Laverda 1000 3C
Laverda 1000 3C
Air cooled, four stroke, transverse three cylinder, DOHC,
2 valve per cylinder.
Bore x Stroke
75 x 74 mm
3x 32mm Dell'Orto PHF carbs.
80 hp 58.3 kW @ 7250 rpm
86 Nm @ 5000 rpm
5 Speed / chain
So now you're thinking, "Wow! Clever Massimo
Laverda should be able to sell thousands of the things." Indeed he should, but
probably he won't. You see, the Laverda has a fatal flaw, which is its price.
There's no firm figure, but the United States importers say it will be about
$3000 and that's a cool thousand too much. Considered strictly on merit, the
Laverda is a semi-rational alternative to Kawasaki's 903cc, four-cylinder Z-1:
close for speed, not nearly as refined or smooth but better-handling. If you
stop comparing right there you'd be faced with a hard choice. That extra grand
just about eliminates the Laverda from consideration for all but Italiaphilic
high-rollers, which is a pity because in most respects the triple is an
extraordinarily good motorcycle.
Traditionally Italian engineering has had a
tendency to founder in a sticky passion for symmetry.. There have been many
instances of engines designed as mirror images along both vertical planes, with
cam drives originating right from the middle of the crankshaft and absolutely
identical valves and ports on both the intake and exhaust sides of the head. All
this in an emotional defiance of logic's stern laws. There was no reason for us
to assume that Laverda would have avoided that trap with the 1000cc triple, or
to have been innovative in any way. The only other Laverda we'd seen was the 750
twin, which visually is a photostatic enlargement of the old Honda CB-77. So we
weren't expecting much more excitement from the triple than would be provided by
sheer displacement (a factor not to be ignored: 61 cubic inches just won't take
no for an answer even if its container isn't so brilliantly contrived).
In fact, Laverda's three-cylinder engine proves
to be quite an imaginative piece of work. It contains, for example, a really
elegant solution to the severe rocking vibration present in other inline
triples. In the others the crankpins are disposed at 120 degrees, which gives
reasonably evenly spaced power impulses but a tendency to teeter-totter along
its longitudinal axis. In the Laverda triple, when the number-one crankpin is a
TDC, number-two is down at BDC and number-three is up at TDC. In other words
it's like a British vertical twin, with an extra cylinder inserted in the middle
and working 180 degrees out of phase. In this arrangement the unbalanced forces
are of a magnitude approximately equal to those in a 333cc single, but are
reacting into such a large mass that relatively little shaking is transmitted
into the Laverda's frame. Except at low engine speeds when it feels and sounds
like a four with a fouled plug.
The Laverda's ignition system is as offbeat as
its firing order, and makes the same surprising kind of sense. Hidden away under
the tank you'll find three coils, as expected, but they're wired together in a
way that makes you almost believe half the laws of electricity have been
repealed. These wires disappear into a pair of multiblade connectors and
reappear down at an even more mystifying device on the righthand end of the
crankshaft. Lacking the special puller needed to remove the magnetized flywheel
shrouding the coils, we could only glimpse through holes in the flywheel's hub.
It was impossible to trace all the circuitry and the owner's manual (in Italian)
wasn't much help. But from what we could see the Laverda's Bosch ignition system
basically is an energy transfer magneto, but with magnetic triggering instead of
mechanical points. Being crank-speed driven, it delivers a waste spark at the
end of each exhaust stroke.
However this Bosch ignition works, it does
deliver a magnificent spark and should need attention only infrequently. Still,
it does have one shortcoming: its ability to produce sparks is in no way
controlled by the key—only by a kill-button on the handlebar. The key itself
activates the main electrical system when it's pushed in, making it possible to
push-button start the engine, and twisting the key turns on the lights. That's
all. You can push the Laverda and start it anytime, with or without a key—a
distressing state of affairs for a hyper-expensive motorcycle in a world filled
with rip-off artists. The Laverda owner's only protection against outlaw
expropriations is a brass fork lock that seems fated to snap if unknown parties
trouble themselves to pull hard at the handlebars.
