Released at the onset of Japan’s superbike cavalcade of 1978, Laverda’s three-cylinder 1200 emerged tied for size with the Harley Davidson seventy four – motorcycling’s long standing king of displacement. Gaining instant exclusivity by treading into this once hallowed ground, Laverda touted its new roadster as a long-legged traveler…a must for those seeking the ultimate in thrust and sports handling. In this role the 1200 was a success, if not a top superbike contender. Properly tuned, the 1200 is a keen match for anything. Given Laverda’s revised ‘120-degree’ engines arrived for 1983, it is fair to assume 1200 production halted soon before. Main export destinations were Britain, Germany, Australia and the USA.
Falling under the big triple’s spell, it was that Bregenze howl that attracted a young Neale Bayly, who skipped meals and ran odd jobs until enough was gathered to bring his 1200 Mirage home. Now a noted journalist/philanthropist, Bayly is digging up the bones of his long lost Lav and delivering parts to his favorite builders. Thus ‘Project Laverda’ was born and with it, this historical look at the 1200’s model variations. As Neale is discovering there’s a solid number of professional facilities dedicated to the Laverda brand, and the ones listed at the bottom here are highly regarded by my sources. Complied and arranged chronologically by the author, deep thanks and admiration go to Roger and Richard Slater for photos and history. Credit is also extended to UK restorer Grant Duguid for photos, info and keen insight on mixing a 40-year old triple with motorcycling’s 2020 aftermarket.
Laverda 1200T (1977)
Based on a lineage beginning with the 981cc 3C, the 1200 arrived at Slaters UK warehouse late 1977. As did the Jota, the 1200 borrows much from the cast-wheel 3CL, with this largest version bored 5mm (to 1116cc). Horizontally split with individual crankcase, cylinders and head, the wet sump three is tall and wide in spots – mainly on the right where the alternator/ignition lives. Not uncommon then, tall, open frames (like Guzzi’s V7) were engineered to allow service or outright rebuilding without removal, but ample bracing and quality materials insure the 1200 suffers no penalty for its size. Nearly qualifying as a pre-production machine, the earliest 1200 left the factory equipped with Ceriani 38mm fork and (some using) Corte-Cosse shocks. These attach the 1200’s cross-braced, needle bearing-pivot swingarm. That quality extends to include top line Brembo brakes, but Laverda themselves knocked out the most beautiful cast wheels ever fit to a motorcycle. Without the badges it would be hard to tell one Lav from another, but not from the saddle. Late into the 70s, Laverda’s 1200 was among the most sought after motorcycles on the market.
Spinning inside that aluminum case is Laverda’s most famous component; the 180-throw crankshaft. Pressed up and riding on rollers, the outside pistons reach to the top as the middle bottoms, delivering power uniquely and a rabid exhaust note. Rebalanced for the larger slugs, the engine’s spigots were opened to clear the flat top 80mm pistons, and the retaining studs were moved out. Specs from the top show Laverda tuned for torque with the conservative A11 overhead cams, 38/35mm intake/exhaust valves and Dell’orto 32mm PHF Dell’Orto PHF carbs. Period press often compared the 1200 to 1978’s other open-classer, Yamaha’s XS-Eleven. The Yamaha was quicker, but far less equipped for sports riding.
Filled with noise cancelling baffles for the US export TS-Mirage, the 1200’s airbox is included in the factory chassis diagrams. Bosch supplied the ignition, and (despite claims to the contrary) the Jota’s gearing and transmission ratios are shared. Fit to the left and with an external adjuster, a triple-row primary chain spins the wet-clutch five-speed. Initially available in red or blue with orange flashes and stainless fenders, one identifier of the early 1200 is the Laverda transfer (instead of badge) and a divot in the primary where the “1000” inscription was machined off. As used before by Laverda, Nippon Denso supplied both clocks and switchgear.
