The Laverda 750 SF

A flawed masterpiece
By Richard Backus
January/February 2009
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1974 Laverda SF2 for sale on eBay in November 2008.
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Laverda 750 SF
Years produced:
1970-1976
Total production: 15,817 (approx.)
Claimed power: 60hp @ 6,600rpm (1972)
Top speed: 103mph (period test)
Engine type: 744cc OHC, air-cooled parallel twin
Transmission: 5-speed
Weight: 507lbs (w/half-tank fuel)
Price then: $1,850 (1972)
Price now: $3,500-$6,500
MPG: 40-50

The inspiration for the Laverda 750 SF dates back to 1964, when 25-year-old Laverda general manager Massimo Laverda toured the U.S. for a firsthand impression of the burgeoning market here.

Although Laverda had made its name in Europe with small-bore singles and twins, Massimo returned to Italy convinced the future — especially if he wanted that future to include the U.S. market — lay in large-capacity machines capable of covering distance with ease. In early 1965 he secured (supposedly after heated discussion) approval from his father, Laverda motorcycle founder Francesco Laverda, to develop a big-bore twin.

In November 1966, Laverda displayed a prototype 650cc parallel twin at the Earls Court Show in London. Looking much like a Honda Hawk on steroids, the bike was a minor sensation, creating a swelling of interest in Laverda.

Although it took two more years to see production, the bike that finally went on sale in 1968 was very close to the prototype. And the fact that its engine had more than a passing resemblance to Honda’s famed 305cc overhead cam twin was no accident.

In designing the new bike, Massimo had looked to Honda’s twin for inspiration. Not having the resources of a huge company like Honda, Massimo saw he could benefit from Honda’s development of the 305, the first production overhead cam motorcycle engine and in steady development since 1958. In fact, the story goes, Massimo believed the visual connection between the Honda and his new bike would benefit Laverda, with buyers equating the Laverda positively to Honda and its unrivaled reputation for quality and reliability.

Although introduced as a 650, the engine was almost immediately enlarged to 744cc and very few 650s were actually built. The first examples sold in the U.S. were 750s, marketed by Jack McCormack under the American Eagle brand. McCormack, interestingly enough, had been one of the people responsible for Honda’s hugely successful “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda” ad campaign of the early 1960s.

Although McCormack was a shrewd marketer (he signed Evel Knievel to ride the American Eagle Laverda exclusively during this period), by 1970 American Eagle had folded, and Laverda’s twin hit the U.S. market under its own name for the first time.

1970 was also the year Laverda introduced the improved SF, which stood for Super Freni or “Super Brakes.” Where previous 750s had relied on Grimeca twin-leading-shoe stoppers, the new SF used a twin-leading system designed by none other than Francesco Laverda, who’d earlier questioned the viability of a big twin in the company’s portfolio.

Visually identifiable by an exhaust balance pipe to smooth out power flow connecting just downstream of the cylinder head, the new 750 SF further benefited from a new frame and other enhancements to improve handling and reliability.

Further changes came in 1973 with the introduction of the SF1, by which time all bikes were equipped with a Nippon Denso speedo and tach in place of the Smiths instruments used on earlier bikes. Although the ND instruments look like they were swiped directly off a Honda CB750, they have different internal ratios and aren’t interchangeable. The SF1 also got a new exhaust system with the balance pipe repositioned under the engine.

The next major step in the evolution was the SF2 for 1974, initially offered with a single Brembo front disc but quickly upgraded to a dual-disc setup for the American market.

The shifter was moved to the left and the rear brake pedal to the right for 1975 U.S. models, and needle roller bearings replaced bushings in the swingarm on the very last of the SF2 series, but otherwise the bike remained much as it had been.

The final model in the series was the SF3 in 1976. By this time the 750 was headed for extinction, as Laverda was putting its resources into the 3-cylinder 1000 and its V6 endurance racer, a bike that has been singled out as draining the small company of critical resources and, perhaps, hastening Laverda’s demise some 10 years later.

