Motorcycle Classics

Defining the Format: 1971 Moto Guzzi Ambassador

1971 Moto Guzzi Ambassador
Claimed power: 60hp @ 6,500rpm
Top speed: 100mph (period test)
Engine: 757.5cc air-cooled OHV 90-degree V-twin, 83mm x 70mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet, w/ half tank of fuel): 559lb (254kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 5.84 gal (22ltr)/40-50mpg
Price then/now: $1,694/$3,000-$9,000

When Moto Guzzi introduced its first production motorcycle in 1921 it was powered by a horizontally mounted, 498cc overhead valve single cylinder. It was a format that defined Moto Guzzi engines for decades to come, but in 1966 the Italian company announced a new 700cc V-twin, introducing a new format that continues to define Moto Guzzi today.

The Ambassador story goes back to the early 1960s, when Moto Guzzi first started to work out a V-twin for the Italian police. When brothers Joe and Mike Berliner of Berliner Motor Corporation in New Jersey (the importers for Ducati and Moto Guzzi, among other European brands) got wind of the new V-twin they immediately pushed Moto Guzzi to put it into production. The first model, the 704cc V7, went into production in early 1967. Cracking the nut of devout Harley-Davidson riders was a challenge in the early days, and while the new V7 might not have drawn loyal Harley fans, it did provide other motorcycle enthusiasts with a more exotic option.

Following closely on the heels of the V7, the larger capacity Ambassador V750 was introduced in 1969. It embodied several traits of its predecessor, and new features added to the bike’s U.S. appeal. And helping to augment sales, numerous speed records were gained with the new Moto Guzzi machines. In June of 1969, Remo Venturi took his Guzzi to a production class speed record as he hit 145mph on the fabled Monza circuit. A few months later, in October, Guzzi riders broke the 1,000-kilometer and 6-hour records, turning in average speeds of 125.5mph and 125.3mph, respectively.

Time to go touring

The U.S. motorcycling press liked the new Ambassador, helping to propel sales of the marque to a production record of just more than 46,400 units in 1971. That’s especially impressive considering that Honda released its legendary CB750 Four in 1969. Yet the Guzzi was a very different machine from the Honda, with a different rider in mind. Designed as a long-distance touring model, the Ambassador was the first-ever production motorcycle to feature electric starting only, with no kick lever even offered. A touring machine typically featured better seating, plus handlebars that reached back to the rider instead of requiring the rider to reach forward, creature comforts for extended hours or days in the saddle. The Ambassador had all of those traits, making it a terrific machine for the open road.

To satisfy the demands of long range riders, the Ambassador carried nearly 6 gallons of fuel in its enormous tank, a significant increase from the V7’s 4.5 gallons. Beneath the fuel tank, the 90-degree V-twin now displaced 757.5cc and produced a claimed 60 horsepower, a considerable bump over the 50 horsepower V7. A pair of 29mm Dell’Orto carburetors fed the overhead valve engine, with shifting through a 4-speed gearbox.

Physically larger than most of its European competition, the Ambassador’s long, 57.5-inch wheelbase brought a new level of stability on the highways. It was also heavy; with a full tank of fuel the Ambassador tipped the scales at nearly 575 pounds. The well-shaped and padded saddle sat 32 inches off the tarmac, providing a comfortable stance for the rider at rest or in motion. The seat was also bi-level, placing the passenger a few inches higher than the rider, and a stout pair of hand rails flanking the rear of the two-up seat gave the passenger plenty of purchase during spirited rides.

Equipped with a driveshaft instead of the more normal chain, the Ambassador was a smooth riding machine. But like its contemporary BMW competition, the torque of the shaft could make itself felt, particularly when accelerating or slowing down while turning as the bike dropped upon deceleration and rose upon acceleration. That didn’t seem to turn off would-be owners, as the Ambassador wasn’t perceived as an outright performance machine. Yet with a top speed just more than 100mph, the Ambassador was no slouch, either. In a 1971 Cycle World test the Ambassador turned in a 0-60mph time of 6.7 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 14.94 seconds, only two seconds slower than the contemporary Honda CB750. More importantly, it could hold a sustained 80mph for hours on end, making it the perfect machine for the wide open spaces of the U.S.

Looking good

While the styling of the Ambassador was conservative, it was decidedly European. The big V-twin engine was its obvious calling card, but thanks to the engine’s transverse orientation nobody mistook a Guzzi for a Harley. The sides of the copious fuel tank wore chrome panels, and angular side cover panels contrasted with the smooth contours of the fuel tank, but without looking out of place. Horizontal louvers in the front half of each cover allowed air to flow through them, and a lockable storage compartment behind each side cover provided space for tools and maybe a pair of gloves, but not much else. The lightly valanced front fender added another dose of style and helped to keep the rider somewhat protected from spray off the tire during inclement conditions.

New for the 1971 model was a separate speedometer and tachometer to better keep the rider abreast of his or her progress. Previous machines had a speedometer only, mounted in a large polished aluminum housing that capped the upper triple clamp. The new instruments were mounted in a black textured housing with a distinctive crinkled finish. Buyers had the choice of three different hues for the V750, with red, black or white being offered, each accented with stripes to offset the base color.