1200 Jota America (1978)
Tested by Cycle Magazine for the June 1978 issue, the Jota America was essentially a 1200T re-shuffled to meet US-DOT regulations. Part of this work was switching the controls for left-side shift, this done via a series of crossover rods and linkage. Now on the right, a frame mount Brembo master-cylinder/reservoir attaches the rear brake controls. Set high on the chassis with a special mount, the editors reported the 1200’s right footpeg position was “Dictated by the location of the brake, not the rider’s leg.” Other complaints included stiff clutch and throttle pull, poor cold starting, uncomfortable grips, vibration, a hard saddle and the Laverda’s side stand mount. Unlike the oft-grazed (by them) alternator/ignition cover, this welded tab was not forgiving when touched in fast corners. Among the most critical road tests ever published by the highly respected staff at Cycle, the underlying tone suggested those failed areas had more to do with making the 1200 legal than any real design errors. In the end, Cycle’s staff found the 1200 flawed but fixable, but that is only part of the story. Enthusiastic and dedicated, Massimo himself visited Cycle’s offices and took notes. To date, many of the model changes made through the triples’s production addressed press concerns. One example: Compare the 1200’s controls to those found on the later RGS.
1200 (second series) and Slater Mirage (1978)
Throughout the first half of 1978 various revisions were made. “The 1200s following that original batch were assembled with Marzocchi suspensions, yokes and front mudguard,” reports Grant Duguid of Facebook’s ClubLaverda. Recently restoring one of the early bikes from 1977, he continues; “1978 bikes also featured tank badges and BTZ ignition. Note also the primary cover was recast to leave the logo area blank as this part was now common to both 1000 and 1200 models.” For years I’ve attempted to catalog the factory’s varying fork rake and trail figures (supposedly carried out to address complaints of slow steering) eventually learning this was accomplished using offset trees. “These experiments were carried out only on bikes fit with the Ceriani fork,” Duguid clarifies. “Development of the 180-racing program ended after 1976, and from there Marzocchi forks and trees with matching rake were used.” The steering head angle is 28-degrees, wheelbase length is 58-inches and a weight of 523-lb was claimed. Most Euro makers had adopted standardized left-foot shift four year eariler, save for the builders at Moto Laverda.
“I think the concept was for the 1200 to be a large capacity sports tourer,” recalls Richard Slater. Working alongside the factory in Italy, the technical and marketing savvy of the brothers Slater brought tremendous acclaim to Laverda, and they weren’t finished. “With the success of the Jota and the 500cc twin in its final stages of development, it was inevitable the 1200 would find itself bolted to the dyno. It was immediately found performance could be greatly enhanced by fitting 4/C cams and Jota silencers, now readily available from the Jota programme. In terms of jetting and tuning parts, it was all compatible to what we were already doing.” Like the 3CL-based Jota, the 1200 had been transformed into something else entirely, and as riders experienced the 1200, demand grew. “Over time, many buyers actually preferred it. With its standard compression (no piston option) it was a different kind of fast. Not hard hitting like the Jota, the 1200 gained momentum with fistfuls of torque.”
Initially a confusing study, Richard sheds light on differences between Slater-built 1200 Mirage models and factory machines of the same name. “While attending a dealer meeting with Moto Laverda in Italy we felt that like the Jota, our tuned 1200 deserved its own name. Some hilarious ideas were tossed out, but when sales manager Luciano Zucarelli suggested Mirage, all agreed. A short time passed before the Mirage began to arrive, shipped without name plates and silencers, which were made locally and fit here. We quickly had ‘Mirage’ stickers done up but those, along with the Jota exhaust system, were the only visual differences. Wanting the Mirage to stand out with its own color we asked the factory to do this and offered some ideas. What materialized from that request in July, 1978 was a superb mid-range metallic green with ‘Mirage’ boldly emblazoned in yellow on the side. Starting then and ever since, the universally referred to ‘Green Mirage’ became the one to own.”