No amount of hauling at the handlebars is going
to bend or even flex the Laverda's frame. This frame is fairly conventional with
respect to layout, consisting of twin cradle tubes sweeping from the steering
head, under the engine, and back up to the rear shock mountings, with a large
backbone tube over the engine and smaller miscellaneous tubes bracing some of
the corners. What you don't see, just looking at the bike, is that the backbone
tube is almost two inches in diameter, and all the tubing is of waterpipe gauge.
There are a couple of exposed tube ends where it is possible to measure wall
thickness, and at those points it is .120-inch. Given enough sheer iron, a frame
doesn't need to be brilliantly designed to provide the rigidity required for
good handling, as is precisely the case with the Laverda, and was true of the
revered Manx Norton. There's enough iron in the Laverda's frame to provide
material for a railroad bridge across the Tiber, and it doesn't flex.
Attached to this very solid structure is a set of
genuine, racing Ceriani forks and touring (but effective) Ceriani shocks. And
you'll discover almost instantly in riding the Laverda that spring rates,
suspension damping and steering geometry all are aimed dead-center at fast
mountain road cruising. At low speeds the ride is quite stiff, almost jolting,
and the steering is decidedly heavy. You could learn to dislike the Laverda 1000
if you were forced to ride it around town very long.
Where the Laverda really lives is up in the
hills, on swoopy roads. There the tall first gear becomes a convenience (it
leads to a lot of clutch feathering in slow traffic) for hairpin turns, and the
even staging of the other four ratios gives you a gear for every situation. Not
that there is any need to pedal the Laverda around with the gear lever. Its
engine has a lot of displacement, and makes excellent use of what it has,
producing thunderous horsepower over a broad range and without a trace of
temperament. Add to that the bike's good balance, which keeps it from trying to
wheelie over backWards, and you've got an absolute rocketship for attacking
There's a possibility that the Laverda 1000 will
be getting a disc brake to replace the present twin leading shoe drum brake.
We're not sure that's necessary. The bike's drums are 230mm (slightly over 9
inches) in diameter, massive alloy castings with iron liners, and have cast-in
ventilation passages to hold things down to a working temperature even after
repeated hard applications.
Front and rear, the brake drums and wheels are
identical, with different backing plates and covers to adapt them to their
respective tasks. Laverda has, in this way, shown great cleverness in minimizing
tooling costs, and we can admire that. Even so, the really admirable aspect of
the bike's brakes is that they work extremely well. A finer touch is needed to
hold the front brake just short of lockup than for most disc brakes, but it's
nothing the average rider can't handle, and if there's any danger it will be
from behind: only a very few cars, or motorcycles, will stop as quickly as the
Some of the Laverda's stopping capability should
be credited to its Dunlop tires. These are 4.10 x 18 K81s, and they're the
nearest thing to outright road racing tires we've seen. They may not be good for
a jillion miles of Interstate cruising, like some of these hockey puck tires you
can buy for $9.95 and a fistful of boxtops (we think maybe the rubber is too
soft to be longlasting) but while they last they get a grip on the road like
nothing else in the sport.
The Dunlop tires also help make the Laverda a joy
to flog around corners. They stick, and the chassis doesn't wiggle, so you can
just go at it in a frenzy. The absolute test of handling is a very fast but
decreasing radius esse-bend, which forces you to wrestle the bike from left to
right while braking, or at least on trailing throttle. A lot of the other
Superbikes become distinctly and unpleasantly unsuper in such modes, with their
frames magically transformed from steel to rubber. The Laverda, by contrast,
remains rock solid, and lets you press your luck pretty far before visions of
gauze, plaster and liniment begin to dance in your head.
It's a lot more fun to ride the Laverda fast than
sensibly. The bike's long tank, rear-set seat and footpegs and flat bars insist
that it be ridden in a kind of modified road racer's crouch. At brisk (that is
to say illegal) speeds the wind pushing at your torso takes the load off your
arms, but riding around town you'll start feeling a little like a man caught
halfway through a pushup.