The Ambassador was a competent cycle, and what it may have lacked in outright performance or trend setting design was more than made up by its unique Italian flare. But its 1971 MSRP of $1,694 was nearly identical to its biggest rival, Honda’s CB750 Four, which delivered more of nearly everything for the price. Popular as the Guzzi was, the Honda’s performance-to-dollar ratio made it the obvious choice for many buyers.

Guzzi knew it couldn’t beat Honda at its game, so for 1972 the Ambassador was replaced by the 850cc Eldorado. Although power only went up slightly, from 60 horsepower to 64, the new Eldorado now had a 5-speed gearbox, a definite step forward. A front disc brake finally came on the 1974 Eldorado, but by then Moto Guzzi’s big touring twin was getting decidedly long in the tooth. It continued to sell well in its last year, but its best days were behind it and in 1975 Moto Guzzi replaced the Ambassador/Eldorado platform with the new Tonti-framed 850-T.

Riding one now

Mike Parenti, the owner of the perfect 1971 Ambassador featured here, had very little motorcycle experience prior to acquiring this bike, but he did have the good fortune of spending his formative years in Italy when his dad, a first-generation Italian-American, took a position there with Amoco. Mike lived there from the age of 5 until just before high school, and while he didn’t get into motorcycles at the time (the family did have a little 50cc Piaggio Ciao moped, stolen the year it was supposed to become Mike’s) the Italian aesthetic made a big impression on him.

Back in the states, Mike had a few opportunities to ride and managed to get in a little offroad time, but he didn’t really pursue the idea of buying a street bike until much later. In 2000, he got a call from a pal who was restoring a 1948 Moto Guzzi GTW 500cc single, and that led to Mike (thanks to his mastery of the Italian language) making a trip to Italy to look for GTW parts at the huge mostra scambio (swap meet) outside Milan. Mike found the requested bits, and back home in Chicago at his friend Dave Jackson’s, he was sitting on a bike in the shop when Dave suggested Mike needed an old Moto Guzzi like the GTW. Mike liked the idea, but said he’d want something newer, something two people could ride on. That something was the bike he was sitting on, a rundown 1971 Moto Guzzi Ambassador.

That Ambassador, it turned out, was the first Moto Guzzi that Dave, now something of a marque expert, had bought. That was in 2001, and by August 2003 Dave had finished the Ambassador’s restoration. “The goal was to have it ready by spring to take to the Moto Guzzi Owners Club annual rally, but Dave works at his own schedule so I had to be patient,” Mike says. The finished result was clearly worth the wait, and Mike says that of the many things he likes about the Ambassador, he’s impressed how many people think it’s a late-model replica of some kind, a testimony to Dave’s restoration skills.

Since the restoration, Mike’s put 13,000 miles on the Ambassador, and the only issue he’s had since firing it up that first time more than 10 years ago is a loose valve and a stripped exhaust nut. “I was headed up to Road America,” Mike remembers, “and I got the bike out, it’s idling, and I look down and see this chrome thing vibrating. I went to a place in Milwaukee where they had to rethread the head. I’ve had to reset the valves, but other than that, I haven’t had to do anything, and it doesn’t drip a drop of oil.”

Mike liked the Ambassador so much he bought another Moto Guzzi, a 1975 850T, which he acquired after convincing a buddy to have Dave build him a café racer. That bike, also an 850T, came out so well Mike just had to get one himself. “When he finished it, my jaw just dropped, and I thought, I’ve got to get one.” Mike found his 850T in Grand Rapids, Michigan, then started buying parts, lots of them from Italy. He started in earnest in the fall of 2011 and finished the bike in 2012, with Dave taking care of the engine.

“I ride them equally,” Mike says of his Guzzis. “They both have their fun aspects; they’re like women, there are things you love and hate about each of them.” Mike says the Ambassador is a super stable bike you “can ride without your hands on the bars. It’s rock solid. I’m more comfortable on it than just about any motorcycle. You have to compensate for the drum brakes, but I feel very comfortable on it. And of course a lot of people look at it. People think it’s new, a replica, it’s so clean. I try to keep it that way. There are a lot of aluminum parts and you have to stay up on those, keeping fresh wax on them.”

So are there anymore Moto Guzzis in Mike’s future? “A buddy of mine found a guy in Italy who has a 750S, a V7 Sport and some military singles with sidecars, and I’m contemplating going over there and trying to pry one or two of those out of this guy. I’m thinking about going over next year,” Mike says.

Moto Guzzi is still making motorcycles, and like every manufacturer they’re applying the latest technology to their newest machines. Yet regardless of technology, the machines coming out of Guzzi’s famous factory on the shores of Lake Como in Mandello del Lario, Italy, are still powered by the classic V-twin configuration first laid down in the V7 and the Ambassador, a trait that makes the machines instantly recognizable and true Moto Guzzis. MC

  • Published on Dec 11, 2014
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