Moto Guzzi 100th Anniversary Tribute

I Wanted a Le Mans

Like many of you, it’s easy to remember the exact moment I became a Guzzisti. It was late 1980 at Scottsdale dealer Motorcycle City. Just beyond the entrance, floor lamps illuminated a CX-100 Le Mans, majestically perched on a black carpeted riser. That magical moment forever changed the way I viewed motorcycles, but it went deeper. In the Le Mans I sensed a deeper involvement…my invitation into a better future. Owning a Guzzi for a few years already, nothing I had seen before (or since) stopped me like that. Aggressively raked and raised to eye level, the early shade of Le Mans red mixed with layers of flat black, silver, and flashy day-glow around the headlamp. It would have been a smashing photo, yet the image remains vivid. Had I known then what’s known now, I’d want it even more. Predictably, more than one CX-100 followed, but the point is I wanted a Le Mans – and because of Moto Guzzi’s rangy sports bike, a lifelong appreciation for Mandello’s motorbikes began.

This one published just before 2022, I’ve read plenty of historical memoirs and salutations regarding Guzzi’s centennial from people all around the world. Some focus on Guzzi unique innovations or its surprising longevity, while others recognize the amazing bond between owners. This is a point of pride among The Riders, some now gone, but honored by the code of hospitality. For sure, canceling the celebration in Mandello was a buzzkill, but it didn’t stop anyone from recalling Guzzi’s many milestones. Enthusiasm remains high, and why shouldn’t it? 100-years of production in a monumental feat. For this tribute, I’ve decided against following timelines or re-scripting Guzzi’s production sequence. Instead, consider this writing a supplement to anyone who appreciates the journey of Moto Guzzi ownership. As with anything of this vintage there’s a lot to know, but spending last four decades learning from a trusted group of advisors reveals Mandello’s best secrets are discovered off script.

(Moto Guzzi’s Eldorado 850 advert from the Berliner Group, circa 1972. A favorite of American riders, the new 844cc loop frame was largely hand built)

Introduced to the brand by my father Leo and family friend Jess Collinsworth, I was much younger when dad’s 74-ci Harley Knuckle and brother Nick’s (/2 clone) Marusho 500 were around. Remembering that fondly, some good conversations were shared when pop explained the advantages of the opposed engine. Knowing nothing of Guzzi, it all changed in my senior year when dad showed up on a white Ambassador 750. Striking a deal with Jess for a less nice V700 soon after, intrigue led to a /5 and after the BMW, a twin cam 750F. Two weeks after taking the black SS home, one try on Nick’s new SP1000 explained why it was double the Honda’s price.

Flat-footed at rest, the SP’s low chassis and superbike ergos are just two of its many attributes. Essentially a T3 fit with the 949cc touring engine and some Le Mans parts, its full coverage fairing was drawn by Lino Tonti in the factory wind tunnel. Earning top marks in its class. side-winds that push a BMW RS around don’t faze the Spada, which is a more robust machine. Sounds better too, but regardless, both BMW and Guzzi exist in parallel and almost always have. Few vintage machines rival either on modern roads. Being easier to move leads one to believe the SP is lighter than BMW’s range leader, and it probably is. Just a little. Following a time honored, trusted path, Nick fit timing gears, a lighter exhaust, revised intakes, PHF carbs, and more. Wanting to see other Guzzis after riding the SP is why I visited Motorcycle City that fateful day. There’s lots of SP1000 in the CX-100, and that’s a very good thing.  

By the mid-1980s, every bit of reading I could find on Moto Guzzi was purchased and devoured. Mick Walker gave Guzzi lots of ink, and so did the MGNOC newsletter published by Frank Wedge. Every month, news and information about Guzzi (USA or otherwise) landed in the mailbox, including dates for organized meets. Visiting with friendly owners in the rally atmosphere and wrenching on them in the shop, my knowledge of Guzzi practice increased. Interest in one model naturally inspired what came before, or after, and so it went. Watching my collection of Guzzi photos and writings grow, a timeline emerged. Carlo Guzzi’s early 20s start up contains several miracles in itself, the pre/post war era, Giulio Cesare Carcano’s cutting edge GP technology, engineer Umberto Todero’s enduring work, and so many more. It’s important to remember the wheels went fully off in 1966, not long after founder Carlo’s passing. SEIMM, the state approved board charged with breathing new life into Guzzi drafted car builder Alejandro De Tomaso to push the company forward and he did, but not without Ing. Lino Tonti providing the hardware.

It was at one of those rallies that I met Bill Ross, who as a brother and colleague, went on to share with me anything and everything he possibly could about the Moto Guzzi brand. Investing heavily in the entire spectrum, singles to modern, Bill’s SCTA Land Speed records aboard the 1000 Le Mans SE powered Mandello Meteor are included with the company’s other competitive successes. Built from a rough looking runner, my first ride on Bill’s Falcone 500 Sport was educational and entertaining. Correctly orchestrating the horizontal single’s manual timing and gearbox reveals its friendly nature and spirited gallop – plus a shocking amount of at-speed composure. Dependably ridden all over the world and raced for championships, Guzzi singles of all types are known as reliable workhorses that thrive in extreme conditions. Back at the old house on Henry street, credit some sort of mystic, mechanical DNA that made the cooling Falcone smell exactly like the 30-year newer Le Mans I rode in on.

