1976 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans Mk1
The bike that put Moto Guzzi in the superbike race
The 1976 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans Mk1
Photo by Robert Smith
Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans Mk1
Years produced: 1976-78
Total production: 6,817
Claimed power: 71-80hp @ 7,3000rpm
Top speed: 133.5mph (1977 test)
Engine type: Overhead-valve, air-cooled V-twin
Weight (dry): 196kg (431lb)
Price then: $3,679 (1977)
Price now: $7,500-$10,500
Bikes are getting bigger. That’s not news of course, but in an age when many cruisers have the displacement of a Honda Civic, it’s tough to remember that street 750s were once called Superbikes.
It’s a tough call as to who built the first Superbike, but when Honda jumped on board in 1969 with the Honda CB750 Four, it became the gold standard. You could argue Laverda, Norton, Royal Enfield and Triumph were there first, but by 1972 Kawasaki, Suzuki, Ducati, Moto-Guzzi, MV Agusta and BMW all had three-quarter-liter offerings.
It’s said, Kawasaki had its own SOHC 750 on the drawing board, but decided instead to leapfrog its rival, creating the DOHC 900cc Kawasaki Z1 and the new benchmark capacity.
Norton, Ducati, BMW and Guzzi all produced pumped-up versions of their existing engines: 850 Commando, 860GT, 900SS, BMW R90S and 850T, respectively, all intended to stem the trans-Pacific tide. In some cases, these became classics, viewed by many as the ultimate expression of European motorcycle tradition. And that’s how the sleek and sinuous Moto Guzzi 750 V7 Sport became the Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans.
Pushing the envelope
Guzzi’s V7 of 1971 combined Giulio Cesare Carcano’s remarkable transverse V-twin with a sleek new frame by Lino Tonti, which required that the belt-driven generator be replaced by a pan-type alternator at the front of the engine. The result was a marriage of brilliance. The V7 Special and Sport were swift and diminutive lightweights in the 750 class. With the 900cc imperative, the engine gained a longer stroke with plated barrels replacing the V7’s iron liners for 844cc, creating the touring 850T.
The Le Mans borrowed the 850T’s engine, but with high-compression pistons running in the chrome-lined alloy barrels, larger valves, new camshaft and two 36mm “pumper” Dell’Orto carbs. Brembo callipers gripped the twin drilled cast iron front brake discs, one of which was linked to the rear disc through the brake pedal (the system also used on the triple-disc 850T3).
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