The Laverda 1000 3C Triple

Massimo's masterpiece
By Robert Smith
July/August 2007
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It might look silver, but the paint on our feature bike is actually a light metallic green offered on the early triples.
Photo by Nick Cedar
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Laverda 1000 3C Triple
Years produced:
 1974-1981
Total production: 2,300 (approx.)
Claimed power: 85hp @ 7,250rpm
Top speed: 133mph (est.)
Engine type: 981cc overhead cam, air-cooled inline triple
Weight (dry, est.): 225kg (495lb)
Price then: $3,900
Price now: $4,000-$8,000 
MPG: 38 (period test)

From our 21st century perspective, it’s easy to forget that liter-class, multi-cylinder sportbikes like the Laverda 1000 3C Triple haven’t always been around. Before Soichiro Honda changed the rules in 1969 with his SOHC Honda CB750 Four, twins ruled the road. Kawasaki, with a SOHC 750 four of its own in the wings, was forced to up the ante with a DOHC 900 — the “New York Steak” Kawasaki Z1 — when Honda released the CB. Meanwhile, in the foothills of the Alps in Northern Italy ...

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” That quote, often attributed to German poet Johann von Goethe, could easily apply to Massimo Laverda. As functional head of Italian agricultural equipment-maker Laverda’s motorcycle division, Massimo’s bold and innovative approach to motorcycle design created some of the most distinctive and desirable motorcycles ever made — though whether the company’s boutique bike division ever made any money is doubtful. How very Italian!

Twins first, triples second
Though most Italian makers built small-capacity bikes, Massimo, who attended college in the U.S. and studied the motorcycle market carefully, knew that to capture the buying public’s attention he needed to compete against the big British twins on power and the Japanese on technology.

Those dual goals led to the Laverda 650cc twin of 1968, which was almost immediately upsized to 750cc.

But within a year of its U.S. introduction, the 750 was made obsolete by the Honda 750 Four. It wasn’t Laverda’s fault, and plenty of bike makers’ ranges were embarrassed by Honda’s bombshell. But back at Laverda headquarters in Breganze, Massimo, together with chief designer Luciano Zen, was already working on Laverda’s next model. Laverda’s masterstroke was to anticipate that 1,000cc would become the capacity benchmark, a move that allowed the small Italian firm to compete with larger factories throughout the Seventies.

The first Laverda 1,000cc prototype, shown at the Geneva show in 1969, was little more than the 750 twin with an extra cylinder. It retained the 750 twin’s chain-driven single overhead camshaft layout with the starter behind the cylinders and a belt-driven generator in front. Whether or not Massimo and Luciano knew the Kawasaki Z1 was on its way is moot. Either way, in 1970 they decided to develop a new prototype using the latest in cylinder head design. The cylinder block was spigoted into a new crankcase of massive strength, and was topped with a new cylinder head with narrowly angled valves operated by dual overhead camshafts via shim and bucket. The cams were driven by a toothed v-belt on the right side of the cylinders (something BSA also tried on an OHC Rocket III prototype during the company’s dying days).

The built-up crankshaft was supported on four roller bearings with a ball bearing on the timing side and an extra outrigger roller bearing in the primary cover. The front-mounted generator was gone, replaced by a crankshaft-end alternator.

There were some teething problems, including crankshaft fractures resulting from the “rocking couple” vibration inherent in a 120-degree triple.

Fixing the pistons 180 degrees apart (the outer two rise and fall together, with the center piston 180 degrees out of phase) solved the problem, and gave the triple its unique 1-2-3-miss exhaust note — but also resulted in the classic “buzz” associated with “up and down” engines.

3C Evolution
Though no distributor had been appointed at that stage, the first 1000s arrived in the U.S. in early 1973 as personal imports — now fitted with a steel gas tank and 3-into-1-into-2 exhaust.

Meanwhile in Europe, UK Laverda importer Roger Slater had combined tuning parts used in the highly successful factory production racer version of the triple and was fitting them to stock 3CLs. The result was a 95hp rocket ship that Slater persuaded the factory to build as a production machine. Laverda also adopted Slater’s suggested name for the beast: Jota, after a Spanish folk dance in triple time. But that’s another story…

3C Today
Few Laverda 3Cs have survived the ravages of time, intemperate riders and shade-tree wrenchers. Though a Laverda triple’s mechanical construction would be familiar to any modern motorcycle mechanic, when introduced it was pretty new-fangled for those used to working on Brit twins and Harleys.

Many early bikes were set on the path of an “upgrade” to Jota specification by inexperienced owners, leading to unfortunate consequences. Especially vulnerable were — and still are — the camshaft towers, which can become distorted if not carefully assembled. Laverda triples also have a limited engine oil capacity in the wet sump and prefer regular refreshing. That said, the engines are generally bulletproof in use and capable of very high mileage if the primary and cam chains are also replaced every 20,000 miles or so.

This 1974 example surfaced thanks to Italophile Laverda restorer and ex-SCCA racer Scott Potter, who found it leaning against a shed — where it had been for 20 years — in Dallas. Initially, Scott says, “I figured I’d restore it and keep it for myself.”

But instead, Scott responded to an inquiry from Californian Nils Behnke, who was looking for a restored 3C. It wasn’t until Scott started on the project, though, that he realized how much this Laverda had deteriorated over the years. “It was real rough,” Scott says. “The crank was junk, the gearbox components were rusted up. I put in all new bearings. Every wearing part has been replaced.”

Scott did all of the mechanical and cosmetic restoration — even down to rebuilding the instruments, cadmium plating, polishing and frame paint — in his own workshop. Scott also re-laced the alloy rims with stainless spokes and custom-built the new stainless brake hoses. The only work farmed out was the chrome plating and the side panel/gas tank painting.

“The paint color is the only known example of the light metallic green offered only on the early triples,” Scott says. “I found the color in an Italian magazine advertisement for the same machine.”
Scott forwarded the image to Nils, and his painter, Underground Colors in San Francisco, was able to identify the shade using a period color guide. The result is a distinctive and evocative period look with a lustrous finish.

The engine has received sensible upgrades from stock specification with a big-valve cylinder head and modified valve timing. A modern Witt-DMC electronic ignition unit replaces the somewhat rudimentary Bosch item, and the charging system is also modernized and uprated.

Scott was able to source most of the parts he needed, including the performance exhaust system and Tarozzi rearset foot controls, from Wolfgang Haerter’s Columbia Car and Cycle.

The finished bike is a beautiful example of one of the era’s landmark motorcycles, blending the newest in then-available technology with lusty power and solid handling — and Italian design flair. It is with good reason Laverda is often called “the Lamborghini of motorcycles.” MC 

Resources
International Laverda Owners Club
Jean-Louis Olive’s Laverda Mania  

Laverda Restoration

Classic Italian Cycles
Moto Laverda 
Columbia Car and Cycle 

Read more about the other motorcycles mentioned in this article:
Honda CB750: A Classic for the Masses 
• Kawasaki Z1:  King of the Road 


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