Our test bike wasn't much good as a
night-fighter, except for someone whose favorite tactic is sneaking up behind
other vehicles. Despite having a Bosch electrical system and the biggest battery
ever seen on anything this side of a police motorcycle, the Laverda's headlight
pumped out only scarcely more lumens than you'd need to read your watch. It
wasn't nearly bright enough to make anyone comfortable about any great rate of
speed, even considering the effectiveness of the bike's brakes. Probably this
shortage of illumination was due to some kind of live-voltage problem peculiar
to this single motorcycle, as Bosch electrics enjoy a well-deserved reputation
for quality and performance. But we're not sure. If a fully charged battery
would have brought the headlight up to standard, a similar strengthening of the
sound output from the horns would have made them absolutely dangerous. The
Laverda has two Voxbell horns, and they put out enough noise to give a truck
No provision has been made for any kind of kick
starter on the Laverda, and that's just fine. We are inclined to think that the
prevalence of kick starters on electric-start motorcycles is more a nod to
conservatism than logic, because if a bike's battery is too flat for the
electric starter to work, its ignition usually will be weak enough to require
pushing anyway. We think the kick pedal on motorcycles will go the way of cranks
for automobiles. Certainly the Laverda's 27 amp-hour battery will have to be at
death's door before you'll have to worry about alternative methods of starting.
If appearance counts for anything, the Laverda's
clutch isn't ever going to give anyone trouble. It has more diameter, more
plates and stronger springs than just about any we've seen, and although it was
brutalized by various of our test riders, it never slipped (unless the rider was
doing a showy "Manx Norton" burnout and feathering the lever) and never needed
adjustment. With all this it also is a very light (in pounds) clutch, being
built inside an alloy outer housing and with thin, light plates—which by the
way, make their engagement with the hub and housing through many small V-teeth,
instead of the usual coarse dogs. The arrangement is familiar to anyone who has
ever seen the clutches inside an automatic transmission, where it is used
because it is simply more durable than any other.
Clutch action never is exactly light on big
displacement motorcycles (except the H-D big twins), and the Laverda hasn't
broken with the tradition. Its clutch lever requires a fine, manly grip, (one
that would impress everyone at the Yale Club), and after a day of riding the
switchbacks and fanning the lever you're well on your way to having a left arm
like a young Charley Atlas.
Have no fear that your right arm will be allowed
to languish unexercised. You can count on the brake lever for some muscle
toning, but it will be the throttle that really keeps the old tendons taut.
The Laverda has three 32mm Dell'Orto carburetors,
and the return springs inside these make it clear that Dell'Orto, as a company,
fears stuck throttle slides worse than Satan fears the True Cross. The throttle
return springs are that strong, and trying to blip the engine for
downshifts—squeezing the brake lever and rolling the throttle with the heel of
your hand—would be hopeless, instead of merely difficult, but for the Dell'Orto
carburetors' other outstanding feature. Each has an accelerator pump, and the
engine gets a shot of fuel that really brings it snapping to attention even if
the throttle is just sort of fumbled open. We had despaired of any other country
creating a carburetor equal to Japan's Mikuni and Keihin. Indications are, that
in this new carburetor, Italy may have done it.
Our suggestions for improving the Laverda have
mostly to do with subtleties: one thing we'd like to see is a sidestand, as it's
a pain in the neck (and back, and arms) to have to heave the weighty rascal up
on its centerstand every time you want to walk away from it for a minute. But we
don't want a sidestand if the thing is going to drag when the Laverda's cranked
over into a corner. Cornering is something the bike does better than any of its
competition, and who wants to diminish that capability just to make parking
easier? Better they should fiddle with the centerstand to make it retract a tad
higher, as it now graunches when the bike is heeled over unless the rear spring
setting is up at full-preload.
Similarly we're not sure Laverda should alter the
handlebars, tank and seat position to make the bike more comfortable around town
if doing so will compromise its high speed cruising. But if the seat is going to
stay where it is, the footpegs should be repositioned another couple of inches
aft. Then it would feel even more like the closet road racer it is.
