A few summers ago, Frank Skweres handed Rick Manning a short note. Written on it were the name of a motorcycle collector and a list of bikes he was selling. One of those was what Italian motorcycle lovers might call the “Guzzeta Stone” of Moto Guzzis — a 1973 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport.
“As I looked down and read the first line, I was overcome,” Rick remembers. “Abba habba mama, does that really say a V7 Sport?” It did, and it was.
Built in limited quantities from 1972-1974, the Moto Guzzi V7 Sport was a ground breaking motorcycle, a factory café and one of the most famous Guzzis ever made. And now Rick had one.
Rick Manning first entered our orbit a few years back, when he contacted us about a Yamaha RD400 Daytona he’d acquired. Not knowing much about the little 2-strokers, he was hoping we might give him some feedback on its condition and value. Rick sent some pics, and at some point confessed he was really more interested in Moto Guzzis. He and a few other enthusiasts were building what they hoped would be a show-worthy machine, he told us; would we be interested in seeing it when it’s done? Absolutely.
With an unassuming and friendly demeanor that gives away his Midwestern roots, Rick is slow to brag about his own achievements and quick to praise the work of others. Talking to him, it becomes abundantly clear that when he involves himself in something, he involves himself completely. Telling me about the Guzzi build, he spoke more about his approach to the bike than the actual work he was doing, words like “passion” and “soul” marking his thoughts on the process.
Rick would be the first to point out that he’s not solely responsible for this lovely Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, the second of two Guzzi projects launched by Combined Design, a sort of vintage motorcycle/car/creative services think-tank run by Rick and Tina Wagner and co-conspirators James McKenna and Tony Keisman. The bike is known internally as “Cherry O,” short for “Cherry O Baby.”
Cherry O came on the heels of the group’s first major build, “Li’l Red.” Based on a 1976 Moto Guzzi T-3 platform with styling inspired by the V7 Sport, Li’l Red was in many ways an exercise at pinpointing and refining Rick and crew’s approach to rebuilds. Where Li’l Red was sort of a “what could a contemporary V7 Sport look like” statement, with scores of special touches including a custom Epco stainless steel exhaust system, stainless steel battery box, custom side covers, custom taillight assembly and Hella bar-end turn signals attached to custom-fabricated mounts, Cherry O is more subdued. Well, maybe just a little.
Then again, as one of only 3,500 or so production V7 Sports made, the group knew they had a very rare machine on their hands, dictating a more conservative approach. “To us, the V7 Sport represents a period Italian hot rod, and Cherry O is our interpretation,” Rick says.
Custom touches include the spectacular House of Kolor candy apple red paint laid down by Craig Ellis at Paintworks, in-house custom graphics and CRG bar-end mirrors. The exhaust is period correct, as is the dual-disc front end, a factory kit installed by the original owner after Guzzi made it available in 1974. The bike left the factory wearing a 2-sided, twin-leading-shoe drum.
Rick entered Cherry O in the Motorcycle Classics Bike Show East at the Barber Vintage Festival last year, where it walked away with the People’s Choice award. In a field of stunning machines, it stood head and shoulders above the rest. To finish the experience, Rick and Tony took Li’l Red and Cherry O for a full day’s tour, letting the big twins stretch their vocal chords and echo their beat against the mountains of northern Georgia. “As we turned on to the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway,” Rick recalls, “I looked out over the bars to the clear roadway ahead, and remembered when I had asked Rick at MG Cycle to describe the V7’s ride. He simply said, ‘It’s God’s motorcycle.’”
With the Moto Guzzi builds behind them, Rick and crew are working toward offering their ideas as finished pieces to other Moto Guzzi and BMW airhead fans, with a line of aftermarket café parts. And they’re crafting yet another Guzzi — and a BMW — to further develop their ideas. If Li’l Red and Cherry O are any indication, you can be sure they’ll be good ones. MC