With my chin on the fuel tank, the throttle wide open, and the little
V-twin motor clattering away between my shins, the red-and-black Morini
accelerated until its speedometer needle was almost touching the 100 mph (160
km/h) mark. The roundabout ahead got closer and closer... until finally I sat up
and squeezed the brake lever, the bike slowed, and I trod down four gears with
loud blips of the throttle before flicking the bike onto its side.
Cranking through the roundabout at an angle that would have had many old
bikes gouging lumps out of the road, the Sport was untroubled. Its Pirellis
stuck hard, nothing touched down, the suspension remained in control. And when
the roundabout's exit appeared, I flicked the bars and nailed the throttle again
to send the bike shooting out, revs climbing toward the 8000 RPM red-line as I
kept the motor boiling with the closely spaced gearbox.
Few Seventies bikes are as fun to ride as the Moto Morini 3 3 Sport.
The little V-twin's combination of neat styling, agile handling, and rev-happy
performance give much more appeal than its capacity of just 344cc would suggest.
In its day the Morini's high price on a par with Honda's CB500-four and Suzuki's
GT750 triple—prevented real sales success, but it made a big impression on all
who rode it.
Like Ducati, Moto Morini was based in Bologna and became best known for
V-twins after first producing small-capacity singles. Alfonso Morini had begun
building bikes under the MM name in the 1920s, in partnership with Mario
Mezzetti, and rode one himself to a class win in the 1927 Italian Grand Prix at
Monza. After setting up under his own name following World War II, Morini built
roadsters and successful racers, most notably the DOHC 250 on which Tarquinio
Provini was runner-up in the 1963 world championship.
The 3; Sport was launched in 1974, and was one of two models powered by the
air-cooled, 72-degree pushrod V-twin engine designed by Franco Lambertini. The
basic 344cc model was the 3i Strada, which had slightly raised bars, rounded
styling, and a conventional dual-seat. Unusually, the engine featured Heron
cylinder heads—flat-bottomed, with the combustion chamber in the concave piston
crowns, and parallel valves.
Peak power output was a respectable 39 BHP at 8200 RPM, and the engine was
very fuel efficient. Morini claimed the same output at a slightly higher 8500
RPM from the 31 Sport, whose motor was identical apart from a hotter camshaft
and different pistons that increased compression ratio to 11:1 from the Strada's
10:1. Other engine features shared by both models included electronic ignition,
belt-driven camshaft, six-speed gearbox, plus a light and rigid chassis based
around a steel twin-downtube frame.
The more glamorous Sport's fuel tank was more angular than the Strada's, and
like the side panels, was finished in red and black. Low clip-on handlebars and
a racy humped seat gave a lean, aggressive look, which on early Sports was
further enhanced by a huge, double-sided front drum brake. Early Stradas made do
with a more modest single drum; this 1976-model Sport was fitted with the
Grimeca front disc that was introduced to both models at around that time.
After locating the ignition key down by your left thigh, you flick up the
choke levers of the 25 mm Dell'Orto carbs and swing the left-sided kick-starter
to bring the little motor to life with a restrained bark. The Sport's riding
position puts too much weight on your wrists and bum, and explains why many
early Sports were fitted with rear-sets. But the bike feels low, slim, and
The V-twin doesn't much like low revs, vibrating slightly and spluttering
when the throttle is wound back at 4000 RPM. But at about 5000 RPM the Sport
comes alive, feeling better the faster it spins. The real power is between six
grand and the 8500 RPM peak. Keep the V-twin spinning using the six-speed
gearbox, and the Sport will maintain a fairly smooth 80 mph (130 km/h),
stretching its legs from there toward a top speed of about 100 mph (160 km/h).
The need for frequent gearchanging made it important that the six-speed box
worked well, which it did at speed. Things weren't so clever at a standstill,
when the Morini's curious lack of a neutral light sometimes meant I discovered a
neutral between second and third then stalled when I tried to pull away in
But such minor complaints are quickly forgotten when the sun's shining and
you find a good winding road. This is a small, light bike whose 1390 mm (54.7
in) wheelbase and dry weight of less than 150 kg (330 lb) compare favorably with
most modern sport machines even if its old-fashioned steering geometry and
18-inch front wheel reveal its age. Stability was excellent, and the
sharp-steering, well-suspended Morini went round corners effortlessly.
Other cycle parts were excellent, too. The single 290 mm (11.4 in) Grimeca
front disc brake felt slightly spongy by modern standards, but it was capable of
hauling the little Morini to a halt very sharply, aided by a small rear drum.
And the Pirellis gripped well enough to make good use of the narrow Sport's
Of course the revvy Sport is a single-minded little machine offering a low
level of comfort or practicality. In a straight line it was not particularly
fast even in the mid-Seventies, and that is even more true now. But the Morini's
blend of style and twisty-road performance surely qualify it for superbike
status. On the right road, the V-twin is a blast, its revvy engine, excellent
chassis, and reputation for reliability encouraging you to ignore its age and
ride it hard.
That makes the Morini a desirable little bike all these years later, as does
the fact that the Sport is now much more affordable than when new. Morini owners
tend to be real enthusiasts who stick with the marque for many years. When you
ride a 3i Sport, it's easy to see why.