top speed hov­ers around the magic ton, but cruis­ing speeds of be­tween 60-70mph are this lit­tle Guzzi’s forte. Thank­ful for my joy ride, I was left with a very pos­i­tive im­pres­sion of Guzzi’s NATO V50 and it cer­tainly lived up to any hype. It is solid, han­dles beau­ti­fully and is en­dowed with Guzzi char­ac­ter. So much so that I now un­der­stand Cath’s al­le­giance to both the badge, the breed and this par­tic­u­lar bike.

Rid­ing an all-weather bike fin­ished in mil­i­tary matt paint means you don’t need to clean it much, right? Ob­serve the re­serve kick­start lever hid­ing be­neath the footrest, too

There surely must be a ‘mil­i­tary mite’ joke here? NATO’s ar­se­nal has in­cluded a lot of mo­tor­cy­cles, in­clud­ing Guzzi’s finest

Re­mov­ing the bags re­veals the fa­mil­iar V50. It also re­veals some se­ri­ously ro­bust mounts for the lug­gage

If you go down to the woods to­day, you’re in for a small sur­prise…

Sus­pend­ing and stop­ping the V50 pose no prob­lems

This has al­ways been one of the best Ital­ian mid­dleweight en­gines. Paint­ing it green fails to dis­guise this

Wide han­dle­bars, trad light­ing … and a neat shade for the in­stru­ments, too. The mil­i­tary mind con­sid­ers ev­ery­thing

Ready for any­thing!

Mys­te­ri­ous mil­i­tary mark­ings…

Mil­i­tary ma­chines like matt black si­lencers in­stead of re­flec­tive chrome. In this case the chrome is still there … be­neath the matt paint

Ev­ery­thing the mil­i­tary pi­lot needs to know is here

The clocks are fa­mil­iar, and in­clude an mph speedo. How­ever, the con­sole for the ig­ni­tion and light­ing switches is un­usual

Mil­i­tary men (and women) get a dinky panel for the switches: the in­di­ca­tor / horn switch is espe­cially won­der­ful. Those keys show a long and dis­tin­guished ca­reer, too

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