(A company staple, Guzzi’s horozonital single benefitted from decades of development. Ross’s Falcone shows a few owner preferances from stock)   

This year, 2021 Real Classic magazine in the UK published my two-part series covering the 850 and 1000cc tourers, circa 1974-to-1993. Promising Frank and Rowena some news, factory docs and model specs were sent by Joe Caruso, Dutch journalist Ivar De Gier, Bill, Seth Dorfler from Berliner, Alex Woodbury and more. Mixed with what I had the writing proved a real challenge. For the longest I cared little about Tonti’s tourers, but many old questions were answered by this project. Unsure where Guzzi stands with municipal sales now, these national and international contracts were once critical at the house in Mandello. Delivering a durable, safe motorcycle, the design of Guzzi’s pre/post-war ‘Polizia’ singles and twins dictated what retail owners could and would purchase. Except for the Le Mans, that is. Some, like the 850T5 were made for years after the published end date, and that begs a question; Do the common production numbers total everything from Guzzi made, or just machines sold to the public? My hunch says Moto Guzzi built far more bikes than we’ve been led to believe. And they were very good at it.

(From brotherman Bill Ross, Tonti’s Tourers: V1000 G5 five-speed and Convert two-speed auto align left and center. Guzzi’s iconic 850T3 flanked right. Many enthusiasts rank the T3 as Guzzi’s best overall effort, and we won’t argue it. All handle and stop using Todero’s patented Integral Braking System)

Near the factory in Mandello is the Moto Guzzi dealership founded by former Works riding champion Duilio Agostini. Now under new ownership, daughter and company director Alis Agostini stepped away a short time back, but her work as an artist and historian continues. Worthy of her own story as a thriving owner in an industry dominated by men, all I learned about Duilio e la concessionaria Agostini came from Alis. For detailed info please visit the three-part Agostini V1000 Le Mans series, but credit Alis for documenting her father’s vast and important contributions to the Guzzi community. I ordered Le Mans parts from Alis over the phone in the 90s (her English having a British accent) and was sorry to miss her when there, but perhaps it’s for the best. More than one visiting American returned home lovesick after meeting Mandello’s leading lady, but the Agostini’s are a proud, beautiful family. Many of the aftermarket businesses established (or inspired) by Duilio and Co exist still today, and that proves a point. One must acknowledge that historic factory, but it isn’t the only reason Moto Guzzi’s heart lives in Mandello.

“Near the factory in Mandello is the Moto Guzzi dealership founded by former Works riding champion Duilio Agostini. Many of the aftermarket businesses established (or inspired) by Duilio and Co. exist still today, and that proves a point. One must acknowledge that historic factory by the lake, but it isn’t the only reason Moto Guzzi’s heart lives in Mandello”

preEven before Duilio was spinning out 1000cc hot rods, Lino Tonti and crew were building 850cc V7 Sports works bikes in the racing department. Commissioned by Guzzi to hand picked Italian and French riders, these rare endurance-tuned prototypes from 1971-1972 continue as the focus of a long time study. Bill Ross and Joe Caruso are both involved in exacting projects, while Alex and I have collected nice pieces for a ‘Bol d’Or’ tribute of our own. Often overlooked is the rare glimpse into Guzzi (or perhaps Tonti’s) practice – earning press exposure and gathering important research passed down to the production bikes. Excitingly, two authentic racers have recently surfaced, one being purchased by enthusiast Tom Hetrick at Mecum’s in Las Vegas. Beyond Italy, Ing.  Jan Kampen in Holland and French tuner Charles Krajka steamed ahead after DeTomaso closed the race shop in 1972. Highlighted by the legendary exploits of tuner/builder Bruno Scola, as the 70s progressed Guzzi’s 1000cc automatic gave many owners the 88mm bore they wanted. Importers everywhere offered a high-performance special, and in 1976 Guzzi themselves sold a full on Production Racing (PR) kit for fitment on the Le Mans – the bike that bailed De Tomaso from a string of sales failures.

(Now in street garb and having some replacement parts, Hetrick’s green V7 Sport was built in the factory race shop then sent to the Tacchi/Phillips team for the 1972 Mosport endurance series in Canada. Jack Findlay (B&W) Imola 200, also in 1972. All lead to the game changing Le Mans 850) 

As these words appear on the screen, I fear something important has been missed. But if there’s one benefit to publishing online, it’s the ability to edit, correct or add something later. That being said, my favorites are the bikes from the DeTomaso era – including the 1100cc Sport from Guzzi’s championship dentist Dr. John Wittner. Thanks to Greg Field for the best Guzzi book ever written, and to all who encourage and help the Guzzi community in meaningful ways. Most agree that Guzzi people are the best part, and count me among this majority as we welcome in a new generation of riders and owners. Here’s predicting the new liquid-cooled V100 Mandello draws in some new blood, but if not, there are other modern Mandello’s to consider. More power and respect to those who recognize the evergreen nature of the classic v-twin. Viva Guzzi! 

(V100 Mandello uses a new, liquid-cooled v-twin and other moderninazations. Image: Sent to the US for 2008, the 2v 1200 Sport is another brilliant Moto Guzzi flying under the radar. Injected 1100 Sport shared its bodywork with the 4v Daytona 1000 in 2007. Design looks fresh still today) 

Thinking back on that day in Motorcycle City so long ago, Alex and I celebrated Guzzi’s 100th on a pair of CX100s last summer. Taking a few days to rally with the group in New Mexico, nothing feels more right than a packed Le Mans pointed towards the distant mountain range. Up to the task and designed to endure, Guzzi ownership is simple, effective therapy. For sure, my studies will continue on those early singles, GP heroes, the early twins and later wonders, but I wanted a Le Mans. Luckily for me, that attraction led to a path displaying a century of sometimes zany, oftentimes brilliant accomplishments. Happy 100th birthday Moto Guzzi! Like the motorcycles you produce, there was little doubt you’d make it. Nolan Woodbury

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