The SF3 received minor styling changes. Chief among them were cast alloy wheels, a rear disc brake and a new seat with a fiberglass cowl. Although 1976 was the last year of production, the SF3 continued to be sold through 1977, although very few SF3s made it to the U.S.

A flawed masterpiece?
Throughout its manufacture, response to the Laverda 750 SF was mixed. While the SF was lauded for its reliability and high build quality (Laverda’s use of Bosch starters and generators — and Suzuki switchgear on later models — helped), period testers gave the SF poor marks for a too-stiff suspension, hard shifting and a weak clutch. And where some loved the authoritative sound emanating from the 750’s twin pipes, others found it too loud. It was, Cycle Guide concluded, “a flawed masterpiece.”

But don’t tell that to current owners, who tend to ride their machines regularly and keep them for years, piling on the miles easily thanks to the SF’s rugged construction: Tales of 100,000-mile bikes are not uncommon.

Good examples surface regularly, and thanks to active interest parts are still easy to get and are remarkably cheap given the bike’s relatively small production numbers.

Parallel-twin alternatives to the Laverda 750 SF
1973 Triumph T140V

- 50hp @ 7,000rpm/ 110mph
- Air-cooled, OHV parallel twin
- 5-speed
- Single disc front, drum rear
- 414lb (w/half-tank fuel)
- 40-50mpg
- $2,500-$5,000

Based on the classic 650cc Triumph T120 Bonneville, the new for 1973 T140V boasted an uprated 744cc engine, a 5-speed transmission and — finally — a disc front brake. Although Triumph had been working to expand its market with the more contemporary 3-cylinder Trident, the classic appeal of the old twin still defined the brand for many enthusiasts. With the T140V, Triumph belatedly made a bid to bring the Bonneville into the modern world.

Although purists looked down on the T140’s oil-in-frame design (first introduced on the T120 in 1971), it actually created a better handling machine thanks to enhanced structural integrity and stiffness. The Triumph was a fine road machine, and compared to its competition it was almost a lightweight, weighing in some 100 pounds lighter than the Laverda 750 SF and the quirky Yamaha TX750. Unfortunately for sales, some of that weight advantage was due to the omission of an electric starter, a decided disadvantage for Triumph in an evolving market that increasingly demanded electric start on any bike over 500cc. The Laverda and the Yamaha both had electric starters, and still cost less than the Triumph.

The T140’s lightness and agility make it a solid performer, and excellent parts availability makes it easy to own today.

1973 Yamaha TX750
- 63hp @ 7,500rpm/105mph
- Air-cooled, OHC parallel twin
- 5-speed
- Single disc front, drum rear
- 518lb (wet)
- 40-50mpg
- $1,200-$2,800

Poor Yamaha. When the TX750 was introduced for 1973, the company thought they finally had a winner in the rapidly growing big-bore class. Although Honda had opened the door to big bikes from Japan with its trend-setting CB750 Four back in 1969, it took a few years for the competition to catch up. But catch up they did. 1972 saw the introduction of the 3-cylinder Suzuki GT750, followed by the immortal 4-cylinder Kawasaki Z1 and Yamaha’s TX750 parallel twin. But where the Honda was first (4-cylinder), the Suzuki was wacky (2-stroke, water-cooled triple) and the Kawi was wild (903cc twin-cam four), the Yamaha was, well, different.

Thoroughly modern, the TX featured electric starting, a front disc brake and, in an industry first, a “diagnostic panel”— a trio of lights to monitor oil pressure, rear brake lining thickness and a brake light warning lamp. And while everyone else seemed to be looking for more cylinders, Yamaha endowed its big bike with an all-new, counter-balanced, 743cc overhead-cam parallel twin.

Lauded for incredible smoothness, TX750s displayed a bad habit of grenading engines thanks to the counter-balancer frothing the oil. This and other problems were fixed, but the damage was so complete the model was dropped after 1974. Even so, survivors are surprisingly common, making this an interesting alternative to the standard twin. MC 

Read more about the motorcycle mentioned in this article: 
Honda CB750: A Classic for the Masses
1967 Triumph T120 Bonneville
Suzuki GT750 LeMans
1973 Kawasaki Z1: King of the Road 



 


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