It seems tragic to us that the Laverda 1000
should be doomed by circumstance to relative obscurity in the United States
marketplace. It is, despite a few small and easily corrected flaws, a
tremendously fine motorcycle. The three-cylinder engine isn't as smooth as a
good four, but it's narrower and with all that displacement and twin overhead
camshafts, it isn't giving away anything in horsepower. Handling? Most of the
others aren't in the same league. Few people will ever be enthralled with the
Laverda's fiberglass tank and stainless steel fenders, not to mention a lot of
unpolished, sand-cast aluminum, but the primary quality is excellent. There's
nothing basically shoddy anywhere.
The same qualifications would absolutely
guarantee success for any major manufacturer's product, but they're not going to
do much for the Laverda. As it happens, Massimo Laverda's main business is
making farm equipment; motorcycles are just a sideline. So the Laverda factory
hasn't the production capacity to turn out many of these Superbikes, and because
it can make only relatively few, a lot of unhappy consequences follow. Tooling
costs, such as they are, work out to be a lot of dollars per unit produced,
which raises the cost. And knowing that few motorcycles are to be built, Laverda
must take a healthy profit on each or the whole thing isn't worth the
investment. Distributors and importers inevitably come to the same conclusion,
which prices an already expensive motorcycle even higher. After the dealer does
the same the price is enough to bring tears. In the Laverda's case the situation
is made even more dismal by the fact that the United States importer-presumptive
doesn't think it has a chance, and the people angling to get their hands on the
US franchise think its prospects of selling more than mere dozens are slender
and its future almost non-existent.
So why doesn't Laverda (among other Italian
manufacturers) just tool up to build thousands and thousands of 1000cc triples?
The answer is that things just don't work that way in Italy. There is no
overriding concern for marketplaces, and there are no legions of marketing
experts scurrying around the world's motorcycle markets trying to determine if
room exists for a half-million projected new units. Italians are not Japanese
and not Americans. In Italy, business is not life; life is life. Building
specific products for specific markets is a concept which, though not alien to
Italians, is an uncomfortable one. Italians build products which they like—then
they go about finding customers.
To the Anglo-Saxon mind, all of this "we build
'em the way we love 'em" stuff signals a grand indifference toward things which
Americans hold dear: numbers, prices, profits and the American market. That's
why Ferraris have ripply body panels, and why Laverdas cost $3000.
The next question: is the Laverda worth $3000?
The answer is no—if you use a 903cc Kawasaki as the standard of measure. The Z-1
is the obvious, unavoidable comparison. For someone who has three grand to drop
on a motorcycle, the comparison probably isn't important. For example, a Datsun
240Z as a machine may do the same things that a Mercedes-Benz 450SL will do.
Except for one big consideration. The fellow who buys a 450SL probably wouldn't
own a Z-car on a bet. Which is to say: mechanical things may have the same
capabilities, but they can still be in different leagues.
But a healthy price should mean no rough edges in
detailing. And like other Italian machines, the Laverda's quality in the paint
department, the fiberglass work, and other small details remain behind the times
and below the price tag.
We might mention how the first Laverda 1000 in
North America fell into our hands. Tom Lester in Bedford Heights, Ohio is an
automobile and motorcycle enthusiast of enormous passion. A clue about his
enthusiasm: one of his businesses is the Lester Tire Company which builds tires
for classic cars.
A second clue: Lester bought the 1000 sight
unseen, out of Canada, on the strength of Laverda's reputation. He asked us if
we wanted to test the machine. And you know what our reply was.
So there the 1000 stands, cramped in Italy by its
manufacturer's reluctance to produce it and its brothers in volume, and doomed
in the United States by its high price and a lack of enthusiasm on the part of
its importer. If Massimo Laverda decided to bite the financial bullet by
committing himself to volume production, and if the US importer, whoever it
turns out to be, pushed a little for the brilliant 1000, then in all likelihood
the bike could be sold in quantity for maybe $2300, making a huge number on both
sides of the price tag ecstatic.
Then American enthusiasts could have the best of
two worlds: a fresh Old World version of the Superbike concept with a
made-in-the-Orient price sticker.
But it's a good bet that it'll never happen. What
a damnable shame.
Source Cycle 1973